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Looking at NASCAR 2011… from Just A Fan’s View

Rusty NormanHello everyone… this is Russ and I’d like to welcome you back to Just A Fan’s View for 2011. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to the coming season and I think it’s going to be the best year yet, at least for NASCAR (and Just A Fan’s View, too), and I can’t wait to see how everything shakes out. Of course you know we won’t be able to determine much until after the first few weeks of competition, but, like last year, this year has had some changes to the rules and to the way the cars look and I reckon both will have an impact on the year; but only time will tell how much that impact will be.

I’m not sure what your opinion is, but the consensus in my personal polling of friends and associates is mixed at best. The biggest discussions have been about the usual things, like who will win the Chase (and who they hope won’t win) and how the new rules may affect the racing. Personally, I don’t see much difference in the rules that made last year so competitive and what we have to look forward to for this year, but I think NASCAR fans across the nation are going to be pleasantly surprised with the way everything works out and with the level of competition across the board. Hey, as a NASCAR fan, you know as well as I do, competition has never been closer than it is right now.

I look for the Fords of both, the Jack Roush and Richard Petty camps, to make a statement early in the year this season, if for no other reason than the statement Carl Edwards made by winning the last two races of the season last year. I also think this will be the year NASCAR fans have to take a serious look at the capabilities of the Toyotas of Michael Waltrip Racing. I’m not sure how they will do on all the types of tracks, but I do think they could be a force on the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega. (I’m sure David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr are thinking that way and are ready to make that statement a reality.)

So, does that mean Joe Gibbs Racing is going to be left out in the cold with their Toyotas? Not at all… they’ve proven themselves and their performance last year was very strong; I just think the whole field is going to be more competitive this year and it remains to be seen how the JGR teams will fair as the season progresses.

As a quick side-note… I guess you noticed I haven’t said much about the Childress or Hendrick teams yet. The reason for that is the improvement of the Childress teams was well documented for most of last season and I don’t expect much to change in the days ahead for them. I do think RCR is a force that is going to have to be reckoned with if someone else wants to win the Championship this year. I’m not saying too much, because things can change on the competitive front so quickly in NASCAR, but, I don’t expect there to be much difference over last year in the performance of the teams from RCR as the season gets started and progresses. In particular, I think Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer will be tough competitors from the get go, (and of course, there is that other guy named Jeff Burton. If he can catch a few breaks this year, he just may surprise all of us.)

The Hendrick camp is a whole different story… It is already a well know fact there was a major switch-up, (uh, some would call it a major shake-up) in the off-season and the jury is still out as to how it will affect the performance of the four teams. The team left basically intact was the #48 team of Jimmie Johnson. Although there were some organizational changes made to the way the pit crew is made up and will train, he still has Chad Knaus as his crew chief and they still reside at the same shop. As for the rest of the Hendrick teams, major changes, along with major expectations are the order of the day. I have to agree with what many others are saying… Dale Jr needs to have a good year and with his new crew chief, Steve Letarte, the hope is he will make a good showing throughout the season and make the Chase this year. I think we will know sooner than later how that’s going the shake out, but when it comes to whether or not 2011 is going to be a good year for him, barring the complete unforeseen, I do expect him to perform well and I think he will be somewhere near the front at the Daytona 500.

Personally, I’m still not convinced Jeff Gordon won’t be making a run for his fifth Championship this year, (although some say he doesn’t really have much of a chance, what with a new crew chief and moving the #24 to the same shop as the #5.) I think Allan Gustavson and he will make a good team and I expect he will be one of the forces to be reckoned with as the season nears Chase Time. I just don’t see how sharing the same garage with the likes of Mark Martin can be a bad thing for Jeff. Somehow, I do think moving away from the #48 will be a plus for Gordon. Sometimes being too close to your competition (as well as a car you’re part owner of) can be a bad thing. I look for Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin to make themselves known right from the start of the year. Although this is Mark’s last year with the #5 team at Hendrick, I don’t expect him to just lay down and exit quietly. I do think he’ll be someone we’ll be talking about often during this season. Although he is comfortable with his accomplishments throughout his NASCAR career, if he is in position to win the Cup Championship, rest assured, he will give all he’s got and won’t hold back anything.

There are a lot of unknowns that have to be considered for this coming season. I haven’t even talked about Tony Stewart or the Bush brothers and what’s going on with them on their respective teams and then there’s that other guy, Denny Hamlin. Do I think they will all be silent? Not at all, but they’re not at the top of my list when it comes to those I think are going make a lot of noise to start off the year, (at least, not in the first few races), but they are definitely on the list of those I expect to see putting pressure on the rest and who knows, it could be I’m dead wrong and they are the ones all of the others will be “Chasing.”

I’m also thinking this could be the year Marcos Ambrose and, yes, even AJ Almendinger, win their first races in the Cup series. It isn’t so far fetched to think that way because both made some good showings last year and I expect both of them to improve as the season progresses. I think it would be great to see both of them do well if for no other reason than it would be very good for Richard Petty Motorsports and make up for some of what Richard has put his name on the line for and what he had to put with at the end of last year.

I know there are those I haven’t mentioned that have a very good chance of making it to Victory Lane at least sometime in the first 26 races and some of them are veterans and some are relatively new to the Cup series. Will one of them take the Championship? Well, that’s an great question and I really don’t have an answer for it at the moment, but… time will tell (as they say.)

Hey, that’s my take of how the 2011 season will start out and you can bet, it’s Just A Fan’s View, but, “It’s as good as any and better than many!!!”

See ya next time…

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© February 11, 2011 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com

All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© November 10, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

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NASCAR at Martinsville After Thoughts: Hamlin Wins and Pulls Within Six Points of Jimmie Johnson

Denny Hamlin won Chase race #6 and, interestingly enough, pulled within six points of points leader Jimmie Johnson in the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. He entered into the weekend saying he wanted to start on the pole, (which he did), lead the most laps, (which he didn’t) and win the race (which he did.)  When all was said and done for the day at Martinsville, some in the top twelve were better off and some were much further behind than when the day started.

Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick both pulled closer to Jimmie Johnson in points and at least for those top three, it is becoming a tight race for the Championship. The two of them continue to make it an interesting Chase and both look to be the ones to end the #48’s consecutive Championships at four. Both Hamlin and Harvick manage to finish near the front each week even though at times it looks like they’re going to finish nearer to the back. If nothing happens differently for the top three, I expect to see the three of them fighting for the Cup when things wind down at Homestead in four weeks, although I’m not quite sure what order they will be in when they get there.

The only other one still within striking distance for the Chase at the moment is Kyle Bush but he is 172 points behind the leader. Unfortunately for him, it will take the top three having disastrous weeks at more than Talladega this coming weekend and him finishing strongly ahead of the field over the next few weeks. He will want to win poles, lead the most laps and win a couple of races, hoping the top three have overwhelming complications to really make it interesting by the time the Chase does reach Homestead.

With all the developments at RPM last week and along with Kasey Kahne suddenly moving to the Red Bull #83 team, it appeared to this fan we might not hear much from Kasey for a while. Actually, he finished a very respectable 14th on the day and I am sure had mixed emotions for the day. It does appear he has moved on and will be ready for next season. There is still some uncertainty about Richard Petty Motorsports and how they are going to come out of this situation. As a long time fan of NASCAR, I do hope the best for them.

The Hendrick teams did have three finish in the top ten, but two of them aren’t actually in the Chase this year. Mark Martin finished second, even after having a slight meeting with the wall early in the race and Dale Earnhardt Jr ran strong on the day and finished seventh. He and his fans were ecstatic as he led for 90 laps. It should prove to be interesting how he does this coming weekend in Talladega. After all, it is a well known fact he runs very well at restrictor plate races and his performance at Martinsville just might give him and his team some momentum and hope for a good performance at the last restrictor plate race for 2010.

Jeff Gordon had a bad day for the third week in a row (with a little help from Kurt Bush in the #2 Penske Dodge.) I admit, one of the three races didn’t turn out as bad as the others, but the last two have been killers for the #24 team. He has lost a bunch of points to the leaders and sits 203 points behind at fifth place only 10 points ahead of Carl Edwards and only 33 points ahead of Tony Stewart. Unless the #24 team hits a really hot streak, this fan thinks this year’s drive for Jeff’s fifth Cup Championship is over. (Oh well, there’s always next year… Right?)

Personally, I think the field is pretty much set for the showdown at Homestead in four weeks. I don’t hold out much hope even for Kyle Bush to really make a move closer to the top three, unless something at Talladega catches all three of the top runners up in it and doesn’t touch the rest. Still yet, it should prove to be very interesting how the next couple of races go. Kevin Harvick won at Talladega in April and hopes to do the same this coming weekend.

Of course, restrictor plate racing is one of the hardest races to call, simply because so many cars seem to stay in the main pack. I know several drivers are going to Talladega now that Martinsville is done, hoping to take home a win and more than a couple are quite capable of doing so. Unfortunately, the top three in points are quite capable of winning at a restrictor plate track also and that just means this coming weekend is going to be a make it break it weekend for those in fourth to twelfth.

Since at the moment, the top three are only racing each other, I do expect to see some defensive driving going on by Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, but, I do expect to see those other nine drivers in the Chase pressing the envelope to try and make up some points and get back into the hunt for the Chase…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 26, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

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NASCAR At Martinsville: It’s Do or Die For at Least Six In Chase Race #6

Rusty NormanIt’s coming down to do or die for about six (almost seven) Chasers and, if something doesn’t go differently for those in the top three soon, it will really be a three car Chase. As I said earlier this week, I’m not ready to count anybody in the top eight out just yet, but even this fan has to admit, it is looking might bleak for those guys at the moment. That is unless that disaster happens to one or two of the top three (or all three for that matter) and turns the current points situation around completely.

Of course there are those that hope and pray that disaster will happen and those that say emphatically, “There ain’t no way!” As can be expected, many of the latter of those are the ones that have already given the Cup to Jimmie Johnson.

I’m not one of those however… I am one of those that would like to see the points race tighten up if for no other reason than to make the rest of the season more interesting to watch as the Chase moves on through the next five races. I don’t think anyone would deny that watching six or eight drivers contending for the championship on a weekly basis as opposed to two or three all the way to Homestead is much better.

There’s a lot of talk about these next two weeks being the deciding tracks at separating the possible winners from the hopefuls and it is possible they could be. Martinsville is a half mile short track, Talladega a 2.5 plus mile super speedway and it is true, anything can happen at either one of them, especially trouble. The worst that could happen is the top three have two bad races in a row and completely shake up the points and put almost everyone back in the Chase for the Cup Championship. (Now we all know what the possibilities of that happening are, but it is fun to think about what it would be like IF it did by the time they all reach that final race in Homestead.)

Many have already handed the trophy for this weekend to Denny Hamlin since he qualified on the pole and looked really strong in practice. I’m not going to go that far even though, statistically speaking, he and Jimmie Johnson have won most of the races there recently. I just think back to last weekend how Jeff Gordon had the wheels come off his drive for possibly winning his fifth Championship with a bad alternator and then two mistakes in the pits. (You have to admit, he’s definitely had a couple of bad weeks in row.)

You can say what you will, but the very same thing can happen to Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville and completely change the look of the Chase in short order. (The same goes for Kevin Harvick, too.)

As a fan, I like to consider the possibilities even if they do sound impossible for the moment. NASCAR Sprint Cup racing has always been pretty unpredictable and with the cars being so equal any more, I just don’t think anything is outside the realm of actually happening. The chances of both, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson having major setbacks this weekend or next weekend (possibly even both) are almost unimaginable, but the fact remains, it can happen.

The thing about racing, (and I guess other sports, too) is Jimmie’s and Denny’s fate is not totally controlled by them and their crews. There are forty-one other teams that are trying to make statements for their sponsors, fans and owners as well and all it takes is being in the wrong place at the right time and a very good day can become a very bad one in a hurry.

This could be the second week in a row that a non-Chaser wins. Once again, the EGR teams look impressive and could once again surprise all of us by either Jamie McMurray or Juan Pablo Montoya taking the trip to Victory Lane. Ryan Newman looks strong again this weekend and could take it home for Stewart/Haas Racing. Even though I don’t expect it to happen, there is the possibility of a Michael Waltrip team pulling off a dark horse victory. Both David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr are capable and like short tracks.

With all that’s going on surrounding Kasey Kahne and Richard Petty Motorsports, I find it interesting that Marcos Ambrose qualified on the front row and, in this fan’s opinion, could win this weekend. Yeah, I know he won’t be representing RPM until next season, but it would be a big boost in moral for his present team and for his future team, (that is if his future team is still operating next season.)

There are several I would like to see win this weekend, but, there are also those I hope don’t. I won’t mention any names simply because it’s not that important. I do think it would be great to see one of the RPM cars finish at, or near, the top and I think it would be great if Marcos Ambrose takes the trip to Victory Lane.

I don’t think either one of the above is going to happen and I don’t think the one I want to win will wither. I do think this is going to be an interesting race, and because it is a short track and 500 laps, I expect there will be more than a few short tempers by the time it’s over. Whether anything comes of those possible temperament issues is anybody’s guess, but as for me I’m gonna be watching… just in case.

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 23, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

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Nascar at Charlotte: It’s Chase Race #5 and Those Driving To Stay Alive

Rusty NormanThis is the last night race for the 2010 NASCAR Cup season and some of the top twelve are absolutely driving to stay alive in the Chase. This is the midpoint of the Chase, and unfortunately, some may have already crossed over the line (or point of no return) and some are on the edge, but after this weekend more of those racing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup will not have another chance at competing for it until next year.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is a very sensitive track when it comes to track temperature and in this fan’s opinion, should make this night race a bit more interesting than maybe it would be in the daytime. The reason I say this is because of the challenge it gives to the engineers and crew chiefs by pressing them to work with unknowns.

The practice sessions don’t fall at the same time as the end of the race. The track temperature, even though they have practiced into the early evening, can be up to twenty degrees different from the time they start the race to when they finish it. This means they don’t actually see what they will have to work with by the end of the race and it is “best guess” when it comes to being ready to work with the setups.

So, does this mean they are completely in the dark when it comes to the late race setup changes? No, it just means they have to use “all” of their input to come up with their “best guess” and if they blow it, it is almost a given their team will struggle all night. It also means the crew chiefs will have to listen to a frustrated driver for most of the race and that will make their night even more stressful.

I have to wonder if this will finally be the race that someone other than an actual Chaser wins. During the practice sessions, several cars were fast and even a quick look at qualifying  shows some outside the Chase as capable of putting up very fast times. Of course, once again, I have to mention the Roush/Fenway teams, too. The Richard Petty Motorsports teams qualified well and the Roush/Fenway teams of Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle looked awfully strong in the final practice.

Another thing I take into consideration is this is a 500 mile race. That extra 100 miles means a little more time for things to either go better, or worse, for the competitors. The first races in the Chase are a little shorter and this race could do more to help those that don’t quite get it going until the later stages of the race.

Ones to watch tonight in the Bank of America 500 are mixed inside and outside the top twelve Chasers. I’m thinking a couple of those outside the top twelve are AJ Allmendinger and Ryan Newman.  They have been running strong, or at least showing a lot of strength in the last several races. Allmendinger qualified third and Newman eleventh. Kyle Bush is another that could end up in Victory Lane by the end of the night and appeared to be pretty happy with his car by the end of final practice. His brother, Kurt is another looking to make a statement tonight and he looked impressive even after a dust up with the wall during practice.

Jeff Gordon had a great qualifying run and starts on the pole. I’m not sure whether they just didn’t want to show what they really have or whether they really were struggling in all of the practice sessions; (I reckon we’re going to have to wait and see how the #24 team’s night pans out.

Carl Edwards qualified second and showed he could still run fast in the final practice. The problem with running the fastest time in a practice session and running the fastest laps consistently during runs in a session  is the two don’t usually add up to a victory at the end of the night. Fastest for one lap is good; fastest for an entire fuel and tire run is much better and generally puts that driver and team at, or near the front at the end of the race.

I’m still a believer that qualifying says very little about how someone will perform during the actual race and from my observations, there hasn’t been that much advantage going to those that qualified up front over the last few races. It has proven out that the ones that qualified on the front rows, especially those outside the Chase, haven’t necessarily faired that well in the final results.

This being Charlotte and track position being so important, it is possible that having better pit stalls could make a difference at the end of the night. I guess it will depend on whether or not there are late race cautions and how they fall.

The biggest game changer all season has been the double file restarts. The strategies at the end of the race have become even more important because of them. The decision of how many tires to take and full or partial fueling can make a big difference in how the teams lineup for those restarts and it becomes even more complicated when you add in the possibilities of up to three green-white-checkered finishes, especially at Charlotte in the fall on a Saturday night…

Hey, I’m just sayin’…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 12, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

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Nascar At Fontana: Chasers Will Try To Even the Score In Chase Race #4

Rusty NormanIt’s only Chase Race #4 but the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chasers will try to even the score this weekend at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. This is the first time the points in the Chase have been this close since the Chase format began and it has made every “Chase” weekend very interesting so far. From this fan’s view, I don’t expect this weekend to be any different. The question I have is, “Will it continue like this all the way through, or will the top three to five begin to separate themselves from the rest of the top twelve?”

Even though the attention is focused on those in the top twelve, once again the front row has non-Chasers in it. Jamie McMurray took the pole and Elliot Sadler had the second fastest lap in qualifying and the two of them make up the front row for the Pepsi Max 400. Judging from the overall results in the first practice and qualifying, this actually could be the week a non-Chaser takes the trip to Victory Lane.

I always have my doubts about qualifying giving an idea of how the race will go, but there are some places it does have to be taken into account. Auto Club Speedway is one of those places and I do find several things interesting about this weekend in Fontana. It is a fast track and it requires horsepower to get down the long straight-aways and being able to get back in the gas sooner than the rest in the not-so-banked turns. So, does that mean the rest should pack it in just because they qualified outside the top twelve? No… it just means qualifying has to figure into the mix of who might win this weekend.

As expected, RCR and Clint Bowyer’s #33 team, had the penalties against them upheld, although slightly reduced, and they have accepted the fact they don’t have much of a chance to win the Chase. They have made the decision they are going to try and finish as high as they can in the points but they have a ways to go. The #33 team joined all but Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson in qualifying outside the top twelve. (Interesting that two of the ones that needed to show strength, Biffle and Kenseth, qualified in the top eight for this weekend, just as Jimmie Johnson.)

Although a Chevy sits on the pole, two Fords sit in the next two positions followed by the Chevy of Jamie McMurray’s teammate, Juan Montoya, (which says something about the Earnhardt/Ganassi race teams possibilities for the weekend.) Kasey Kahne’s RPM Ford sits in the fifth spot and he’s another driver outside the Chasers that could win this weekend.

Look, I know race-day goes a lot different than the practice times and qualifying, but let’s look at why this weekend could be a little different. First, it is becoming more and more obvious the Fords are back on track when it comes to being competitive. Yes, it is true they were a little behind the curve but they have proven to be formidable competition in the last several weeks. Greg Biffle winning last weekend is a great example of their advancement. He didn’t just win; at the end of the race he was ahead by eight seconds and pulling away. All of the Fords are benefiting from the alliance between Richard Petty Motorsports and Roush/Fenway. Between the two, they have gained in handling and in horsepower and it shows at the end of a race.

Even the Michael Waltrip Racing team of Martin Truex Jr qualified sixth for this weekend. Since all eyes are basically focused on the top twelve, it appears more and more of these teams are going unnoticed but they are making noise for themselves. (Does anyone remember what happened with David Reutimann and Kyle Bush last weekend? Yeah, two things about that… they are a non-Chaser and a Chaser and one of them races for Michael Waltrip Racing. Has anyone heard much about MWR except for that since the Chase started? Yeah… that’s what I thought.)

When it comes down to it, everybody, whether they’re in the top twelve or somewhere in 13th to 43rd,  is showing up to be as competitive as they possibly can. (Well, that is everybody but the “start and parks” and we all know in their own way they are doing everything they can, too.)

Personally, I think this weekend is going to be… uh… interesting to say the least. I really do believe this is a weekend that a non-Chaser could actually end up taking the checkers, but I also have to remember that a lot of the Chasers are quite capable of taking them, too and I’m not quite ready to kick them to the curb for the weekend. Greg Biffle definitely has the “Big Mo” on his side but even with that going on, he has a tough race ahead of him. His team-mate, Matt Kenseth usually has a good day at Fontana and I don’t expect him and his team to lay down and die. They are going to be pushing for every point they can get. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are going to press him, too and, as much as people are tired of hearing me say it, either one of them can win this weekend.

In all honesty, I just can’t get the thought out of my head that one of the EGR teams is going to end up in Victory Lane. Will it be Jamie McMurray or Juan Pablo Montoya?

H-m-m-m, I don’t know… does either one of them drive a Ford?

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 9, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

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NASCAR at Kansas After Thoughts: Biffle Wins and Race #3 Shakes Up the Points

Rusty NormanIf you would have asked me if Greg Biffle had a snowball’s chance in the hottest of places of getting back in the hunt for the Chase going into the race at Kansas, I would have told you, “No Way!”  As I mentioned in the last article, I thought he did have a chance of winning, but I have to be honest; I really didn’t expect it with the way his luck has been running. Not only did he win, but he made up a bunch of points on the leaders and he also advanced one place in the points. Considering where he was and the way things were going for his team, I’d say he did exactly what he needed to do.

As I expected, the points were shaken up and Jimmie Johnson took over the number one spot by a whopping 8 points, (which I didn’t expect), but that’s only part of the story. Kevin Harvick advanced two spots to third, Carl Edwards two spots to fourth and Jeff Gordon advanced three spots moving from eighth to fifth. Kurt Bush lost 2 spots to sixth place and Jeff Burton lost two spots falling all the way back to ninth.

The biggest loser on the day was Kurt’s brother, Kyle who lost four spots, falling to seventh place after a couple of run-ins with David Reutimann of Michael Waltrip Racing. He would have probably had a top five or so car had there not been the little “misunderstanding” between the two of them.

Kyle, um, “accidentally” got into the back of the #00 early in the race which caused Reutimann to hit the wall. About one hundred laps later, the #00 “accidentally” got into the #18 of Bush, causing him a great deal of difficulty for the rest of the day. (Needless to say, neither one was happy about either incident and neither one thought what they did was out of place.)

I guess it remains to be seen how Kyle does in the next couple of races. If he manages to move back up in the points, even possibly into first place, he can only thank the level-headedness of his crew chief, Dave Rogers. Because he kept his head and maintained control, they minimized their losses and only lost 35 points on the day. As has been said numerous times, during and since the race, “It could have been a lot worse…” (Yeah, they’re definitely right about that, it sure coulda been.)

Denny Hamlin also didn’t run as well as he finished; (and I’m sure he would disagree with the “finishing better” part.) At times during the race, it was obvious the #11 JGR team was struggling, at best, but they did manage to salvage a twelfth place finish after starting eleventh. That was much better than it appeared they were going to do.

The ruling for the #33 RCR team was upheld and Clint Bowyer’s penalty of 150 points becomes permanent and it is this fan’s opinion he will have a hard time finishing better than twelfth. I could be surprised, but I don’t think so. Since winning the race at Loudon, the #33’s performance just hasn’t been that good. Now, admittedly, they could begin to do much better now that the questions and pressures of the rulings and appeals are over. It is going to be tough for them to make up the 100 plus points deficit he has with eleventh place Matt Kenseth. (Sure, I know it can happen, but I just don’t think it will.)

I have to admit, even Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth in tenth and eleventh aren’t out of the Chase yet, but, they are going to have to perform like they did this last weekend by finishing well in the top ten. In my opinion, the problem with their predicament is their success depends on the performance of those ahead of them. In other words, if those in the top ten don’t help them out by struggling, their advancing in the points will be minimal at best.

Well, that being said, this is still the closest the top ten have been in points since the Chase began and, in particular, after three races. That definitely makes a statement on how tight the competition is in NASCAR Sprint Cup since the introduction of the COT. Of course, there are more factors at work in keeping the competition close, other than just the car itself. The introduction of the double file restart, the wave around and the ever present possibility of up to three green-white-checkered finishes. You take all of this into account and I believe you have exactly what we as fan’s are experiencing this year; Yeah, that’s right… one of the most competitive years of racing ever in NASCAR.

The tight competition has also carried through to this year’s Chase and this may just be the prime example of what NASCAR was trying to accomplish. I find it interesting that all of this is happening the way it is and next year is a year we are being told there are going to be changes coming. I only have one thing to say to that… If the new changes have as much impact on the racing as the most recent ones have had, “Bring ‘em on!”

Of course, I am hoping the new ones will have as much positive impact as the others, but I do wonder… how much better can the racing get? (Oh, that’s right, I forgot. According to some, this will only be considered a good year in NASCAR if Jimmie Johnson doesn’t repeat as Sprint Cup Champion for the fifth year in a row…)

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 6, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

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NASCAR at Kansas: Chase Race Three Is Crunch Time for Four (or More)

Rusty NormanNo matter what some may say, this third race is crunch time for the NASCAR teams in ninth to twelfth in the Chase or they’ll have to face the reality of waiting until next year to make another run for the Sprint Cup Championship. The pressure is on them to finish at, or near, the front if they want to have even the remotest chance of being in the Chase for the Championship by the time they make it to Homestead. Those in fourth through eighth have their work cut out for themselves, but those other teams have to finish well not only this weekend, but from here on out (especially if those top eight don’t struggle and help them cut their points separation.)

I know anything can happen simply because this is NASCAR and the competition throughout the Cup series is the closest it has ever been, but there comes a time when opportunity slips away and reality sets in.

So, will this be the week everyone was talking about as the Chase began when someone besides the twelve “Chasers” actually finish ahead of everyone else. From this fan’s view and the looks of practice and qualifying, I say this is probably the weekend (possibly more than any so far) that anything can happen.

Once again let me qualify that statement by saying, that doesn’t mean it will, but, there are some non-Chasers looking awfully strong, especially in the Ford camps. I mean, just look at the front row; Kasey Kahne on pole and Paul Menard outside pole. That’s a pretty strong showing for the Fords (not to mention Richard Petty Motorsports.)

Just a quick glance at the rest of the top twelve qualifiers shows six Fords, three Chevys, two Toyotas and one Dodge. (No partridge in a pear tree though…) Hey, I’m just sayin’, if qualifying says anything at all about how the race may go on Sunday afternoon, then the Fords have a great chance at pulling off the victory. (But when have I ever put much stock in qualifying telling us who will win? Yeah, that’s right…hardly ever…)

Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth are the only “Chasers” that qualified in the top twelve driving Fords and both of them have to finish near the front to have much of a chance at staying in contention for the rest of the Chase. To come to what is called an intermediate track (1.5 mile oval) and have a strong performance is not unheard of for the Roush/Fenway teams, but it is a lot of pressure to have to come in and perform well with no room for error to stay in the hunt. They are on the edge and it is imperative they gain points on those ahead of them or it is all over for them when it comes to winning the Championship.

It is interesting how the practices go and the last one today was no different. The Hendrick teams of Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson ended up at the top of the speed charts for the third practice session and I wouldn’t rule out either one of them from the possibility of winning on Sunday afternoon. Of course, with Greg Biffle having the third fastest time, his chances do look hopeful for making up some points like I mentioned earlier even if only a little at a time.

While we’re talking about making up points, the teams that are furthest back in the points have an interesting decision to make. Either they have to go for broke and try to make up the points quickly or try to hack away at those ahead of them steadily by consistently making up points over the next eight races. Unfortunately, desperation is setting in on a couple of them and they may not have the patience to try the little by little method and, as we all know, desperation sometimes causes stupidity.

The thing about the Chase that makes this time of the season different is we have a tendency to focus on the top twelve and overlook the other thirty-one. Admittedly, because of the economics involved and the existence of the “start and parks”, some of them should be ignored. Let’s face it, NASCAR is full of talented drivers and, when we compare equipment, the cars are so evenly matched that just about any of them can win on any given weekend.

This weekend in Kansas could very well be the weekend that someone other than a “Chaser” ends up in Victory Lane. The problem is, figuring out which one. If you look at qualifying, you get one opinion and if you look at practices you get a whole different perspective. I expect the top twelve to be somewhere near the top this weekend, but, I kinda have this feeling that a late race caution is going to enter into the mix and shake up everything…

Will Denny Hamlin still be leading the points when all is said and done? Yeah, probably, but I really think this is the week the points positions are going to start changing and probably drastically. The question is, who are they going to change drastically for?

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 2, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

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NASCAR at Dover After Thoughts: Johnson Wins Number Two and the Monster Bites a Few

Rusty NormanJimmie Johnson won race number two of the Chase and once again tamed the Monster Mile. He didn’t just win, but it could be said that he had a dominate performance by also taking the pole and leading the most laps. So does this mean he is headed for his fifth Cup Championship in a row?

Well… if you ask some, this is exactly why NASCAR found Clint Bowyer’s #33 car illegal last week; so Jimmie Johnson could once again make history and he and Denny Hamlin could battle it out for themselves for the championship. Now we all know, NASCAR doesn’t do things like that (no matter how many people think they do) but it does give more opportunity for the “Black Helicopter” rumors to once again get started.

You know, as a fan, I do grow tired of the suspicion of how NASCAR tries to manipulate things like others do in those “Reality TV” shows. (Personally, I don’t watch them for several reasons, but mostly for the reason stated above – there’s hardly anything real about them even though they’re called Reality TV.)

You see, I have an advantage over some of you… I’ve raced and I do definitely understand how things can change in a race and in a season simply because racers go through a spell where nothing seems to go right. (Honestly, sometimes it does seem like there are racing gods and they do try to manipulate things even though I know there are no such things.)

So, what does happen? Well, as usual, that’s a great question and I’m glad someone asked it.

Racing is an interesting sport. It has highs and lows and it definitely seems to ride waves of times when you can’t do anything wrong no matter what you do and other times that nothing goes right no matter what you do or how good you car is. These are just my observations, but if you ask anyone who has raced, they will probably tell something similar.

Yes, I’ve heard people say, “Well, you make your own luck,” and I can say I understand where they’re coming from. The only thing I will say to that is; yes, you always try to put yourself in position to make the most of a situation by being well prepared, but in racing, not everything depends totally on your preparation or performance. Sometimes other people affect your performance by their actions and lack of preparedness. That’s because there is more than one person on the track at the same time… you’re racing more than a clock and a piece of asphalt or concrete. You’re racing those and the others on the track and the situations that come about because of them and their performance and actions. (It’s not a war, really, but sometimes it does seem that way. I guess that’s why it’s called competition.)

The Joe Gibbs’ teams did make a good showing by all of them finishing in the top ten. The best of the three was Joey Logano in third followed by Kyle Bush in sixth and Denny Hamlin in ninth. Denny was happy to finish in the top ten since he usually seems to have problems at the Monster Mile. Kyle wasn’t happy about finishing sixth but was definitely happier with that than any further back in the field.

The RCR cars were mostly bitten by the Monster with Kevin Harvick finishing fifteenth and Clint Bowyer finishing twenty-fifth. Jeff Burton was the RCR bright spot finishing second. Clint Bowyer definitely had a bad week over all and we’ll find out whether NASCAR finding his car illegal will be reversed on Tuesday. If the ruling is reversed he will be ninth in points instead of twelfth.

Others in the top twelve for the Chase bitten by the Monster were Jeff Gordon finishing just outside the top ten in eleventh because of a lug nut issue on the last pit stop; Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle finishing eighteenth and nineteenth and Tony Stewart finishing twenty first which definitely was not what he needed after running out of gas with a lap to go last week while leading.

So far, no one has really taken the point with really strong performances over the first two Chase races. Yeah, Denny Hamlin is still in first, but he hasn’t really dominated the rest of the contenders; they’ve just had their own set of problems and he’s ended up the better for it. That may or may not change over the next couple of races and, who knows, this may actually be the year the Chase isn’t decided until the last lap at Homestead in November…

Well… I reckon we’ll see about that, won’t we?

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© September 27, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

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NASCAR at Loudon After Thoughts: The Chase Begins, Clint Bowyer Wins… on Fumes

Clint Bowyer is on a roll… His performance over the last several weeks has been enviable and he won the Sylvania 300 on fumes Sunday afternoon. To say no one expected him to win it would not be quite correct, but he was the “twelfth seed” going into the Chase and he received the least amount of attention as to who would win at Loudon. Oh, and by the way, he probably wouldn’t have won, IF, (and that’s a mighty big if), Tony Stewart hadn’t run out of gas about a lap from the end.

I find it interesting how things sometimes go in racing. I mean, if you take a good close look at the end of the race Sunday afternoon, three teams chanced not coming in for fuel and possibly tires and two of those three ran out of gas. (In case you weren’t watching, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Tony Stewart were the three and we all know who didn’t run out of gas.) To me, it just goes to show that sometimes a thing called luck, or possibly that thing called “Big Mo,” has to figure into the mix.

Now, I’ve heard some say, “It just wasn’t in the cards for Stewart to win” and others say, “The ‘racing gods’ weren’t smiling on him.” I don’t agree with those evaluations, but, I do know that sometimes things just don’t go the way you think they should, or could. Why Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton ran out of gas and Clint Bowyer didn’t is a good question (and don’t forget, the #31 team of Burton is also a Childress team like Bowyer) but I don’t think it had anything at all to do with ‘cards’ or ‘racing gods.’ I do, however, think it had everything to do with fuel mileage and the driver’s right foot. (I guess we could also figure in which one used the least amount of brakes and did the most coasting over the last laps doing that thing called “saving fuel.”)

I’m not sure whether it was the race only being 300 laps or because it was a shorter track, but the racing on Sunday was aggressive to say the least. No one, and I mean no one, could accuse any driver of just laying back and waiting for the last fifty or so laps. Many were aggressive (and some overly aggressive) from the drop of the green flag on the first lap. It really set the tone for the day and the intensity was high for the whole race. Even though the intensity was high, the Sylvania 300 had minimal cautions even though there was quite a bit of pushin’ and shovin’ going on.

If anyone questioned whether the thirty one cars vying for 13th place in the Chase were going to move out of the top twelve’s way or just lay back and let them go, well, I think that thought can be put to rest. From what this fan observed on Sunday afternoon, they don’t really care too much about those other twelve drivers… its racing as usual for all of them and that tells me this is going to be an interesting Chase. The top twelve may still be the ones finishing up front, but they are going to have to work for it if they do; (hey, I’m just sayin…’)

One thing I like about the first couple of races in the Chase is how fast the points’ situation gets shaken up. Considering how they all started the day and how they finished, there was a gigantic shakeup in the top twelve. By not running out of gas and winning on Sunday, Clint Bowyer jumped ten spots, going from twelfth to second. (Okay, maybe gigantic is a bit of an over statement, but there was a lot of movement in the top twelve spots even though Deny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Bush somehow managed to stay in their positions but I don’t think Jeff Burton is very thrilled about staying in the tenth spot after he ran out of gas in the final two laps while running in the top five.)

All in all, Sunday’s race a Loudon was a great start to the 2010 Chase for the Cup and, if it is any consolation to those that had a bad start, there are still nine weeks to go to move up to the top of the points standings. How they handle the adversity they experienced after struggling during the Sylvania 300 for the next few weeks will determine what their chances for taking the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship really are.

I’m not ready to make a pick for who will take the Cup this year, but if the start of the Chase on Sunday is an example of what we as fan’s have to look forward to for the next nine races, it is going to be an exciting and dramatic time ahead. Who knows, maybe Matt Kenseth will surprise all of us and make a move from the twelfth spot to the top of the list over these next nine weeks… or, maybe not…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© September 22, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

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NASCAR at Loudon: A Short Race at a Tough Short Track Starts the Chase

Rusty NormanSay what you will about the Chase, but one thing is certain… Even though NASCAR Cup teams visit ten tracks during the Chase, Loudon is one tough short track and it is one tough place to kick off the Chase. Add to that the fact it is a relatively short race, with probably a minimum of cautions and the possibility of some short tempers and there’s no telling what will happen.

Once again, in this fan’s opinion, I don’t think qualifying times are going to tell us the whole story of how things will go Sunday afternoon. To me, it seemed many of the teams hadn’t quite figured what setup they wanted to use by time for qualifying. After qualifying, it seemed many teams made major changes to what they thought was going to be “the setup” and some that qualified poorly, looked mighty strong after the two Saturday practice times.

Personally, I wouldn’t have given you two plugged nickels for the Hendrick teams’ possibilities of finishing near the front at Loudon this weekend, but afterwards, they appear to have hit on something that put them right back into the mix. Not only did Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson look good, but so did Mark Martin and Dale Jr.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are going to win, I’m just saying, it looks like they are going to give the rest of the teams a run for their money (which I personally wouldn’t have believed a week or so ago) and it should make the “Drive for Five” Championships for either Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon once again a possibility in this Chase. Oh sure, I know many of you will disagree with me on this, but it is still something to watch for the next few races and see how it goes for them. (In other words, I guess we can re-evaluate after a few of the Chase races are in the books.)

It appears the Roush/Fenway teams have consistently been improving over the last ten races, (much the same way the Childress teams did at the end of last season), and should be making the Chase interesting, at least for the Ford fans. Carl Edwards hasn’t won yet but has definitely been piling up the points, in particular over the last ten races. He just may be one of the ones to watch when it comes down to the finish in Homestead.

The same goes for Greg Biffle; although he has hit a few bumps along the way, he has been one of the strongest Roush teams until lately. It’s not that he hasn’t been strong… he’s just had some “challenges” along the way.

As for Matt Kenseth, well he’s just been plugging away and quietly sits in 11th spot waiting to pounce on any possibility to make it to the front. (I don’t think we’ve heard all we’re going to here from him yet this year.)

Kurt Bush remains the great unknown for me as to how he will do in the Chase. He has been both up and down, good and bad during the season so far and it seems he always shows up with a strong car, not always a great car. Crew chief Steve Addington has surprised many with how quickly he has gelled with Kurt and as a team and I think Kurt has a chance at winning the Cup Championship. He has strong engines and plenty of talent and with a little bit of racing luck he could be the one to dethrone Jimmie Johnson (something he doesn’t try to disguise as one of his desires.) It will be interesting to see how he does over the next few races and see if they step up their performance to the May level. If that happens, the #2 Dodge will definitely be tough to beat.

Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Bush all have made a statement in the last couple of weeks in one way or another. I’ll wait and see how they do over the first four races of the Chase before I really commit to their possibilities in taking the Cup. Although all three are capable, all three have had good and bad races lately and that can be at least slightly unsettling when it comes to looking at their consistency. In the next ten races, a bad week can be just a bad week, but several of them can be devastating.

Clint Bowyer has been the stellar performer for the Childress teams over the last few weeks and looks to be on a roll. For a while it looked like he may be on the outside looking in, but all of the sudden, he looks like a contender (and to be honest, listening to him in interviews, he is confident he will perform as good as any in the top twelve.) His teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton have not performed at the level they had hoped over the last couple of races but don’t count them out; the Childress teams have been strong all season and I don’t expect that to change that much over the next ten weeks.

I tell you what to look out for this Sunday; look out for the possibility of someone outside the top twelve to take the victory. There are some pretty strong cars outside the top twelve and one of them could take the checkers.

I’m still looking for one of the “Chasers” to win Sunday and it could be the likes of Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson or even Clint Bowyer. I think this race is just about as hard to call the winner of as it is to think who might win the Chase for the Sprint Cup this year. As many have said, this is the closest match-up of talent and performance as any Chase so far and anyone of the twelve can take the Cup.

As for who is going to win at Loudon, I’m going to stick my neck way out and say Jeff Gordon. I think it is about time for his luck to change and more have noticed the same thing I have about him at this point in the year; He still has that fire to win and he has had about all the bad luck one can have in one season and still make the Chase (aside from the fact he finished second in the points before the reset for the Chase.) I’m thinkin’ it’s time for him to win another one….

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© September 18, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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Nascar At Atlanta: Two To Go To Make It In “The CHASE”

Rusty NormanNASCAR Cup teams hit the 1½ mile oval at Atlanta this weekend and it is definitely now or never for the ones that have even the slimmest chance of making it into the Chase.

The question in everyone’s mind is whether or not the three closest to Clint Bowyer can make it into the top twelve and have a chance for the Cup Championship. Those three are Jamie McMurray, Mark Martin and Ryan Newman and to put it lightly, Clint Bowyer would definitely have to have a couple of bad weeks for any of the three to make it in before him.

From this fan’s view the one with the best chance is Jamie McMurray. He has definitely been performing as good as anyone over the last several weeks and he has won two of the most prestigious races on the Cup circuit, the Daytona 500 and the Indy 400. If anyone has a chance at making it into the top twelve for the Chase, I think it is Jamie if for no other reason than he has gained so many spots in the last several races. Of course, Mark Martin is only one point behind him and that does pose interesting options.

There comes a point in any season where you’re either in or out. I think the biggest problem any of the three I just mentioned have in getting into the Chase is the performance of the other drivers in the top twelve already. To simplify, it means the ones that have a mathematical chance of making it in depend on the ones that are already in the top twelve having extremely bad races over the next two weeks. In either case, all of them performing just as they have (or only slightly better) means there will be no noticeable change in the standings and those that are in the top twelve will remain the top twelve for the Chase.

Atlanta Motor Speedway is one of the tougher tracks for the teams to get a handle on. Two things come to mind making it a little more of a challenge and that is the speeds they run and the abrasiveness of the track. Tires are the most important factor at AMS and the ones that can manage tire-wear the best throughout a run will be the ones challenging for the win at the end, or at least that is my opinion. As I think about it, three things will come definitely into play on Sunday night when it comes down to running for the checkered flag; tire-wear, track position and fuel mileage.

I’m not sure what is going on in the Hendrick camp but it sure appears they are struggling to find the speed needed to be as competitive as they need to be. Earlier in the season, the same could be said about the Roush teams and it looked doubtful at times they would even make the Chase. Right now, both Dale Jr and Mark Martin are struggling more than the other two Hendrick teams. Jeff Gordon has been consistent and is in second spot in the points so far, but he hasn’t looked as strong as he did earlier in the season. Jimmie Johnson has struggled lately and it looks as if they are going to have to work hard to strongly defend their Cup Championship titles and shoot for that history making fifth in a row.

Right now, at least from this fan’s view, the Richard Childress Chevys and the Jack Roush Fords look very strong. For RCR that is a big turnaround from last year. All of the Childress teams look strong and, barring the absolute unforeseen, two of them are definitely going to be challenging for the Cup title this year. Kevin Harvick has been rock solid for most of the season and Jeff Burton could be even higher in the points and possibly even have a win or two had circumstances worked just slightly different for him. I look for both of them to do well this weekend at Atlanta.

At AMS, one can never discount the performance of the Bush brothers. Kurt Bush has won the last two spring races in Atlanta and Kyle Bush is almost always in the mix for the win at the end of 500 miles. Although they drive for different teams, I cannot count them out for possibly winning Sunday night. In my opinion, Penske and Gibbs teams generally perform one of two ways at this track and that is feast or famine. I expect Kurt to be a contender, but a lot can happen over 500 miles on a Labor Day weekend at AMS.

Stewart/Haas Racing has one team in and one team out as far as the Chase is concerned and both have to run well this weekend to either stay in the Chase or stay in contention to make the Chase. Of course the one that is in and mathematically can’t afford to have two bad weeks is Tony Stewart. Ryan Newman on the other hand has to have two really good weeks and those ahead of him in points have to have really bad weeks.

Unfortunately, I’ve pretty much ruled out the chance of Ryan making it into the Chase, but, I do know stranger things have happened, although not in recent history. He does have a good chance at finishing out the year in the thirteenth position at the end of the year. Don’t forget, Stewart/Haas Racing also runs Hendrick equipment and engines and, from this fan’s view, as a whole all of the Hendrick teams have been struggling in particular during these summer months.

When it comes to who might win this weekend, I’m definitely at a loss. It could be any of the ones mentioned above or it could be someone else. Some are talking about Kasey Kahne and he is a good possibility, but I’m thinking more along the lines of one of the Roush teams. Greg Biffle has been showing himself to run strong and Matt Kenseth has been running consistently. Carl Edwards is still struggling, but this could be a break out week for him.

Personally, when it comes down to who I would like to see win in particular this weekend I would have to pick Jeff Gordon. His car was designed by his daughter this weekend to highlight the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation and he has won at the track before. I would really like to see Jeff finally get into the win column this year. Like Jeff Burton, if things had been slightly different in a few races earlier in the year, he could have won more than a couple of races by now. Oh well, maybe he’s saving up all his wins for the Chase…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© September 4, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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