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)

Nascar At Charlotte After Thoughts: Kurt Bush Wraps Up A Couple Of Great Weeks For Penske Racing At Charlotte Motor Speedway

One thing is certain concerning the racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway over the last two weekends… The Bush brothers, in particular Kurt Bush along with Steve Addington and Penske Racing, put a hurting on the rest of the competitors. Not many thought a car that started out strong in the daylight would finish strong at night in the 600, (and I was one of them), but Kurt Bush’s #2 Miller Lite Dodge did exactly that. He led the most laps and the outcome of the 600 mile race was hardly ever in question, although circumstances did try to make it exciting at the end. The Steve Addington led Penske team was the class of the field and took home the big money and bragging rights for performance in the May races at CMS this year.

Racing during the 600 was a little different than I expected it would be. As a fan, I expected some of the teams would flex a little muscle early and then settle in for a little follow the leader for several hundred miles, tweaking during the pit stops and saving most of what they had for the last 50 or so laps. I’m not saying that some of that didn’t go on but I have to admit there was a lot of racing going on.

Several of the teams had problems early and were either out of contention or in the garage for extended periods. One of the stronger cars for both weekends never made much of a showing and that would be the #42 car of Juan Pablo Montoya. During practice both weekends he was fast and it looked as though he might be one of the ones to beat. As it turned out, he had handling problems that took him out of contention early both weekends and had disappointing finishes, further complicating his hopes of being in the Chase this year. Jamie McMurray finished a strong second for EGR and sits only 26 points out of the top twelve and looking pretty good for getting into the Chase.

Montoya wasn’t the only one having difficulty either. Jimmie Johnson struggled all night and finished many laps behind after two tangles with the speedway walls. Denny Hamlin blamed his performance for the night on the out-of-control #48 car and it appeared that may have been the case. Unfortunately, I disagree with his assessment and would more likely chalk it up to just being in the wrong place at the right time. (I never have understood why people say, “wrong place, wrong time.” To me, if they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, nothing would have happened; but that’s just the way I look at it and probably a story better left for another time.)

One of the problems for many teams appeared to be associated with the tire combination Goodyear brought to CMS. Some just couldn’t get the feel right for their driver and there were a lot of tail-slapping-happy cars that struggled much of the night. One of the complaints I heard most often was that the cars were just all of the sudden losing rear grip and causing the drivers to have to chase it up the track in the turns. That is a very uncomfortable feeling for a driver that would really like to take it deep into the turn, (but then, you probably didn’t need me to tell you that, did you?)

Even though they finished fourth and sixth respectively, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon struggled the whole night and probably left Charlotte very happy to finish in the top ten. They both stayed out at the final caution and that gained them track position, but they never did show the strength that Hendrick cars generally do at Charlotte Motor Speedway. From this fan’s view, it appeared they never did quite get the handle on the tire combination (or the handling, period.) (Perhaps they were just testing for their return to CMS in the fall; what do you think? Hm-m-m-m…) Both of them were able to finish near the front but neither of them ever looked to be the ones to beat, especially at the end of the race.

As I expected, the Roush cars didn’t show much strength either, even though Matt Kenseth did finish tenth. Greg Biffle had high hopes going into the 600 but just couldn’t stay away from the wall. He definitely took advantage of “the closer to the wall, the less the damage” situation I talked about in the earlier Charlotte article as he took the opportunity to swap paint with the wall more than once and finished a very disappointing six laps down. Carl Edwards finished 16th and I think that pretty much makes the statement for the Roush teams as David Ragan finished 24th as the last car on the lead lap.

After the way things turned out for so many in NASCAR’s longest race, it is this fan’s opinion that a lot of teams are just happy they didn’t have far to travel to get home after the race. It was either a night of feeling successful or one of utter disappointment and one many would simply like to forget. One thing is certain… the Bush brothers have definitely had a great May and a great weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The only thing that remains to be seen is if their good fortune carries over to Pocono this coming weekend…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© June 2, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

Nascar At Darlington After Thoughts: The Taming of the Untamed Track…

Say what you will about Darlington but it looks like at least a couple of drivers and their teams have a good grip on what it takes to tame “The Track That’s Too Tough To Tame.” No one can discount the fact that Jeff Gordon made another strong showing Saturday night at Darlington. He led the most laps and ran at or near the front most of the night, but still finished fourth in another race he ‘coulda-woulda-shoulda’ won, “If Only…”

Well, those words have always loomed awfully large when things just don’t quite work out. So, am I talking about the words “coulda-woulda-shoulda”, or, am I talking about, “If Only?” To tell the truth, I’m talking about both. The way this fan sees it, Jeff Gordon:

  • “Coulda” won “If Only” he hadn’t had the circumstances that caused him to miss the entrance to pit road late in the race, causing him to lose track position and have to do a drive around to make his stop.
  • Woulda won, (more than likely) “If Only” there would have been the usual green-white-checkered finish at the end of the Showtime Southern 500 instead of the race running to completion without the final reset and double-file restart
  • Shoulda won “If Only” there would have been a final double-file restart when he had worked his way back up to fourth place, simply because, for most of the race, he had the best car and was able to pull away from the rest of the field after a lap or two.

As I said before the race, Jeff Gordon must be the most frustrated driver in the field right now because, he could be looking at the possibility of five or six wins on the year “If Only” a couple of circumstances had gone a slightly different direction.

All of that speculation is relatively pointless now because Denny Hamlin pulled off the victory and took his third win in the 2010 Nascar Cup season.

Even I, as a not so strong supporter of the JGR teams have to admit, Denny Hamlin has been making strong showings in every race since his knee surgery and is coming into his own at Joe Gibbs Racing as a leader even with a team-mate as strong as Kyle Bush. The JGR teams are beginning to show some of the strength that was expected of them after their showing signs of strength near the end of last year. The first part of the year had them starting off with high expectations and only now (eleven races into the season) are they beginning to live up to them.

Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin weren’t the only ones showing they had what it takes to make a good showing at the “Too Tough” track. Jeff Burton’s RCR #31 team and Jamie McMurray of the EGR stable ran strong most of the night with the two of them finishing the race in third and second respectively. There is no doubt in the mind of this fan that Earnhardt/Childers power plants under the hood have something to do with that and from my observations, the Chevys and the Toyotas are showing themselves to be fairly equal when it comes to horsepower.

There are those that say the switch to the spoiler from the wing on the COT has been the single most obvious factor in the performance of the #48 team. Since the change, Jimmie Johnson has not had a lot go his way and it is true, there does seem to be a connection, but it is this fan’s opinion it is more a coincidence than anything else. It has been my experience that, in racing as well as many other things in this life, some things do go in cycles and I think that is the case in this situation.

It is easy to look at the perceived cause and ignore reality. I mean, looking over the last four seasons and taking an honest look at the #48 team’s performance shows a lot that has gone right and even when it looked like something bad had happened they managed to have great finishes. Although it is not uncommon for it to happen, in 2009 they only had one D-N-F. So far in the first eleven races this year, they have already had three and the strangest one happened this last weekend at Darlington when A J Allmendinger lost his brakes and control and slammed into Jimmie Johnson ending a night of racing for the #48 team that had been a frustration and struggle at best.

Personally, I know we are approximately one third of the way through the season but I don’t put a lot of stock in the way teams are performing either good or bad at the moment. Between now and the beginning of the Chase and then through the Chase and the end of the year a lot can happen. Is it still possible that Jimmie Johnson can take his fifth championship in a row? Absolutely! It is also possible that Jeff Gordon can end the year with his fifth, as well as somebody else winning for the first time. You see, in the end, this is NASCAR racing and as we all know anything can and does happen.

No matter how you look at it, 2010 is going to be one for the history books and will long be remembered. I have no idea who is going to win the Cup although I do think I have a pretty good idea of who the top twelve are that will be competing for it. Does that make any difference as to what will happen when NASCAR goes to Dover this coming weekend to take on the “Monster Mile?” Nope, but I’ll be watching anyway… (and giving you my opinion about it, too…)

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© May12, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

Nascar At Darlington: Who’ll Tame The Track That’s Too Tough To Tame?

Rusty NormanThere’s reason why they call it “the track that’s too tough to tame”, but if anyone has come close to taming it in recent history, the name Jeff Gordon would probably be at the top of the list. He has often performed well at this track and is one of the favorites to win this weekend. That’s not to say he isn’t up against some stiff competition this weekend, but if practice and qualifying say anything at all about the possibilities for who could win the Showtime Southern 500, the #24 team has a good chance to get back into the win column.

Now that I’ve said that, you already know what I think of trying to use qualifying times Continue reading “Nascar At Darlington: Who’ll Tame The Track That’s Too Tough To Tame?”

Nascar at Talladega: Bump Drafting Rule Changes and Some Unknowns Could Add A New Dimension to the Usual Talladega Excitement

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A few unknowns, the relaxing of the bump drafting rules and bad weather on Saturday at Talladega will definitely figure into the mix of the Aaron’s 499 this weekend. If you listen to the drivers, even they expect this to be one of the most exciting Talladega races in a while, (in fact, some even said it could get pretty wild out there.)

Whether or not they are talking about several multiple car crashes or a couple of “big ones”, I’m not sure, but one thing is certain, it will prove to be an interesting race especially since qualifying was called off because of bad weather possibilities.

One of the unknowns this weekend is how the spoiler will figure into the racing on Sunday afternoon. It does appear that Nascar has Continue reading “Nascar at Talladega: Bump Drafting Rule Changes and Some Unknowns Could Add A New Dimension to the Usual Talladega Excitement”

Nascar at Homestead: Who’ll Be The Champ AFTER the Ford 400 Is Over?

I know you’ve heard it before, but, the Chase could be all over except for awarding the trophy. Yeah, that’s the word for this weekend’s Ford 400 Nascar finale at Homestead, FL. Whether or not you choose to accept that thinking is up to you. As for me, I think there is enough possibility of something of interest happening that I wouldn’t miss this race for anything.

There’s really no reason to not expect some excitement this weekend and any that can’t be found in the actual race will definitely be pointed out by the commentators in the broadcasts either on ABC TV or Sirius Radio. Now, I’m not saying they’re going to ignore what is actually going on in the race, but I am saying they are going to look for any opportunity to point to something other than Jimmie Johnson running away with the championship by dominating the race.

What?!? Did I just say Jimmie Johnson was going to run away with the Cup Championship this weekend?

Well… yes, I guess I did… kinda…

Look at what he has to do to clinch the title as opposed to what he has to do to lose it. He only has to finish 25th or better to take the Championship. If he performs better than just finishing 25th there is no way he can lose. If he leads the most laps and just generally performs well up to the end of the race, he only has to finish 28th or better. If that doesn’t put a positive spin on his possibilities for being the first in Nascar history to win four in a row, I don’t know what will.

So, why should anyone watch the race?

Well, I’m glad you asked that question because I definitely have an opinion.

The great thing about this thing called racing, (in particular, Nascar racing), is that no matter what the facts say and no matter how definite the outcome may appear, there is always the chance that a disaster can strike at any time and change the end result to the totally unexpected. It all depends on what happens.

There is just enough of a possibility of something other than the obvious happening that it should make for an interesting race. Let’s not forget it is a 400 mile race and not just a trophy dash. Over the distance of that many miles, anything, and I do mean, a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g, can happen. It only takes something as small as a valve stem or a side wall being cut by lapping one of the slower cars. Even an unexpected flat tire at the wrong moment in a lap can end the day for anybody by causing them to careen into the wall. As the media has made more than obvious in the last couple of weeks, let’s not forget what happened on lap three in Texas as Jimmie Johnson was passing Sam Hornish and the incident ended with Jimmie hard into the wall and finishing 38th, which was the best they could do that day.  Unfortunately, that is something that could happen again this weekend in the Ford 400 and it can happen to more than just Jimmie Johnson.

As a fan, I don’t think anyone wants disaster to strike the #48 team this weekend, but, I do think there have been so many “feel good” possibilities that have come along during this year that many don’t know which they would actually rather see happen.

The obvious story is Jimmie Johnson honing in on his fourth Cup Championship in a row. Next in line would be Mark Martin having a possibility of taking his first Cup Championship in all of his successful years in Nascar. Although it would take a miracle, there is the absolute slimmest of possibilities that Jeff Gordon could take his fifth Cup Title and that would mean absolute disaster would have strike the #48 and #5 teams very near the start of the race. (The chances of that actually happening is astronomical and I only mention it because it is the slimmest of possibilities.)

Now it comes down to what actually happens in the race this weekend. There are a good number of drivers that can take the victory this weekend. The obvious choices for me other than the top three in the Chase would be names like, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Bush, Juan Montoya, and Tony Stewart. It is even possible it could be someone as unexpected as Marcos Ambrose or Scott Speed and, yes there are some others. Oh, I agree, they are all long shots, but they should be considered as possible winners simply because of their qualifying times, (even though you know I don’t put much stock in those, either.)

Jimmie Johnson has won the pole and made a statement that he is serious about winning this race and not just content to run 25th or better. Although he and Chad Knaus admit there are many things that can happen they cannot control, they are putting forth their best effort to prove they are the dominate team this year and are not just wanting to slide into the Sprint Cup Championship by finishing way back in the field. I don’t know how it is going to turn out on Sunday afternoon, but I do know they are going for the win as well as for the Cup.

Will they do both? I can’t say because this is Nascar and, as I’ve said many times before, anything can happen, but I intend to be watching to see how it all turns out…

See ya next time… Rusty

(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© November 21, 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

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Nascar at the Glen: Just A Fan’s View of the Race This Weekend at Watkins Glen

Who knows what this weekend holds … if anyone ever thought for a moment that nothing unexpected ever happens in Nascar these days, maybe they should think again. Except for Jimmy Johnson and Kurt Bush starting on the front row, many of the faces fans would expect to see starting near the front just aren’t there.

Names like, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart are in the middle to the back of the pack. One can only think they hope to get their cars handling much better by the end of Happy Hour considering the way they qualified. If not, it could prove to be a very long day for them and their teams.

Some fans wonder why Nascar keeps the two road course races in the schedule mix when there are so many other oval tracks looking for a possible Nascar date.  Others wonder why they don’t have more of them in the schedule. I’m one of the ones that likes both the oval tracks and the road courses they visit and I do agree with those that think at least one road course should be in the schedule during the actual Chase races.

Not many disagree with the thinking that Nascar drivers are the best and most versatile drivers in the world, because they drive on more types of race tracks than those in other series. Not only do they drive on more different types but most of them are competitive on all of them, at least when they have a chance to compete. Yes, some of the owners still bring in “road course ringers” to better their chances of having a good finish for their sponsors, but, many of the main drivers perform as well as any of the “ringers” that are brought in.

So, what do I mean by saying that?

Well, I think it is good to see some of the drivers that are more experienced in road courses being brought in, if, for no other reason, it adds a little diversity to the competition. Names like Ron Fellows and Boris Said are recognized by many Nascar fans even though they are probably better known as road course racers.

Boris Said is probably the better known of the two and, personally, I would like to see him get a regular ride for at least a year. I think he is very talented and could be very successful, given the chance to be in good, competitive equipment and also not having so much pressure to perform right off the bat. If he had a chance to gain more experience in the Cup cars without the pressure of having to perform to keep his sponsorship for more than a few races, I think he could produce some surprising results for the owner that gives him the chance.

Well, I suppose I could go on all day talking about many things that don’t really matter about the race on Sunday at the Glen, but I’m going to move on to which ones of the forty three in the field this fan thinks are going to finish in the top spots. I know I have been at a loss some weeks in the past this season for having a good feel for who will actually win and this weekend is no different.  In my opinion, a road course is a place where anybody can win, but it’s more likely that several have a better chance than the others.

Now I won’t bore you with a bunch of talk about the whys and who’s and how’s, but I do have some very strong thoughts on the one that will actually win. If the last road course race tells anything at all about this one, I do think we will see some pretty strong  contenders from Sonoma in the hunt for tomorrow’s race. Some names that immediately stand out are, Juan Montoya, Denny Hamlin, Boris Said, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne. A few others deserving mention would be Greg Biffle, Ron Fellows, Robby Gordon and Max Papis. I’m also of the opinion you can never count Jeff Gordon out of the mix by where he starts simply because he is such a strong road racer. If crew chief, Steve Letarte, gets the 24 car feeling right for Jeff, look out — it could be a repeat of what Marcos Ambrose did at Sonoma in June.

Although any of these could pull off the victory tomorrow, I don’t think many of them have much of a chance. A road course is all about speed and consistency and the one that generally wins has both all day long. I suspect the winner will more likely be either Marcos Ambrose or Jimmy Johnson. Since I like to pick the possible top five or six, here’s what I think the finishing order will be …

I would put the top six as, Jeff Gordon, Boris Said, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Jimmy Johnson, with Marcos Ambrose bringing home the victory.

I think it is going to be interesting to see how long this race goes without a caution flag. If one comes out near the end, I look for real fireworks because of the double-file restart. With no yellow flag in the last fifteen or twenty laps, this fan expects it could be a relatively uneventful finish, depending on tire wear and fuel mileage. As it stands through all of the practices and qualifying, this race at the Glen could be one of the most surprising and interesting races of the year. Now, that’s not because of who might win … it is more who is going to solidify their place in the top twelve for the Chase and who is going kill their chances of getting in at all …

See ya next time …

Rusty

(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© August 8, 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar At Loudon “After Chatter”: The Rain Works Magic for Logano at the Magic Mile

From this fan’s view, it looked like Jeff Gordon, Kurt Bush and Tony Stewart would be battling right down to the wire and then, the rains came and great strategy by crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, proved to be the winning move that put Joey Logano and the number 20 Home Depot team in Victory lane. It was great call that worked out well and gave Logano his first Cup victory and made him the youngest driver to win a cup race.

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This has been a year of surprises in Nascar and Sunday’s race at the Magic Mile was no different. Some say Joey Logano didn’t deserve to win and that Nascar called the race too soon. In fact, there were a lot of opinions offered concerning the calling of the race for rain, but according to the weather and the rules, they did it just right.

If we really take an honest look at the end of the race, we find more than one person was trying the same strategy. It just didn’t work out for them. Greg Zipadelli made the call to stay out and then coached his young driver to the victory. The thing about racing many forget, or maybe don’t understand is, you do what ever you can to put yourself in contention to be out front when the checkered flag falls.

There are a lot of cliches that float around racing and a few of them could be inserted here. I won’t bore you with all of them but one of the most important ones is, “To finish first, you must first finish.”

If the race had gone a few more green flag laps, Joey Logano would have had to come in for fuel; but there weren’t, so he didn’t and he won the race. Hey, ask anyone who has raced. Sometimes you do have to have a things go your way (some people call that luck.) It may not seem fair when the cards fall as they do, but it doesn’t change the outcome when they do. You take the hand you’re dealt and move on to the next race knowing that the same thing that helps you one time can hurt you next time.

One ‘after chatter’ hot point about the rain-out was what may have happened if the race could have finished. Would it have been Jeff Gordon, Kurt Bush, Tony Stewart or maybe someone else that took the checkered flag? Now, even though it doesn’t matter, it is interesting to consider but, I admit, kind of pointless. I just want to offer my two cents into this discussion. I think it would have been a real shootout between Jeff Gordon, Kurt Bush and Tony Stewart if they would have run the last 27 laps. Depending on how the yellow flags might have fallen at the end, even Kyle Bush, David Reutimann and Jimmy Johnson may have figured in to the mix.

You see, that’s the fun thing about speculation. In our minds anything could have happened and, the way the human mind works, the possibilities are endless. I am amazed at some of the ones I’ve heard. Some even said that Dale Jr was going to pull off the victory, even though he was running thirteenth at the time the red flag came out.

Personally, I don’t think he had any chance of that at all. I think it would have been more likely for Jimmy Johnson to pull off the victory from ninth rather than Dale Jr, only because he led so many laps at the first part of the race. All of those wild possibilities aside, I do think what I said earlier about Jeff, Kurt and Tony would have been more likely if for no other reason than it is so hard to pass at the Magic Mile.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what we think “might have happened.” Joey Logano won because he was at the right place at the right time when the checkered flag came out. He and his team deserved to win simply because of those facts and I congratulate him and the Home Depot Team for what they accomplished.

That about wraps up this fan’s view of the Miracle Mile at Loudon, NH. Next stop is the “Coke Zero 400” at Daytona, FL this Saturday night. I know this might sound like another one of those cliches, but, “I can’t wait for the fireworks.”

See ya next time …
Rusty

(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© July 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman