Nascar At Phoenix AfterChatter: Ryan Newman IS the Spoiler at P I R

Once again in the 2010 NASCAR season it didn’t matter who led the most laps, it only mattered who was leading when the checkered flag fell. This weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, it was an ecstatic and emotional Ryan Newman that entered into to Victory Lane after a long dry spell of seventy-seven races of no wins. It was the first for the No. 39 and the first for the No. 39 team, Ryan Newman and crew chief, Tony Gibson with Stewart/Haas Racing.

I know you’ve heard it many times already since the end of the race, but, three drivers led over 100 laps and the best that any of those three did was finish third. Jimmie Johnson, Juan Montoya and Kyle Bush were the three drivers and at least two of the three were very disappointed with where they finished, (although with the luck Montoya has been having lately, fifth may have almost felt like a win.)

One thing that was changed by NASCAR last year has done more to change the finishing order when there is a caution flag near the end of the race and an additional rule change this year has altered how the crew chiefs look at their options for a late race pit stop.  The possibility of up to three green-white-checkered restarts at the end of a race has made the decision of how many tires to take much more important than it was in the past. To take two tires or four tires; that is the question and the decision has become even more critical than it used to be in the past. So far, the best choice in that decision changes from week to week.

Let’s take a look at the three most important changes NASCAR has made in the last two seasons that has totally changed the strategy for pit stops throughout the race and especially at the end. Double-file restarts have completely changed the way strategies play out be it from the viewpoint of the driver or the crew chief.  I think this is one thing that has improved the racing (or, at least has increased the excitement) more than anything else (especially from a fans point of view.) I also agree, it is one of the best decisions NASCAR is made in a while.  Add to that the way the line-ups are done during cautions and it generally means that those that are leading are running against those that are chasing them.  That has made for great racing also.  The green-white-checkered rule change of more than one try, has added a completely new dimension to already intense strategy plays for the end of the race.  From this fans view, these three things have changed the face of the race for the better.

It is very obvious that whoever these three rules affect in a positive way love it.  Those that it affects in a negative way tend to question it (that’s a nice way of saying, “don’t like it.”) One thing is certain, it has added more drama and excitement to the race, especially at the end.

I know it will, but I don’t mean it to sound as though I’m bragging, but, if we look at the finishing order, it looks like I did call it right in the Phoenix pre-race article.  I said the Hendrick teams would be in contention at the end of the race and it looks like I was correct.  The finishing order shows Ryan Newman (Hendrick equipment), Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin (three of the Hendrick teams) taking the top four places. Yes, I know I picked Jeff Gordon to win, but second place wasn’t so bad for the second week in a row. He could have just as easily had three victories this year instead of none so far.

Personally, I think the two Roush teams of Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards finishing sixth and seventh was the next biggest surprise to me. Of the four Roush teams, I really expected Greg Biffle to finish much better than he did and ahead of Matt and Carl. I know his twenty-second finishing position was a great disappointment to him and the No. 16 team.

This fan thinks this was one of the best races at Phoenix International Raceway in a while. Kyle Bush was all but handed the trophy up to the last caution flag and ended up eighth. Jimmie Johnson could have pulled off the victory with his four tire change and possibly another restart, but finished third. Juan Montoya led a lot of laps but had to be happy with his fifth place finish considering how the other six races have gone for him this year.

When all was said and done and the smoke had cleared from the victory burn-out, the No. 39 and its driver, Ryan Newman, were in Victory Lane. He was the “spoiler” of the weekend and, as it turned out, the spoiler on the back of the car was not; not that Ryan shouldn’t have won, but that no one expected him to win.

This victory put the No. 39 car in victory lane for the first time in Nascar and also for the first time in the young history of the Stewart/Haas camp, no small feat for a two car team that is only two years old and performing much better than anyone expected…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© April 13, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

Nascar At Phoenix: Will The Spoiler Be The Spoiler or Someone Else?

Rusty NormanTwo interesting things make this year’s spring race at Phoenix International Raceway different.  The first is probably the most obvious and most visible.  That would be the return of the spoiler, which made its first appearance at Martinsville almost two weeks ago and it remains to be seen what kind of an effect it will have on the way the cars handle as we get to these larger tracks.

The second change is not quite as visible but will make a difference all the same.  That would be the additional 63 laps that they’re running this year as opposed to the last time and they were there.

History says a few perform better than others at the Phoenix International Raceway, but reality says anyone could win this year. Why do I say that’s important? Because it is a well known fact in the recent past, some drivers and teams have performed quite well at the track. Although it appears that everyone loves to go to Phoenix and race, most all of the teams seem to like the track but not everyone can do what it takes to win there.

The fact of the matter it is that it takes a certain amount of special talent to perform well at the one mile oval in the desert. The drivers with great car control along with a lot of finesse through the turns generally perform better at P I R and it is another one of those tracks that has a bit of difference between the way cars handle in turns one and two, and then three and four. (Did I mention the back straight is slightly elevated adding another dimension to the entry of turn three?)

Now, we know that the drivers in NASCAR are supposed to be the best in the world and I don’t disagree with that statement, but even in NASCAR, some are better than others which is pretty obvious by the way that some dominate the others and have done so for years.

It appears to this fan, that the ones that perform well at Phoenix International Raceway hit their marks more consistently on the track and that allows them to gain an advantage on their competitors. When the track conditions change, they find another line that gives them the advantage once again, allowing them to pull away from the others.

One thing I will say about the 2010 season so far is that the competition is much tighter than it was last year.  That’s not to say that there wasn’t competition, but it does appear that the R C R teams, the Roush teams and the Roger Penske Racing folks have all picked it up.  No longer is it a given that the Hendrick teams will always finish up front and I’m sure that makes many people in NASCAR very happy.  Of course, the Hendrick teams are still running quite well and do have to be considered contenders every week.

I believe the race on the Saturday night is going to be filled with action and drama. Add to the mix the altercation between Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon from last week at Martinsville and there could be some unexpected excitement should one or the other decide it is their turn to show a little muscle, (some call it paback.)  Yes, we all know they’ve talked about the incident from last week and both say they’re ready to move on even though neither one of them is going to rule out the effect that adrenaline can have on either of them.  Both Matt and Jeff are strong competitors and it seems, for some reason on these shorter tracks, they manage to find each other.  Who knows, some day they may actually become “close” friends.  As it stands for now, it appears that their competitiveness stands in the way of that actually happening for at least while.

The race at Phoenix is always a hard one for me to pick a winner at.  The track is tight and fast, mostly only one groove wide and the pits are long and narrow. So much depends on what happens in the pits and how they line up in the double file restarts that I do think track position is going to play a great part in who actually takes the checkered flag. I also think the ones that can run consistently faster times on older tires are going to be the ones running up front at the end. (Gee, has anyone talked much about this being a fuel mileage race?)

So, who will it be?  As I said before, Phoenix is a hard place to pick a winner, (at least for this fan.) I do think the Hendrick teams must be considered when it comes down to those running at the front at the end of the race. All of the Ford teams showed they’re beginning to catch up competition-wise, especially Greg Biffle.  From my observations, I haven’t seen anyone recently that is more determined to consistently finish ahead of the No. 48 team than Greg Biffle and the No. 16 team.  Of course, the No. 2 team of Kurt Bush should be considered in that mix also.  It’s just an observation, but, I think a great addition to the No. 2 team has been crew chief Steve Addington. I’m not saying they’ve arrived yet, but you can definitely see where he has made a difference.

Unfortunately, this can also be the week that someone totally unexpected, (at least  from my view) could break into the win column.  Names like Marcos Ambrose and Martin Truex Jr., along with AJ Almendinger and Kasey Kahne immediately jump to the top of my list. And of course, we can’t leave out names like Jeff Burton or Kevin Harvick. Even Carl Edwards deserves some mention here because, if anyone is due to show up in victory lane, it would be him.

Like every other week so far this year, I just don’t have a clear picture in my mind as to who I think will win.  I know I have a couple of favorites and I know a couple of dark horses that could end up taking home the trophy.  Heck, I haven’t even mentioned Denny Hamlin yet.  Judging from the way he ran in the practice sessions, he could be making it his second in a row much to everyone’s surprise since his knee surgery a week and a half ago.

OK, I’ll stick my neck out just a little bit and make a prediction.  All things considered, I still think it will come down to one of the Hendrick teams finishing up front.  Now whether that will be Dale Jr, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson I just don’t know.  I can’t rule out Tony Stewart or Ryan Newman either. I believe the night time handling capabilities of the cars is what’s going to make the biggest difference this weekend.  Although they’re running more laps during the daylight hours than they did last year, I still think the coolness of the night air is when some cars are really going to come to life.  That’s why I’m picking Hendrick team that just happens to carry the number 24 on it.

H-m-m-m, I guess that means I’m picking Jeff Gordon…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© April 10, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

Nascar At Martinsville A/C: Once Again Martinsville Shows All of the Reasons Why Short Track Racing Is So Good

There are a lot of reasons why many NASCAR fans love short track racing and Martinsville once again proved to us all why short track racing is so popular.  Everything at short tracks seems to be a little more on the edge throughout the whole race.  Whether we look at emotions, intensity or just downright hard, door handle to door handle, wheel to wheel pushing and shoving, there’s hardly a moment in short track racing that something isn’t going on somewhere in the field.

The race this last weekend in Martinsville, was full of excitement, emotion and intensity which qualifies it in my book for one of the best races of the year so far.  There were some hurt feelings, some strained tempers and lots of emotion at the end of the race and hardly anyone, especially those at the front of the field, was exempt from any of it.  I know this is not news to anyone who watched the race but the drama went right down to the very last lap in the green white checkered finish.  In fact, according to those I talked to and listened to in various interviews around the spectrum of racing coverage, it appears, even the fans came away with high emotions and good feelings about the race they saw.

Many fans seemed to be very happy about the fact that there was no # 48 team in Victory Lane, but were somewhat disappointed by the fact that Jimmie Johnson took over the points lead in the race to the Chase.  I realize where they’re coming from but also recognize they can’t argue with success and Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the whole No. 48 team are very successful which they’ve proven over the last 4 years, (and are continuing to prove once again this year.)

Denny Hamlin won the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville even though it looked as though they had thrown the race away that the final caution. (One has to wonder if Kevin Harvick’s golden horseshoe comment about the No. 48 team would hold true this week if applied to the No. 11 team of Denny Hamlin.)  Even though I know Denny raced his heart out to win the race the final result was not necessarily the result of all his efforts.  I say this not meaning to take anything away from the No. 11 team but sometimes, as we used to say in the local short track days, “you just get lucky.” It is true that Denny drove his way to the checkered flag, but it is also true, that a lot things had to go his way for him to come away with the victory, (just as in past weeks, things had to go right for the #48 Team.)

No one can say that Jeff Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte didn’t give it their all to try and win and no matter how high the emotions were at the end, no one can say that Matt Kenseth didn’t either. (For some reason, Gordon and Kenseth seem to rub each other the wrong way.)  Even though those involved in the incidents of the final laps at track level didn’t necessarily see it the same way, I did see Matt Kenseth get into the bumper of the No. 24, pushing him up the track and into the door of the No. 39 of Ryan Newman which allowed the No. 17 Roush car an opportunity to pull alongside of Jeff Gordon. After that, it was pretty evident that, neither Matt or Jeff, was going to win or give each other a break while they leaned on each other down the straight and for a few moments, it was questionable whether either one of them would finish. That opened the door for Denny Hamlin to make his move to the front and Joey Logano followed him taking second and the rest is “history” as the old saying goes.

It is true Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team had a strong car all day.  It is also true that the decision they made at the last caution could have cost them the victory or at least could have caused them to finish much further back in the field. The way things turned out, they had a great day and I know they won’t disagree with that statement (and they won’t have to answer any questions as to why they threw the race away with their decision to pit on that last caution… )

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© March 31, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

Nascar At Martinsville: Qualifying Rainout Means Points Decide the Lineup for Sunday’s Goody’s 500

Rusty NormanThis weekend at Martinsville, could prove to be a totally different race than the expectations would have been should there have been qualifying. With the teams lining up for the race according to points, there’s no way of knowing how that is going to affect the outcome of the race.  The teams starting on the front row (Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth) didn’t necessarily exhibit that they had a good grip on performance for the Martinsville track.  In fact, Kevin Harvick made the statement that this could be the slowest qualifying front row for the race ever and I’m inclined to, at least, partially agree.

A quick look at the lineup reveals teams that have been performing well so far this year but don’t necessarily run that well at Martinsville. From this fans view, what is interesting about starting order is that it makes a big difference because of the way the pit stalls are handed out.  Even though the teams starting up front may not be running that good during the race, it is possible that their pit locations could actually keep some of the competitors closer to the front during the race than they would be if there would’ve been qualifying.

Even though Jimmy Johnson, who has been highly favored to win this weekend, will be starting third and will have the No. 3 pit stall, his performance in practice didn’t leave him with a comfortable feeling about how his car is going to handle during the race.  Now, that doesn’t mean he won’t perform well during the race, but it could mean that he could struggle all day and finish far back in the pack at a track he has been somewhat dominate at in the recent past.

Jeff Gordon is another favorite at this track and although he was running fairly fast during the practice times, he never appeared to be really happy with this car.  Sometimes that means Jeff is going to perform better than he expects and sometimes, it just means that his car is only good on the short run and although he may work his way towards the front, we may see him fall back through the pack throughout the day.

Probably the most consistent performer this weekend has been Jeff Burton.  This could also be another weekend where Richard Childress Racing shines in 2010, especially the number 31 team. No, I’m not saying he’s going to win, but there is a high possibility that Jeff Burton is going to perform well this weekend.  It may just depend on how the breaks fall during the race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin also looked good during the practice times.  From this fans view, either one of them could win this weekend. If it happens that Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins, Junior Nation will be ecstatic.  Should Mark Martin win, Junior Nation may not rejoice but many people will be quite happy that Mark did win, (including Mark Martin himself.)

Another factor that needs to be considered this weekend is the possibility of the race being shortened due to weather. Rain is expected sometime during the afternoon hours, so it is very possible that the race could be called and have to be continued on Monday or just make it past the halfway point and whoever is leading at that point will be declared the winner.  That is not something that NASCAR wants to see happen and I know that the fans don’t want that either but, every once in a while it does happen.

Personally, I would rather they complete the race rather than have to call it because of weather just beyond the halfway point.  So I guess that means I would rather it be rained out completely for Sunday and have to be run on Monday rather than get started, make it to just over halfway and be called.

No matter what happens this weekend, come rain or come shine, Martinsville is one of the toughest tracks on the NASCAR circuit even though it is only a half mile track and is always a place where the cream generally rises to the top.  I don’t think there’ll be many surprises this weekend when it comes to who wins and finishes in the top 5 but I do think it will be an emotional race and some people may go away from the track with their emotions high and their feelings hurt.

This could be the race that Juan Pablo Montoya steps into Victory Lane for the first time at an oval track in NASCAR. It could also be another victory at the track and a possible turning point in the year for Denny Hamlin. I don’t really expect it, but it could also be a weekend where someone totally unexpected walks away with the victory and the trophy.

I do believe it is going to be a very interesting race and I do hope that it makes it to the end and doesn’t have to be called or rescheduled for the next day.  I reckon the only way we’re going to know for sure, is to watch the race on Sunday and see what happens…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© March 27, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

Nascar At Bristol A/C: Kurt Bush Dominates at Bristol, But Late Race Caution Changes the Outcome

Is it just me, or are the rest of you beginning to notice a pattern forming here? Let’s see, Jeff Gordon dominated the race at Las Vegas and Jimmie Johnson won. Kurt Bush dominated the race at Bristol and…  Jimmie Johnson again makes the trip to Victory Lane.

I don’t know about you, but it appears that leading the most laps and just generally outperforming the rest of the teams on any given day doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go home the victor. In fact, as long as Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team are still on the track and within striking distance there is no guarantee that you won’t be racing them to the checkers.

Yes, it’s true, once again, Jimmie Johnson is being blamed for the lack of interest in the viewing audiences of NASCAR.  I have to say that it is beginning to get tiring to listen to all the complaints about a team and driver that is performing so much further ahead and above the rest.  Yes, I have my own favorite driver and team and, yes, I would like to see them win; but until they can beat Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the rest of the 48 team, I just can’t expect them to be in victory lane.

I find it interesting that we are only five races into the new season and many people are already saying the season is over and the race for the Chase is for second place. In fact, I have already heard people saying, “Go ahead an award Jimmie Johnson The Cup for 2010. He’s already got the season locked up anyway.”

I find that to be premature and for lack of better words, it’s just plain stupid.  I still say that Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the No. 48 team are forcing the issue and causing the rest of the team’s to work all the harder to put them in the rearview mirror.  They have set the bar very high and until the other teams can consistently outperform them, we are just going have to sit by and wait for those other teams to catch up and begin outperforming them on a regular basis.

In all honesty, some teams are getting very close to doing that.  It is pretty obvious that Kurt Bush, along with crew chief, Steve Addington and the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge are showing strength everywhere they go.  Add to that the Richard Childress teams of Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton and it looks like the competition will begin to heat up even more in the coming weeks.

So, what was the racing like at Bristol?  Actually, it was a very interesting race and full of unknowns.  Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski managed to stay away from each other’s bumpers and quarter panels and, I have to be honest once again, it appears that Brad Keselowski learned something from the incident in Atlanta.  Now this is just this fans observation, but even though he was still driving aggressively, he wasn’t knocking people out of the way even in the Nationwide race on Saturday.  Actually, if my observation is true, then he can begin to show us what he is really made of as far as driving ability and talent. Now I know there will be those that disagree with me and say that this was just short track racing and the opportunity wasn’t there to lay the bumper to those he was trying to pass.  I say, and this is just my observation, Brad was driving differently around everyone than in past weeks.  There was just a different look to his racing to me.  He was still able to pass people and move aggressively forward through the field without all the rough stuff that people have been upset with him about in the recent past.  Frankly, I am glad to see that.  We already knew he had talent in now it appears he is gaining some maturity, especially since the “flying” incident at Atlanta.

Taking a final look at the outcome of last weekend’s race at Bristol, there was no one more disappointed than Kurt Bush and Steve Addington.  They dominated all day long, led the most laps and Kurt led the most laps he’s led in a single Sprint Cup race.  Unfortunately, because of the race in Bristol, it appears he has already conceded the race in Martinsville this weekend to the No. 48 team.  Maybe he’s just trying to keep from getting his hopes too high until they unload off the truck on Friday, or maybe he just doesn’t have a lot of confidence in his ability to do well at Martinsville.  It is true that Jimmie Johnson has won five out of the last seven races at Martinsville so it goes without saying, that his chances are pretty good.

At any rate, this weekend in Martinsville will be the first weekend of the return of the spoiler to the Cup cars.  I am anxious to see what difference that may make in the competition of those that used to run good with the old car as opposed to the COT.  Who knows, it is entirely possible in the weeks ahead that we could see some of the ones that were running strong before they went to the winged COT’s, return to running in front of the pack instead of in the middle or the back…  (or, maybe not. It could just be business as usual…)

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© March 23, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

NASCAR at Bristol: Even More Excitement Could Be Brewing at Nascar’s First Short Track for 2010

Rusty NormanYou already know the old adage of, “The more things change, the more things stay the same,” and I’m sure you’ve heard it many times.  Well, this week at Bristol Motor Speedway will prove the adage to be just as true as it ever was, if not more. With the new changes made to the track (lengthening the SAFER barrier on the straights) and the tire that Goodyear brought for this weekend, the race this weekend at Thunder Valley could prove to be one of the most exciting short track races in a long time.

All the usual complaints have already surfaced whether it be from the driver’s or the crew chiefs and others. Numbered amongst those complaints would be things like how slippery the track is and how much the tire has changed the feel of the track from previous years.  Add to that the continuing saga of Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards and the “probation” that Carl Edwards is on and suddenly the drama is increased in many ways.

It is no secret that drivers have already expressed their intentions toward Carl Edwards and his being on probation. Some have openly said they will probably press him more than they normally would were he not on probation simply because they know that he has to watch how he reacts to whatever they do.  Now, I’m of the opinion that NASCAR will be watching them just as closely as they are watching Carl Edwards.  Does that mean that it’s no holds barred for all the competitors except Carl Edwards, or, does it mean that NASCAR will be looking also at their intentions in trying to give him to do the wrong thing at the right time? I think those are both good questions.

There are two ways to look at the situation between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski. First, I think they are able to put this situation behind them for now but it seems to be very difficult for the media to put the situation behind them. I do believe Carl Edwards has made his point and will move on. How Brad handles the situation from here on will show whether or not Carl’s actions made an impact or not, no matter what Brad says in public.

It is possible that there could be an obvious difference in how Keselowski runs in the other series as well.  It is also possible that he may be even more aggressive which is going to aggravate the competitors in those series even more and I believe, NASCAR will be keeping a keen eye on him also. Secondly, Carl being on probation does put him in a predicament of sorts with his other competitors.  It remains to be seen how he handles the extra pressure from them and how he maintains his competitiveness over the next three races.  No matter how we look at it, only time will tell what the results will be.

Well, we could sit and talk about the incident from two weeks ago for a long period of time just as it is been discussed since it happened two weekends ago. But in actuality, there are other things to talk about for this weekend.

After observing the practices and the qualifying for Sprint Cup, it is obvious that the competition this weekend is going to be exciting and full of the unexpected.  There seems to be plenty of strength being shown from several teams in the garage area.  There’s no doubt that Kurt Bush and his crew chief, Steve Addington, are flexing some muscle and carrying momentum in the Dodge camp.

Richard Childress teams are still showing what they’ve learned and accomplished since late in season last year. They are making a strong showing on the track and in the standings so far.

The Hendrick teams are still strong even though they haven’t yet shown they are as dominant as they were last year.  It seems to me that it is still the ones that finished 1-2-3 at the end of the season year last year that are carrying the banner for the Hendrick teams. Of course, we’re talking about the teams of Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon. Dale Jr’s performance is still in need of improvement but it appears he is doing slightly better.

So, what will happen this weekend is very much up in the air.  Will it be the weekend that the Joe Gibbs Toyota teams begin to shine even as Joey Logano has over the last four race weekends and by his taking the poll position for the Sprint Cup race this weekend?  It is true that Logano is leading the Gibbs teams this year instead of the expected Denny Hamlin and Kyle Bush teams.

It is just this fans view, but this is one of those weekends that is going to be easier to watch than to predict what will happen and, in all honesty, I am looking forward to the race this weekend.  Not only because of the drama that may show up from previous racing a couple of weeks ago but because I know this is short track racing which means short tempers and highly emotional racing from beginning to end.  In the end, it remains to be seen just what kind of thunder will be coming from Thunder Valley when this weekend is over…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© March 20, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

Nascar at Atlanta (AC): Kurt Bush Wins the Kobalt Tools 500 (But Edwards and Keselowski Take All the Headlines)

Kurt Bush and the #2 Miller Lite Roger Penske team, flexed a little Dodge muscle and powered their way into Victory Lane for the Kobalt Tools 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. If you ask most people about the race, you don’t hear hardly anyone talk about how good it was to see the only team still running Dodges to take the trip to Victory Lane or even how strong they ran all day.

What you do hear and continue to hear since is everyone’s opinion of the incidents between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski early and late in the race. Add to that the decision Nascar made to “punish” the over-aggressiveness of one of the drivers and the commentary has been completely unending on all sides of the issue.

Now I’m just an old racer, but I know that Brad Keselowski has been asking for trouble  for a long time.  He thinks that his aggressiveness is what got him where he is and yet he doesn’t understand that it is the thing that will cause others to respond accordingly to him.  Carl Edwards proved this to be true at the race in Atlanta.   Do I think that Carl intended for Brad to go flying through the air when he decided to spin him on the front stretch?  No, I don’t believe so.  Would we be talking about it as much if he would have only spun through the infield?  No, I don’t think so.

So why has so much time and energy been spent analyzing this issue?  I believe there are many reasons, but the most important reasons are the ones that make racing… well… racing.

One of the things I am thankful for in NASCAR is the fact that they realize human nature is involved in the actions of the drivers. Were it not for them being human beings, and responding accordingly, it would truly be a boring sport.  All of us know that when somebody yanks our chain we may put up with it for a while but, sooner or later, someone is going to give payback in like kind.

Now I know you get tired of hearing my old racing stories so I won’t go into one here, but, I have to admit that even in our local short track racing we came across drivers that were overly aggressive and thought they could get away with driving through other drivers rather than passing them cleanly.  It only took a couple of times for the rest of the drivers to realize that this driver needed “special education”.  As long as that driver wants to be aggressive and think that what he does is okay and understood by all involved that he is just doing what it takes, and nobody cares, he will soon have a rude awakening.  The other drivers are only going to take so much and that aggressive driver is going to find that the other drivers can be aggressive too, (and that may not set too well with him or his fans either.)

In my opinion, it has been this way as long as people have been racing.  Contrary to what some think, there are some unwritten rules that all drivers seem to follow. One of those rules concerns the fact that there has to be a little give and take. That doesn’t keep drivers from being aggressive but it does add a little more thought to the process of driving than just going out and playing bumper cars all the time.

If anyone thinks that drivers don’t have memories of past treatment from other drivers and they don’t make decisions based on those memories as they drive, they are far removed from the actual racing process. Drivers are constantly making decisions as to whether or not to move someone out of the way or cut them some slack.  Sometimes they make the decision to move the person out of the way and, at other times, they make the decision to cut the other person some slack and see if they can pass them cleanly without having to force the issue at the next opportunity. When someone takes advantage of that situation on a regular basis with no concern for the other drivers, you can pretty much rest assured that payback is coming. The aggressive driver may not know when or where, but it will come, and usually, when it will cost him the most.

It is almost humorous to me how some drivers and their fans assume that it is okay for their driver to be aggressive and that is what makes him a little better than the rest because he is willing to stick his nose in and move someone out of the way.  But when someone does the same thing to their driver it is totally wrong and they should be sent to the rear of the field or possibly even parked for certain number of races.  Well, I guess you could say that’s ‘just racing” and you would probably be right.  But if that is racing, then payback is a part of that thing called “just racing”, too.

Hey, did you notice that I didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about Kurt Bush and the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge team, either? (Hmmm…imagine that.)

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© March 16, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

Nascar at Atlanta: All Other Things Aside, One Thing Is Certain… Atlanta IS Fast

Rusty NormanThe track at Atlanta is old and abrasive. It hasn’t been repaved since it was reconfigured back in the 90’s and it is still fast, slippery and offers three wide racing from the bottom to the top. Dale Earnhardt Jr. sits on the pole of the Kobalt Tools 500 after clicking off the fastest qualifying lap at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Not only was his lap the fastest for the day in Sprint Cup, but, it was the fastest qualifying speed recorded for the COT since it was introduced.

Dale Jr wasn’t alone in being fast for the Hendrick camp as Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon joined him in the top five and once again, Jimmie Johnson qualified a little further back in the pack at the 16th position although not many expect that to hold him back at the end of the day on Sunday. Even during the practice sessions, the Hendrick teams looked strong and their cars were plenty fast.

Juan Montoya and Kyle Bush also deserve honorable mention for their qualifying times as JPM qualified third and Kyle second.

The practice times during the three practices suggested to this fan that many were trying to find out what worked best for the long runs. All of the main teams had someone running fast lap times at one time or another, especially the Hendrick teams.

Atlanta Motor Speedway is one, if not the, fastest track on the Nascar circuit and would prove to be a great race on Sunday afternoon. The speeds are going to be fast, especially on new tires and those time are going to drop off drastically from the first lap to the last lap they run on a set of tires. That’s what makes Atlanta so interesting to me. We will see cars running in grooves from the bottom to the top and we will definitely see the drivers moving around trying to find the places to stay consistently fast throughout a run.

I hate to say it, but this weekend could be the weekend when the Hendrick Teams really show their muscle. It seems to this fan, all of the Chevy teams look to have plenty of horsepower, especially on the Hendrick and Childers side of things. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Dale Jr break out of his extended slump and pull off a victory at AMS this weekend. Of course, I can say the same thing about a couple of the Roush Teams and quite possibly the Gibbs Toyotas, too. It is a tough race to pick the winner.

Now that I’ve said all of that, I’m not so sure Dale Jr has been able to get beyond all of his misfortunes, but if he has, this race could be the start of his turnaround. This is a 500 mile race and anything can happen, but the #88 Hendrick Chevy is going to have to keep up with the track so the driver can keep his confidence up all day. Otherwise, his frustration often proves to be a detriment to finishing well. He is going to be hard pressed by all of his teammates and anyone of them could snatch the victory from him. Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon, in particular, look very strong and either one of them could take home the trophy. I expect all four of the Hendrick teams to run strong all day, (and yes, that also means Jimmie Johnson could win his third in a row.)

Kevin Harvick may have won the Truck race, but He struggled all during the Cup practices and qualifying. His teammates Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton showed some strength in their RCR Chevy’s and could make it interesting, especially near the end of the race.

I’m really thinking it is going to be a race heavy with Chevys in the top spots. There are the beginnings of rumblings that the Chevy’s have a horsepower advantage over the rest of the makes and it remains to be seen if something comes up about that in the next few weeks, (especially if they continue to dominate.)

Oh well, it does sound as if the manufacturer wars may be heating up a bit, but it is not my opinion it is all about horsepower. The Hendrick and Childers teams seem to have hit on a few things in the handling department that appears to give them an advantage over the others at the moment, but then, having that Hendrick and Childers horsepower under the hood isn’t hurting them either…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© March 6, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

Nascar At Las Vegas (A/C): Jeff Gordon Dominates the Shelby American Race (But Jimmie Johnson Wins in the End)

The Shelby American at Las Vegas was dominated from the first lap by Jeff Gordon and the #24 Hendrick team. A late race gamble to take two tires instead of four by crew chief, Steve Letarte, just didn’t quite work out and Jimmie Johnson ended up in Victory Lane, winning for the second week in a row while Jeff Gordon finished third behind Kevin Harvick. (Wasn’t that a surprise?)

Now I know some are probably saying, “It figures, they win all the time… I’m already bored this season.”  While others could be saying, “Letarte just threw the race away for Jeff so Jimmie could win again.”

I haven’t actually heard any of the above mentioned statements, but I don’t discount the fact that there are those that are, or have, uttered them since the race. Yeah, it’s true; Jimmie Johnson has won two out of the first three point races for the 2010 season but this season is far from over. A lot of things can, and will, happen over the coming weeks. To listen to some distraught race fans, you would think the #48 team had already won its fifth Sprint Cup Championship in a row.

Well, now that that little rant is out of the way, let’s look at the facts of what actually happened on Sunday at Las Vegas:

  • Jeff Gordon did dominate the race from the very first lap.
  • Matt Kenseth did have a strong run;
  • Kevin Harvick did finish second and is leading the Sprint Cup points and
  • Jimmie Johnson did win the race and take home the trophy.

It seems the only thing some fans remember about the race is that Juan Pablo Montoya was taken out of contention by his team-mate, Jamie McMurray, which led to some pretty hefty criticism from JPM towards Jamie Mac. Of course, one of the most discussed moments for the week came from Montoya’s use of a certain “s” word that managed to make the national broadcast, (imagine that), and Nascar decided not to fine him, (another imagine that), which served to further the conversation after the fact.

Jeff Gordon’s Crew Chief, Steve Letarte, has really taken a lot of flack from fans all week for the decision he made to take two tires on the last stop. The idea was to keep the #24 out front in the clean air. If there had been more yellow flags, or some other kind of interruption, perhaps the result would have been different, (and let’s not forget the #48 team banged off an eleven second, four-tire pit stop at the same time which definitely shifted the momentum for the two-tire strategy and put the #48 team in a much better position for the last 30 some laps.)

I have to admit, it does look as though the Hendrick teams finally have some competition this year. The much improved RCR teams of Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton makes the racing, at least for the near future, look to be interesting. Not far behind, at least for now, would be the Roush/Fenway teams of Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and, yes, Greg Biffle, too.

I believe I still have to point out that in the top seven finishers in Sunday’s race in Las Vegas, four were either Hendrick teams or Hendrick equipment and that says they are still teams that must be beaten every week. That may not make some fans very happy and it certainly may mean that Jimmie Johnson is going to win more races this year.

With that said, it is this fan’s view the racing for the rest of this year is going to be interesting and full of surprises. One thing is certain, the #48 team has set the bar very high for the rest of the competitors and they are going to have to be beaten on a regular basis if someone other than them is going to win the Sprint Cup by the end of the year. I guess we’ll just have to keep watching and see whether its going to be five in a row for Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team or if someone expected, or totally unexpected, rises to the occasion and takes the top spot in Nascar… I reckon we won’t know until all the racing’s done. (I also reckon I know what I’ll be doing on race weekends for the rest of the year.)

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© March 4, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

Nascar At Las Vegas: What Kind of Surprises Await in the Desert This Weekend?

Rusty NormanWith the surprises the season has had so far this year, one has to wonder what it will be like in Las Vegas this weekend. Will it be a race that is won by someone whose name is hardly ever mentioned? Will it be that someone just “Lucks” into the win (like many said Jimmie Johnson did)? Maybe it will be someone that everyone has been expecting to win but just hasn’t pulled it off yet, (and there’s quite a few of those, some going back to last year.)

I found it interesting the way many teams spent a lot of time on race setups and very little on qualifying because the weather people said that today would probably be a rain out for practice sessions. When it came time to qualify, 18 people broke the old track record and Kurt Bush came away with the pole position. When it came down to the practice times today, not a lap was missed because of rain.

The Bush brothers look pretty stout for this race at their home track. From this fan’s view, I have to admit the possibilities for both of them to do well in the race tomorrow do look good. Now, I’m not saying they’re going to finish 1-2, but both have a little more incentive to do their best to finish up front simply because it is their home track. Kyle won last year overcoming several setbacks to do so. I know Kurt really wants to win this weekend and his crew chief is the same as Kyle’s was last year, Steve Addington. Only time will tell if that turns out to be god thing or a bad thing on the day. (So far, it looks good for Kurt…)

I think this will be a weekend that both David Reutimann and Martin Truex, Jr will run well for Michael Waltrip Racing. I know they have had some problems so far, but it is only a matter of time until either one, or both, of them break into the win column. It may not happen this week, but both run well at this size track, David Reutimann in particular.

The big unknown for me remains the RCR teams of Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. I be keeping an eye on them to see if their performance continues to stay strong. I can’t help but think back to last year and the strength that the Roush/Fenway teams showed at the beginning of the year. As I remember, it was in this third week of the season that things seemed to begin to slide a bit for the Roush teams and they struggled for most of the rest of the year.

Personally, I just think that by the third week, everyone is beginning to get a grip on where they are and there is the likelihood that other teams may begin to flex a little muscle at this time. I know the Richard Childress Racing teams have flexed a lot of muscle so far and I do think they will have to be contended with for the remainder of the season, but, I know that over the next few weeks of racing, a lot of things can change.

The Hendrick teams don’t appear to be hitting on all cylinders yet, but they are another  group that needs to be watched. Jimmie Johnson won last week, (some say by default and just dumb luck.) I say the #48 team played the hand they were dealt and turned a possible bad break into a trip to Victory Lane. I know some will disagree with me, but does it really surprise anyone that Chad Knaus can take a bad situation and turn it into gold?

Mark Martin has been steady compared to last year and Jeff Gordon has appeared to struggle a bit. Dale Jr has run hot and cold, but overall, I think he is getting ready to make a statement. It is my opinion he is going to win at least one race this season and possibly more. I do think he is going to make the Chase this year, (but it really is kinda early to begin making calls like that).

Now it’s just this fan’s opinion but the Joe Gibbs teams have been kinda silent, too. Oh, I know they’ve been in contention but they haven’t really shown any signs of taking the point. So far, I think you could say they’ve also been steady and it remains to be seen how things pan out over the next several races.

I’ve listened and read and heard a lot of talk about who might win this weekend and the choices are pretty diverse. I do think Kurt Bush looks pretty good for taking the checkers but I also know it is a long race and anything can happen, (especially since his brother Kyle is just as determined to win as he is.)

I really do think it is going to be a good race and I cannot discount the performance of the RCR teams. Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick will all figure into the final mix at the end, but, I’m thinking it is more likely going to be Carl Edwards or Jeff Gordon that ends up in Victory Lane. I think both of them are due and I think both of them are performing well enough this weekend to pull it off. It just depends on how things go down in the last ten laps…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© February 27, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and