Chase Championship Race at Homestead from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty NormanAnd so it comes down to this… the 2011 NASCAR Cup Championship is all about winning, or at least, three points. Tony Stewart needs to win at Homestead or at least finish four points ahead of Carl Edwards by the end of the race Sunday afternoon and he will be the Cup Champion. Carl Edwards needs to win or finish just behind or just ahead of Stewart and he will be the Cup Champ. Either way, there is truly no way of knowing until the race is over, (or one or both of them drop out because of and accident or major failure) which one it will be.

From this fan’s view, this is exactly what NASCAR hoped for when they started the Chase format for the Championship and there couldn’t be a better way to end the year. (Well, there are those that think it would be better if the points were closer throughout the top twelve and more than two could win it.) This is not the first time the points battle has been close, but it is the first time it has been this close with the new points system and with the competition throughout the cup teams being as close as it has ever been.

I probably don’t have to remind you again, but this fan doesn’t generally put much stock in qualifying. Everybody knows it’s not how fast you can go for one or two laps but how fast you can consistently go over many laps. Preferably, it is important for a driver to be able to gain places on the track, maintain a faster speed than his competitors and have his pit crew pick up even more time for him in the pits and maintain track position.

It is important to notice where Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards qualified however, if for no other reason than who is going to be in clean air first (and possibly most often.) Carl Edwards qualified on the pole for today’s Championship race while Tony Stewart qualified fifteenth. I’m not so sure that was exactly how Tony wanted to start the race but he did seemed to be more pleased with his race trim than qualifying trim.

That’s where the importance of those consistently fast lap times I mentioned earlier come in. It was obvious Tony and crew chief Darian Grubb were working on the race trim during their practice times much more than qualifying. One of the biggest problems I see with where he is starting is how many possibilities for getting caught up in something not of his own making. In other words, it is possible his chances for moving forward or winning could be hurt by someone else’s mistake.

By starting on the pole, Carl Edwards has a definite advantage. From my view, his first worry is whether his crew chief, Bob Osborn’s setup is good for the beginning of the race and he pulls away from the field out into clean air. There is always the possibility the setup could be missed by just enough to cause him to fall back into the field, as has happened in the recent past, and open up the possibilities for problems (much like Tony Stewart could face from the start), and I hate to put a damper on the whole day, but neither one of them may even be close to the front for the whole race.

Now you may ask, “Do I really think that’s what going to happen?” Well… no… but, I won’t rule out the possibility either. NASCAR is way to competitive right now to think that everyone is going to move over and let the top two just work it out between themselves. I do have to admit, I don’t think Homestead is the place there are going to be a lot of paybacks for something, but I do know the competitive spirit will be very evident throughout the race.

Let’s not forget that NASCAR is all about winning and, although I know there only two that can win the Championship, there are more than two that want to finish the year with a trip to victory lane. In fact, Kasey Kahne, Kurt Bush and Brad Keselowski would like nothing better than to finish ahead of both Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart and won’t think twice about putting them behind them or making it hard for them to pass them.

If you’re wondering why I feel this way about it, it’s all because of a thing called adrenaline. No matter what attitude a person may have before the race starts, when the green flag drops, the “bull-hockey” stops and the adrenaline kicks in. If recent weeks tell us anything, not everyone of the drivers will make good decisions about how they’re treated by their fellow competitors or handle every situation with cool, calm deliberation. No, several will react without considering the consequences of their actions and how they might affect even the most innocent of bystanders. (It wouldn’t be the first time that someone reacted and took out someone other than they intended, especially this year.)

So, from this fan’s view, the hope is the race will come down to Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart battling for the win on the final laps and one of them coming away with the win and the Championship.

Will it be a race that Carl Edwards dominates and Tony Stewart struggles all day or, possibly, the other way around? That’s a good question and one that will only be answered as the race progresses.

Is it possible that both, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards fall back and it is just a points battle between them while someone else dominates the race? I don’t know, but it is a possibility. In fact, with only three points separating the top two drivers, anything can and probably will happen. The only thing I really hope is that it isn’t a complete blowout by one of them and the whole race becomes a ho-hum experience. I really would like to see the race to come down to the final lap and some doubt as to who might win until they cross the finish line.

So… will it be Tony Stewart or Carl Edwards that wins the 2011 Cup Championship? Yep, it will…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© November 19, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

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

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Texas was big for the Chasers and, unless something really goes wrong for the top two drivers in points in the coming two weeks, this fan thinks we are down to a two man race. Tony Stewart did exactly what he needed to do and he now trails Carl Edwards by only three points as the NASCAR teams head for Phoenix this coming weekend.

Okay, okay… I admit it is still just a tad early to be counting out anyone in the top six of the Chase standings, but if the only thing you’re hoping for is mathematical elimination to make being out a reality, then you’re obviously an optimist. I’m sure there are some that still hold on to the hope that Brad Keselowski or Jimmie Johnson can still be a force in the final race at Homestead, but the likelihood of them picking up the amount of points they need over the next two races would mean the four ahead of them would have to have absolute disasters and finish in the last spots for both weeks.

You say, “Well, it could happen…” and I say, “Ain’t likely… and your a bigger dreamer than anyone I know.”

Now you may not know this if you do feel those two do have a chance, but the chances of the top four finishing as far back as possible and spots five and six finishing at the front two weeks in a row are astronomical. I still say emphatically, “It ain’t gonna happen!!” and there are more than just a few that agree with me.

So what are the chances of Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick pulling ahead of Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart? Well, better than the other two but still, it would mean Carl and Tony would have to have extremely bad races in Phoenix and Homestead. That is about the only chance I see for Harvick and Kenseth but they only have to make up 33 and 38 points to pass the leaders over the next two races. That’s not impossible but it isn’t easy either.

Of the two top Chaser’s, this fan thinks if anyone is due for a bad week it is Carl Edwards, but not both him and Stewart on the same weekends. As it stands right now, this Chase is Carl Edwards to lose and this fan thinks Tony Stewart is going to do everything he can to take advantage of any mistakes the #99 team makes and, also from my view, Stewart is the hot shoe at the present.

Kasey Kahne had the best finish of the non-Chasers and has had an exceptional Chase (even though he isn’t in it.) The Red Bull team is making a strong showing even though they’re losing the driver and probably won’t be involved next season. It is a good thing for Kasey and for his team though, because even with the adversities they’re facing, they have shown what they are made of and it could be a plus for all involved no matter what happens for them next year.

I know I mentioned in the pre-race article that I had noticed kind of a trend that dealt with most multiple win drivers appearing to be three and done. Because of that trend, I didn’t think “Smoke” would win at Texas (or possibly any place else this year.) Well, I reckon I might have to adjust that statement a bit and, to be honest, I’m not sure that he won’t win at least one of the two final races. He has that old glint in his eye that says to this fan and his competitors, “Look out, you may have thought I didn’t have a chance, but I intend to win this Championship and it’s up to you to stop me.”

Honestly, from this fan’s view, it is good to see the fire back in Stewart’s eyes even if it was only missing for a few weeks before the Chase started.

A quick look at the Texas finishing order tells an interesting story about the possibilities for the race coming up in Phoenix. Of the top twelve finishers at Texas, six were non-Chasers and it could be the same happens this week. I’m not saying I really expect Edwards or Stewart to have bad finishes, but I am saying they may have to race a non-Chaser for the lead this coming weekend.

One thing the Texas race showed us was Tony Stewart is quite capable of doing exactly what needs to be done in his quest to win his third Cup Championship. Tony not only won the race but got all the points he could get in one race. Another thing is he looks as confident as I have seen him look in several years and that could spell trouble for Edwards and his team. Carl has readily admitted they have been lucky in more than one race in the Chase and, personally, I think he hopes they don’t have to be lucky again this year. It is my opinion the #99 team would rather have at least one dominating performance out of the next two and have a comfortable lead over Stewart and his team.

Will that happen? Well, only time will tell and ‘by the time they get to Phoenix’, the picture may be a bit clearer but I wouldn’t count on it. Now after they leave Phoenix, well…. that’s a whole different story…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© November 10, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

Chase Race Eight at Texas from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty NormanWell, the fireworks have already started for the Texas Motor Speedway but who would have thought something in the Truck series would have an effect on the Cup Series Chase for the championship. It is old news now and I know you’ve all heard about the incident between Kyle Bush and Ron Hornaday – (uh, how could you not have heard?) – but Kyle Bush will not be racing in any of the three NASCAR series for this weekend. That will kill his chances for making any impact in the Chase for the Cup this year and it is unknown by me at this point if further actions will be taken.

It is interesting to note that an action like this isn’t often taken by NASCAR, but it is also something that has happened before, just not on the same scale. This is the first time it has affected a competitor across all three of the series in a weekend. Although it will obviously leave a bad taste in the mouths of many, it was probably a necessary action for the sanctioning body to take to be able to maintain control and govern the three series. Without some sort of drastic action like this, there would be little control they would be able exert.

Since the advent of “Boys, have at it…” there has always been the question raised when the line would be crossed and, obviously, that question has now been answered. Kyle Bush obviously crossed the line (although I know many may disagree) and now those actions will not only affect one in the truck series but it will affect teams in the Nationwide and Cup series as well. By the way, let’s not forget there was more to that statement than just, “Boys have at it…” they also included the words “and have fun…” I don’t recall them saying, “anything goes” although some may have interpreted it that way.

I understand Kyle has a very competitive nature, is a great driver but can have a volatile temper at times. I also understand almost all racers at one time or another, do things they regret when their system is filled with all that adrenaline generated by the sport they love. Racers also know, (or hopefully quickly learn), there may be consequences for those actions that may seem unfair at the time, but are meant more to protect them and keep them safer in an already dangerous sport. (By the way, from this fan’s view, I think NASCAR made the right decision in this instance and I know it got a lot of people’s attention, especially in the Cup Series.)

Well, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I guess we should spend at least a little time talking about the Cup series race coming up Sunday afternoon. The actions taken by NASCAR won’t change the intensity already evident in the Cup Series but it may cause some (especially in the Cup Series) to consider their actions may have greater consequences than they thought. Considering the tightness of the competition in the top six of the Chase, it may not only affect how they race on Sunday, but also how others outside the top twelve race, too. In past weeks there have been those that have said they have nothing to lose, but now it appears they may have a lot to lose, if their actions step over the line as Kyle Bush’s did in NASCAR’s opinion.

Everyone knows Texas is a fast track. Things can happen fast at a place like this and there is no way of knowing who or how someone in contention for winning the Chase may be affected. Probably the greatest fear of those at the top of the Chase is something happening, either of their own making or someone else’s, that takes them out of the top spots. Of course, the opposite holds true for those trying to make up spots in the Chase. They hope something does happen to those front runners that gives them a chance to get back in the hunt and that they don’t get caught up in any of it.

Somehow, Carl Edwards has managed to hold onto the points lead, even though he hasn’t been the dominate player week in and week out. Tony Stewart has made a charge since the Chase began, but has also struggled at times. Between these top two, there is now a little bit of “mind-gaming” going on and it looks to make this weekend’s race, not only exciting but also more intense. I don’t see Carl Edwards just running around for 500 miles hoping the rest of the players in the Chase don’t make gains on him, but I do expect him to be competitive and yet cautious.

When it comes to Tony Stewart, well, he has already said he intends to press the envelope and he hopes to best Carl by better than eight points and take home the trophy, too. His level of confidence and intensity are very obvious, even to the casual observer, and I expect him to be pressing toward the front even while being protectively cautious of the position he is now in.

There is no way I can count out anyone in the top six at the moment. Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson are still in it as far as this fan is concerned. Now, I may feel a bit different when this weekend is over, but any one of the four can break right back into contention if they run up front and something happens to the front runners. I know that little word “if” can loom very large, but all things considered and something does happen to Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart and they both finish far back in the field, suddenly the points battle shapes up completely differently.

To put it bluntly, there are a number of drivers that can win this weekend and only twelve (well, really eleven) are in the Chase. One of them sits on the pole (namely Greg Biffle) and the rest lineup somewhere behind him. This could very well be another one of those races a non-Chaser takes the trip to Victory Lane. It could also be a race there is a collective groan from many as Jimmie Johnson gets back to within striking distance of his sixth consecutive Cup Championship…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© November 5, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

Chase Race Six at Talladega from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty NormanThe Chasers and the rest of the Cup teams take to the Talladega track Sunday afternoon and one thing is certain… there will be a lot of uncertainty of how the race will go. NASCAR has made some interesting rule changes and many of the drivers and others are questioning some of those changes and think it is going to make the likelihood of something big happening even greater. Some are questioning why they have chosen to change the cooling system pop-off valve eight pounds (from 33 to 25 lbs) and others wonder why they eliminated greasing the bumpers. Some have said these are the dumbest rule changes ever and many fans are in agreement.

So what’s the big deal about all this? Well you see, Talladega used to be about speed. It was the biggest and fastest oval track in NASCAR and it used to be a place where a very few cars dominated all the rest and put them laps behind over the course of a race. In this fan’s opinion, given the choice of a few cars running for the trophy and the rest just running around the track, NASCAR chose to change the rules and that led to large packs of cars running nose-to-tail, side by side and a thing called restrictor plate racing.

Of course, there were many good reasons for making those changes other than just to bunch up the cars into those large packs. Since the racing speeds were increasing to over 200 miles per hour, to protect the fans and the drivers from cars that were beginning to take flight with regularity putting those fans and drivers in jeopardy, NASCAR opted for the restrictor plates to lower the speed of the cars on the super-speedways and hopefully keep their wheels on the ground. That and other tweaks to the rules led to the large packs of cars running in the draft and yet kept any one of them from really separating themselves from the rest.

Then came the new car called the C-O-T (car of tomorrow for those of you new to, or not familiar with NASCAR) and something new happened to the racing on the super-
speedways. The drivers and crews discovered that two cars running nose-to-tail could run up to fifteen miles per hour faster than a pack of cars or cars running by themselves. The longer the two could run together in tandem, the longer they could maintain that speed advantage. With the repaving of the larger tracks, making their surfaces smoother, the drivers now choose a running partner and the field runs in packs of two for the whole race.

NASCAR has been trying to find ways to break up those extended two car tandem runs and the latest try at fixing it is the rule changes concerning the pop-off valves and not allowing the teams to grease the bumpers. (Just to refresh your memory, greasing the bumpers made it easier to run in tandem without upsetting the the front car in the tandem, or worse, causing an accident and sometimes, a big one.) Of course, it does appear the teams are finding a way around that “no-grease” rule already…

All of these new developments lead us into this weekend at Talladega and the certainty of uncertainty and makes this fan wonder how all of it will shake out when the race is over. I’m still one of those that loves restrictor plate racing and has already grown accustomed to the two car tandem drafts. What I would like to see happen is the continuation of the close racing and finishes we have all witnessed lately and I don’t think that is going to change. From my view, the drivers are just whining a bit at the increased stress level they will have to endure and it will be particularly more stressful on the ones in the Chase that need to have very good finishes this weekend.

So, a quick glance at the qualifying times tells a Chevy story. Just looking a the top ten shows seven Chevys and three Fords. If we look just little further back we see there are two more Chevys and still only one more Ford in the top thirteen. Of course, you know there is not much about qualifying that says how the race will end up, especially at the super speedways, Talladega in particular.

From this fan’s view, (and several others), it’s not about how fast the cars run by themselves but how fast they run with their chosen tandem drafting partners and how they move through the traffic. That’s just how this tandem racing goes and it is going to be important how the different partners come out of the pits and how fast they can pair up. That puts extra pressure on the pit crews and the crew chiefs to perform and it makes every stop important. The adjustments that will need to be made and the strategy calls to keep partners together and out front will be as important as ever and still, the strategy calls made on the fly will be the ones that can make or break the race for anyone.

In typical fashion, there is at least one more thing that will be almost certain for the full 500 miles. The drivers have to keep their cars cool and they have to stay cool themselves, but that’s really not the one more thing I’m talking about. What I am talking about is that the race is 500 miles and anyone of the 43 starters can win it, and of course, the points could be well shaken up when this one is over…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© October 22, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

Chase Race Three at the Monster From A NASCAR Fans View

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Rusty NormanLast week it was the Magic, this week it’s the Monster and some drivers have to have monstrous success in Chase Race three on Sunday afternoon. If the trend continues for some, they may have to just contend for the Championship next year and take what they get for this year. That’s not to say it is all over for most (other than maybe Denny Hamlin) but with every passing weekend they drop further back in the points, the harder it is for them to move back up. When one of them has a bad weekend, there is no guarantee those ahead of them will have a bad one to help them get back into contention. That’s what makes the Chase format, as it stands now, so interesting (on a week to week basis, that is.)

The Chasers are already somewhat separated when it comes right down to it and no one is eliminated yet, but there is a big difference between being less than fifteen points behind the top spot and being twenty three or more points behind. In case anyone doesn’t get what I’m getting at, let me make it as plain as I can. That means even Jeff Gordon has to be considered as an also ran if he has another week or two finishing outside the top ten. Yes, I know he moved up six places after last weeks race in Loudon, but, if he doesn’t continue to finish in the top ten, (better yet, the top five), then this could turn out to be just another year he was in contention but didn’t take home the big prize.

Okay, I admit it, maybe I am jumping the gun a little early in talking about drivers either being in or out of the Sprint Cup Championship hunt, but time is getting short and someone is going to step up to the plate and take it to the rest of them. It could be Tony Stewart (who has already won the first two races) or it could be Brad Keselowski who has already had an outstanding nine weeks and was considered by many to not even be able to make the Chase. Yet he sits in third spot in the points and hasn’t faultered at all. It is certainly obvious, he has the most momentum of all the drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, (unless we consider Tony Stewart because of his two latest wins.)

I don’t know about you, but from this fan’s view, this Chase is definitely shaping up quite a bit different than I expected. I have to admit, in my mind I thought the drivers that would have jumped on the first two races and been at the top of the points had different names than the ones that are. I really thought Kyle Bush, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson would have been the early leaders. I honestly expected Tony Stewart to still be struggling a bit and would have expected Brad Keselowski to have faded. As it is, they both have impressed me as being the ones to beat and Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards are right there with them.

Today at the Monster Mile could be one of the races won by someone outside the twelve Chasers. I think everybody expects the Bush brothers and Carl Edwards to be atop the leader board when all is said and done, but there are others that did show some good speed in the practice sessions and look who is sitting on the pole. This fan didn’t expect to see the name Martin Truex Jr in that position but it definitely is. Take a look at some of the others in the top fifteen. Some of them are names not mentioned much, at least not for being possible winners or top ten finishers.

Paul Menard qualified third and could win this race. I’m not saying he will but I am saying by qualifying third he has some speed and that could be the thing that propels him to the victory. AJ Allmendinger, Bobby Labonte, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle all qualified in the top ten and although it is a long shot, any one of them could pull off a victory if things go well for them and not like usual.

The Monster is a very fast and tricky one mile track. Simply because some one qualified in the back of the field doesn’t mean they will stay back there all day any more than someone who qualified at or near the top will stay there either. From this fan’s view, this is going to be a race that won’t decided until the last thirty or so laps and it is going to depend on whether there is a late race caution or two. The closer they come to the end, the harder it will be to call the winner and if the last fifty or so laps are run under green, well, it’s going to be all about track position, consistently fast lap times and how that last pit stop goes.

Personally, this fan thinks this is going to be another week the points situation is shaken up again. I’m not so sure Danny Hamlin is going to make a big jump, even though he did qualify eleventh. The biggest change could come in the top four since they are the tightest in points at the moment, but that’s not to say there won’t be some surprises. Yeah, I think it is possible there could be an unexpected winner, but I’m not ruling out Mark Martin or Jeff Gordon either. Wait a minute, looking at where they qualified, they would probably be unexpected winners, too, wouldn’t they?…

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

NASCAR at Homestead After Thoughts: Jimmie Johnson Wins His Fifth in a Row

Jimmie Johnson and the #48 Hendrick team made history again at the Homestead-Miami Speedway taking their fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. To all the naysayers and the ones that said he and the #48 were done, Jimmie, crew chief Chad Knaus and all of Hendrick Motorsports rose to the occasion, overcame all adversity and did exactly what they needed to do to win the coveted and unprecedented fifth consecutive title. It was a hard fought victory on a day that saw all three contenders for The Cup struggle through good and bad moments right down the final laps.

On the other hand, Carl Edwards seemed to have the field covered all day as he led 190 laps and took the trophy for the Ford 400 home with him. Of course, his dominance went basically unnoticed and hardly anyone paid much attention to his commanding performance as all eyes were focused on the drama taking place between the top three in the points race. Even his time and celebration in Victory Lane was just a precursor to the celebration of the #48 team.

From this fan’s view, I don’t think everybody understands just what has been happening (and, yeah, I know many are tired of hearing about the historic and commanding performance of the #48 Hendrick team and driver Jimmie Johnson over the last five seasons.) In a time when the competition has never been as close between teams as it is right now, this team has won five consecutive championship titles. If it was hard to do before, it is even harder to do now. Right now, is the most competitive time in NASCAR history and despite all the criticism, “black helicopter” stories and finger pointing, this team has stayed focused and done what no one else in NASCAR history has done to this point.

I have heard the rumblings of some fans that say the #48 team hasn’t really won the Championship (like “back in the day”) because of the way the Chase is set up; It appears they think they’ve only won the Chase. I have to admit to you, I haven’t looked at it that way and still don’t.

(I guess this is the place where I go into a slight rant, because I really don’t understand some people and their thinking process.) From my view, the #48 team has performed well during the seasons in question and in the Chases those years, too. This year in particular was what many asked for (in one way or another) and that was a Chase that wasn’t a blowout by Jimmie Johnson. I guess my questions to those I just mentioned is this, “Did Jimmie Johnson make it into the Chase in those years and the others and was there a time when he didn’t win?”

Okay, so do I think there are changes that could be made to the Chase format that could make it even better and still have one like we had this year? You bet I do, but no one can argue with this years result, (in fact, I even wrote about it in a previous post.) If you’re reading, this you can >> CLICK HERE << to go to that article (and to the ones that are just listening to the blog/cast… well… you need to visit the site and read about it… or, you can read one of the articles I have planned for the off-season; that should bring you up to date on my thoughts on the matter and I’ll be just a little bit more thorough.)

Personally, I think this year, Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and every person at Hendrick Motorsports has shown just how human they are and how willing they are to keep on plugging away no matter what the circumstances and how much legitimate (and of course, illegitimate) criticism they receive for accomplishing what they have and for setting the bar so high.

So the question HAS been answered about the #48 team and whether or not they could actually run to win when they had to. They proved in Homestead they could take the hands they were dealt and still come out on top. Will it happen again? Hey, I’m not even going to go there (there’s already enough people out there talking about that.) From this fan’s view, I’m just going to wait and see what happens…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© November 24, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

NASCAR at Homestead: No Matter What Happens, One Will Leave The Champion

Rusty NormanOne thing is certain for the last Chase race for 2010, no matter what happens in the race this weekend, one of the top three will walk away as the Sprint Cup Champion for the  2010 NASCAR season. It doesn’t really matter if any of the three wins the race, because they’re racing each other and not the rest of the field. All any of the three have to do is finish better than two of the others by a certain amount and the one that does, wins the championship. It is a fitting end to a racing season that many consider to be the best ever in NASCAR history and I can’t say I disagree.

From this fan’s view, I really do think the 2010 season has been one of the best I can remember and I’ve been a NASCAR fan since the 60’s. Sure, there were moments during the year the racing seemed a bit humdrum and boring, but overall, every race had some kind of excitement and drama that capped off every week with a desire to see what would happen the next week. Whether it was the result of previous rule changes like the double file restart, up to three green-white-checker finishes or the statement from NASCAR at the beginning of the year that said, “Boys, have at it…” I’m not sure. All I know is this has been a different year for NASCAR and its fans than many previous ones.

We have all been inundated over the last week with the closeness of the points between the top three, but contrary to popular opinion there is a pretty darn close race going on in the rest of the pack of twelve, too.

A quick look at the 9th to 12th positions shows a couple of things. Probably one of the most surprising things I notice is Clint Bowyer isn’t in 12th; Jeff Burton is and that is despite the penalties Bowyer was assessed after the first race in the Chase along with a poor performance in the second race. I have to say that is one thing I didn’t expect to see.

Next is the points spread between Kurt Bush and Clint Bowyer. Kurt is only 5 points ahead of Clint and depending on what happens Sunday, one of the two could move up or down a spot. I really don’t think Tony Stewart will move backwards from 9th with the separation of 41 and 46 points between him and the other two, (although, stranger things have happened), but he is only 39 points behind Greg Biffle.

Now that is where is does start to get interesting, (if we ignore the top three for just a few more moments.) There is only 2 points separating Greg Biffle and Kyle Bush for the 7th spot, just 11 separating him and Jeff Gordon (in 6th) and a mere 38 separating him and his teammate, Matt Kenseth who is in 5th. (Aw heck, let’s go ahead and include Carl Edwards in the conversation for a moment, too.) Although he leads Biffle by only 85 points, I think he is most likely going to finish just where he is in 4th spot.

Aside from the major story of the top three competing for the Championship, from this fan’s view, the order of the top twelve (including those top three) could be shaken up in a major way Sunday afternoon in the Ford 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Still avoiding the major story of the top three for at least one more minute, (which is all we’ve heard all week long from every possible angle and source), one of the things I find most interesting for this weekend is what will happen IF, (and that’s a mighty big if), AJ Allmendinger wins the race. AJ has been qualifying fairly well over the last several weeks, but has been unable to back it up with performance in the race. If he does actually pull off the win, 43 fans will win a new Ford. (Now I know there will be quite a few fans that will be watching where he is running a lot more than those other guys running for the Championship.)

Well, as I said to start this off with, it doesn’t really matter who wins the race this weekend. This Sunday’s race could be won by someone in the top twelve or it could be won by one of the other thirty-one drivers. It could even be pole-sitter, Kasey Kahne, pulling into Victory Lane to claim the trophy for the Ford 400, (who has had his share of adversity in the last month), and it wouldn’t be that big of a surprise to me.

There are those that threaten to stop following NASCAR if Jimmie Johnson wins his fifth straight Cup Championship. To them I say a very quiet and hardly noticeable, “goodbye.” No matter how much you think you will be missed, believe me, you won’t be missed near as much as you think you will. As fans, we all hope you reconsider, but you have to do what you have to do. I will say this… if Jimmie Johnson and the #48 Hendrick team do win the championship on Sunday, they deserve it and no one, absolutely no one, can deny they worked for it. It wasn’t handed to them on a silver platter and no one moved out of the way so they could make history again.

When all is said and done at the end of the race on Sunday afternoon, either Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick will leave the track as the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. To those ends I say, “Have at it boys!”

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© November 20, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

NASCAR at Phoenix After Thoughts: It Just Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

Denny Hamlin not only led the Cup race at Phoenix and the most laps, looked like he was going to have a big points day over Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick and then… had to pit for fuel. Yes, it looked like Denny would be traveling to Homestead with the other two having hardly a chance at catching him in points, but… yeah, that’s right… he had to pit for fuel. He literally dominated the race in Phoenix, was biding his time until the checkered flag would fall and then… Carl Edwards passed him with 46 laps to go and he… (yep, you got it)… had to pit for fuel. According to the way the day was going, he was just the first of many that should have had to pit for fuel and possibly tires on the last long green flag run of the day and, as the checkers fell, he was the one left out in the cold finishing twelfth while his closest competitors in the Chase finished 5th and 6th without a pit stop.

Yeah, for a day that looked like it was going to lead to the #11 JGR team heading to Homestead with a fairly good cushion of points (as most Chase leaders have in the past), well, it just didn’t turn out that way. In fact, there are three teams that will arrive in Homestead for the final race in the 2010 Chase with a chance of being the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion; (in case you’re really out of touch), that’s Denny Hamlin now leading Jimmie Johnson by only 15  points and Kevin Harvick by a mere 46.

From this fan’s view, that is exactly how the 2010 NASCAR season has been going. This has been one of the most competitive seasons (at the very least) and we fans have been the beneficiaries of how NASCAR can make rule changes that make racing more exciting for all involved. I know there are those that disagree with me, but it is awfully hard to argue with the facts.

Many thought Jimmie Johnson would do what he has consistently done at Chase time and jump out to a comfortable lead and coast to his fifth straight championship. Although there was a moment it looked like that may happen, so far, it hasn’t materialized. Jimmie and the #48 Hendrick team have had to fight for every point and use every tools in the tool box to stay in contention.

Denny Hamlin has made it known he and the #11 JGR team had a plan for the season. They weren’t going to show all they had until it was time and they were going to take it to the #48 team. Up until Phoenix, it looked like the plan was working and it did look like they were going to be the “Chased” at the finale in Homestead. Instead, that thing many call “racing luck” took the wind out of their “big Mo” and they enter this coming weekend with only a small lead over Jimmie Johnson and only a little larger lead over Kevin Harvick.

Speaking of Kevin Harvick, for someone that has been “flying under the radar” for so many weeks, he has certainly been the center of a lot of attention lately. If there is someone that could come from third place in points to first in the last race of the season, Kevin Harvick and the #29 RCR team could be the ones. He has consistently been counted out in many races and managed to finish at, or near, the front in more than many want to even think about. Leaving Phoenix with only a 46 point deficit between him and leader Denny Hamlin as opposed to what looked like was going to be 100 plus has to be a tremendous boost to the #29 RCR team.

From this fan’s view, Phoenix just proved what I’ve always said about Sprint Cup. No matter what it looks like is going happen, this is NASCAR and anything can, and probably will happen…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© November 17, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

NASCAR at Texas After Thoughts: Hamlin Wins Chase Race #8

Denny Hamlin not only won Chase race #8 but also took a 33 point lead over Jimmie Johnson in the Chase for the 2010 Sprint Cup. If that was all that happened it would be a relatively ho-hum day for many, but Texas had a lot more than just a shift in who was leading in the points. It was a race and a day filled with drama, tempers and frustrations.

I have to admit, I didn’t think the top three would really be at the top of the scoring pylon, but I almost did get Jimmie Johnson’s finishing spot right; he did finish 9th on the day and lost a lot points to Hamlin. At first, it looked like I was going to be right because Hamlin and Harvick were not running all that well, but as the day wore on, they got better and better and the rest… well… it’s history (as they say).

Although I know everybody’s already heard about it, I can’t help but add my opinion to the mix about the “discussion” between the two Jeff’s, (uh, that would be Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon, in case you missed it.) The reason I have to say something about it is because I really didn’t see it the way Jeff Burton first said it happened. I know there was more to it than just him putting Jeff Gordon in the wall, but it was amazing how Burton explained it.

If you get a chance to listen to it, do; I really don’t think you’ll believe your ears. Burton said he didn’t mean to do it, but it certainly doesn’t look that way in the videos I saw. He said Gordon pulled up in front of him, but in actuality, Burton pulled down behind Gordon, laid the bumper to him, started pushing him and ran him directly into the wall hard. Burton also said he didn’t know what happened; they must have gotten hooked together or Gordon hit him and messed up his tie rods or something.

From my view, as a fan, it certainly looked like Jeff Burton didn’t actually know the yellow was out or, maybe he did but didn’t want to admit it and was surprised when he pulled down behind Gordon and the #24 slowed down. As I say, this is just my opinion, but it did look like Burton intended to lay the bumper to Gordon to let him know he was upset about something, (although that something is unknown at the moment.) As it turned out, both of them finished way back in the finishing order, Burton was able to come back on the track many laps later and Gordon and his team packed it in.

There has been a lot of chatter since the race about the changing of the pit crew for the #48 of Jimmie Johnson. Although it isn’t the first time it has happened, it is absolutely not the norm. As close as the points race is and as many spots as the pit crew’s mistakes were costing Jimmie, something had to be done. Many think it is, (or should be), against the rules to change pit crews during a race. Some said they win as a team and they should lose as one and I understand that view point. Others just think it shouldn’t be allowed and that Jimmie should have no options but to let the pit crew’s performance destroy his day (and I understand that one, too.)

I say, hey, the #48 guys were struggling, (and Paul Menard didn’t help matters on the very first pit stop by leaving his pit stall and almost taking out a couple of Jimmie’s crewmen and knocking one of the #48’s tires into the infield. (Personally, I think that rattled them from the start.) If it had only been one pit stop or maybe two, maybe they should have left them in. As it was, there were a total of four stops they cost Johnson positions on the track; they just never seemed to be clicking on all cylinders at all. When Burton took Gordon out, opportunity knocked, crew chiefs Knaus and Letarte communicated and decided it was time to shake things up and they sure did.

Kyle Bush and NASCAR had a little disagreement that would have only cost him a lap. Since he decided to make an issue of it and let his emotions take over for just a few seconds, it put him down 3 laps and made it very difficult for him to recover. I’ve listened to a lot of viewpoints about the event, (which for those that missed it, included him “flipping off” a NASCAR official in his discontent), and I think many missed the point. It appears a majority think he was penalized for the “flip off” but I am of the opinion, (along with several others), it was because he was flagrant in his arrogance against the sanctioning body, which in this case is the same as if some player in another type sport did the same thing to a referee or umpire. In the latter instance, they would have been thrown out of the game. In Kyle’s case, he was allowed to stay in the game, they just made it seem like he was out of it.

It may be just this fan’s opinion, but, I’m thinking it was a good thing NASCAR did. I have grown a bit weary of people making the excuse for Kyle that it is just because he is so competitive. I’m not denying his talents and he has come a long way in controlling his emotions this season. He is going to win more races and some championships in the future, but he still has a bit more work to do to become that overall champion he and his fans want him to be…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© November 10, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© November 06, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© November 02, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 30, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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