Nascar at Darlington from Just A Fan’s View

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Hey, everybody…as you already know, the track that’s “Too Tough To Tame” is the stop this week for Nascar and it should prove to be a test for all involved. From the fabricators to the drivers, no one will be lacking for pressure to fix or perform for this Saturday night’s Southern 500.

The passage of time hasn’t changed many of the things that caused Darlington to become the track called the “Lady in Black” and “Too Tough To Tame”. They still lay in wait for the driver who pushes the envelope just a little too far or misses the groove by just a wheel width or less. Even though the wall now is somewhat less of a jolt because of the installation of the ‘SAFER barrier’ and some of the features built into the COT, it can still be a race changing encounter. Just ask the ten drivers and teams that had a close encounter with the “soft wall” in the practice sessions.

One thing that has definitely not changed about Darlington is where the race for the win will really be. The track is the challenge this weekend. Drivers and teams will be racing the track much more than the other drivers. Failure to keep up with the changes of the track throughout the race will make for many a disappointed competitor and completely ruin any possibility of taking the checkered flag for any that don’t.

As a fan, I like to see the way Marcos Ambrose continues to surprise those that thought he would only perform well at the road courses. He is proving himself to be very adaptable to the cup cars on just about any of tracks Nascar frequents. I have really taken a liking to him myself and find myself wondering just how well he performs every week.

Tony Stewart is off to a great start this season and I think his success is probably the biggest surprise to everyone so far. That’s not to say that no one expected him to be successful as an owner driver, it’s just they didn’t think it would happen so fast. One thing is certain, Stewart-Haas racing is performing above expectations so far and I believe they are poised to end up in ‘Victory Lane’ sooner than later. I just don’t know if it’s going to be Tony Stewart or Ryan Newman that makes it there first.

This week I am going to totally ignore the qualifying order and most of the practice times. I just don’t think they’re going to have a lot to do with the final outcome this week. As always, we all know the pits are going to be the place that has the most to do with where the race can be won or lost. It just depends on how the yellows fly near the end and how much time has passed since the last one.

One thing to watch as the race progresses is how much fresh tires affect the lap times and for how long that difference lasts. From ‘Just A Fan’s View’, that will tell more about the strategies the crew chiefs are going to be considering for the yellow flags near the end of the race. That can make a big difference on who will be the sitting duck for the yellow flag near the end.

So…who IS going to take the trophy home this week? I know I’ve said this several other times this year, but, this time it REALLY IS going to be hard to pick the possible winner. I guess I’ll just have to give it my best guess…

If past races make any difference, this one could come down to the Jeff and Jeff show, (uh…that would be Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon.) Between them they have proved they both know how to win at this place.

Matt Kenseth turned a new track record in qualifying for the pole position and beat out Jeff Gordon’s outside pole position by only tenth of a second, (just another reason it makes this week’s winner hard to pick — the lap times are very close for many of the drivers.)

As difficult as it may be, here are my picks for the top five. I really do think it is going to be an interesting finish. In no particular order for the moment I think the top five will be Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton and Mark Martin. Some of my honorable mentions are Marcos Ambrose, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick.

Any one of these nine guys could win but which one is the problem. I think the one that walks away with the victory is going to be…Jeff Gordon…or…uh…ah, never mind.

See ya next time…
Rusty

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

© May 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Just A Fan’s View and Nascar “After Chatter” from Richmond

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Hi everybody…

I don’t think anyone will deny the fact that Kyle Bush is a force to be reckoned with now and for the foreseeable future in Nascar. Anyone who thinks he isn’t making an impact on the sport just isn’t paying attention. He is one of the most talented drivers to come along in quite a while and his future looks to be very bright as long as he doesn’t lose his focus and it doesn’t look like that is going to happen any time soon.

Well, it’s confession time (at least for me) here at Just A Fan’s View. I have to admit I can be extremely opinionated when it comes to drivers and  racing. Even when I was racing locally, I wasn’t afraid to tell someone I didn’t like the way they raced and I am sure I stuck my foot in my mouth more than once when I did. (In fact, I still do sometimes). I’m sure they formed an opinion of me the same as I did them and for the most part, both of our opinions were probably wrong and reality was somewhere in the middle of our first impressions. In the end, no matter how rocky the start, over time we came to appreciate each others talents and, somehow, many of us became friends even though we could be fierce competitors on the track.

When Kyle Bush showed up on the scene, I saw him as a loose cannon with reasonable talent but little or no control. He seemed to always be sticking his nose in where it shouldn’t be during a race and definitely caused his share of accidents and hard feelings amongst his fellow competitors. I failed to see how such an apparent wild driving style could ever be taken seriously and ever be successful, especially in Nascar. (Looking back, I see how wrong that preliminary assessment appears to have been.)

In reality, the thing I failed to see (or maybe didn’t want to admit) was the raw talent that just needed some understanding and good solid coaching along with his gaining a little maturity. Now don’t misunderstand, he hasn’t lost any of the youthful, (some may call that immature), enthusiasm of a couple of years ago, but he has gained considerable patience and maturity on the track and towards accomplishing his goals in Nascar.

In the Nascar “Nation” you find people on both sides of the fence when it comes to Kyle, but hardly anyone sitting on the fence. Most either love him or hate him. Some admit to his talent and then always add a “BUT” to any comment or discussion they may have about him. They just can’t seem to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his competitive  aggressiveness on the track and even, sometimes, in interviews after a race. Let’s face it, the kid ( I can say that because I’m an “old guy”) loves to drive race cars AND he loves to win. He also has an idea of who and what he is. One thing is for sure, he doesn’t lack confidence.

Over time, I’ve noticed how I’ve changed in my judgment of drivers in the Nascar series. I used to be much more supportive of just a few drivers and very critical of many others. There wasn’t a whole lot some of them could do that I thought was right. Now, I think I have come to a point where I have a much better understanding of the individual personalities of the drivers and, I know for a fact, I am more tolerant of many of them and their actions. In fact, I enjoy the differing personalities of all of them more than I ever have. (Hm-m, I guess that means I’m finally maturing, also, huh?)

Now don’t get me wrong, there are still some out there I just don’t much understand and, admittedly, they rub me the wrong way, (probably because of their youthful enthusiasm), but I do enjoy watching them drive and listening to them talk.

I think I have finally come to the understanding that Nascar wouldn’t be the same without any of them. To tell the truth, when I took the time to try and get to know them better rather than passing quick, and sometimes unwarranted,  judgment on them, I found they weren’t at all like I thought they were. Many of them prove they are just everyday people that love to race, love what they do and appreciate the fans that cheer and boo them. I can understand and relate to that and I have come to appreciate all of them much more.

Although I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Kyle Bush today, there are many other drivers that have personalities that have brought life to the series in their own way. Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Bush and Dale Earnhardt Jr to mention some of them. I’m sure we could go right down the list and mention just about every one of the active drivers in the series today, but, why…I think you know what I’m talking about and you have your own thoughts on the subject.

My overall assessment of the race at Richmond from “Just A Fan’s View” is that is was fairly typical of the short track that it is with all the trimmings. There was beatin’ and bangin’, pushin’ and shovin’ and that “rubbin’ is racin'” thing that makes short track racing so interesting for the fans. In the end, the race was decided by the pit strategies for tires and the performance of the crews making the necessary changes to keep their driver in contention. After that, it was the car and driver that could run where nobody else wanted to.

Next on the schedule is Darlington this Saturday night…Are you ready to see if the track once called “Too Tough To Tame” still lives up to its name? I’m pretty darn sure it will and … I can’t wait…

See ya next time …
Rusty

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

© May 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Just A Fan’s View Of Nascar at Richmond

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Hi, everybody…this will be short simply because the race is tonight and I want to get my thoughts out before the race starts. Otherwise, you might think I wait until the race actually starts and they’ve run some laps to make up my mind as to who will win. (“It just ain’t so”… as the saying goes. Usually, I’ve made up my mind even before the qualifying is over. I just like to sit and think about it a while before I write it down.)

It is important to note that this weeks race at RIR takes Nascar all the way down from a 2.66 mile restrictor plate track to basically a 3/4 mile short track and has the feel of a Saturday night, local track race. With its “D” shaped oval it makes for challenges at every turn, (and I mean that literally.)

As is usual with qualifying this year, I won’t put too much stock in it but I will admit that qualifying does have its advantages at Richmond. If you qualify in the back of the pack, it means you’re already about a half a lap down.

I am impressed with the pole qualifying spot for Brian Vickers, and the outside front row start of Jeff Gordon. These two guys will have pretty good chances of being in the front for most of the race unless something unexpected happens. Frankly, I always put more stock in the end of the second practice session. It helps to know if someone has found something that is going to help them be more competitive in the race, rather than the qualifying. (The exception to this, of course, is the qualifying of the “go or go-homers”).

Well, Richmond is one of those where the drivers have to stay alert, focused and manage their brakes. It is important to take notice of the high straightaway speeds and heavy braking in the turns. The drivers will have to go as fast as they can and yet not over brake. If they lose their ability to slow down at will, it could prove disastrous.

In my opinion, the place that could have the most detrimental effect on any of the possible winners is the exit of turn 2. The back straight is totally different than the sweeping curve of the front straight. Exiting turn 2 can be treacherous if the driver loses focus and forgets where he is for just one turn of one lap. The transition is quite a bit tighter than the exit from 4 and that turn 2 wall will only allow them so much leeway.

Actually I have two areas that I think will make a big difference in the outcome of the race tonight. One is the previously mentioned exit from turn 2 and the other is going to be the pit stops. It is absolutely necessary for anyone that wants to win tonight to not beat themselves in the pits. Even though the drivers like this track and it is well known they can pass and drive pretty much any groove they like, with the way racing has gone this year, they cannot afford any mistakes on pit road.

So, let’s get right down to the possible winners for the Crown Royal / Russ Friedmann 400 for tonight.

This could be the night for the winner to be one of the drivers no one expects to win. I don’t think it will be one of the “never been to victory lane” crowd, but it is possible it could be one of the “hasn’t been there for quite a while” teams. I do think it will be one of the stronger, multi car teams rather than one of the single car teams. That doesn’t mean I don’t pull for those guys that are struggling to make it every week, but it does mean I think it is going to come from either Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs or Childers.

Judging from the final practice, on the speed charts there is one mile per hour separating the top 19 fastest. If we look at the qualifying speeds, there is less than a second separating the whole field of 43. That makes if awfully hard to draw any conclusions about who is going to pull off the victory or possibly even “dominate(?) the field”. That is why I put so much emphasis on who has the best strategy and is mistake free in the pits for tonight. Looking at those two facts makes it awfully tough to pick the winner, but that hasn’t stopped me in the past and it won’t stop me now.

It is a tough call, and I know there are several who are up to the challenge. I can think of about ten of them right off the top of my head, but I’m only going to pick one…

I think tonight’s winner is going to be … uh … well … um … Jimmy Johnson. There I’ve made my choice… and that’s my best guess.

Who do you think is going to win???

See ya next time…
Rusty

© May 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Talladega After Chatter from Just A Fan’s View

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Hi, everybody… and welcome to the “Just A Fan’s View” Talladega After Chatter.

Well, Talladega proved to be Talladega again. It is one of those places you never know what to expect and this weekend was no different. The race was a good one and the action at the end of the race will make it more memorable than it probably would have been had it just finished with Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski crossing the finish line, tightly tucked together nose to tail with very little excitement, or Carl Edwards spinning across the finish line instead of jogging across it.

There is a lot of talk going on about the last lap incident with Carl and Brad and some of it is sensible and some of it isn’t. From this fan’s view, any time there is a possibility of a 3500 pound race car, traveling near 190 miles per hour, flying up into the stands, everyone one needs to take a good look at the situation and see if everything that can be done is being done to keep all involved safe.

Since the end of the race, I have read and heard a lot of people sounding off on this subject and, of course, it is hard for me to remain silent on the issue, also. I mean, let’s take a look at the situation and consider all sides of it. This is not the time for knee-jerk reactions because, in my opinion, that won’t solve much of anything and I have never known Nascar to react that way in the past. They do a good job of considering all the options and generally do the right thing for “all” involved whether “all” agree or not.

I have reviewed the actual incident many times and here is the way I see it, (and believe me, I know I am by know means a safety expert by any stretch of the imagination.)

First of all, my observation of what happened and why Carl’s car caught so much air was because of several things that are awfully hard to foresee. A few from this fan’s view are:

  • Previous improvements, like roof flaps, did do their job. A close look at the videos shows that the car was beginning to settle back down to the track after the flaps deployed as the engineers would want it to.
  • Unfortunately, Ryan Newman’s car struck the left rear tire and re-launched Carl’s car back into the air and defeated the effect of the roof flaps.
  • The #99 car then went into a slow rotation also defeating any effect from the roof flaps and making the car a wing again.
  • From that point on it was whether the improvements to the fence and wall would stop the car from breaking through and landing in the stands populated by the fans.
  • A lot of smaller debris did go flying into the stands becoming projectiles capable of causing injuries.
  • The reinforced fencing appeared to do its job of kicking the car back onto the track and not into the stands, but one has to wonder, would it have been the same had the car not partially caught the concrete wall also?

I myself cannot answer the last question. I only know that the total integrity of the reinforced fencing, probably fortunately for all involved, was not tested by this incident and we all feel very fortunate that no one was really seriously  hurt.

So the question remains, what can be done and what should be done to make everyone involved more safe and, after instituting those changes, not totally destroy the appeal of the restrictor plate tracks?

At this point I would like to offer Just THIS Fan’s View…

I know I am not the only one that will think these things but I do want to express myself and give my thoughts on a few possible improvements that don’t require major changes to the track, the race or the cars.

  • The first, is pretty obvious, but I think they should consider the possibility of increasing the size of the roof flaps  (especially at Talladega) and possibly even adding  some additional flaps on the sides and rear of the cars. (I have no idea what effect they will have but it is possible they could enhance the down force and increase the reduction of speed more quickly.)
  • There is discussion of more strenuously, or differently, enforcing the rules for blocking, bump drafting and dropping below the yellow line. I agree, this is something that can be done and changes neither the car nor the track but might offer some new challenges to the race officials.
  • Re-evaluate the fencing to be sure it can remain structurally sound even with a direct impact of one, or more, cars. I stress the “or more” statement because it appears to me as an observer that the first car to make contact essentially makes the fence questionable for stopping any others that might do the same in a multiple car incident and with more than one car airborne.
  • Re-evaluate the height of the fence. The #99 car  did gain some additional altitude after the contact with the #39 car. It is possible there needs to be more height, just in case, and perhaps more extension of the fence curving over the track also.
  • A second fence of some sort should be considered. This second fence would be more for catching the flying debris that comes off the cars from impacting the first fence. It needs to be structurally sound to stop the debris but hopefully, not necessarily sound enough to stop a car.

Well those are just few suggestions off the top of my head, and, as I said, I am sure I am not the only one considering them.  I am sure there are others and there may be some yet to be thought of.

One thing I am sure of…Nascar will consider all of these and more and will make the right decision. It will be a decision that takes into account the safety of the competitors AND the fans and also considers what makes the restrictor plate tracks appealing.

From conversations with others and listening to the input of the many pundits and commentators, one thing is certain… there are a many opinions about this subject and the subject of restrictor plate tracks in general. Some love them, some hate them and some just tolerate them.

Personally, I love them. Yes, they do have some parts that could be changed but they do have their own appeal. Maybe they should shorten them in the number of laps as they do the road courses. Maybe they should do a lot of things but one thing I know…restrictor plate tracks have their place in Nascar and in the hearts of Nascar fans.

Next weekend is Richmond…What else can I say; even the crew chiefs and the drivers like Richmond.

See ya next time…

Rusty

© April 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

A Fan’s View of Nascar at Talladega

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Hi, everybody…and welcome to Just A Fan’s View this week…

Some may call me strange and out of touch, but, I love restrictor plate racing. That puts me in an interesting position when it comes to a sport encompassing going fast and turning left. Many people think restrictor plates take the “race” out of “racing”. I say it just makes it more of a mental exercise than a physical one when it comes to these kind of tracks. Besides, if you don’t believe me, ask the drivers if they are more physically or mentally fatigued after Talladega. My money says they’ll tell you the latter and have no hesitation in doing so.

Now, please, don’t think I “love” it more than I do other Nascar races but I do have a fondness for what it makes happen. It makes a race interesting when it could have become very boring over the course of nearly 500 miles, especially if two or three cars lap the field one or more times because they are that dominant over the competition, (and believe me, I remember some of those.) I also like it because it makes for close racing, (even though I know it is much more stressful for the drivers and more of a chess match than some of the the other races are.)

I like the fact that, for much of the race, the field is jumbled up, running flat out at near 200 miles per hour and racing for the last ten laps to really make a move. As fans, we never really know what someone actually has left to put on the table until near the end of the race. Sure, there will be some muscle flexing at intervals during the race, but personally, I think that is more of the mental part of the race, where different drivers try to psyche out their opponents to get them to make early mistakes and take themselves out of contention.

If I may take a slight journey into my past, I remember some of the races from our local track on Saturday night. There were times when all of the cars in our class were lined up just right so that no one could pass and the pack stayed together as they were lined up for many laps. That’s probably the closest I can come to relating to the way restrictor plate races go. It didn’t matter if you had the fastest car, it just depended on whether or not you could find an opening and break free of the rest. Some of those races, (and I don’t mean to say they happened often), were some of the most memorable races I remember driving in. They were exciting and even a bit nerve wracking and … I enjoyed every second of driving in them.

So what does my racing short tracks nose to tail with 12-15 others have to do with racing at Talladega, Alabama? Not a whole lot really, but it was different for us at our track and that is why I think I like restrictor plate racing so much… the race is never really over until it’s over.

I won’t even begin to talk about lap times this week. In fact, we can pretty much throw out all of the qualifying and much of the practice. They won’t mean a whole lot when the green flag drops. What will be important is the way the possible winners handle in traffic at close range, nose to tail and door handle to door handle.

The second most important thing will be pit stops and whether they come under green or not. I think it is pretty obvious that pit stops have become more important with the “COT” than they ever were with the old “twisted sister”, but at Talladega, it is about who gets the front spot at the right time and holds off the rest of the field until they pass under the checkered flag.

So who do I think will win this weekend?? I have a few favorites but no real “definites” and I think this is one race that is going to be hard to call.

If I have to put it in writing, I guess I’ll have to mention a few names like, Carl Edwards, Dale Jr, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon. And then there’s Kyle Bush, Kurt Bush, David Reutimann, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Denny Hamlin. If you want to be real about the possibilities you can throw in a number of dark horses and that will show just how the end of the race is going to look. It will be a bunch of cars running up to three wide, pushing and shoving for all they’re worth to get to the checkered flag before the rest of the cars around them.

This week, I’m gonna go out on a limb and pick a familiar name. I have no idea who is going to win the chess match, but I’m going to pick Dale Earnhardt Jr. I know the odds are against it, but I do think this is one of his best chances to win because of his previous success at restrictor plate racing. I don’t expect it to be a run away by any means and I think Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards are going to be right there along with Jeff Gordon, Kyle Bush and Jimmy Johnson, thousandths of a second apart, making sure he has to work for every inch it takes to go to victory lane at Talladega this Sunday afternoon.

Well, now I’ve put my choice out there and, I wonder…who do you think is going to win??

See ya next time…
Rusty

© April 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

The Nascar at Phoenix ‘After Chatter’ from Just A Fan’s View

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Hey, everybody. The race in Phoenix Saturday night was another feel good race, especially if you are a Mark Martin and/or a Tony Stewart fan. Mark Martin taking the victory made him only the fourth person over age fifty to claim a victory in cup and Tony Stewart finishing second made a good case for his going from just driver to owner/driver look like a great move on his part.

As I said in the pre-race blog/cast on Saturday, if there was anyone I would like to see win, it was Mark Martin. I am so happy to see him doing well this year. For someone that was going to retire, (and did…kinda…), he looks to be a strong possibility for being in The Chase and possibly even taking it all by year’s end. Of course, there is a lot that can happen between now and the end of the year, but what a story it would make for Mark Martin, and Nascar, if he did take away the trophy for the Sprint Cup Series. Oh well, time will tell on that one…

Tony Stewart continues to amaze many with his strong finishes. I personally think he is close to bringing home a victory. There’s just not much left to do but take the checkered flag at the end of the race and, from this fan’s view, it could be much sooner than later. I don’t want to give him more credit than he is due, but, who can argue with the way his team is performing. I really don’t know anyone who thought he would be doing this well, especially this early in the season.

Kurt Bush again looked strong on what I call one of the intermediate tracks. On 1 – 1 1/2 mile tracks they seem to have something figured out this year and it certainly appears they have no intention of letting up on their progress. Kurt is holding his own in third place of the standings so far this year. Since these type tracks make up a good number of the ones left to run at, look for Kurt Bush to keep on making a charge for the Chase…in fact, he’s another one who could walk away with it all at years end.

A couple of things are leading the conversations in the after chatter this week. One is, whether or not Nascar needs a set ruling covering the way drivers sometimes use their cars to express dissatisfaction with another driver (like what happened between Dale Jr and Casey Mears). The second is, why are so many teams having problems on pit road, in particular, with tire changing and lug nut situations.

My opinion on the first one is this, (and I know this will cause a ruckus because I pretty much agree with the way Nascar handles it). I think the punishment for displays of dissatisfaction should be handled on a case by case basis. Ones that basically concern only the drivers involved and no injury should be handled differently than ones that put innocent people in harm’s way.

Sure, I know there is a possibility of something unfortunate happening but, in most cases, these are just expressions from too much adrenaline in their systems. Having raced at one time, I know how easily you get worked up when that competitive adrenaline is flowing. You do, and say, some pretty dumb things and, in my opinion, having a preset punishment or rule in place isn’t going to deter anyone and they are still going to express their frustration by using their bumpers and fenders and spinning out the person they think deserves it. It all depends on how and where they express their frustrations with the other person.

As for the second, I think the new, longer studs may have something to do with the problems on pit road, but, I also think they are a good excuse for when things actually go wrong and no one wants to take total blame. Besides, using Jeff Gordon’s situation Saturday night as an example, it was a missing lug nut, not a loose one. That particular situation could be more attributed to poor lighting on the left side of the car in the pits as opposed to the extra threads on the studs. It could be that the tire changer just couldn’t see that one of the lug nuts was missing.

It seems to me, as just a fan, one of the biggest problems is the lug nuts falling off the wheel as they slide them on the studs. Via the television screen this year, we have seen the tire changers scrambling to grab an errant lug nut that has fallen off many more times than we have seen loose wheels. Look, I know I don’t know all of the problems the new studs cause, but, it does seem the crews have adjusted quite well to the longer studs. The glued-on lug nuts falling off during a pit stop have been causing problems for the tire changers all along and well before the longer stud rule.

Well…that’s it for Phoenix from this fan’s view. Next weekend is restrictor plate racing at Talladega…

See ya next time…
Rusty

© April 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar at Phoenix from Just A Fan’s View…

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Hey, everybody…This is Just A Fan’s View with our thoughts about Nascar at Phoenix for this week…

If we could actually tell anything about the race from the qualifying times they would be convincing evidence that Mark Martin has a great chance of winning tonight’s race in Phoenix. There are a lot of laps between starting on the pole and crossing the finish line ahead of all the rest at the end of the race and it remains to be seen whether he can put a hurtin’ on all the rest for the whole race.

I find it interesting that all of the Hendrick teams are starting in the top fifteen. With Mark Martin starting on the pole, Jeff Gordon starting third and Jimmy Johnson starting tenth, it looks as if the Hendrick teams showed up in full force ready to flex a little muscle this weekend. Dale Jr is starting fifteenth, but don’t let that cast a shadow on his possibilities for the weekend. He could definitely pull off the victory this weekend.

A quick check of the qualifying times shows the qualifiers are all very close, especially in the top twenty, with the top sixteen being separated by only .150 of a second. I don’t care how you look at it, that’s close qualifying times.

If we look just bit closer we see, once again, Tony Stewart nestled in the top ten at sixth place. Let’s not forget that he is running Hendrick equipment, too, as well as trying to take home his first victory of the year and as an owner and a driver. He looks to be tough in the race tonight as long as nothing unexpected happens, so, look for him to be near the front at the end.

There are four Toyota teams sitting in the top twelve and three of them are from different teams. Kyle Bush starts in second for Joe Gibbs Racing while Denny Hamlin starts back in twelfth, also for JGR. Brian Vickers showed some strength by qualifying in fifth spot for the race and David Reutimann of MWR starts in eighth.

Kurt Bush starts third for Roger Penske racing and could be trouble for the Hendrick teams taking another victory at the end of the race tonight, along with his brother Kyle.

This is another one of those weeks that I am having a hard time picking out just one person I think will win. I do think this is going to be a very competitive night of racing and pit stops are pretty much going to decide how things pan out on the track because track position is going to be very important once again.

It could absolutely be a night a real dark horse ends up with the victory at the end, but I just don’t know exactly who it might be. Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton or Matt Kenseth could simply surprise us all and just run away with it or someone like Juan Montoya or Marcos Ambrose could play it just right and steal the victory away from one of the others.

Phoenix is a flat, fast one mile track and anything can happen. With the times being so close, I do think it is going to be hard to pass but I know there are going to be some that will step out to sizable leads depending on how the pit stops go and how the tires hold up.

I took a good look at the camber in the right front tires and that concerns me a bit. I fear there could be some right front problems as the race progresses. It appears most of the faster cars are running the maximum allowed camber of eight degrees. As I think about this, it could be one of the unknowns for the race even though there has been no tire trouble reported that I know of in either series for the weekend.

Well, from my observation of the week, there wasn’t any controversy worthy of mention and the only thing that is being talked about is how some of the cars this year haven’t performed well enough to to continue without sponsorship so they are being sidelined, at least for now.

If I had to pick someone I would like to see win, it would have to be Mark Martin. He has shown a lot of strength so far this year and it would be great to see him finish out the weekend with a victory.

That being said, I’m going give my picks for the top five for the race tonight.

I am really torn between about five possible winners. All of them have been performing well and all of them qualified well. I’m convinced the victory is going be between about five people at the end of this race. Those five are Kurt Bush, Kyle Bush, Jimmy Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin. Any one of them could come away with the victory tonight and anyone of them could end up in the garage and upset everything.

Okay, rather than drag this out for another paragraph or two I’m just going to pick the one I think is going to win… and the winner is going to be… Jimmy Johnson, bringing home the victory for Hendrick Motorsports.

See ya next time…
Rusty

© April 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar at Texas “After Chatter” from Just A Fan’s View

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Hi everybody and welcome to this edition of Just a Fan’s View…

Since there was no racing this weekend, I decided to wait a few days to release the ‘after chatter’ from Texas Motor Speedway because the big story from there has already been hashed and rehashed almost since the race completion. I don’t have anything new to add to that conversation, but …

I have to tell you, there are many reasons why I’m a Nascar fan and the racing last weekend in Texas was just one example. It was exciting to watch and the drama went right down to the last pit stop and the final laps.

Now, I have to admit, I really didn’t think Jeff Gordon would pull off the victory but he did and it was just one of the feel good stories of the weekend. With the way that Jimmy Johnson was coming on at the end it just seemed that Jeff was a sitting duck for his team-mate, but, Jeff’s car was fast enough to take the victory and it was great to see him finally break that 47 race drought of winning.

You notice I said that was just one of the feel good stories of the weekend. Another was Tony Stewart continuing to finish at the front of the pack even though his is a brand new team. I can’t say enough about how pleasantly surprised I am at his early success so far this year. I really didn’t expect to see him doing so well, but, I guess I should have expected it. I mean this IS Tony Stewart we’re talking about and he has always been impressively competitive since he came into the Cup series.

Having said all of that, it is Just this Fan’s View, but I do think part of Tony’s success has to do with his relationship and use of Hendrick equipment. His crew chief, Darian Grubb, has proved to be a great choice and the two have shown the ability to communicate well and produce results. It also doesn’t go unnoticed by this fan that Darian Grubb was formerly engineering manager for the Hendrick #5 and #88 teams and proved he could win in 2006 as a temporary crew chief for Jimmy Johnson. He also gave Casey Mears his only Cup victory in 2007 for HMS also.

Tony Stewart is a true competitor and it appears he also has good team owner capabilities and the ability to surround himself with people that can get the job done.

One of the obvious things that affected the outcome of the race on Sunday was the late race pit stops. In fact, the pit stops just about anywhere in the race proved to be important for track position and just about anyone of them had a great impact on the outcome of the race. The teams that had good pit stops finished ahead of those that didn’t and that isn’t unexpected. With the new car the pits and gaining track position has become an even greater part of the race than ever before.

The Roush teams proved they can still run on the 1 1/2 mile tracks and that they will be in contention for victories in the near future. They just need to work on their short track performance and, of course, their late race pit stops. The mistakes in the pits probably cost Carl Edwards the victory at Texas. Coming in for a stop in first place and leaving the pits in eleventh isn’t normally conducive to taking the checkered flag and it proved to be his downfall on Sunday afternoon.

Greg Biffle was coming on strong at the end of the race, but also had pit troubles that kept him from having a chance at winning in the end and he finished third. Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five making it three Roush cars in the top ten (finishing 3rd, 5th and 10th).

Other honorable mentions for the race would be Mark Martin and Kurt Bush. They finished 6th and 8th respectively and I really have to mention David Reutimann for Michael Waltrip Racing. He started on the pole and, except for a couple of miscues on pit road, could have been right in the mix for winning at the end of the race.

Well, next weekend is in Phoenix on Saturday night…

Tune in for Just A Fan’s View pre-race later on this week.

See ya next time…
Rusty

©April 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar at Texas from Just A Fan’s View

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Hi everybody and welcome to Just a fan’s view for this week …

Texas Motor Speedway is the home for Nascar this weekend and some are much happier than others to be there. Considering their performance at the two short tracks, the Fords have to be happy to be back on the 1 1/2 mile speedways. They just didn’t show much strength at Bristol and Martinsville. This weekend should prove whether or not the Fords have just fallen behind or if they just don’t do short tracks well.

A quick look at the qualifying yields some interesting results. The Fords have three in the top five and five total in the top fifteen. The Toyotas have one in the top five and four in the top fifteen while the Chevys also have one in the top five and four in the top fifteen. The Dodges have the fewest with none in the top five and two in the top fifteen.

That says a lot about qualifying but once again, doesn’t say much about how the race is going to go.  After the first practice it was interesting to this fan where the Hendrick cars were in the speed charts.  Although I don’t put much stock in the first practice, all four were in the top eight. If we only look at the first practice, it would seem they have a pretty good grip on the top ten but, there was plenty time remaining for the rest of the field to catch up in the other practices (and there was still plenty of time for the Hendrick cars to possibly mess things up). All of this would be interesting to consider if only there weren’t those other two practices to consider.

After the other two practice sessions for The Cup racers, things became a little more mixed than they were earlier. It seems that some of the ones that were running strong early on are now a bit further back in the pack. To Just A Fan’s View, that makes  for interesting scenarios for tomorrows race.

It is my opinion it is going to be a typical race at the Texas Motor Speedway. High speeds and long green flag runs with track position made up in the pits with different pit strategies making the difference at the end of the day.

Once again, it is going to come down to the end of the race before the winner is really known. Jimmy Johnson and Kyle Bush look awfully tough for taking the checkered flag this weekend and I can’t discount the performance of  Denny Hamlin. It looks to me as though the Gibbs teams could be a major factor at the end of he race.

I can’t rule out the Roush guys either. Once again, Jamie McMurray comes to mind along with Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards. They look to be strong as they always do at the 1 1/2 mile tracks and, in particular, at Texas. I also know that we can’t rule Greg Biffle out of the mix either, but it does appear he is struggling a bit so far.  That doesn’t mean he won’t be there at the end, it just means during practice he wasn’t quite up to the speed of the other guys.

Well, I know I could probably mention every other driver in the lineup as well, but I really don’t want to go there. Several of the teams are on a mission this weekend and anything could happen. I just don’t think Jimmy Johnson and Kyle Bush are going to give the other guys much of a chance. Both looked very comfortable and very strong in the last practice sessions and, barring anything unforeseen, I expect them to be the ones battling it out at the end.

I have mixed emotions about the other ones that will be in the top five at the end of the race, but that won’t stop me from giving you my picks anyway. The top five, the way I see it, is going to be a race between the Fords, Toyotas and Chevys. I don’t see the Dodges being in the top five but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to run well. I mean, look at what Kurt Bush did in Atlanta.

Although David Reutimann has the pole and good practice times, I don’t see him being there in the top five at the end. I pick him to be more in the top ten. I do believe Jeff Gordon will finish in the top ten also, but he is the one that may surprise me at the end, (I just don’t know for sure).

So here it is, my picks for the top five. I think Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin are going to be following Jimmy Johnson and Kyle Bush across the finish line at the end of the race. It’s a hard one to call but I do think Jimmy Johnson is going to take home the trophy with Kyle Bush in close pursuit.

See ya next time…

Rusty

©April 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar at Martinsville “After Chatter” from Just A Fan’s View

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Hi, everybody and welcome to the Martinsville After Chatter from Just A Fan’s View…

Martinsville lived up to the expectations of short track excitement and, no, the guy I picked didn’t win. (Oh, but you already knew that didn’t you. Hey, it was just my opinion considering the available information at the time.)

Oh well, all in all, it was an interesting race chock full of what every Nascar fan likes about the short tracks included in the schedule. There was beatin’ and bangin’ and all of the other things that go along with fast and tight, short track racing like short tempers and paybacks. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole race even though there were a couple of longer green flag runs that came close to being humdrum, but fortunately,  it never really got there.

I won’t spend a lot of time today talking about the race — it was a great race — but I would like to mention a couple of things that caught my attention in particular.

The last laps and restarts between Jimmy Johnson and Denny Hamlin were every bit about why people like short tracks. The drivers have to be aggressive and that’s exactly what both of them were. Both of them took what the other wasn’t willing to give up. It was a great finish.

But that wasn’t what caught my attention, either. It was after the race when Denny Hamlin was being interviewed about the end of the race action between him and Jimmy Johnson. I was not only impressed but thoroughly surprised at the level of maturity he has reached. In the past, (and this is just my assessment of his reactions), he had a tendency to blame everybody and everything for his failure to win. This time, it seemed he enjoyed his performance, (which he should have), and simply stated that both of them were going for the same real estate in typical Martinsville, short track fashion and the next time, if the opportunity presents itself and the roles are reversed he will probably do the same thing that Jimmy did. In fact he said he would definitely do it.

His reaction impressed me and I have more respect for him than I did before. It also makes me look forward to the next short track race and hope the two of them are right in there, mixing it up at the end.

Well, another thing thing that caught my attention on Sunday was the overall dominance of the Hendrick teams and equipment at Martinsville. All four of the Hendrick racing teams finished in the top eight. Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman were in that mix as well, (and aren’t they also running Hendrick equipment.)

From this fan’s view, I think Stewart/Haas racing has been the biggest surprise so far in the early season. I won’t say I didn’t expect Tony’s teams to perform well, I just didn’t think they would be performing as well as they have so early in the season. It has been a pleasant surprise so far.

It has also been interesting to note the absence of the Roush cars near the front at the end of the last couple of races in particular. Jamie McMurray’s 10th place finish was the best of all the Roush teams this week. To me, that’s a bit surprising. I do expect to hear more from them in the coming weeks at the mile and a half race tracks in particular, which is one of their strengths.

This is Just A Fan’s View observation, but, this has been an interesting year so far. A year that started out with a lot of question marks has proved to be one of opportunity for some, disappointment for others and one that has actually exceeded expectations in many ways. There have been plenty of fans and plenty of cars, although some have not been as competitive as they would have liked to be I’m sure. It has been a time for some newer faces to show they have what it takes to be competitive at the Cup level of Nascar while others have managed to just hold their own.

From my view as ‘Just A Fan’, I have been pleasantly surprised by the efforts of Nascar, the tracks and the fans, (although I probably shouldn’t have been.)  Nascar is a great sport and I am proud of all involved, whether it be the owners, drivers, team members or fans. To me, Nascar is one of the brighter spots in a time of great frustration and anxiety.  I am glad they are as strong as they are and I am glad they all do what they do so well.

Well, next stop is Texas and I can’t wait…

See ya next time …

Rusty

© April 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar at Martinsville: More Short Track Fun…

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Hi, everybody. My name is Russ and I’d like to welcome you to the  Martinsville pre-race for this week … and this is  “Just A Fan’s View”.

With all of the rain problems this weekend it could either make for one of the most interesting, or dull, spring races at Martinsville. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this one is really hard to determine just how it is going to turn out. It would be nice to have been able to have qualifying and the final practice, but, it wasn’t meant to be.

As everyone already knows, that means the  field lines up according to owner points and that doesn’t tell much about how the racing will actually go.

One thing I can say is it sure looks as though the lineup will offer some advantage to those up front even though they may not be prepared to run up there at all. In looking at the lineup though, all of the ones in the top ten know how to get around the Martinsville track and any one of the could win in the end. In fact, if you look at the top twenty, you find most of them could pull off the victory themselves.

It’s weekends like this that makes trying to decide who will win kinda like a driver who’s car just isn’t quite where he wants it to be. He’d like to have about twenty or thirty more laps to try something different. That’s the way it is for me, too. I would like a little more info from the last practice (that they didn’t get to have) so I could better judge who got a better grip on the track. Well, it just ain’t gonna happen this week so I’ll just have to make the best of it…

There are a few things to consider before making a choice for the winner of the race this weekend. One of the most important things is that the track is going to be completely green. If there was any rubber on it, it’s completely gone by the time of this writing. One of the good things is that the sun is going to shine on Sunday and the temp will be in the comfortable upper 60’s. That should make it interesting, especially when they hit the first turn after the green flag drops. I’ll be looking to see how certain drivers do after about twenty or so green flag laps. I do think we will find who has a pretty good setup after the first 30 -40 laps of green.

With Jeff Gordon starting on the pole and having the number one pit stall, I’d say he is starting right where he would have wanted to even if they would have had qualifying. What will make the whole thing interesting is that Kurt Bush is starting outside pole and Kyle Bush is starting outside second row. As strong as the Bush brothers have been in recent weeks, it makes a whole lot of difference for them being able to start up front and have better pit stalls, too, even though Kyle says Martinsville isn’t one of his better tracks. Who knows, starting up front may just be what he needs to turn his luck around at the track.

Oh well, enough beating around the “Bush-es” … it’s time to make the choices for this weekend.

As I look over the top 20 starters, I see a number that could end up in victory lane, (that’s what makes this race a hard one to pick the winner in.) I see names like Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Brian Vickers to name a few and any one of them could win.

Closer to the front, we see drivers like Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Bush, Kurt Bush and Jeff Gordon. The problem I have is not enough data to make a good pick so, I guess I’ll just have to fly by the seat of pants.

Going on past performances at this track I just about have to choose one of the Hendrick teams. Even though there are others I think could show up and take the checkered flag at the end I still think it’s going to be a race between Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

So which one do I pick… hmmm … it’s a tough one …

Well, I pick Jeff Gordon, mostly because he is leading in the points and because I think he is definitely going to break his losing streak and because I really think the team is due. Even after making my choice, I still think it is going to be an interesting race, right down to the end and because of the lack of time on the track, there could be some big surprises in store at the end… who knows for sure, it could be Mark Martin or Marcos Ambrose sitting in victory circle when all it is said and done…

See ya next time…

Rusty

© March 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Update on: Nascar at Bristol… the “After Chatter” from Just A Fan’s View.

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Hello everyone, and welcome to the Bristol update from Just A Fan’s View. I’m really glad you could be with me today…

Well, there is absolutely no other way to put it, Kyle Bush dominated the Sprint Cup race on Sunday, (that’s a nice way saying, “He kicked butt at Bristol”) . It seemed he could move through the pack at will and was hardly challenged at all, although the final laps were run under the “green-white-checker” rules. It was pretty obvious to this fan that he was going to take the checkered flag and the trophy, even before the final green flag dropped. He was just too strong.

Noticeably absent from the top ten were the Roush teams. The only Roush Ford team finishing in the top 15 was Carl Edwards and he finished 15th. It looks as though what I said about the Fords being a little deficient came to pass even more evidently than I suspected it would. I am sure they were terribly disappointed overall as an organization, (and who could blame them?) It’s only the 5th race of the season though, so I guess we’ll will have to see what happens over the next 4-6 weeks to determine if they are going to struggle most of the year. (Frankly, I don’t think it will be that way, but, stranger things have happened.)

From my viewpoint, there weren’t any outstanding controversies this last week so there isn’t a lot of noticeable drama going on behind the scenes in Nascar. It seems that so far this year, it’s just been good hard racing, peppered with a few feel good stories.

Unfortunately, some of the feel good team stories we started out with this year at Daytona are not turning out as many had hoped and some of the new team owners are feeling the pinch of finances and not qualifying for a couple of races in a row. My heart really goes out to those guys and I know that many are still pulling for them to be able continue on in Sprint Cup Racing.

Well, the Gibbs and Hendrick teams are really showing a lot of strength here at the beginning of the year. It remains to be seen whether their strong starts to this season carries all through the season.  There are a few others standing in the wings waiting to show what they can do in the coming weeks.

It is my opinion we will see at least 4 or 5 of the top ten in points right now in the running for the top spot in the championship at the end of the year, but, we’ll talk more about that in coming weeks. It is way too early to start thinking about that with only 5 races in the books. A lot can still happen in a lot of ways by the time we start the actual chase.

Well I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to Martinsville this weekend.  I’m hoping, along with a lot of others, the weather holds this weekend so that everyone gets at least a chance to qualify. I really want to see who gets the pole and who races their way into the race this week. Qualifying is definitely important in several ways for Martinsville. Although I know how the system works, I’m hoping for good weather.

See ya next time…

Rusty

© March 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman