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Nascar at Kansas After Chatter: Race 3 of the Chase Sees The Standings Tighten Up

In a season that has been full of drama, excitement and feel good stories, race three of the Chase brought the points closer together for the Chasers and increased the number of possible contenders for the coveted Sprint Cup trophy just seven short races away. For real Nascar fans everywhere, the news couldn’t be better.

After the season Nascar has had, it would be a real shame to see the Chase narrowed down to only three or four of the the front runners so soon in the Chase. From this fan’s view, I can think of nothing better than for the tightening of the points to continue right on down to Homestead and see six to eight contenders all in the hunt at that last race. Nothing would make me happier than to see the Champion crowned by actually winning the final race of the season rather than finishing at a certain position to lock the others out. Now, I seriously doubt that will happen, but I do think it would be great if it did.

None of this is new news and it certainly isn’t the only news, but it is good news still.

One of the other hot topics after the race had to do with the inspection of the cars of Tony Stewart’s #14 and Kurt Bush’s #2, (which is a normal procedure), and the re-inspection of the #48 and #5 cars also. It is my understanding that the Hendrick #48 and #5  cars were re-inspected at their request, (although I admit my information is here-say.)

This also lead to Jack Roush playing seeming mind games (and that’s this fan’s opinion) against the Hendrick cars saying “he had heard…” certain things about the Hendrick cars that were found too close to tolerances in last weeks inspections. He was basically trying to put added pressure on the Hendrick camp by inserting the assumption that the cars were not really legal, (hmm, that is also this fan’s opinion) and I do believe it is more to add to the competitive pressure of trying to win the Chase and hopefully cause the Hendrick teams to make mistakes that could open the door for his teams to take advantage of. It wouldn’t be the first time someone used that ploy in Nascar.)

I talked briefly about the Nascar statement in the, “Nascar at Kansas Pre-race article” before the race.) I still feel the same way that I did then. The way I understand the situation is that, in their present state, there is no margin for error left on the cars that were inspected. This leads me to conclude that Nascar is sending out a warning to all the teams that pressing the envelope so closely could lead to penalties just because the box is so tight. I think they are just trying to keep something unfortunate from happening that can absolutely be avoided. Nascar is trying to avoid future problems by making clear what they see as a looming potential problem that can be avoided by all teams.

Yeah, I know there are those of you that have a different opinion about the matter and, believe me, I respect your thoughts on this matter. I just think too much can be made of this situation and that the warning was issued to avoid potential situations with all teams. Everyone knows, (or at least should know) that engineers and crew chiefs worth their salt in racing are always going to press the envelope just as far as they can.

From this fan’s view, they are just doing what they normally do within the stated rules, and that is why the sport has a rule book and also why those rules are changed at times to hopefully make any misinterpretation of a rule less likely.

I remember a statement from the rule book for our local track that said, “Just because the rule book doesn’t say you can’t do it, doesn’t mean you can.” That’s a statement that covers a pretty broad range of possibilities and I don’t think that statement was only found in the rule book for our local track…

The way I see the standings at this point in the Chase is there are several teams that are almost completely out of contention for the Sprint Cup. I don’t think I am alone in thinking that, barring some miraculous intervention, Brian Vickers is probably out of contention for this year by being 250 points out of first. That doesn’t mean he will finish 12th but he certainly has his work cut out for himself.

I know it is still a little too soon to rule out these next guys, but they also have their work cut out for themselves. Kasey Kahne is 190 points out of first and Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman are 165 and 164 points behind. Of those three, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards still have a chance in my thinking, but, they have to finish in the top five over the next seven races and they will also need a lot of help from those that are consistently running at the front. In other words, I think their chances are very slim although this is another one of those times that because this is Nascar the unexpected can happen, (although I seriously doubt it…)

See ya next time…
Rusty
(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)
© October 7, 2009 – all rights reserved
Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

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Nascar at Kansas: Race 3 of the Chase from Just A Fans View

No matter what the qualifying says, the Price Chopper 400 is going to be a race that shows just how serious some teams are to make up some needed points. Judging from the lineup, it may be the first chance that some of the teams in sixth to twelfth positions have an opportunity to make up some points on the front runners. This is a week that will either narrow the field or show that it is just that much closer to being narrowed down to just a few.

The only exception is front runner, Mark Martin who is once again starting on the pole. One of the advantages of starting on the pole is choice of pit selection and that can make a big difference on getting out of the pits during the pit stops for fuel and tires. Since track position will most definitely make a difference this weekend, Mark will likely have an advantage that could allow him to open up a little more distance between him and second place.

I’m not one to jump the gun, but pretty soon the statistics begin to rule over hopes and conjecture. It is beginning to get to the point where those that are more than 150 points out of first need to have lot of help from those out front in points or they have to begin to crush those ahead of them every week. Even at that, without some sort of large separation in finishes in the coming races, the guys out front have the advantage.

I do think it is interesting that, once again this week, the Hendrick teams are showing themselves to be strong, with Mark Martin and Dale Jr starting on the front row. In fact, Hendrick or associated Hendrick cars are starting first, second, third, fifth, ninth and eleventh. If that doesn’t say something about the strength of the organization, I don’t know what does.

Another Hot Topic for the weekend was Nascar’s warning to the #5 and #48 teams about being close to tolerances for their cars. Although they DID NOT say it showed any intention on their part to cheat, they DID say being so close to allowable tolerances made the possibility of having to make a negative decision against them after a race much more possible.

What that really means from this fan’s view is being so close to tolerances leaves very little margin for error and raises the chances of finding a problem after a race. After their stellar performances this year, not even Nascar wants to see that happen. (And people say Nascar has no heart…)

There are those that think the Chase is already down to the top four (or maybe five) and I do agree that it looks that way at the moment, but we’ve only had two races and there are eight left to go. As I said earlier in this article, there does come a time when the actual statistics do begin to affect the final outcome. After only two races, I still think there is a chance that anyone can have a bad week and lose some or all of the advantage they have acquired after those two weeks and that includes the three at the top of the heap. No one, (and I repeat), NO ONE is exempt from having something unexpected break or happen on the track.

Although it hasn’t proven out yet, we have to take into consideration that someone besides the top Chase contenders can win a race and it could happen this week. I’m not saying it will but I do have to once again remind us all, anything can happen in Nascar racing (and usually does) especially when you least expect it. Kansas can be just that kind of place.

Jimmy Johnson is looking mighty tough this weekend and I do believe he is the one of the Chasers that is most likely to win barring any of those things happening we just mentioned. It is all going to come down to those near-the-end-of-the-race cautions and fuel mileage. And that, my friends, is why this fan thinks the race will be decided in the pits and the the strategies that play out from there.

See ya next time…
Rusty
(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)
© October 4, 2009 – all rights reserved
Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman


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Nascar at Dover (After Chatter): Just A Fan’s View of the Latest Monster Tamers

Say what you will about the Hendrick teams and their performance this year, but no matter what you really think, they have been strong. Jimmy Johnson and Mark Martin “Tamed the Monster” and finished 1-2 in the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway Sunday afternoon. Now, don’t think they were alone in their accomplishment because they weren’t. Matt Kenseth, Juan Montoya and Kurt Bush rounded out the top five and were ready to pounce if either Jimmy or Mark wavered in their run to the checkers.


Had it not been for a failure of an air gun in the #24 pits, Jeff Gordon could possibly have made it 1-2-3 for the top running Hendrick teams although I’m not sure whether it would have been in the same order. Jimmy and Jeff were both strong late in the race, but sometimes ‘stuff just happens’ in racing and changes your whole day. As it was, the #24 team finished a very respectable sixth place but couldn’t gain any points on the Chase leader, Mark Martin and now sits 122 points out of 1st place.

Taking a realistic look at the way the points situation looks after two Chase races, some things are pretty obvious. Mark Martin and Jimmy Johnson are beginning to separate themselves slightly from the rest of the field and continue to look like the ones to beat for the Sprint Cup Championship. Juan Montoya’s performance in the first two races shows that his team came to win and, so far, is in the same league as the top two Hendrick teams. Kurt Bush is looking to be tough right down to the end also, (although he has been whining quite a bit over the last two weeks. With what’s going on with his team, not many blame him.)

Now, I say all these nice things with only 20 percent of the Chase over with and 80 percent left to go. I hate to keep repeating myself, but, one or two races does not tell the story of a whole season or even the end of it. One or two races tells only the story so far, and anyone that’s been around Nascar much knows it is still anyone’s Cup to claim.

Looking at this latest season shows us some of the closest competition for the whole race to the Chase than any year so far. The top three pretty much separated themselves early on, but the rest of the field wasn’t decided until the last race in Richmond and it could have affected almost half the Chase field. As it turned out it only affected about the last three spots in the Chase, but the drama going into Richmond really put a lot of emphasis on finishing well.

That’s the problem (in a good way) with where the Chase is right now. After two races, the separation in points becomes harder and harder to make up for those that are falling behind unless some of the ones at the top of the standings have an extremely bad week or several not-so-good weeks in a row.

From this fan’s view, this is where it gets a bit sticky. If the races continue on as they have the last couple of weeks, the same people stay out front in the standings and the ones behind just fall further back. After the season we’ve seen so far, to me it would be a shame for that to happen. I don’t wish anyone bad luck, but this season deserves a tight finish in Homestead with at least six cars in the hunt at that last race.

Yeah, I know that puts a lot of pressure on the drivers and teams every week, but I also know this is Nascar and it, and racing in general, has a lot of unforseens and uncertainties. The unexpected has been known to happen, especially in Nascar, and it can still happen this year.

As I mentioned last time,(Nascar at Dover Prerace), racing luck can sometimes turn on a dime and no one is protected from it. Not Mark Martin, not Jimmy Johnson, not Juan Montoya and certainly not Denny Hamlin, Kurt Bush, Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon. No one is exempt from being in the wrong place at the right time and no one is exempt from something like an air gun or a crank shaft failing. It may not be likely but it can happen and it can change the way your season ends up, no matter who you are. That’s one thing I really like about Nascar and racing; You still have to show up every week and perform well enough to win… otherwise, you’re just headed to the back.

See ya next time…
Rusty
(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)
© September 30,2009 – all rights reserved
Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman


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Nascar at Dover: Who Will Tame the Monster and Improve Their Place in the Chase?

The field is set for the race at the Monster Mile at Dover this weekend and it remains to be seen whether or not there will be a major, or just a minor, shake up in the top twelve positions in the Chase for the Nascar Sprint Cup Championship.

The top sixteen qualifying spots contain ten of the top twelve Chasers for the AAA 400 at the Monster Mile this Sunday afternoon and four of them start in the first two rows. Jimmy Johnson and Juan Montoya fill up the front row and will lead the rest of the field to the green flag. To this fan, it looks like another exciting race shaping up in the Chase for the 2009 Championship.

The big questions this weekend are about the tires and how they are going to wear first, and second, whether or not they will allow the racing groove to widen to at least two wide and make the racing even more interesting.

The ones in contention for the Chase for the Championship that didn’t finish well at Loudon are looking to turn their fortunes around at the Monster Mile this weekend and see if they can establish some momentum for the coming weeks. People like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards are trying to reverse the downward trend in their performance witnessed at Loudon last weekend and make up a bit of ground on those that faired better.

The Magic Mile didn’t destroy their chances for contending for the Cup Championship but the poorer than expected performances did make finishing closer to the front over the next few weeks much more essential. One bad week does not end a bid for capturing the Sprint Cup, but if those weeks keep on adding up the chances reach critical mass very quickly. I think that is an incentive for the Chasers to be smart but press hard to finish at, or near, the front this weekend and hope that somebody ahead of them has a bad week this weekend.

With the way Mark Martin, Juan Montoya, Jimmy Johnson and Denny Hamlin have been running lately, it could be a tough road ahead for the other guys if they don’t run into some sort of problems over the next few weeks.

Any one of the four mentioned above could win the championship if they don’t run into to some of those unexpected problems over the next few weeks. Momentum is great thing as long as everything keeps working in your favor, but it only takes one really bad week followed by a not so good week to turn that momentum into a minor panic which can cause a total reversal of that momentum.

Racing can sometimes be a funny sport and momentum (or what some would call racing luck) does have a tendency to sometimes turn on a dime and take a team in a completely opposite direction. Those that have enjoyed fairly comfortable performances in the past several weeks could suddenly find themselves struggling and fighting to keep from falling to positions seven to twelve. Now, I’m not trying to put a curse on anyone in the coming weeks, I just know it can, and does happen.

If anyone needs to drastically turn things around this weekend it would be Kasey Kahne. He cannot afford the luxury of anything less than a top three finish and would consider a win a major step in the right direction. Even with that, he would need another great performance over the next several weeks and the ones at the front would have to have terrible weeks over that same period of time.

Does that sound impossible to you considering the chaos we mentioned in the last article happening at RPM? (see Nascar at Loudon: After Chatter) Barring some miraculous intervention in the near future, this Nascar fan thinks Kasey Kahne’s chances for taking the Cup this year are over.

From this fan’s view, this is another week that could have the unexpected team take the win. I don’t think it will be someone running in the back of the standings but there are several that could pull off the victory at the Monster Mile. Admittedly it will require some unexpected events to take place, but it is possible. Names like A J Allmendinger, Kevin Harvick and David Reutimann don’t quickly jump to the front of my mind when considering who could win this weekend, but, it could happen.

There are always those names that stand out as possible winners this weekend and one of them is Kyle Bush. Since this is not a flat track, I think his chances are higher than they were last week at Loudon but I’m not so sure he will pull it off. I do look for him to enter into the mix over the next few weeks though.

I’m just not in the mood to name a winner this weekend, but I am looking forward to the race. I do think the ones that are more likely to win are Jimmy Johnson, Juan Montoya, Mark Martin, Kurt Bush and Denny Hamlin. Even though momentum says they should be near the front at the end of the AAA 400, I see and hear a lot of determination in the actions and voices of Greg Biffle and Jeff Gordon. If a dark horse was to win this weekend I would pick either one of these guys and possibly add the names of Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Bryan Vickers.

Whatever happens this weekend at DIS will be another view of how the whole thing is going to pan out. Should the same ones finish in the top five that did in Loudon, it would appear to me that a mold is being cast for the final few races. If the roles reverse, look out! It could be a nail biting eight weeks for everybody …

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

© September 26, 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman



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Nascar at Loudon: Great Racing Marks the First Race of the Chase from Just A Fan’s View

The race in Loudon last Sunday gave Nascar fans everywhere something to consider about the remaining nine races in the Chase. It won’t be wise to look for a bunch of teams to just run around hoping to finish ahead of everyone else in the points race to the end of the season.

From this fan’s view to anyone that thought the Chase guys were going to lay low and see what the others did in the Chase races, well they can rest assured there is going to be plenty of excitement in the weeks to come.

To briefly recap the weekend in Loudon, Mark Martin, the ‘old guy’ that’s been racing like a ‘young guy’, held off an aggressive Juan Montoya to take home the trophy from the Sylvania 300 Sunday afternoon. The racing was close and exciting right down to the wire and the double file restarts didn’t hurt the “excit-o-meter” at the end of the race, either. If this is what we have to look forward to for the next nine races, it’s this fan’s opinion not even NFL football will have a larger audience. Now, all of that remains to be seen, but, I wouldn’t recommend missing any of the action in the coming weeks.

One of the hot topics after the Sylvania 300 concerned how a few of the “Chasers” just didn’t have a good weekend. Now, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards not performing well wasn’t too unexpected by many in the know, but Jeff Gordon was another story.

At the start of the race, Jeff was competitive as many expected he would be considering how strong they ran in June. However, they quickly lost the handle on the 24 car and never returned to the hunt for the checkered flag which I know was very disappointing to Jeff and crew chief, Steve Latarte along with the rest of the team.

Amidst quite a bit of seeming chaos over at RPM in the past week, Kasey Kahne’s loss of an engine sent up all kinds of flags about the coming changes in that camp. I won’t go into it here because I think too many have said too much already, but I will say that it put Kasey’s Kahne’s team in a very bad position for the remainder for the Chase. The odds are pretty much against them making a real run for the Sprint Cup from here on out. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance in the hottest of places, but it does mean they have major hurdles to overcome if they want to finish near, or at the top, of the standings by the time the season ends at Homestead in November.

Even though Greg Biffle did climb three places in the standings this last weekend, it doesn’t mean that much except that it puts an accent on how bad the others, now behind him, finished. It is this fan’s opinion the Roush teams are experiencing one of those years that all teams dread facing and can’t wait until next year to hopefully get back on the competitive side of the track. Although Greg and Carl haven’t been performing all that bad, (seeing as how they made it into the Chase), they obviously aren’t happy with the way the season has shaped up so far. (As Mark Martin would say, “The racing gods just aren’t smiling on them this year.”)

If you check what I said about the Hendrick teams in the pre-race article (Nascar at Loudon: …) you will find that I expected Dale Jr to have a strong performance. As it turns out, he was having a great day until a racing incident with David Reutimann put him into the wall and out of contention for the day. Dale Jr was noticeably disappointed and made some strong comments about the incident after the race. It is my opinion as a fan, that it was mostly adrenaline and disappointment speaking and we all know that stuff just happens.

Although I know it is w-a-a-a-y too early to start naming the winner of the Sprint Cup, the first week was interesting and really shook up the standings of the top twelve. Just take a quick look at how Juan Montoya moved up seven places. A minor setback during the race with an axle cap moved Tony Stewart back four places. His teammate, Ryan Newman, moved up three places and Kurt Bush moved up two. That the leaves the Hendrick teams of Mark Martin and Jimmy Johnson at the top of the heap along with JGR’s Denny Hamlin, in week one of the Chase and although not too many didn’t expect the 48 team to be up there, Mark Martin is having a dream season and, in his own words, “The time of his life.” Perhaps a little unexpected, Denny Hamlin is riding a wave of momentum that started and has carried over from the last several weeks of racing up to the Chase.

Any way you look at it, those that had a bad week at Loudon need a couple of really good weeks to gain back some of the spots they lost and those that had a good week would have to have a couple of really bad weeks to help them gain those spots back. To this fan, that makes the next couple of weeks very important to all involved and, to tell the truth, I can’t wait to see how it all pans out…

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

© September 23, 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman


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Nascar at Atlanta: The Pep Boys Auto 500 After Chatter from Just A Fan’s View

Well, I told you it would very likely be a surprise ending to the race in Atlanta on Sunday night and it was. I never really expected Kasey Kahne to be the one to pull it off though and I never really expected the top three to be Kahne, Harvick and Montoya. Even the fourth place going to David Reutimann was quite a surprise to this fan…

As the teams prepare for the last race before the Chase this coming weekend at Richmond, things have tightened up just a bit more for those trying to keep their places in the top twelve and those that are trying their level best to get in the top twelve.

I admire the resiliency shown by a few of the teams in the face of adversity this last weekend. One in particular would be Bryan Vickers. Even though he broke an axle, the Red Bull #83 managed to pull off a seventh place finish and that says a lot for a team very close to breaking into the top twelve in points and how bad they want it. All things considered, changing out that axle on a caution near the end of the race and not even losing a lap was pretty spectacular.

The Atlanta race was a race that made it very obvious, if it can go wrong it will and plenty of teams had problems on Sunday night. To some it didn’t make any difference since they are locked in the Chase already, (like Jimmy Johnson’s broken axle), but others saw their hopes either disappear or diminish greatly as they tried to hold on even through the problems.

Clint Bowyer watched as his hopes disappeared for this year, but they can be proud of the showing they made this season. It is this fan’s opinion, next year looks very promising for them as Chase contenders. In fact, I think we will see all of the Richard Childress teams perform much better in the coming year. It appears, at least on the surface, they’ve begun to get a handle on their new cars and engine packages and this fan thinks the worst is behind them.

Kurt Bush and Carl Edwards didn’t quite have the kind of night they were hoping for either.

Kurt fought a loose car all night and finally ended up putting it in the wall with a little help from Reed Sorenson with less than a hundred laps to go. For one that looked like he would lock himself in the Chase by the end of the night, now he has another week of having to perform well, just in case the unexpected happens.

Carl Edwards quite simply had a bad week and a bad night making the Race for the Chase even tighter for him this coming weekend, although he does have about a 105 point cushion. Another week like last week and it is anybody’s guess where he will finish. It is just an observation from this fan, but he has not had what could be called a stellar year. I’m sure Carl thinks the year so far has been a pretty mediocre year to his standards. Even though they have been performing well, they have had their problems all year long (along with all the Roush cars.)

Okay, let’s take a look at some of the most important things about the race to the Chase as the teams depart Atlanta and head for Richmond. Going into Atlanta, only 89 points separated the 7th spot from the 14th spot. Coming out of Atlanta, 112 points separate spots 7 to 14 but only 86 points separate 10th to 14th. That makes the outlook for the race in Richmond to be full of drama, in particular for those 5 spots.

A closer look at what actually happened with the points and the top six to twelve positions shows Kasey Kahne moved up 5 positions, Kurt Bush lost 1 position, Juan Montoya gained 1 position, Ryan Newman lost 2 positions and Greg Biffle lost 3 positions. With movement like that and the few points separating those just outside the top twelve from Matt Kenseth, it makes for very interesting possibilities at Richmond.

Bryan Vickers and Kyle Bush are only 20 to 37 points behind Matt Kenseth while David Reutimann is 132 points out. Mark Martin, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth have to have good finishes this coming weekend or it could totally change the last three spots of 10th to 12th.

Considering how this year has gone with its ups and downs for some of the teams either finishing up front or in the back, I still say ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN this weekend in Richmond and that definitely makes it one of the most important Nascar races to watch. This one is going down to the wire folks, and barring the unforeseen, we won’t know everything until the checkered flag falls at Richmond…

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

© September 9, 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman



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Nascar At Atlanta: Spots 7 to 14 Are Separated by Only 89 Points as The Chase for The Chase Winds Down

Atlanta will prove to be interesting for those trying to stay, or make it into the Chase for 2009. Spots 7 to 14 are only separated by 89 points with two races to go and even Clint Bowyer in spot 15 has a chance to still make it in. Of course, it will almost take two miraculous interventions over the next two races, but it is still possible he could make it … That is, “IF” … and it is anawfully big “IF”.

Of all the teams that had a chance to move into the top 12 in the last few weeks, Clint Bowyer’s team has had the worst luck of the ones that even had a chance. From just not being able to get a good finish, to being accidentally spun out by his team mate, Kevin Harvick, his chances are way down from the rest of the contenders for the top twelve spots. I really feel for him and his team, but as I said, unless some of the the others ahead of him have some really bad problems, he doesn’t have much of chance. I know they will come back strong next season and I am sure they will be in there contending for the top twelve in next years race for the Chase.

When you think about their performance this year, they’ve done a pretty good job for what could really be considered a first year team.

Looking at the starting lineup for today shows an interesting mix at the front of the pack. We see Martin Truex on the pole with Kasey Kahne on the outside. Second row is all Hendrick with Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Third row is the Bush brothers Kyle and Kurt, one of them is definitely trying to get into the top twelve and the other one is in. In the fourth row we see Mark Martin and Bryan Vickers, one trying to stay in the top twelve and the other trying to get in. Just those fours rows make the drama very obvious for the race tonight. With the points the way they are in positions 7 through 14, anything can still happen.

So what else could possibly make this Chase more dramatic than it already is? I’m not sure, but I know that after the race finishes tonight, a lot of things will either be much clearer or a lot closer and more muddy. It all depends on who finishes where… and it depends on whether or not anything strange happens to one the drivers trying to stay in that top twelve area in the Chase points, (like what happened to Carl Edwards this week while playing frisbee.)

I can’t remember when the race to The Chase has been more interesting than it has been this year. We have had several teams kinda “in there” all along and others that have been in and out and in again for most of the last half of the season. I can tell you, if the season continues on the way it has over the last several weeks, I have no idea who is going to be in the last 6 spots of the Chase standings.

One good thing about all these goings on has been the interest it has managed to generate in the drama of the Chase. With so many on the edge of making it, or not making it, people are as interested in it as the playoffs for the World Series. I have heard more people talking about the possibilities more this year than any I have since the Chase began. As a long time Nascar fan, I am happy to see the interest, but it hasn’t taken all of the uncertainty to keep me interested. I just love the fact that the drama continues right up to these last two races.

As for who is going to win this weekend, I really think it will be an unexpected victory. It could be someone like Martin Truex, Jr, Bryan Vicke rs, Kasey Kahne and Kurt Bush. Some will likely insert the names of Kyle Bush (who really needs a win to get in the top twelve), or Matt Kenseth. I just think it is going to be a hard one to call because of the closeness of the gap between those so close to being in or being out of the Chase.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Jeff Gordon pull off the victory because I know that he and his crew chief would like to go into the coming weeks with a little momentum. It is awfully hard to rule out any of the Hendrick teams along with the 24 although I do think Mark Martin and Jimmy Johnson have a better chance than Dale Jr. Also, I can’t rule out the Stewart/Haas teams. Both can run very strong at Atlanta and that should make for an interesting mix come tonight.

I think I’ll just leave it where it is and root for the guy I would like to see win. I won’t be disappointed if he doesn’t, but, I would like to see him take not only this race in Atlanta, but the Cup Championship, as well. Who is that … well, if you don’t know by now, I don’t see any reason to let you in on all my secrets just yet so we’ll just leave it at this…  He’s been around a while … Does that help??

See ya next time …
Rusty

© September 6, 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View & Rusty Norman


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Nascar at Bristol: Thunder Valley After Chatter from Just A Fan’s View



Kyle Bush held off a hard charging Mark Martin and brought home the victory for the #18 M&M’s/Joe Gibbs Toyota in the closing laps of the Sharpie 500 in Thunder Valley. Mark Martin led the most laps and had the dominate car most of the afternoon but could only manage second place. Along with all that drama, the end of the race saw Tony Stewart, Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon mathematically locked into the Chase while the standings were shaken up once again closer to the break point of, 12th place.

I guess it came as no surprise to many that Kyle Bush came away with the victory, but I have to admit it was just a little unexpected from this fan’s view. Sure, we all know Kyle runs very strong at Bristol but lately he and his #18 team have been struggling.

Personally, I didn’t think his luck was going to take a turn for the good just yet. From the way he had been running in Cup recently, it looked as though he could be in jeopardy of making the Chase and it didn’t appear to me that he was going to make it. Now, with two races left to decide the top twelve, it could very well be that he not only makes it in, but could have a great chance of being one of the top contenders if he does. If he has a good week in Atlanta and then in Richmond, watch out for what that kind of momentum could mean for his chances in taking the championship.

There wasn’t a lot of controversy coming out of Bristol. In fact, the Sharpie 500 was a typical Bristol race, with plenty of short track excitement and continuous action.

With the race at Bristol being followed by a weekend off, it appears that the time will be enjoyed by the competitors in the way they usually choose to enjoy a weekend off. For some, it will be another weekend of racing while for others it will be taking a breather in preparation for the next twelve weeks.

The focus of most of the ones in the 7th to 15th position in the standings is the race in Atlanta next week where they hope to solidify their place in the top twelve or break into the top twelve with a good finish. Time is running out for those outside the top twelve to make a spot for themselves in the Chase. Atlanta will very likely decide all but one or two of those that will actually make it.

For now, everyone draws a breath and prepares for Atlanta. Atlanta will be a turning point for some and for others, the end of the dream for this year’s Chase. All eyes will be on the ones that absolutely have to have a good finish to either remain in the Chase or move into it.

See ya next time … Rusty

(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)
© August 29, 2009 – all rights reserved
Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

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Nascar at Bristol: Sprint Cup Returns To Short Track Racing in Thunder Valley

How about that “Old Guy”, Mark Martin? Another pole starting position and that makes five on the year, so far, for the guy that wasn’t even supposed to be racing this year and who will be making his 1000th start in the Nascar Cup Series Saturday night in Thunder Valley.

I always find it interesting how Mark Martin talks about his qualifying experiences week in and week out. He doesn’t step out and say things like, “I think I left a little out there, I hope it holds up…” or, “Well, it was a good run but I think I could have gone a little faster…” No, he says things like, “I’ve never been so scared in my life, I can’t believe how fast that lap was…”, or “It is unbelievable how loose the car was; there’s no way that lap could have been that good… I can’t believe I’m on the pole.”

Now, don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. He never criticizes his crew chief, car owner or the team. He is always saying how hard they work and how good a car they’ve provided for him. It’s just that, (and I think this is the key), he is outside his comfort zone. To get the results he is getting, he is pressing the envelope of comfort he would like to be in — keeping it right on the edge — and getting those poles and victories shows that’s what it takes. (Not bad for an “Old Guy”. Hey, I can say that ’cause I am one.)

He may be enjoying what is going on for him this year, but he isn’t as “comfortable” as he would like to be. He also says the pressure of making the Chase is taking a little bit of the fun out of all the good stuff going on for him this year. Although he has had some bad luck during the year, he is performing well but, he also doesn’t want to waste all of these “good results” when he is so close to making the Chase. It is this fan’s opinion, once he definitely makes it into the Chase this year, his racing life in Nascar will once again be fun for Mark Martin.

Once again, I don’t think where someone qualified is going to tell too much about where they will finish. During qualifying, it definitely looked as though many were taken a bit by surprise by how slick the track was. It looked like many missed the setup on their qualifying runs. That makes it look even more like it will be a very exciting race because, the outside lane is going to prove very “racey”, also.

One thing that can be said about Bristol; you don’t pass that many people in the pits. This is one track that is a driver’s track. When you win at Bristol, it is usually because the driver did his job. That doesn’t mean the crews and what they do doesn’t matter. It simply means that if the crews give the driver a good car setup, the driver is more responsible for the end result. The crew still has to do their part, but, more passing is going to be done on the track “rather” than in the pits.

I disagree with the overall consensus that Kyle Bush is the strong favorite to win the Sharpie 500 this weekend. It is this fan’s opinion there is just too much that has been going wrong for him this year. He may have won the Truck race but look what happened to him in the Nationwide race. To win these days a lot has to go right. He has the same chance as anyone else to take the victory, but he also has the same chance as anyone else to have something go wrong not of their own making. At Bristol, anything –and I stress the word, a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g — can happen to change the outcome of the race.

Bristol is a track that demands a lot from the competitors and in particular the demand on their ability to endure mentally and physically throughout the race. This is a place that breeds short tempers and high emotions. That sometimes causes the drivers to react in ways that changes the whole outcome of the night for them and for those that happened to be in the wrong place at the right time.

The winner tonight could be a total surprise. It could be someone like Marcos Ambrose, David Reutimann or even Scott Speed. Actually, out of those three, I would probably pick Marcos Ambrose but he is a dark horse to me for tonight’s race.

Just looking at the last practice shows me some pretty strong possibilities for winners but it also gives a false impression. As always, the fastest single laps don’t mean that much in a race like this; it is the ones that can run the most consistent lap times on a regular basis and handle different lines on the track when they have to pass. In my opinion, that is the thing that will be the deciding factor in tonight’s race. Yes, track position is going to be important, but so is being able to pass when the need arises. That’s what makes tonight’s race hard to call.

I look at the Hendrick teams as possible winners tonight because they have been running strong all year just about everywhere. When I say Hendrick teams I also include the Stewart/Haas camp also. Now, the Roush cars are even looking good for tonight. Either Greg Biffle or Carl Edwards in particular could pull it off tonight. It just depends on what happens and when.

In fact, there are any number of individuals that could end up in Victory Lane tonight but unfortunately only one will. Do I think it will be one of the Bush brothers? No, not really. I think it’s going to be someone from the Hendrick camps. Only problem is, I’m not sure whether it will be Mark Martin or Jimmy Johnson. Even though I know Jeff Gordon, Dale Jr, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart have an excellent chance for winning tonight, I’m going to go with a one two finish of Mark Martin and Jimmy Johnson…

Now, it’s up to you to figure out which one will be first and which one will be second. My choice is J J but, it could be M M … what do you think…

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

© August 22, 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

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Nascar at Michigan: The Carfax 400 “After Chatter”

The Carfax 400 came down to a fuel mileage race once again and didn’t disappoint, especially if you like drama and are a Red Bull Team, Bryan Vickers fan.

It really looked like Jimmy Johnson was going to take the win until he ran out of gas with a little over two laps to go. Up to that point he had led the most laps of the race, adding up to 133. The only thing left to see after that was whether or not Bryan Vickers would run out of gas, (as Greg Biffle did back in June), and turn the lead over to Jeff Gordon or Dale Jr.

As we all now know, Bryan Vickers managed to conserve enough fuel to finish the race, run the cool down lap and do a partial burnout after winning the Carfax 400 at MIS. However, he did need to be pushed into victory lane. That just tells you how close the mileage was figured by those that decided to try and get fifty one laps on a tank of fuel. For some it worked and for others, like Mark Martin, it did not.

In fact, Jimmy Johnson was running first when he ran out of fuel and finished 33rd. Mark Martin was running just outside the top ten and finished 31st. After the race, the biggest question as the teams left Michigan was, why did Mark’s crew chief take the chance? Even He was wondering if it was worth the risk after it was all over.

All in all, this was a good race and went pretty much as I expected. As far as I could tell from much of the pre-race chatter, everyone expected it would probably come down to a fuel mileage race and it did although many question why it had to. Personally, I just didn’t think they would be stretching out the fuel so many laps. Many wonder why so many teams decided to take the track position over fuel, especially knowing that the race in June pretty much pushed things to the limit.

If we take a close look at a couple of drivers, we see that both Jeff Gordon and Bryan Vickers managed to push the fuel envelope to the 50 plus lap limit and it worked out well for them.

One just has to wonder what the limit will be next time Nascar shows up at MIS. Unless someone is way out front in the waning laps next time, I just don’t see how they can save much more fuel than they have the last two times out. After all, no one expected they could go more laps than they did in June and now it appears the August race has set the new watermark for laps run on a tank of fuel.

From this fans view, I don’t think anyone is going to try to go further than they did last Sunday at MIS. It is possible they could, you understand, but it just doesn’t seem the risk outweighs the advantage after a certain point. I mean, even the guys that tried it and failed this time are thinking that maybe they should have done it differently. It is my opinion they won’t want to chance loosing the points for such a long shot in the future. But, as we all well know…this is Nascar Sprint Cup racing and no one has ever said that taking chances wasn’t a part of the deal …

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

© August 19, 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

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Nascar Returns to Michigan: Just A Fan’s View of the Carfax 400 at MIS

Nascar returns to Michigan this weekend and it looks like it could be another fuel mileage race, naturally, depending on when the cautions near the end of the race fall. Some of the fastest cars are Bryan Vickers, Mark Martin, Jimmy Johnson and Juan Montoya. It remains to be seen whether they actually are the faster cars come tomorrow. Racing at Michigan is always full of surprises; that’s just the way it is.

I watched the first practice sessions and the the qualifying and didn’t see too much that surprised me, but the last two sessions began to make me wonder just who was getting a handle on what the track would most likely be like at race time tomorrow.

Now I have to be honest, even though I like the Michigan races, to me they do tend to be a bit unexciting, at least until nearer the end. It is a wide track and has multiple grooves. The drivers can pass on the high side and and low side, why they can even pass in the middle. It’s not the fault of the drivers that the race becomes a little tedious in the middle. It is just a characteristic of the track.

Michigan International Speedway was made to race at least three wide on and to be extremely fast while doing so.  All of the competitors can run in any of the three grooves and they can all run fast.

I think the key to this race is who can get the most out of a gallon of gas and still keep near the front. If all goes as it usually does, someone will be leading near the end trying to stretch the last bit of  gas in the fuel line. Let’s just not forget how things went in June; first Jimmy Johnson ran out of gas on the front straight and then Greg Biffle ran out on the back stretch, leaving Mark Martin to drive across the line and claim the victory.

So, do I think this one is going to come down to a fuel mileage race or a race that could end up like the Nationwide race on Saturday afternoon. Gee, I’m glad you asked that question and, to be honest, it could go either way and it could be very exciting, considering the continuance of the double file restart and the possibility of it coming down to fuel and tires, (mostly fuel.) I do think track position will be important and the one that can handle the top groove on a restart just could hold the key to victory. No matter what happens, the one that can hold their line on the restart will be the one that pulls out ahead. Then the question becomes whether they have enough horses to hold off the rest of the pack around them.

It is hard not to notice that the four Hendrick team cars were in the top ten fastest cars in the final practice. Yeah, I know that doesn’t tell us much because it is only a one lap reading on their speeds and we all know it is who can run consistently fastest the latest in a run. Since two of the Hendrick cars were running up front on the last laps of the race in June, it is awfully hard for me not to think one of the four could come away with the win. Even Dale Jr was eighth fastest in that last practice.

This fan thinks the Carfax 400 is going come down to the last laps just like it did in June. I don’t know for sure but I do think all of the Hendrick cars are going to be in the top15 and that includes Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. I also think this is a race that will show a few surprises at the end with all of the manufacturers performing well.

I won’t rule out the possibility of the Fords of Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards being in victory lane, simply because of Greg’s performance in June. I also think Kurt Bush is going to run strong.

Since I like to actually choose a winner, I’m having a hard time choosing, but I do like the chances of Bryan Vickers, Juan Montoya, and even Clint Bowyer and Kyle Bush. But, when it comes right down to it, I’m going to go with Jimmy Johnson. The way he ran last time may not carry over to this race, but I do think him and Chad are coming back with a little something to prove…

See ya next time …

Rusty

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

© August 15, 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman



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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