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

Nascar At Fontana A/C: Jimmie Johnson Wins the Auto Club 500… (and the Whining Begins)

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight… as long as Jimmie Johnson and the Hendrick teams aren’t running up front, (uh, I mean the Hendrick teams other than Dale Jr), all is right with Nascar once again.

Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500 and Jimmie Johnson finished 35th on a day the #48 team would really like to forget and all of the naysayers  rejoiced at the possibility the consecutive championship runs for Jimmie Johnson were all but done.

It seemed as long as Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton looked to be running the #48 car down in the Auto Club 500, and appeared to be faster, there was still hope for Nascar to survive…


Now it seems that all of the whiners have come back out of hiding and are vocally expressing their belief that Nascar is once again headed on a downhill slide until they find a reason to park Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, (another chuckle). I can’t believe that some actually think they cheated and that Jimmie Johnson ran Kevin Harvick into the wall to keep him from passing him, (and nothing could be further from the truth. If you don’t believe me, just ask Kevin Harvick.)

So what is the answer to this seeming dilemma we are constantly reminded we are facing?

First of all, it is this fan’s opinion there is no dilemma and that some of the media “gripers” and a whole lot of whiners” need to “suck it up” and “get over it.” Somehow all of them seem to miss the fact that last year was a great year for Nascar, (no matter how much they whined.) They also seem to miss the fact that since the end of the 2009 season and the beginning of this season, Nascar made a lot of decisions and rule changes that will only make it better for the fans and the teams and could make the racing even better in the days to come, (as if those changes haven’t made a difference already.) If the racing at Daytona didn’t raise a few eyebrows about the quality of racing we’re seeing, then I seriously doubt whether some of the other teams performing better will either.

The #48 Hendrick Team is causing the rest of the other Nascar teams to look at where they are in the competition. If nothing else, Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson are making everyone else work that much harder to catch up to the level they have set. Does that mean it will never happen? No. What it means is that the other teams are going to have keep on working on their programs until they attain or surpass the standard set by the #48 Hendrick team.

I hate to keep bringing up racing at my local tracks, but we went through the same thing. We had a guy that kicked our butts week in and week out. It didn’t matter where he  started or even if he was a half a lap down to the rest of us at some point in a race. He was winning every week and the only thing that saved us from losing every week was whether the race ran out of laps before he ran out of horse power and handling.

So… did the rest of us just lay down and wait for him to break or meet with some other kind of disaster. No… his success made the rest of us work all the harder, looking for something to make us better and faster. Did it happen over just a couple of weeks? No, of course not; It took a while but some of us began to gain on the overwhelming success of that other car and driver. It may have seemed like forever to some, but eventually, we were competing with him again, not just getting our doors blown off by him. Soon, he was the one playing catch-up and some of the rest of us had an advantage that was envied by the rest of the field. That’s just the way racing goes…

So, before getting upset about the success of a certain team, just remember a time will come when the “gripers” and “whiners” will be bad-mouthing Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the #48 team for not performing well enough. At that time, those same people that are complaining about their performance now, will be complaining about their lack of performance and saying that “the magic is gone…”

How can I say this? Because it has happened before and it, most definitely, will happen again.

The one thing I know for sure is this; the day that Nascar is only big enough for one team to be successful and the rest quit trying, that is the day that Nascar will die…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© February 24, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

Nascar at Fontana: Will It Be “Just Another Race” In California This Weekend?

Rusty Norman



What a difference a year makes… It could be said that in 2009, Jamie McMurray struggled. It wasn’t that he didn’t perform well, it was more that he didn’t finish well. Now, in 2010, he has won the Daytona 500 and has qualified on the pole at Fontana. (Not a bad start to the 2010 season so far, I would say.)
In fact, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing locked up the front row when Juan Pablo Montoya laid down a qualifying lap just shy of Jamie McMurray’s. It could be said, “Earnhardt Ganassi Racing looks to be the team to beat for the Cup Championship this year…”
But wait a minute… wasn’t that the same thing that was said about Roush Fenway Racing last year? I mean, if you remember, Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500 and followed that rain shortened event victory with a win at Fontana. Not only that, but the Roush Fenway cars had shown themselves to be strong at the end of the 2008 season (just like the EGR and RCR cars had at the end of the 2009 season), (both running Earnhardt/Childers power under the hood.) Naturally we all know what happened after that – Hendrick Teams began to dominate the racing for the rest of the season and finished 1-2-3 in the Cup Championship.
So what does that say about the apparent strength shown by the EGR teams of Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya early into this 2010 season?
Not a whole lot in this fan’s opinion… unless they continue to dominate as they have recently.
I know you understand where I’m coming from. Performance in one race does not make a race team dominant for the year and following up that win with front row starting positions the next race still doesn’t say a whole lot. In reality, and I don’t know about you, but, it will take several more weeks before I can even start to form an opinion about how one team or another is going to perform.
In fact, it is even hard for me to say who is going to perform well this weekend. With the way the Richard Childers’ teams have been running lately, I don’t think anyone will rule out the possibility of them finishing well this weekend. Kevin Harvick has looked strong since unloading off the truck in Daytona and I don’t see much to make me think this weekend in California will be any different.
Clint Bowyer started off “Speedweeks” in Daytona by wrecking everything he could but finished up front in the Daytona 500. Up until Jamie McMurray took the pole position for the race this weekend, Clint Boyer was out first to qualify and held the pole position until the two EGR teams took over the front row. He does look to be strong for this weekend also.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not expecting much from the 24 and 48 teams yet. Now that doesn’t mean they won’t show up at the front when the race is near completion, it just means I’m not expecting them to look to be the ones to beat this weekend. I think they are still testing setups a bit rather than going with what worked last year. (I mean, after all, this is another year and they probably have a few things that need to be tried that didn’t get tried near the end of last year. Yes, I know I could be wrong, but I just don’t think they come out of the box full bore… they know where they can be, they just have a few things to try yet.) Of course, they could be just off their game a bit and have some catching up to do.
So… could this be the week that the #42 EGR team breaks into the win column on an oval track? Can Jamie McMurray in the #1 repeat the same as Matt Kenseth did last year after winning the Daytona 500?
I haven’t even talked about the Toyota teams yet. How will Kyle Bush and Denny Hamlin fair throughout the race on Sunday? How about Michael Waltrip Racing’s Martin Truex Jr? And then there’s Marcos Ambrose; he could actually pull off a victory, (even though that is another one of those situations I don’t expect.)
Even though there are others, like the Ford teams, that could surprise us all, I just think this is going to be the week for Earnhardt/Childer’s horsepower to make a statement. I don’t know whether it will be under the EGR or RCR banner, but I do think that is the stable the victor will emerge from on Sunday.
Exactly who will it be? Hm-m-m-m… If I was to guess, I think I would pick Kevin Harvick, but then it could be Jamie McMurray or Clint Bowyer… This is way too hard because there is just too much unknown.
Aw, heck… I think I’ll just go with Mark Martin and let you all just watch the race and see if I am right…
See ya next time… Rusty
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© February 20, 2010 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and







Nascar at Daytona February 2010: Once Again, Daytona Doesn’t Disappoint

The always highly anticipated beginning to the Nascar season, “Speed Weeks” at Daytona, once again lived up to all the usual expectations and a whole lot more. The racing was exceptional in all series (including the ARCA series) and I don’t see how anyone could have asked for more.
I just don’t know what else Nascar could have done to improve things anymore than what they did. Now, I know there will be those that disagree with me, but I think this is one of the best Speed Weeks I remember in recent history. Yes, there were several changes made to the rules and the track did have a problem during Sunday’s 500, but no one can say that Nascar didn’t do everything they could to put on the best show over the last two weeks they could. I think they should be congratulated on all fronts, (and we won’t even try to hold the track coming up against them.)
Danica Patrick made her first appearances in both the ARCA series and the Nationwide and, for those that really didn’t think she would be able to compete … well… I think maybe they should reconsider. She showed she is more than a pretty face and that she can handle a race car. I think there was more marketing hype than there would have been with just another “one of the guys” showing up in the series, but this fan thinks she is a great addition to our sport and is looking forward to seeing how she does this coming weekend at Fontana.
Adding to the feel good atmosphere in Daytona it was great to see a not-so-familiar face and team in Victory Lane. In his first outing (for the second time) as he rejoined Chip Ganassi and the EGR organization after four years with Roush, Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500 with Dale Earnhardt Jr finishing second. The only thing that would have made more people happy would have been to see Dale Jr finishing at the front of the pack and taking the checkered flag. I can think of no one who I thought was less likely to win than Jamie McMurray and I can think of no better ending than the one we had this year. Two really deserving people in Nascar are Chip Ganassi and Jamie McMurray and it was good to see them win.
Personally, (and this is not criticism, just an observation), but it is my opinion the best move Chip Ganassi made was to switch to Chevrolets last year. After that move, I noticed that Juan Pablo Montoya began to perform better. Some would say it was just he was better accustomed to racing in Cup but I beg to differ. He already had a year of Cup under his belt and it seemed that when they made the move to Chevys, teamed up with Earnhardt Racing and had the Earnhardt/Childers power under the hood, things began to move in a completely different direction for them. Of course I’m a Chevy guy from a long time ago, but, I observed this not-so-sudden turn around right away. Of course, all of those moves were good ones for Ganassi Racing, wouldn’t you agree?
If Dale Jr wins a few races, makes the Chase and finishes high in the standings or even takes his first Championship in Cup, many will probably say NASCAR is saved from oblivion, (I say this since last year many of the media critics and doomsayers often repeated the phrase, “If only Dale Jr would do better, NASCAR would be better off.)
Now, don’t get me wrong… I like Dale Jr even though I have a different “favorite”. I do not, however, think that all of NASCAR revolves around the single person of Dale Earnhardt Jr. He is a great talent and lives in the shadow of his dad, Dale Sr, one of the all time greats in NASCAR. That is a lot of pressure in itself, but he is a great talent and a great individual in his own right. His popularity comes not only from being the son of Dale Earnhardt Sr., but from being WHO he is, himself. I hope he has a great year just because he is a great racer, along with a lot of others that show up every weekend.
Well, if the rest of the 2010 NASCAR Racing season turns out anything like the last two weeks in Daytona, Look out! This could absolutely be one of the most exciting years NASCAR fans have enjoyed in a while. I am looking forward to it with even more enthusiasm than I did last year, (and that was a lot.)
See ya next time… Rusty
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© February 17, 2010 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and