Nascar at Pocono: the Pennsylvania 500 “After Chatter” from Just A Fan’s View

“Man, this was the best race at Pocono in recent history,” or, at least, that’s what many were saying. I really can’t say I disagree with that take of the Pennsylvania 500. I think it was exactly what we have come to expect in a Nascar race these days, except for the fact that it was run on a Monday.

It was a very good race and, from this fan’s view, it looked as though the drivers forgot this was a 500 mile race and they drove almost every lap as if it was with ten to go. It did seem the intensity of the competition was extremely high and perhaps patience wasn’t quite as evident as usual. (That’s a nice way of saying there was a lot of pushing and shoving going on.)

Now, this is just my opinion, but I think two things added to the intensity for this race. First would be the fact that it is crunch time for those that are trying to make the chase and, second, would be the double file restart. Both of these are adding to the intensity of the racing, especially for those trying to break into the Top 12.

As a Nascar fan, I am relatively tired of one thing that is going on these days and it has nothing to do with the COT, the drivers, their teams or the sanctioning body called, Nascar. It has to do with the commentators’ favorite phrase, “Double-file restart, SHOOTOUT STYLE!” I can’t think of anything they say on a regular basis that is more tiring. If they really want to know the truth, I know I am not alone when it comes to feeling this way. Yes, the double-file restart has added an exciting dimension to the races, but, (and I only speak for myself on this part), every time they speak that phrase, it puts a knot in my stomach, (in other words, it makes me sick.) I do hope by next season, they lose that phrase and find a new one.

Why would I even be talking about this here? I don’t know, I think it is just because it is so sickening. If you ask most observers and followers of Nascar, you will find most are wondering why they waited so long to institute the double-file restart. The other way had outlived its importance and reason for being quite a while ago and, with the closeness of competition these days and the importance of being in “clean air”, the move to using the double-file restart was long overdue. I join with all the other voices in praise of the move and I am glad they did it.

Okay, let’s get back to Sunday’s race at Pocono. There was one thing that keeps on coming up in conversations and that, unfortunately, is where some think Nascar blew it again. The comparison is the incidents between Robby Gordon and David Stremme and Denny Hamlin taking out two of Michael Waltrip Racing’s cars, the cars of David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose. Admittedly, if Nascar would have handled the Denny Hamlin incident the same as the Gordon/Stremme situation, Denny Hamlin would not have won the race.

I do understand the difference between the two – kinda – but I do see what the rub is. Some would use the argument of inconsistency. Nascar would call the one (the Hamlin incident) a racing incident while the other (the Gordon/Stremme incident) was an ongoing feud over several laps. Even though it is logical, I do see how it can be slightly misconstrued by the casual observer. The only answer is that it is a judgment call and yes, in Nascar’s judgment, the one was a problem and the other was a “racing incident”.

Well, enough on that subject for now. I’m sure we’ll have more to talk about on that subject in the near future. As for my opinion on the race at Pocono, I thought it was a very interesting race. I could say I expected Denny Hamlin to win, but even though I did mention him as a possible winner in the pre-race article, I didn’t really expect him to win. I knew his luck was going to have change because, like Mark Martin in the early part of the season, it couldn’t get much worse. Denny definitely had a strong car and even though he did take out a couple of cars during the race because of a mistake in judgment, he deserved to win because he did have the fastest car.

Some would argue that Jimmy Johnson was the strongest car but he did struggle with mechanical problems. It is possible, if things would have worked out, he and Denny would have had to race against each other at the end of the race. As it was he and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, did a marvelous job of getting everything they could out of the race, even with all of their problems.

There are those that think that another rule change is needed. Now they think there should be a limit to the number of “Lucky Dog” advances for an individual during a race. I say leave it alone… This was one race and it was a big track. For the 48 team to have done the same thing they did here at a place like Martinsville would have been almost impossible. Everything just worked out for them at Pocono. Personally, I think this is why the 48 team has won three championships in a row. They handle adversity as well as they handle advantage and they very well could make it four in a row at Homestead in November.

See ya next time …

Rusty

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

© August 5, 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View & Rusty Norman


Nascar at Pocono: A Fan’s View of Sunday’s Sunoco – Red Cross – Pennsylvania 500

Sunday’s race at Pocono could hold a few surprises. Tony Stewart will have to start in the back, just like last time, and will have his work cut out for himself if he wants to take home the trophy from the Pennsylvania 500 this weekend.

I don’t want to jump the gun on myself, but barring the unforeseen, Jimmy Johnson is going to be tough to beat this weekend. He has been fast since they unloaded off the truck and appeared to be ready to ride the momentum of last week’s victory at the Brickyard. With Stewart starting in the rear, that will be one less Johnson will have to pass and stay ahead of if all goes as I expect it will.

But wait a minute!!! This is Nascar! If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years of being a Nascar fan, the race isn’t over until they throw the checkered flag or call the race because of rain.

I think there are several that could take the victory away from Jimmy Johnson and several of them are his own Hendrick teammates. When it comes right down to it, others are looking pretty stout this weekend and some are looking strong enough to win if things go well for them. I don’t think there’s anyone we can count out completely so let’s take a look at a few of the ones I think have a chance.

Well, as I said,  it’s just this fan’s view but this could be the week that the Fords break out of their slump. Or maybe it could be someone out of the Richard Childress garage like either Clint Bowyer or Kevin Harvick. Both of them ran good last week at Indy, especially Kevin Harvick finishing 6th. It could be the “times they are a changin'” for them.

Of course, being totally honest, we can’t rule out the Bush brothers representing the Penske Dodge and Gibbs Camry camps. How about Denny Hamlin, (also from Gibbs) getting back to the way he performed when he swept both races the first year he ran there. It would be awfully hard to rule him out because his luck absolutely has to change, at least from the kind he has had lately.

Since the field is lining up according to points, it adds a little more drama to the mix even though Tony Stewart does have to start in the back because of that tangle with the wall in the first lap of the first practice on Saturday. We have Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon starting on the front row and Kurt Bush and Carl Edwards Starting right behind them. Any way you look at it, that is four strong teams starting in front of all the rest. In fact, the top twelve is the twelve strongest cars in the Chase, at least for the moment and the rest are lining up in order of their points. If you don’t think any one of them could possibly win, I just don’t think you understand the situation.

I am here to tell you, it is going to be a shoot out and it is going to be decided by two things; track position and flawless pit strategy. I don’t want to make too big a deal of the possibilities but it just may not come down to the last lap. It could very well be decided by the one that is first out of the pits on the last pit stop and is the first one to get out in to the clean air.

In reality, this is a race that is going to be a bit of a drawn out affair because Pocono usually comes down to being a race like that. It is definitely one of the ones that can be sort of a sleeper in the middle. Now that I’ve said that, don’t fall asleep on the couch during the middle. If you do, I can guarantee you will miss something important.

I don’t know about the rest of you but I am pretty sure Jimmy Johnson is going to win this one. To add to the Hendrick domination, I think there will be four or five of the Hendrick cars in the top ten. I’m really going to stick my neck out and say Dale Jr is going to finish in the top six this weekend, (which will make the Jr nation extremely happy.)

But when it is all said and done, I know there will be some fans that will come away from this weekend satisfied that Nascar has done everything they possibly could to screw up the race again.

Me, well I’m just gonna watch and listen to the race and enjoy it, even if the guy I want to win doesn’t…

See ya next time …
Rusty
(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© August 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman


Nascar at Indy: “After Chatter” from the Brickyard

I knew it wouldn’t take long for the “Black Helicopters” to fly or the ‘whiners’ to start with their, “Nascar controls who wins,” chatter after the Allstate 400 Sunday and I wasn’t wrong. It actually started before and immediately after the race and still goes on today. I think I’ve heard every excuse from, “they just wanted Jimmy Johnson to win,” to “There is no way they wanted a foreigner to win.” It is unbelievable what some fans think and amazing what some of the media types say and do to reinforce this type thinking on a regular basis.

In all of my forty some years as a Nascar fan, I don’t think I’ve ever heard such weak and ridiculous comments in my whole life. I really just can’t understand some fans’ opinions of Nascar and I can tell that some of the ones that make the most ridiculous remarks seem to know the least about racing and Nascar itself.

I hate to be blunt, but many of them appear to have done nothing in racing except watch it from the stands (or the Tv) and understand very little about the way the sport works. It is like they are sitting and watching a football game and think every call the referees make is wrong no matter what. If even one quarter of the things some say were true about Nascar, there would be no Nascar because the competitors wouldn’t want to compete in such a crooked and fixed environment. (Let’s be real honest about the racing this year, it has really never been more competitive in recent memory.)

I mean, come on … this year the Hendrick teams seem to have a definite advantage over the rest at the moment, but last year it was Roush and Gibbs, (at least in appearance), and who knows what’s going to happen during the last ten Chase races for the championship.

So why is such a big deal being made about someone getting penalized for speeding when it is done by speed testing equipment? Is it because some think that the equipment can be right for everyone else and still be wrong for the person caught by it or the one they thought should win?

All one really has to do is check the previous races and find all of the cars that were penalized for speeding in the pits. It’s not like it’s never happened before and it will happen again. I think the reason people may have thought it appeared the way it did was because Montoya had such a dominate car on Sunday. Still, (once again using that common sense thing), he was caught speeding and Nascar had no choice but to penalize him as they would anyone else on the track. It was only fair and it happened the way it should have happened. If he wouldn’t have been speeding, he very likely would have won the race going away.

While I’m spending a little time ranting, let me just mention my thoughts on the way several in the media look at Nascar. Sometimes I wonder just who they think they are and what they think they can do better than Nascar. It is very frustrating to listen to some of them give us their assessment of the year and all of the things they think is wrong with Nascar and why Tv ratings are down and why the stands aren’ full every week, etc, etc.

If what they have to say was worth much, maybe I would say they should keep it up, but all I see them doing is looking for a headline to get people to read their articles and hardly anything more. I have my own opinion of what is going on this year with the Tv ratings and the lack of people in the stands.

Since this is a rant, I guess I will have to share some of my thoughts. You see, I think the biggest reason for the attendance being down has to do with the economy. (Well, DUH!, I wonder how I came up with that idea?) If the economy is down over one third, wouldn’t someone expect the attendance to be down at least that much? In case no one noticed, people are struggling for every dollar they make right now. I know I am and I know many of my friends locally and across the nation are having a rough go of it, too. We just don’t have the extra money to spend. (I assume many are in the same boat.)

When it comes down to the Tv ratings, I think there are several reasons and none of them have to do with the COT or the lack of drama in the races. I don’t buy the opinion that Nascar must be dong something wrong. Like anything else, the popularity fluctuates with the attention span of the audience and not everyone loves to sit in front of the Tv and watch a 400-500 mile race every weekend.  It’s not that they don’t follow the races, it’s just that they have other things to do, too.

Personally, as a fan, I don’t watch every lap of every race every week. (I may listen to part of it on my Sirius/XM radio while doing other things and if something happens that would be interesting to see, I may check my DVR of it later.) In fact, I don’t remember ever watching every lap of every race on Tv. Even when I was racing my own car at the local speedway, I didn’t watch all of the races of every class every Saturday night. I talked with people and friends and kinda paid attention to what was going on. If something happened I felt was important to me I paid closer attention at that point.

One other opinion about Tv ratings. When Nascar started moving things around to several different outlets for coverage during the year is when I began to lose a little bit of interest in watching. When Nascar was on the local broadcast networks, I think I liked it better and it was easier to find. I guess I’m just not the normal adult American male in that I wouldn’t even watch ESPN if it weren’t for Nascar being on it. (Heck, I don’t even watch that much football since Dan Mariano retired.) When it comes to TNT, well it kinda goes the same way except I do watch it more than I do ESPN by long shot.

You see, I do like some of the different coverages but mostly what I want to see is the race and then listen to the talk of the drivers after it’s over. That’s when the adrenaline is still flowing, the drivers are tired and they tell you more what they actually think about the race and those in it. The one to two hour coverages before the race isn’t what piques my interest. I would much rather see the after race stuff. (Hmmm, maybe that would make a difference in the  ratings; what do you think?)

Okay, well enough of this looking at the “darker side” of Nascar. The facts are, Jimmy Johnson beat Mark Martin in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard and showed he is still a force to be reckoned with for the Chase and the Championship. Dale Jr ran good until his motor blew and Kyle Bush just isn’t finishing the way he did in Cup last year. The top ten finishers turned out to be pretty much the way I called it before the race and, just in case nobody noticed, Tony Stewart is still leading the points, the Fords are still not winning, Hendrick teams and equipment are still finishing strong and the Dodges are inconsistent with the way they’re running. Does any of this really matter that much? Probably not and, barring the unforeseen, Nascar will be at Pocono again this weekend…

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

Nascar at Indy: the Allstate 400 at the infamous Brickyard, (from Just A Fan’s View)

Very few tracks in motor racing hold such a special place and feeling in the hearts and minds of the competitors and the fans; the Brickyard at Indy is one of those places. It is, by no means, all by itself in that category but it is a place that has a mystique about it like no other. Perhaps it is all of the history that has taken place there or maybe it is just some of the names that come to mind when people think about it, but the Brickyard is one place that Nascar drivers still face with a bit of awe.

Now, I wouldn’t say they are “overwhelmed” with awe by the place but winning at the Brickyard is one of the most treasured victories in Nascar. To the Cup drivers, it ranks very close to winning at Daytona and is a victory that stays with them all their lives.

Even with all of the history surrounding the Brickyard, not all of the memories from there are necessarily good ones. The hottest topic in many circles is the tire problems from last year and some have suggested the problem isn’t fixed yet. If that is the case, it isn’t because Goodyear didn’t put forth the effort. They have done numerous test sessions and the word from all of those efforts is they are ready to race. Personally, I believe they have the situation in control and only ‘race day’ will tell the tale. In other words, we’ll see…

In watching the practice sessions, it is interesting the names I’ve seen at the top of the leader board so far at Indy. Looking at the first two practices, it is interesting that Juan Montoya was second in both, qualified second and will start outside pole on Sunday. That is very interesting even though I don’t put a lot of stock in the practices or in the qualifying times. Montoya has been showing himself to be very consistent and he’s even been showing some strength lately. He’s already proven himself to be a winner at the Brickyard in “Indy cars” and is absolutely capable winning there.

Once again, Mark Martin has shown up at the top of the leader board in practice and made a good strong showing in qualifying by taking the pole. It should be interesting to see how he performs on Sunday afternoon. Just because he has shown some speed doesn’t mean he is going to take the victory but I think he and his crew chief have made it quite clear they want to finish strong over the next few weeks. From this fan’s view, I think they find it more important to solidify their chances in making the Chase rather than taking another victory. That doesn’t mean they will be terribly disappointed if they do take the victory at Indy and also improve their standings in the Chase.

A quick glance at the final qualifying has a few surprises in the lineup. There are some that did qualify well, but the question remains, will they follow it up with a great performance in the race. Names like Juan Montoya, Dale Earnhardt Jr, David Reutimann, Kasey Kahne and Reed Sorenson. Some of these guys have been known to qualify well this year but not turn a good finish. It remains to be seen how they hold up as the laps wind down nearer the end of the race.

Also this weekend at Indy there are several strong names that did not qualify near the front, but that doesn’t mean they should be counted out for finishing strong at the end of the race. Names like, Jeff Gordon, starting 22nd, Matt Kenseth starting 25th, Kurt Bush starting 40th and Carl Edwards starting 41st. Those are some pretty strong performers and, if you consider only their qualifying times, the chances of them finishing at, or near, the front looks fairly bleak.

To me, it would be a mistake to count them out but they do have a bit of a struggle ahead of them and they will have to not only be fast but there won’t be much room for error either on the track or in the pits if they’re going to win.

The race this weekend could be a race that has a completely unexpected winner or it could be one that sees the usual car numbers and drivers out front and finishing in the top five. When I say “the usual car numbers out front”, naturally I am talking names like, Kurt Bush, Kyle Bush, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne. A few of the unexpected winners would be names like, David Reutimann, Juan Montoya, Greg Biffle, Sam Hornish Jr, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and, yes, even Dale Earnhardt Jr.

From this fan’s view, whoever takes the trophy home for the Allstate 400 will have to work for it. It is going to take excellent pit strategy, flawless pit stops and minimum driver error throughout the day.

So … who do I think is going to win the Allstate 400? That, my friend is a great question and I do have the answer. It will be the one that crosses the finish line first to take the checkered flag…

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

Nascar at Chicagoland “After Chatter”: Mark Martin, Double-file Restarts and the Race for the Chase

Mark Martin clearly had the strongest car Saturday night at Chicagoland and he managed to pull off the victory even though a couple of late race cautions and double-file restarts could have changed the final outcome. Mark pulled away from a hard charging Jeff Gordon as the #24 battled Kasey Kahne in the closing laps and took his fourth victory of the 2009 season. Not bad for an “old guy” that was semi-retired a year ago.

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Now, that being said, will Mark Martin make the Chase this year or will he be left just outside the top twelve? It is a question that even Mark Martin doesn’t want to have to keep answering every week. He would much rather have a little more cushion and a lot more breathing room than bouncing in and out of the top twelve spots for the Chase.

If anything can be said for his performance this year it is that he has been at the top, or at the bottom, of the list at the end of a race this season. From ‘just a fan’s view”, it seems he would be leading in the points if it weren’t for some off and on bad luck hounding him and his #5 team this year. He has been performing extremely well  but has had some inconsistent finishes that have put him further back in the standings and in and out of being in of the top 12 for the Chase. Hopefully he has put most of that bad luck stuff behind him and will continue to climb in the standings.

Needless to say, the top three positions are pretty much locked into the Chase this year unless something really unexpectedly disastrous and drastic happens to Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson. They do have a slight cushion of points protecting their positions, but in Nascar, anything can (and sometimes does) happen. (I don’t expect it to happen, but I definitely never rule anything out in Nascar, just because it’s Nascar.)

The Race for the Chase, (maybe I should say, the race for getting into the Chase), is a whole different situation in positions four through twelve, especially when we look at sixth to fourteenth. That is a pretty tight race between some very good teams and there are some lurking just outside the top twelve waiting for somebody to run into that string of bad luck.

As an obvious example, take Mark Martin’s season so far. He has run strong all year and won four races, yet he is only eleven points ahead of thirteenth place Greg Biffle. Both of them have run strong and also struggled along the way. Mark’s only hope is to keep finishing consistently near the front in the seven races to come. If not, he will be sweating it out right down to Richmond and though he says he’s having fun, it is this fan’s opinion, he would rather be having that fun without the added stress of possibly not making the Chase.

The double-file restart has added a completely new dimension to the Cup races. As a fan, I really like the drama it adds to the end of the races. Also as a fan, I understand how some of the drivers don’t like it.

In races before the double file restarts in Cup, the leader of the race had the possibility of pulling away on a restart because of the lap-cars being on the inside line. With them there, the leader had more of an advantage by using the lap-cars to shield himself from those running behind him. Now, the person running second starts right beside him and those running third, fourth, fifth (etc), start right behind him. No longer does the leader have a very real advantage over the rest of the top runners in a race. It becomes anybody’s race, (much to many fans delight), and it becomes more of a dash to the checkered flag, no holds barred. (It definitely gives a whole new meaning to the phrase everyone loves to hate, “shoot-out style”.)

I can’t say when the person I would like to see win is running out front that I like to see the caution flag fly. I know it is quite likely going to make a very dramatic finish out of what could have been a breakaway. But as a fan, and my guy is running a few seconds and places back, I do like the yellow coming out. It absolutely gives an opportunity for my favorite to take the victory.

When all is said and done, I think it all comes down to how someone is affected by the outcome of the double-file restart. If they fair well, they love it; if it takes a top place finish away from them, they hate it, (and I can’t blame them.) It reminds me of an old saying about facing every day in life … “Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes … the bear gets you.”

For a year that was supposed to be so questionable because of the economy and other situations, it has turned out to be pretty interesting and exciting. I think it has been one of the most interesting years for Nascar in a long time. I can truly say I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the races this year, (well … except maybe for the rainouts … but then I never much cared for them anyway … unless my guy won.)

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

Nascar at Chicago: Sprint Cup Saturday Night Excitement – the Lifelock 400

The Chicagoland Speedway near the “Windy City” is the place for this week’s Nascar Sprint Cup race and, from this Fan’s View, it will be a real test of speed, fuel mileage and tire management. While we’re at it, let’s not forget the race strategies that may play an even larger part in who actually goes to Victory Lane.

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I’m not saying this will be a fuel management race, but it could go that way depending on how the race progresses as the drop of the checkered flag approaches near the end of the race. The other possible determining factor could be how the tires hold up during a run. With the COT it is hard to tell just how much the tires will impact the finish of the race. Personally, I think we will know more after the race starts and have a chance to observe how much the times fall off on extended green flag runs.

One thing about Chicagoland is certain; the speeds WILL be fast and the tires WILL determine just how fast every competitor will be. If the speeds stay relatively consistent throughout a run, this could be a breakaway of just a few cars while the others just try to keep up.

Just one more quick observation from this Fan’s View; Since speed is going to determine the outcome of the race so much, it would probably be wise to check out the teams with the faster consistent times during practices and consider them as possible winners of the Lifelock 400 more than others.

Although I do believe qualifying nearer the front will have some impact on the outcome, I do not expect it to be as much of a determining factor as last week with Tony Stewart’s victory at Daytona. The Red Bull teams of Bryan Vickers and Scott Speed qualified on the front row but I am not sure they will be out front at the end. Vickers has been showing a lot of consistency and strength this year but he just hasn’t been there at the end. Scott Speed … well … we’ll see.

The Chevys and Toyotas look to be strong contenders tonight. Even the Dodges could pull off a surprise, but the Fords just don’t look to have it yet. Carl Edwards is probably the most likely Ford with obvious potential for taking the checkered flag, but Chicago hasn’t been a good place for the Roush Fords so far.

I do think if it is a Ford tonight, not only will it be a surprise but it will be Carl Edwards doing a back flip celebrating his first victory of the year and Roush’s first cup victory at Chicagoland. (Uh, like I said, I will be surprised if a Ford wins tonight, but it very well could happen.)

So once again that brings me to the part I look forward to every week. It’s where this fan likes to see if he can actually pick the winner for the race tonight. There are a lot variables for tonight’s race but it isn’t much different than most weeks in Nascar Cup racing.

I think the race will have a decidedly different outcome if there is a caution somewhere in the last ten laps of the race as opposed to earlier. That’s where I see the problem with actually picking the winner for tonight. If it is a long green flag run to the finish, it could be a fuel mileage and tire management race. If it comes down to a double-file restart inside the last ten, it could look a lot like a restrictor plate “Big One”.

Depending on how the tires hold up, it could be a “gas and go” with no tires and track position being the key. I just don’t know, that new double-file restart thing could totally change the normally expected outcome. At any rate I do expect it to be exciting if that does happen.

In making my final choice for the winner, I find it hard to overlook the Hendrick teams and equipment with the way they have been running this year and I do think one of them will finish out front. I also have to admit the obvious strength of The Toyota teams of Joe Gibbs, Michael Waltrip and Red Bull. The longer shots as I see it are the Dodges and Fords.

When it comes right down to making a choice, my best guesses would be Mark Martin, Jimmy Johnson or Jeff Gordon. Kyle Bush, Bryan Vickers or even David Reutimann could do it for the Toyotas. It is even possible that Clint Boyer or Jeff Burton could be a surprise from the Chevy camps or even one of the Penske Dodges could make a showing. Any way you look at it, it is a tough call given the possibilities and individual strengths of all the teams.

So, who do I actually pick to win? Any of the the above mentioned ones could win but I think I will go with Jimmy Johnson. I think he and Chad Knaus have something to prove tonight. It will be a close finish but the 48 team is going to win. I also think all of the Hendrick teams are going to finish in the top twelve tonight… Is that sticking my neck out or what???

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

Nascar Fireworks at Daytona: the After Chatter from the Coke Zero 400

The Coke Zero 400 at Daytona did have fireworks both during and after the race and, as I expected, the race went right down to the checkered flag with Tony Stewart winning after Kyle Bush went spinning into the wall after making contact with Stewart. The race ended with that second “Big One” of the night and, of course, I am sure it will be the topic of conversation for days to come.

I’ve already heard several people once again blaming the restrictor plates for the accident and comparing it with the wreck between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski at the end of the race at Talledega. There have been those that blame Tony and those that definitely lay the blame at Kyle’s feet, but, just about anybody you ask that saw it has an opinion about it and they are more than willing to express themselves.

Much to this fan’s amazement, many take the opportunity to condemn the restrictor plates and want to exile them to the junk pile. They further take the opportunity to suggest getting rid of them immediately. This is nothing new, but it is becoming more frequent than in the past. I hear a lot of emotion speaking out, but I don’t hear a lot of sense being made or suggestions for safely improving the situation. (The operative words are, “safely improving” the situation.)

Although I don’t suppose many care too much what I think, as a Nascar fan, I offer my opinion of the finish of the Coke Zero 400 Saturday night and will touch on restrictor plate racing in general.

I don’t consider myself to be more knowledgeable than others when it comes to racing, but after being a driver, I do think it gives me a perspective that some others may not have. Believe me, my driving experience falls no where close to those in Nascar, but I did go from just being a beginner, to winning races and then finally, championships, on a local scale, so I have had some small success in racing.

The statements I have heard most often from drivers, crew chiefs and all sorts of commentators since the incident is that, “no one was to blame, they were just doing what they had to do to win…”

I do somewhat agree with them. If we take a good, honest look at the last “Big One” the race ended with on Saturday night, it is true, it was more of a “just racing” incident than anything else. They really were both doing what they, with their quick “in race” judgement, thought they had to do to win. After the fact, they probably both have a different opinion now and wonder what they would do differently if they could do it over again.

Here is the way I view the incident as a fan: Coming into the tri-oval to take the checkered flag, both Tony Stewart and Kyle Bush had a chance to win. Stewart knew he had to pick a line and chose the outside because it opened up. Kyle had been blocking Stewart and successfully impeding his ability to get a run on him for the last lap. The outside move Tony made gave Kyle a split second to make a counter move to block him once again. Unfortunately, Tony had gotten his left front fender further into Kyle’s right rear quarter panel before Kyle could make the block and he ran into Tony and turned himself into the wall. I come to this decision after reviewing the many camera angles of the incident. According  to what I saw, Kyle did, very obviously, move up on Tony to try and block. The rest is history,( as they say.)

Now, I know there will be some that disagree with my assessment of the situation, but I challenge all to look at the tapes of the straight-on camera shot of them coming to the finish line and draw your own conclusion. This is just the way I see it; I don’t think I am wrong, but I do understand some may see it differently. Just take a look for yourself.

This brings us to the point some have made. They have said, (and they are not placing blame on anyone), the accident was not unavoidable. It is true, it was not unavoidable, but the choices they both would have had to make totally goes against the desire of a competitive driver to win. Tony could have backed off and let Kyle pull in front of him and been content with second place; (yeah, right, like that’s gonna happen.) Kyle could have held his line and quite possibly could have held Tony off until the finish line; (and that’s gonna be the decision one of the most aggressive drivers in Nascar makes in a split second? I don’t think so.)

Truthfully, things could have turned out totally different if either of the above would have happened. I personally believe that Kyle would have won if he would have held his line. It would have been really close, but, I do think he would have been ahead as they crossed the finish line. There would have been no last lap “Big One” and Nascar fans everywhere would have a whole lot less to talk about this week, (and may not have been able to look forward to the coming race at Chicago with as much anticipation).

From just this fan’s view, restrictor plates are not the problem and Nascar doesn’t need to “do something before someone gets killed.” Although restrictor plates have their drawbacks, they have made interesting races out of ones that could have been relatively humdrum.

If you’ve been paying close attention, the drivers have been finding out some interesting little things they can do with the restrictor plates at Talladega and Daytona. At Talladega we have seen a relatively new thing called the two car breakaway. At Daytona we saw the front four or five cars be able to pull away from the rest in the draft and that was something recently new with the restrictor plate and the COT.

In retrospect, looking at the Edwards/Keselowski incident at Talladega and the Stewart/Bush incident at Daytona, Nascar doesn’t need to come up with some new rule restricting blocking and they don’t need to discard the restrictor plates. Looking at those two incidents unemotionally shows they were both caused by drivers making bad split-second decisions resulting in an undesired result. They can blame restrictor plates and Nascar all day long but the answer is in their hands and the decisions they make yields the results they experience.

Yes, restrictor plates do cause the drivers to think blocking is always the answer, but the results show it is not always a way to protect themselves from losing the race. I believe in the end, the drivers are going to have to train themselves to not always react with the same response. Blocking has been to blame for the end results at both Talladega and Daytona this year and, in the end, only the drivers have control over whether or not to do it …

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

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

Nascar at the Magic Mile: Just A Fan’s View of the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at NHMS

Once again the field lines up according to points this weekend so it’s pretty obvious the qualifying times won’t matter because they don’t exist. Fortunately for Tony Stewart, he crashed his car into the wall before the qualifying so by the rules, he still gets to start from the pole position. That may or may not prove to be a good thing for him and the rest of the field.

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I think the two practices on Saturday prove who is running the strongest and may give us a glimpse of who may take the checkered flag on Sunday but the most important things to consider are the fastest multiple lap times; not the fastest lap time. Oh, and just one more thought on this part; what changes will the crew chiefs make before the race starts tomorrow? In other words, who is going to be unexpectedly quicker right out of the box because of those changes? That could make a big difference.

I think I’m looking forward to this race a little more than usual because of all the uncertainty. No qualifying, cars running fast times that usually don’t show up at the top of the charts and the double-file restarts for the first time on a shorter track (even though I know this is not a short track.)

This could prove to be a race at the Magic Mile like none in the recent past and I know you’ve heard me say this a lot this year, but, I’m not sure who is going to win it. I don’t know if it is going to be a runaway by a couple of cars starting up front after the first part of the race or if the real drama is going to be nearer the end of the race. One thing I am sure of though; part of the credit for the win will go to the crews and their pit stops, the crew chief and his strategy and, of course, when and where the yellow flags fall in the race.

So, what do you think? Is this the week where Richard Petty Motorsports shows that their strong showing at Infineon was no fluke? I don’t know but it is a very good possibility. Reed Sorenson was fastest in the second practice session and was third fastest in the final practice. That makes it look like he could have a good run tomorrow (and who knows about the rest of the RPM teams.)

This could also be the week that Richard Childress Racing breaks into the win column. RCR has had a very lean time in Cup over the last couple of years in particular. Clint Bowyer and Casey Mears both performed well in the practices today and, if they catch a break or two, (and that is a pretty big ‘IF’), either one of them could end up in Victory Lane. Jeff Burton could break out of the box at any time and pull off a good finish this weekend. With the way things have gone this year, you just never know, Kevin Harvick could turn it all around at NHMS.

Martin Truex Jr and Juan Pablo Montoya both looked good and were fast in the practices and Montoya has just broken into the top 12 for the Chase after his finish at Infineon. That puts them both in the mix for being contenders on Sunday and everyone knows that the EGR teams would definitely like to take home a victory sooner than later.

I just can’t say that anybody really sticks out in my mind as ‘THE’ winner this weekend. There are a lot of possibilities, though. Just looking at the lap times for the last practice tells just how close the field is. If we consider the fastest recorded times for all 43 starters, we see some interesting facts. The lap times are separated by a little over a second for all 43, BUT, if we look at the top 20 spots there is less than a quarter of a second separating them. That could mean it is going to be hard to pass on a consistent basis for those starting in the rear. With this being just a 301 mile race, those starting out front are going to have their hands full with those top ten or twenty behind them. If they aren’t happy with the way their cars are handling near the start of the race, they won’t have a lot of time to make adjustments to them.

This is where it gets difficult for this fan, because it is hard to choose between those you would like to see win and the ones that actually can win. I really try hard to not play favorites, (even though I do have them), and I do try to weigh the stats to see who really stacks up as the possible winner. This week is pretty difficult for this fan to choose a winner but I have to try.

There are a lot of possibilities when it comes to picking a winner for Sunday’s race. I see some younger drivers looking awfully good at the Magic Mile, but I’m gonna have to go with some drivers that have been around longer, you know, they’re more … uh … mature(?) Yeh, that’s right, more experienced in calmly getting to the front at the right time … in time to take the checkered flag ahead of the rest.

So who will it be? I’m really glad you asked that question ’cause I’m just not sure. I think it is going to be a dramatic finish and I do think the top five is going to be chock full of former Cup Champions. I mean, just look at how many are in the top ten starting positions; there are five and some of them are multiple Cup champs. Hey, it could be anyone of them, but I’m gong to pick Jeff Gordon to get back on the winning track this week. He will probably be closely followed by Tony Stewart, Kurt Bush, Jimmy Johnson, Mark Martin and Greg Biffle.

It doesn’t really matter, but the one that wins this weekend is going to have to work for it. It’s just not going to be handed to him on a platter.

See ya next time …
Rusty
(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© June 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar at Sonoma: The Infineon ‘After Chatter’ from Just a Fan’s View

The race at Infineon proved to be a real test of the double-file restart and ended with Richard Petty Motorsport’s Kasey Kahne, taking the win over Tony Stewart. Kahne flawlessly navigated the track in the final laps and managed to hold off Stewart through several restarts while “the King”, (Richard Petty), ended up with three teams finishing in the top ten.

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From this fan’s view, the double-file restarts did add a new dimension to the road course and made the final laps more than a little interesting not only for the fans, but the drivers, too. In particular, the double-file restart made the last laps all the more intense because it bunched the field together and contributed to some that were running at, or near, the front to finishing much further in the back.

I don’t think everyone was happy with the results handed them by the restarts but I do know it made for a very interesting finish since there were so many yellow flags near the end of the race. Everyone was right there together, trying to make up as many positions as possible and racing hard with those around them to the checkered flag.

In the end, it was a little like a short track race, at least with all the excitement generated from the late-race restarts. There was definitely no lack of beatin’ and bangin’ and, though the front runners managed to pull away, there was plenty of action from fourth on back to keep everyone wondering where their favorite was going to finish.

I have to admit, I was looking forward to this race more than usual. With all of the chatter about the effect the double-file restart would have, I just couldn’t wait to see what would happen. I wasn’t disappointed, especially at the end of the race, because it was definitely as advertised. I also noted that the first part of the race went as I expected it would. The cars that started out front stayed out there for quite awhile and it wasn’t until the first caution came out that things began to noticeably change.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There were several drivers that started way in the back and they were moving through the field fairly quickly to begin with. There were some teams that tried differing pit strategies and that added a bit to the minimal drama at the first part of the race. When it came down to crunch time, it did make a difference who had pitted before any unexpected cautions came out. Robby Gordon paid a price for waiting one lap too long and he definitely was not in contention at the end because of that decision.

Marcos Ambrose put on an impressive performance even with having to start in the rear because of his engine failure during practice. I think, with just a little bit of luck, he could have walked away with the victory. He did put on an impressive display and definitely showed his road racing prowess. I liked watching him before Infineon and I will continue to watch him with expectation as the rest of the year progresses. He could very well be the next driver to deliver a trophy for Michael Waltrip Racing. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

As I stated in my last article, I like Nascar hitting the road racing tracks and one thing is very obvious to this fan; all of the teams are sending much better prepared cars and drivers to the road courses and I see the possibility of many more of them being able to finish up front than before. It just proves, once again, Nascar drivers are absolutely the best drivers in the world and they prove it with every race they participate in. At the very least, I would say they live up to the hype.

Well, that pretty much covers the race at Infineon from last week. I’m sure there’s plenty more we could talk about, but it is time to move on to next week. Nascar will be at Loudon, NH and some call that track just another Martinsville, except bigger. Me? Well, I’m  just always looking forward to the next race after the last race. I love Nascar racing … How about you??

See ya next time …

Rusty

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

© June 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar at Sonoma: Infineon Will Be A Shootout between Ringers and Regulars

I love watching road racing with stock cars and Nascar road racing with the COT is definitely at the top of my list. There’s just something I like about a full body race car going fast and turning right as well as left.

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I’m not one of those fans that thinks Nascar should drop the road racing tracks in favor of something else in an oval. I think it is an important and integral part of the overall package that Nascar presents. They often say their drivers are the best in the world and they don’t add the stipulation of, “Except on Road courses.” You see, I like seeing what these guys can do with the challenge of something different to them and a bit foreign to what they may have been brought up in and around. The road courses do exactly that.

When Nascar goes to the road courses, it is interesting how many of the road course “ringers” show up to see how they can do against Nascar’s best. It is also interesting how they talk about their laps and how they compare them with the likes of Tony Stewart, Kyle Bush, Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson and several others that show themselves to be strong whether on ovals or road racing tracks.

I have seen something different going on at this year’s first road race. In the past, there were several drivers that everybody focused on and expected to win. The rest of the field and the road course “ringers” were usually given honorable mentions along with the stronger Nascar regulars. This year, I see more competitive efforts coming from drivers that usually are hardly even mentioned.

Take for example, Brian Vickers taking the pole this weekend. He ran an incredibly fast lap and surprised many. Kyle Bush showed up fast off the truck, qualified second and showed he is a road course force to be reckoned with once again this year, (and don’t forget how well he performed on last year’s road courses.)

I am looking forward to the race on Sunday because of the way it seems to be an upside down lineup. I expect the first part of the race to be a sort of runaway with Brian Vickers and Kyle Bush breaking away. I know they could possibly stay up front for most of the race but I expect to see a few things go wrong like engine failures and driver error and that will keep the field closer together.

In reality, we’ve already seen some engine and transmission failures in the practice sessions and I expect there may be a few more guys that run into each other, taking each other out and off the track maybe taking with them someones chance to win.

The possibility of wheel-hop is high at this track and it can happen to anyone, no matter what their experience. If it does happen, it’s going to come down to when it happens, where they end up after it does and how many laps are left to make up lost spots.

Could it be that this week will be another week of who get the best fuel mileage? I don’t know, but it is possible. Montoya used it to pull off a victory a couple of years ago so I don’t think it can be ruled out.

I don’t think the fastest single lap time is going to bring home a winner this weekend. I do think the one that stays clear of trouble, runs the most consistent faster lap times throughout the race will have a good shot. It could come down to how and when the double file restarts happen. That is one thing that is unknown for this year. Since it hasn’t happened in the past, it should prove to be interesting. I think it does set up the possibility for someone in contention to win to be taken out by someone’s miscue while the field is still bunched up. This is a tight race track and it could make for a very interesting turn of events if it comes at the right time.

As for who might win this thing, I am not really sure. I do think Kyle Bush has a great chance simply because of last years performance and he has been fast this year. Brian Vickers has been very consistent this year and he has also been fast. Jeff Gordon could surprise us all but he does have a long way to go starting in the middle of the pack. Marcos Ambrose having to start in the rear because of engine problems makes his job very difficult but I know he is up to the task if things go better for him Sunday than they have so far this weekend.

Some others are Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Jimmy Johnson, Boris Said, Ron Fellows and Patrick Carpentier. I find it hard to rule any of these guys out. I think it is all going to be decided by whether or not the fastest qualifiers have problems or not. Starting out front has a definite advantage.

I would like to see Marcos Ambrose pull off the back to front victory, even though the deck is fairly stacked against him. Even Patrick Carpentier is a good choice, but, I’m going to give the nod to Kyle Bush. Hey, this is road course racing this weekend and anything could happen …and probably will.

See ya next time …
Rusty
(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© June 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar at Michigan “After Chatter”: Fuel Mileage, with Horsepower, Takes Mark Martin to the Victory

Michigan proved to be a fuel mileage track once again and, much like Pocono last week, Jimmy Johnson came up just a bit short on fuel conservation. Although he dominated during most of the Michigan race, unfortunately, he didn’t dominate the last lap.

Mark Martin was ready to settle for just a good, strong finish when the two leaders ahead of him ran out of gas on the final lap. The battle for the top spot through fuel conservation led to a somewhat unexpected last lap drama and made the end of the race a feel good “crowd pleaser” as Mark Martin powered by both Jimmy Johnson and Greg Biffle.

That’s two in a row that came down to fuel conservation (Pocono and Michigan) and once again, Hendrick equipment came out on top. Now, they haven’t won everything, but, the Hendrick teams and teams running Hendrick equipment are looking very strong.

I suppose everyone has noticed they don’t call Mark Martin the old guy anymore…They call him “the Kid”. I have to admit he is having a lot of fun and I don’t recall him looking as happy as he has recently. It is great to see him doing so well this year and, it appears to this fan, he could very well be one of those in ‘the Chase’ that can be a contender for the top spot at the end of the year.

Now, I don’t want to make any rash statements because there is still a lot of season to go, but, this could be the year Mark Martin finishes first in the Chase and takes his first Cup Championship of his career.  Although there are lot of  things going on I would like to see happen this year, Mark Martin taking his first Cup Championship is right at the top of the list.

Some other things would be:

  • Jimmy Johnson winning and taking his fourth straight championship and setting a new record.
  • Jeff Gordon taking his fifth championship and putting to rest the rumors he is through winning the big ones.
  • Tony Stewart winning the championship in his first year as an owner driver

Wow! Although there are several more, I do want to move on.

You see, there are way to many things going on in all the Nascar series and I just don’t want to spend a lot of time only talking about last weeks race and the possibilities  for the Chase.

It seems the economy is finally catching up to some of the brave souls that were toughing it out hoping for better results and it is beginning to show in more and more places throughout Nascar.

As a fan, it is hard to really get a grip on the whole situation because I assume some are trying to cover (or, at least soften) as much of the suffering as they possibly can. I realize some of the teams are suffering, but I also see Nascar doing as much as it can to keep things moving. In my opinion, they haven’t gotten caught up in themselves so much that they can’t see some things need to be addressed. Overall, I am pleased with what I see, (as an outsider) and it appears to me they are trying to make the best of difficult times.

One thing I will say, and it is just my opinion, even though this has been a rough economic year for us all, overall, the racing has been very good. Not every lap you understand, but drama and excitement has been present in most every race.

I have enjoyed the racing so far this year. (I say that even though my favorite driver hasn’t been doing all that well lately.) The year hasn’t gone without its “situations” and “challenges”, but this fan thinks the “doom and gloomers” jumped the gun a bit in their early pre-season criticisms.

I know things could change a lot, but I am glad the year has gone as it has. It has been interesting racing and sometimes, even the ones that should have won, haven’t. That’s right, they didn’t win.

I’m kinda looking forward to the double file restarts this coming weekend at the Infineon Road Course at Sonoma. When the cautions come out near the end, look out! … it could get a little tight out there.

See ya next time …

Rusty

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

© June 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A  Fan’s View and Rusty Norman