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

Nascar at Michigan: Qualifying May Not Say Much About the Race…again.

As a Nascar fan (and former local short track racer), I just can’t seem to understand why they call it “race” qualifying. It seems it could better be named “pit stall” qualifying rather than qualifying for a good starting spot for the race.

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If past weeks tell us anything, it would be that qualifying tells us very little about how the race is going to go. Sure, I know this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this and it sure won’t be the last. It’s just that I put very little stock in the qualifying times especially when the first practice (or practices) don’t tell us that much anyway.

With the length of the race and all of the possible changes that will be made during the final practices, I don’t expect the finishing order at the end of the race to be anything at all like the beginning will be on Sunday.

Past races at Michigan International Speedway speak of long green flag runs and a wide racing surface that gives up to four-wide racing which, in the end, will dictate the winner, (well that and the car that handles the best, gets the best fuel mileage and has the most horsepower.)

Just take a look at the starting lineup. I admit there are some pretty strong cars starting up front, but, I also know there are some pretty strong cars starting in the middle and back of the pack.

Jeff Gordon blew his engine before qualifying, so he was definitely only qualifying for a pit stall. He will start in the back no matter what his qualifying time was. This may not prove to be such a bad thing since Tony Stewart proved last week that starting in the back wasn’t that much of a problem for someone with a fast car and fast pit stops (and the yellow flags falling at the right time). Up to this point, though, Jeff Gordon hasn’t been going fast enough to make me think he is going to just blow by everybody although I will be watching him to see how today’s final practice goes. Besides, one of the large contributing factors for Tony winning the race last week was his number one pit stall. I don’t think many will argue that point.

This week, many of the qualifying times were much faster than the times recorded in the first practice when the cars were in race trim. That may tell us something. Very little of the qualifying trim will actually be used for the race since most people know that that setup is mostly for one lap, (two at the most) and only gives an advantage to them for that period of time. (Once again, I bring up the point of MIS being about long green flag runs and consistent speeds. A couple of fast laps followed by much slower laps doesn’t really help move you to the front very quickly.)

It is ‘just this fan’s view’, but I firmly believe fuel mileage and where the caution flags fall will have much more bearing on the outcome of the race than the qualifying lap times and the lap times in general. Let’s not forget the double-file restarts and the associated strategies that will go along with that. This could prove to be a more interesting race than it usually is.

This is another one of those weeks that the recorded lap times and the way the field lines up will make it hard to predict a winner, but that hasn’t stopped us from making fools of ourselves before (and I don’t think it will stop us today.) Personally, I just like to see how well I can pick ’em, I guess. (Believe me, it’s nothing personal against anyone.) Lately my choices have been mediocre, at best.

I won’t take a lot of time giving you all of the reasons why I think someone is going to do better over the rest, but I have to say some look to have a better chance to win than the others.

Denny Hamlin needs to have some good luck this week and he could take the victory. He looks strong, but he did last week, too. Kyle Bush is going to be right there, also. He is about due to flex a little muscle this week and he is starting on the front row.

I also think the Roush teams are going to be pretty tough this week. Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth in particular are hungry and look pretty tough. Michigan is a place they generally shine and I am sure they want to make a strong showing this weekend.

I can’t make the final choice without mentioning Brian Vickers, Mark Martin and Jimmy Johnson. This is what makes it so tough to choose, too many strong cars and teams and many of them will have good pit stalls.

Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t put it off any longer since I know you’re just beside yourselves with anticipation. I really think Carl Edwards could pull off the victory this weekend, but, I know Greg Biffle is running strong too. Jimmy Johnson is looking to make Michigan another track he has won at and that means he and Chad Knaus are out to prove something. Mark Martin has just been plain solid all year and can’t be ruled out as the possible winner.

Let’s see, Carl Edwards…? Denny Hamlin…? Greg Biffle…? Mark Martin…?

Aw, geez! This is way too hard … Oh well, I’m picking Jimmy Johnson … or … oh, never mind…

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

© June 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar at Pocono: After Chatter from Just A Fan

Pocono once again proved to be a fuel mileage race and ended with the leaders seeing who could run the slowest, save the most gas and still stay ahead of the other competitors. As it turned out, Tony Stewart managed to stay ahead of Carl Edwards and still had enough fuel to do a fairly decent burnout to celebrate his victory.

Jimmy Johnson pressed the fuel envelope so close that he ran out of gas coming into turn three and finished 7th (which, when you think about it, wasn’t too shabby). He very well could have been running much further back in the pack if things had been just slightly different.

I don’t want to just get caught up in doing a recap of the race this week because everybody already knows what happened. There are, however, some important things to remember and they are:

  1. Tony Stewart finished first and his team-mate, Ryan Newman, finished fifth.
  2. The Roush cars ran strong this week, especially Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth.
  3. Nascar instituted the double-file restart this week and hardly anyone complained.
  4. Kyle Bush caused quite a ruckus after his guitar smashing stunt in Nashville after the Nationwide race and followed it with a non-stellar (for him) performance in the cup race at Pocono.
  5. David Reutimann is in the top 12 of the Chase standings.
  6. Mark Martin fell just outside the top 12 to 13th.
  7. Dale Earnhardt Jr finished 27th on the day.

Both of the Stewart/Haas drivers had to overcome adversity to finish where they did. Tony crashed his primary car in first practice Saturday and Ryan struggled with poorly running engine in the early part of the race on Sunday. Both of them managed to overcome those setbacks and their finishing spots speak for themselves. For a two car team that was just put together this year with drivers and crew chiefs, that says a lot.

Sure, I know the Haas team has been around a while, but still, look at how quickly things turned around for them with the new owner/driver, Tony Stewart involved. Things appear to be clicking along pretty good.

One can only hope that the last half of the season doesn’t go as the first half usually did for Tony in past years, that could prove to be a disastrous finish to the year. (Personally, I don’t think that’s going to happen.)

I would like to interject something at this point. I’ve heard a lot of people express their opinion of  how they thought Tony and the teams would do this year and now many are standing in shock at what they have accomplished,(that would be the Haas teams). I can’t say I expected it, but none of us should be all that surprised. I noticed a difference in Tony when he bought the Eldora Speedway. It just seems he has found a place to exercise his strengths in leadership as well as his driving ability.

The Roush Teams showed a lot of speed at Pocono and that could be bad news for the rest of the teams when they arrive in Michigan this weekend.

I noticed that the double file restart didn’t generate too much confusion or complaints this week. We can all rest assured time will tell as the rest of the season progresses, but it appears it will make things more interesting, especially at some of the tracks soon to be visited.

Even after all of the publicity of the guitar smashing incident in Nashville, Kyle Bush didn’t perform all that well at Pocono, at lest to his normal standards. I’m sure he will want to improve this coming weekend.

David Reutimann moved up two places in the overall standings and is presently in the top twelve. He has continued to show strength and consistency so far this year. This is a great step ahead for Michael Waltrip Racing and it looks to this fan as though they have turned the competitive corner.

Mark Martin just slipped out of the top twelve to thirteenth in the overall standings, but don’t look for him to stay there. I expect him to get solidly back into the top twelve. It is my opinion he is still fighting off some of the effects of some of the bad luck that he had at the first of the year.

Finishing in the 27th spot just shows that there isn’t going to be an immediate turnaround for Dale Earnhardt Jr. It appears it is going to be a work in progress and that all of the blame can’t be laid at Tony Eury Jr’s feet anymore. I expect it will take a few races, but they will hit their stride and then, look out, there could be several wins in store for the team. His biggest problem right now is that he is in 20th spot in the overall standings. They are going to have to turn things around and in a hurry if they are going to make the Chase.

Well, that about covers it up to now. Next weekend is all of the driver’s favorite track, Michigan International Speedway. High banks, high speeds and lots of racing room. I’m lookin’ forward to it…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

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The Nascar Cup Qualifying Rainout Should Make For An Interesting Pocono Race

Once again the rains have fallen on the Nascar Sprint Cup Series and washed out qualifying for this weekend’s race at Pocono. That means the Cup teams will line up according to owner points. Emotions are mixed amongst the drivers and crews and, although a little time off is a good thing for many, it just makes Saturday’s practice that much more important, (that is, if it doesn’t rain.)

Now, this is Just A Fan’s View, but, this years lack of extra practice sessions makes race weekend practice and qualifying rain-outs even more critical and noticed by the teams, especially the ones that are struggling or have new drivers. It is one less chance they have to get a grip on the tires and setups to help them be competitive for the weekend.

Most all of the guys that are starting at the front have good records at Pocono and, since I am writing this without the benefit of seeing any Sprint Cup practice at all, I can only say it should be interesting to see who has come with the best setup. I do hope the practice takes place today, (last I checked, it was supposed to), and that it helps the guys that are starting out front have a chance to stay out front, (that only seems fair). Otherwise, they will quickly fade and the others will be more than happy to fill in the gaps. For a driver, there is nothing worse than starting in the front and quickly fading to the rear.

The hot topic for this week is the ‘double file restart’. Although there are mixed emotions throughout the garage area, most think it will be a good thing. It is definite that it could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how the breaks fall for each driver during an event, but all seem to agree it will make it more exciting for the fans.

I agree with both sides of the discussion. There will be times when it helps a driver and times it will really burn him… but…that just makes it more like it was at the short tracks they grew up on and the way they do it almost everywhere…except Nascar. It remains to be seen how it will affect everything in the long run, but for now, I think it is a going to make for great racing, especially on the restarts.

One thing is for certain. I’m sure we’ll be talking about the double file restart a lot more later as the season progresses from this point.

Well, I guess there isn’t a whole lot left to talk about today other than who, in our opinion, just might take home the trophy this weekend. I guess we have to first look at those guys starting at the front of the pack. Let’s start with Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson, Kurt Bush, Ryan Newman and Kyle Bush and these guys all start in the first three rows. Wow, talk about an all star line-up in the top six and then there’s Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin.

The top twelve starters are the top twelve performers on the year so far and I don’t think there’s any way they would have qualified in the order they did. It will all depend on how well their setups match the track this weekend.

After last week, I’m a little gun-shy on pulling the trigger on who might actually win this weekend, but that’s okay, I’ll still get to it soon.

I really have to mention some that could perform very well at Pocono this weekend. David Reutimann has shown some real strength in recent weeks and it is very possible he could do well this weekend. He just needs to keep on being consistent and I’m sure it is going to start happening for him and Michael Waltrip Racing. Another in that camp is Marcos Ambrose. He has struggled a bit lately, but I never count him out.

Kasey Kahne, Juan Montoya, Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer are all running well enough to pull off the victory at Pocono but I am just not so sure this is their week. With all of the strength starting out front, it could be a little tougher for them to pull it off.

I do think Dale Earnhardt Jr’s team may have something to prove so, even though they are starting from the eighteenth spot, look for them to move to the front during the race. I’m not so sure they will pull off the victory, but I do look for them to finish in the top ten.

This week I don’t think there will be too many surprises. I think it will be the teams that have been performing well in the last few weeks. This fan’s opinion of the way things will stack up at the end of the race is Kyle Bush, Kurt Bush, Jimmy Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart running up front and in no particular order other than I think this could be Ryan Newman’s week to take the trophy for Stewart/Haas racing. And the rest of ’em … well … I think it’s gonna be close and … well … Denny Hamlin could be in there mixing it up along with the rest of them…

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

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Coca Cola 600 “After Chatter” from Just A Fan’s View

David Reutimann and his “00” team used the old, “We’re stayin’ out and we hope it keeps on raining” strategy to hopefully propel themselves to victory in the Coca Cola 600 this last weekend. Although it took 2 hours for that strategy to finally play out, it proved to be the winning strategy of the rain-plagued race.

Hi everyone, and welcome to this weeks Coca Cola 600 After Chatter from Just A Fan’s View.

Looks as though I was right when I said the race this week was going to be an endurance event for the fan’s as well as the drivers. It proved to be even more of an endurance run for both of them than even I could have imagined. The rain completely changed the complexion of the competition for the race this weekend from one of hanging in there until the last one hundred laps and then going for it, to one of, “I just hope we’re out front when they finally call this thing.”

I know that may sound like an over simplification, but I just couldn’t resist. After waiting for the rain to stop several times for long delays, Nascar finally threw in the umbrella and decided that trying to continue was pointless. After all, there is always next week. I really felt for the fan’s that stuck it out to the end and they proved, once again, Nascar fan’s are some of the most devoted fans on earth.

It is unfortunate that the rain put such an extended damper on what was to be a very full day of memorial and appreciation for the all of the military veterans that have given so much for this country over the years. The race was supposed to be the topping on the day of remembering and appreciating all who have given so much to all of us. To add to the disappointment of the weekend, and not because they didn’t try to “git ‘er done”, Nascar had to call the race and thereby added to the “uneventfulness” of the event. It is a shame because, with the delays, and if the sky would have cleared, the race could have run into the night and been finished under the lights as originally planned for the day before. Oh well, as they used to say at our local track, “that’s racing”.

I would have liked to have seen what would have really happened if there had been no rain. Because of the way rain caused the yellow and red flags to fall, it totally changed how everyone approached the racing. Some were racing as if there were only going to be 201 laps while others figured to go most of the distance if not the full 400 laps. Some teams guessed right on their setup for the change to a totally day race and some obviously didn’t and struggled from the beginning.

I still think the ones I picked to finish at, or near, the front would have done so without all the rain. All of those predictions are nice to consider at this point, but completely pointless because it did rain, and continued to rain and then rained some more.

I will say this, I bet the commentators and pit reporters are more worn out than the drivers and crews . I’ve had the privilege to run cameras and sometimes work sound over extended periods before (although not for race events) and I bet those guys had more than enough rain and weather breaks to last them a while.

I always found over long events with unexpected delays, the busier you are the faster the time goes, particularly when you’re on a camera. These guys had to put in a full extra day because of the rain. (To top it all off, they had to tear down all of their equipment before they could go home. That’s why I admire the “tech teams” at such events. They’re the ones you hardly ever hear about or see but without them, you wouldn’t hear or see anything on radio or Tv.)

I’m happy that David Reutimann won if for no other reason than it’s his first cup win and he has been running pretty good so far this year. I’m really glad for him and his owner, Micheal Waltrip, because, overall, MWR has been working really hard for three years to make this happen. They took a chance and it worked out for them and it still counts as a win. The great thing is that a few years down the road no one will even know it was a rain-shortened event. When people look at the statistics, it will say David Reutimann won the race and he was driving for Michael Waltrip Racing … that’s it … there will be no mention of the rain in the record book — just who won.

Well, hopefully the weather will clear for the race coming this weekend in Dover at the Monster Mile. I don’t know if anyone wants to sit through another rain delay for a while, (at least, I know I don’t.)

See ya next time…
Rusty

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

© May 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fans View & Rusty Norman