The Monster Leaves Its Mark on the Chase – from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty NormanThe Monster Mile at Dover left its mark on the top twelve contenders in the Chase for the 2011 Sprint Cup Championship. Shaking up the points a bit was only part of the story as the day was a struggle for some but there’s one thing it wasn’t… it wasn’t a fuel mileage race. Even though several of the teams did experience problems, mistakes on pit road and often changing track conditions (mostly due to the differences of rubber in the racing groove), the points race tightened up, at least in the top nine spots.

The biggest losers on the day (as far the Chasers) were Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski. All of them finished twentieth or worse and that was not what any of them wanted or needed. With these four finishing where they did, it helped tighten up the points, (at least somewhat), and makes the coming weekend in Kansas all the more interesting.

From this fan’s view, Jimmie Johnson appeared to be about the only Hendrick or Hendrick associated team that had any kind of handle on the concrete Monster and he finished second to Kurt Bush. Things may have turned out a bit different if it hadn’t been for two cautions close to each other near the end of the race and he did lead the most laps. Compared to him, the rest of the Hendrick teams struggled all weekend and Sunday afternoon was no different.

In my opinion, it appears the Hendrick engineers have a little work to do on their concrete surface setups. The problem with that statement is that Jimmie Johnson ran well. I’m guessing the rest of the teams are wondering why he was hooked up so well and they weren’t. I’m also guessing there will be some figuring going on amongst the engineers and the crew chiefs in the days ahead.

Although the finishing order for the race was part of the puzzle, the biggest shift took place in the points of the top twelve. Even though Jeff Gordon dropped four places in the points, he still closed the gap slightly points-wise bringing him to within nineteen points of leaders, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards. Brad Keselowski had a few problems during the race and he dropped three places to sixth. Tony Stewart dropped two places to third, Kyle Bush dropped two places to eighth and Dale Jr dropped two places to tenth. The biggest gains were made by both Kurt Bush and Jimmie Johnson. They both gained five spots each putting them fourth and fifth in the points battle.

A quick look at the finishing order did show there are more than just Chasers running well and Kasey Kahne finally had a finish that matched his overall performance in the race and he finished fourth on the day. Teammates AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose both finished in the top ten along with Clint Bowyer.

Denny Hamlin is continuing his struggle for the 2011 season. He didn’t have a stellar day but nothing really major happened and he did finish eighteenth. That means he didn’t loose a lot of ground on those ahead of him in the Chase, but from this fan’s view, he is pretty much relegated to finishing twelfth in the Chase. He is only sixty-eight points behind, but with the different points system this year, that is a lot of ground to make up. I kinda feel for his fans, but sometimes in racing you just go through a bad stretch. It looks like the 2011 season is one of those for him and his fans can only hope his luck either turns around quickly or, at the very least, it doesn’t carry over into next year. Some would call this a character building time and it remains to be seen how he and the #11 team come away from this.

I have to agree with the assessment of many and the the way they said this year’s Chase would go. More than one said early on this Chase would go right down to the last race in Homestead before the Championship was decided. I’m not going to go that far just yet, but I will say depending on how things shape up over the next two to three weeks, they could be absolutely right.

The Chase this year has been an interesting one indeed and I don’t expect much to change over the next week or two. It is possible, someone, (in fact anyone), could hit a hot streak, rack up a lot of points and put all of this speculation in the rear view mirror. From this fan’s view though, I don’t expect that to happen for many reasons but the biggest are because the competition is just too tight and there are a few unknowns still out there.

The next couple of races are good tracks for more than one or two drivers and I expect the unexpected for them. A little later in the Chase, there is still that new surface and renovation of the Phoenix track. If there is a game changer in the mix of the final races for the Chase, it could very well be that one…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© October 5, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and
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