Nascar At Darlington After Thoughts: The Taming of the Untamed Track…

Rusty NormanSay what you will about Darlington but it looks like at least a couple of drivers and their teams have a good grip on what it takes to tame “The Track That’s Too Tough To Tame.”  No one can discount the fact that Jeff Gordon made another strong showing Saturday night at Darlington. He led the most laps and ran at or near the front most of the night, but still finished fourth in another race he ‘coulda-woulda-shoulda’ won, “If Only…”

Well, those words have always loomed awfully large when things just don’t quite work out. So, am I talking about the words “coulda-woulda-shoulda”, or, am I talking about, “If Only?” To tell the truth, I’m talking about both. The way this fan sees it, Jeff Gordon:

  • “Coulda” won “If Only” he hadn’t had the circumstances that caused him to miss the entrance to pit road late in the race, causing him to lose track position and have to do a drive around to make his stop.
  • Woulda won, (more than likely) “If Only” there would have been the usual green-white-checkered finish at the end of the Showtime Southern 500 instead of the race running to completion without the final reset and double-file restart
  • Shoulda won “If Only” there would have been a final double-file restart when he had worked his way back up to fourth place, simply because, for most of the race, he had the best car and was able to pull away from the rest of the field after a lap or two.

As I said before the race, Jeff Gordon must be the most frustrated driver in the field right now because, he could be looking at the possibility of  five or six wins on the year “If Only” a couple of circumstances had gone a slightly different direction.

All of that speculation is relatively pointless now because Denny Hamlin pulled off the victory and took his third win in the 2010 Nascar Cup season.

Even I, as a not so strong supporter of the JGR teams have to admit, Denny Hamlin has been making strong showings in every race since his knee surgery and is coming into his own at Joe Gibbs Racing as a leader even with a team-mate as strong as Kyle Bush. The JGR teams are beginning to show some of the strength that was expected of them after their showing signs of strength near the end of last year. The first part of the year had them starting off with high expectations and only now (eleven races into the season) are they beginning to live up to them.

Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin weren’t the only ones showing they had what it takes to make a good showing at the “Too Tough” track. Jeff Burton’s RCR #31 team and Jamie McMurray of the EGR stable ran strong most of the night with the two of them finishing the race in third and second respectively. There is no doubt in the mind of this fan that Earnhardt/Childers power plants under the hood have something to do with that and from my observations, the Chevys and the Toyotas are showing themselves to be fairly equal when it comes to horsepower.

There are those that say the switch to the spoiler from the wing on the COT has been the single most obvious factor in the performance of the #48 team. Since the change, Jimmie Johnson has not had a lot go his way and it is true, there does seem to be a connection, but it is this fan’s opinion it is more a coincidence than anything else. It has been my experience that, in racing as well as many other things in this life, some things do go in cycles and I think that is the case in this situation.

It is easy to look at the perceived cause and ignore reality. I mean, looking over the last four seasons and taking an honest look at the #48 team’s performance shows a lot that has gone right and even when it looked like something bad had happened they managed to have great finishes. Although it is not uncommon for it to happen, in 2009 they only had one D-N-F. So far in the first eleven races this year, they have already had three and the strangest one happened this last weekend at Darlington when A J Allmendinger lost his brakes and control and slammed into Jimmie Johnson ending a night of racing for the #48 team that had been a frustration and struggle at best.

Personally, I know we are approximately one third of the way through the season but I don’t put a lot of stock in the way teams are performing either good or bad at the moment. Between now and the beginning of the Chase and then through the Chase and the end of the year a lot can happen. Is it still possible that Jimmie Johnson can take his fifth championship in a row? Absolutely! It is also possible that Jeff Gordon can end the year with his fifth, as well as somebody else winning for the first time. You see, in the end, this is NASCAR racing and as we all know anything can and does happen.

No matter how you look at it, 2010 is going to be one for the history books and will long be remembered. I have no idea who is going to win the Cup although I do think I have a pretty good idea of who the top twelve are that will be competing for it. Does that make any difference as to what will happen when NASCAR goes to Dover this coming weekend to take on the “Monster Mile?” Nope, but I’ll be watching anyway… (and giving you my opinion about it, too…)

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© May12, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

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