Update: Nascar in Texas … The ‘After Chatter’ from “Just A Fan’s View”

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Okay, okay … I admit it. I didn’t pick the winner and things didn’t turn out quite the way I expected. I also admit it did turn out there was an exciting finish to a relatively uneventful and boring race with very little passing for position, except for the person that won and he seemed to be able to pass at will.

Hard charging Carl Edwards dominated the field right down to the last pit stop and his inability to advance after that last stop may have been a lot of smoke and mirrors in a effort to conserve fuel for the end of the race. His crew chief, Bob Osborn, made a call that everyone just figured was impossible and it proved to be the deciding factor in Carl’s trip to victory lane at Texas Motor Speedway.

Now that I’ve gotten all of the cliches and expected statements out of my thought processes, I look back at a race that was dominated by one team, (the 99 team), and could have been one of the least exciting races of the 2008 Chase. Although it did turn out to be somewhat of a nail-biter at the end, for the most part, it looked as though Carl Edwards was going to lap the entire field at least once.

The gamble on fuel mileage at the end by the 99, 88 and 24 teams, ended any chance of the finish being completely boring because any of the three of them could have run out of fuel at any time. A quick mention of the top five finishers shows Carl Edwards first, Jeff Gordon second (a miracle in itself), Jamie McMurray third, Clint Bowyer fourth and Greg Biffle fifth. Dale junior in the 88 car ran out of gas with about five to go and finished twentieth.

Any way you look at it, the race once again came down to a risky call made in the pits late in the race that resulted in another unexpected finish. It seems that strategy plays a bigger roll than ever in how the top competitors finish consistently, and sometimes unexpectedly, ahead of the rest. If Bob Osborn’s estimate of fuel mileage had been wrong by just a little bit, Jeff Gordon would have won the race.

In fairness we need to remember an interesting fact about risk-taking — you either end up ‘the Hero’ or ‘the Zero’. Fortunately for Chad Knaus at Atlanta last week and Bob Osborn at Texas this week, they both wear ‘the Hero’ hat. Had Chad Knaus not taken the chance in Atlanta, Jimmy Johnson’s lead would be even less this week than it is. My opinion is that it was a 35 to a 40 point decision the same as the fuel mileage chance Bob Osborn made in Texas.

It is interesting to watch these two crew chiefs go about their work week after week. They are both very talented and have fared quite well with what I am sure they would call their “calculated risks”. They both continue to make tough, gutsy calls and both have come out winning the praise of those they compete with. I guess at some point it does beg the question though, “When will the luck run out for either of them?”

As it stands right now, the Chase is closer than it was a week ago but it is still Jimmy Johnson’s to lose. The next race could either increase his lead or could decrease it and make the Chase even more interesting by the time the teams arrive in Homestead. It is expected that both the 99 and the 48 teams will run well at Phoenix, but there is no guarantee that either of them will win.

There are others that have the opportunity to make the trip to victory lane in Phoenix. Tune in to the Saturday edition of “Just A Fan’s View” when we will discuss the possibilities. For now, though, it is time to say goodbye to Texas for this year and hope that next year will be at least a little more exciting of a race before the last ten laps or so.

See ya next time …

Rusty

©2008 PCN Productions and Rusty Norman

Nascar in Texas: from “Just A Fan’s View…”

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How can two tracks be so similar and yet so different?

If we take a look at the two tracks, Atlanta and Texas, they are quite similar in size and banking, but much different in age of the asphalt and transition from the banking to the straightaways. Those appear to be the biggest differences from my point of view and it is what gives the Texas Speedway a character all its own when compared to Atlanta.

Both tracks have 24 degree banking and both are one and a half mile in distance, but that is where the similarities stop. According to the drivers, Atlanta is just plain slippery and the surface is old and abrasive, kinda like old Darlington used to be. It chews up tires quickly and the only thing you can do as the tires begin to wear is slow down or put it in the wall, (which once again according to the drivers is in a lap or two.)

If we look at the last nine laps in Atlanta last week, those that took new tires at the last yellow flag consistently moved to the front past those that didn’t. Jimmy Johnson was the most noticeable as he went from eleventh to second and, given a another lap or two, may well have passed Carl Edwards and finished first, but that’s just a ‘what if’ statement. The race was what it was and ended the way it did.

So, Texas is just another one and a half mile oval, right? Maybe so, but I’m interested in seeing how the tires hold up throughout a run and how much the drop off in lap times will be. I think that will be one of the important key factors in the results at the end of the race.

Another thing that will prove to be interesting is that the field was able to qualify this week and the difference in where the Chasers pit is totally different than the last three weeks. It is my opinion this could make the largest difference from the last three weeks in who finishes out front.

This week, the front runners in the Chase are not lined up in the pits according to the standings.

  • This week, Jeff Gordon starts on the pole and has the first pit stall and Jimmy Johnson will not have that advantage.
  • This week, Martin Truex Starts second and Carl Edwards is beginning the race back in sixteenth. That will also affect Carl’s ability to make anything up in the pits.
  • Greg Biffle, instead of starting third, will be mired back in nineteenth place. All of this could make a big difference in the way things wring out as the race progresses.

This week should be no different than other weeks with the C.O.T. Track position will ultimately determine the final outcome of the race and that will be affected by strategies and decisions made in the pits.

I find it interesting that several of those that are situated in the middle to the back of the top twelve in the Chase standings and need any type of advantage to make any advancement in the Chase standings, are starting ahead of the top four. It makes me ask the questions:

  • “Would the Chase standings be closer if we wouldn’t have had qualifying rained out over the last three weeks?”
  • “If things were closer would this week’s starting lineup shake things up when the checkered flag drops at the end of the race?”
  • “What if all of the top twelve were separated by only 225 points?”

These are all interesting ‘what if’ or ‘if only’ questions, but the facts are that the three straight qualifying rain-outs did give an advantage to those highest in the points at the time. Whether or not they could capitalize on that advantage depended on how prepared they were for the three tracks they raced at and whether or not they had part or equipment failures of some sort. The facts also showed that not everyone had great luck in that department during those three weeks either.

I guess that is what makes the Chase so exciting, isn’t it?

That brings us to the “Just A Fan’s View” opinion of who will win this weekend and, as usual, it is a hard choice because of the way things are shaking out so far this weekend.

I know how strong Matt Kenseth was at Atlanta last week and how incredibly fast Jimmy Johnson and Carl Edwards were.

Jeff Gordon has not fared well at Texas in the past but consistently ran up front at Atlanta last week. This could bode well for his chances of winning the race this week in Texas, but I’m not sure about that either.

It is very possible the winner this week could be one that is unexpected. Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer and yes, even Dale Earnhardt, Jr could be in victory lane at the end of the race this weekend.

You see, Jamie McMurray has been running strong over the last several races and is my strongest candidate for a dark horse winner this weekend, but, it is also possible that Kurt Bush could come home with the victory as my unexpected second choice for a dark horse winner.

With the way everyone is all over the place in the line up this week, it is a harder choice for me than usual.

I guess I shouldn’t leave out the one that has been the most consistent and say that Jimmy Johnson is a very strong choice for the visit to victory lane at the end of the race. This is his best chance to finish in the middle of the pack for the race and not lose a lot to those behind him. I do not think he will win but I do admit the possibility.

Carl Edwards is also strong at this type track and with Bob Osborn in the pits as crew chief, his chances are also very good this weekend.

Alright, enough of this avoiding the issue of who will actually win. It is time for the rubber to meet the road, stick my neck out and choose the winner.

I guess my problem is that I think it is a toss up between Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon and I am really torn between the two. Naturally, I would like to see Jeff Gordon end his drought of winning and take the victory but, I know how strong Matt Kenseth is at tracks like these, (which holds true for all of the Roush teams.)

Wow, as I said, this is tough, but here goes.

Jeff Gordon will win this weekend in a tight battle that goes right down to the wire and Matt Kenseth will finish in the top five along with Dale Jr, Jimmy Johnson and Carl Edwards.

Well, that’s my opinion and I’m sticking with it, no matter what.

See ya next time …

Rusty

© 2008 PCN Productions and Rusty Norman