Nascar At Charlotte After Thoughts: Kurt Bush Wraps Up A Couple Of Great Weeks For Penske Racing At Charlotte Motor Speedway

One thing is certain concerning the racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway over the last two weekends… The Bush brothers, in particular Kurt Bush along with Steve Addington and Penske Racing, put a hurting on the rest of the competitors. Not many thought a car that started out strong in the daylight would finish strong at night in the 600, (and I was one of them), but Kurt Bush’s #2 Miller Lite Dodge did exactly that. He led the most laps and the outcome of the 600 mile race was hardly ever in question, although circumstances did try to make it exciting at the end. The Steve Addington led Penske team was the class of the field and took home the big money and bragging rights for performance in the May races at CMS this year.

Racing during the 600 was a little different than I expected it would be. As a fan, I expected some of the teams would flex a little muscle early and then settle in for a little follow the leader for several hundred miles, tweaking during the pit stops and saving most of what they had for the last 50 or so laps. I’m not saying that some of that didn’t go on but I have to admit there was a lot of racing going on.

Several of the teams had problems early and were either out of contention or in the garage for extended periods. One of the stronger cars for both weekends never made much of a showing and that would be the #42 car of Juan Pablo Montoya. During practice both weekends he was fast and it looked as though he might be one of the ones to beat. As it turned out, he had handling problems that took him out of contention early both weekends and had disappointing finishes, further complicating his hopes of being in the Chase this year. Jamie McMurray finished a strong second for EGR and sits only 26 points out of the top twelve and looking pretty good for getting into the Chase.

Montoya wasn’t the only one having difficulty either. Jimmie Johnson struggled all night and finished many laps behind after two tangles with the speedway walls. Denny Hamlin blamed his performance for the night on the out-of-control #48 car and it appeared that may have been the case. Unfortunately, I disagree with his assessment and would more likely chalk it up to just being in the wrong place at the right time. (I never have understood why people say, “wrong place, wrong time.” To me, if they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, nothing would have happened; but that’s just the way I look at it and probably a story better left for another time.)

One of the problems for many teams appeared to be associated with the tire combination Goodyear brought to CMS. Some just couldn’t get the feel right for their driver and there were a lot of tail-slapping-happy cars that struggled much of the night. One of the complaints I heard most often was that the cars were just all of the sudden losing rear grip and causing the drivers to have to chase it up the track in the turns. That is a very uncomfortable feeling for a driver that would really like to take it deep into the turn, (but then, you probably didn’t need me to tell you that, did you?)

Even though they finished fourth and sixth respectively, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon struggled the whole night and probably left Charlotte very happy to finish in the top ten. They both stayed out at the final caution and that gained them track position, but they never did show the strength that Hendrick cars generally do at Charlotte Motor Speedway. From this fan’s view, it appeared they never did quite get the handle on the tire combination (or the handling, period.) (Perhaps they were just testing for their return to CMS in the fall; what do you think? Hm-m-m-m…) Both of them were able to finish near the front but neither of them ever looked to be the ones to beat, especially at the end of the race.

As I expected, the Roush cars didn’t show much strength either, even though Matt Kenseth did finish tenth. Greg Biffle had high hopes going into the 600 but just couldn’t stay away from the wall. He definitely took advantage of “the closer to the wall, the less the damage” situation I talked about in the earlier Charlotte article as he took the opportunity to swap paint with the wall more than once and finished a very disappointing six laps down. Carl Edwards finished 16th and I think that pretty much makes the statement for the Roush teams as David Ragan finished 24th as the last car on the lead lap.

After the way things turned out for so many in NASCAR’s longest race, it is this fan’s opinion that a lot of teams are just happy they didn’t have far to travel to get home after the race. It was either a night of feeling successful or one of utter disappointment and one many would simply like to forget. One thing is certain… the Bush brothers have definitely had a great May and a great weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The only thing that remains to be seen is if their good fortune carries over to Pocono this coming weekend…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© June 2, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

Nascar At Charlotte: The Coca Cola 600

Rusty NormanThe Memorial Day Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is all about staying within striking distance for the length of a normal race and yet not showing all you have and saving enough for the last 100 miles. It is definitely an endurance race for both fans and drivers. It will definitely not have the excitement of last weeks Shootout and All Star races all the way through, but will, barring any great unforeseens, see many of the same drivers and a few others going for the checkers with everything they’ve got at the end of the race.

Last week it was all about the money… This week, it’s more about the miles than the money, (although I’m sure the money will matter after the race is over.) Last week, Kurt Bush left the track with over a million dollars and hardly fatigued at all. It was like a Saturday night special race at a local track with several short segments, a lot of excitement from beginning to end and the winner taking home a large paycheck. This week will be about who can outlast the rest of the field for 500 miles and have enough left to drive an extra 100 miles without mistakes or problems (and outlast the rest of the field to take it to Victory Lane.)

So what does this fan think the race tonight is going to be like? Well, that’s a great question and I’m really glad you asked… The 600 is a unique race. Not only is it the longest race in NASCAR racing, but it is a race that starts in the sunshine and heat of late afternoon and finishes in the cool of the night. That means there is a high possibility that someone who is running good early in the race may not be running so well at the end. It also means that how fast a car qualifies or how fast it ran in the practice sessions could have absolutely no bearing at all on how it finishes.

I don’t know about you, but from my observations of the practice sessions in particular, I saw several drivers practicing running up near the wall all a round the track. That appears to be one of the most noticeable changes with the tire compound Goodyear brought this year. The best line in past races appeared to be down near the white line at the bottom of the track. I have wondered since the All Star race if that wasn’t a safety measure some drivers tried to institute to minimize the damage should they get into the wall. It didn’t appear that Kurt Bush’s two run-ins with the wall kept him from winning the million dollars, but Jeff Gordon’s hard brush with the wall early on caused him to struggle all night.

I don’t know if this is a strategy or not, but I do know it isn’t the first time someone has run that upper line simply because they knew they had a car that wasn’t handling as well as they thought it should. The closer to the wall, the less the damage there could be if a car gets away from the driver just a little bit. I noticed Greg Biffle trying that line in the last practice session and it appeared it was working quite well for him.

Of all the teams I actually paid attention to in the practice sessions, it did appear the Roush Fords were the ones looking for more speed. It seemed they just couldn’t run as fast as the others. I expect they may be in the hunt at the end, but I think their night could be quite a struggle, at least at the beginning, until they (hopefully) get their cars dialed in.

Since this is a longer race than the norm, I expect to see some engine failures to take out some of the possible winners. This could be the night that Michael Waltrip Racing breaks into the win column again, but I am concerned with some things that have happened to them recently. We saw David Reutimann running well in recent races only to be taken out by engine failure. Martin Truex Jr. had great speed in the final practice but wasn’t very happy with his car near the end of it. It does beg the question, (at least in my mind), do the Toyota engines at MWR have what it takes to go 600 miles and finish up front? That is one question I don’t think will be answered until the end of the race.

The Coca-Cola 600 is another race that is hard for me to make the call on who the winner will be. If I were a smart person I probably wouldn’t even try, but then, I always have liked a challenge.

Kurt Bush’s #2 Penske Dodge has looked awfully strong over the last two weekends (and especially since Steve Addington became his crew chief.) I think he has a chance to win tonight, but he’s not the only one I want to mention.

Even though it appeared the Hendrick teams struggled during the All Star race and getting ready for tonight, I don’t think they can be counted out for being around at the end when it counts. I fully expect Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and maybe even Mark Martin to be right up there at the end of the 600 miles. (Uh, did you notice that Ryan Newman was starting on the pole… in Hendrick equipment?)

Of course, there is no reason to deny the momentum the JGR teams have going into tonight. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Bush are both coming into tonight’s race with great chances to pull off the victory (and a bit of a grudge being held between the two of them.) I think it will be interesting to see what happens if the two of them are running for the win at the end and Denny has to decide whether to use the “gas pedal or the brake” with Kyle ahead of him. Considering what has been said between them in front of the press, I have a feeling more sparks could fly.

So tell me, did I pick a winner, yet? Your right, I didn’t…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© May 30, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

NASCAR and the All Stars: Nothing Matters But The Million Dollar$$$$

Rusty NormanThis is more than what would normally be called an off-weekend race… There are no points, very little off time and very little concern of how you get up front, (just as long as you get there.) Very few will care if you lose or even run second. In fact, (as long as no one gets hurt), nobody will care that much if you take someone out going for the checkers… That’s because this is a weekend that’s all about the money!

Yep, this is one weekend where it is as close to no holds barred, pushin’ and shovin’, beatin’ and bangin’, bumper thumpin’ hard racing that counts for nothing but pride (oh yeah, and that million dollars.)

This is the weekend of the NASCAR All Stars race and it is more than a showcase of all star drivers simply showing up and takin’ it easy. It is all about racing hard and being raced hard against… (Uh, and did I mention it was about the money?)

The rainout of the qualifying definitely changes the way the game will be played tonight. Those that were going to qualify up near the front for the Showdown are now lined up according to owner points and that puts a whole new wrinkle in the way things might have turned out. The way I see it, it is going to give an advantage to those that may not have been able to qualify well and it will definitely make those that could have work that much harder to accomplish their goal of making it into the All Star Race. No matter how I try to paint it, it looks to make the already highly competitive “Showdown” even more interesting than it would have been. There will be more riding on every lap and the lineup may or not make a difference on how anyone finishes, but, I can almost guarantee one thing… it is going to make how they all try to get there well worth watching.

The rainout also made the lineup for the All Star Race go by a drawing. That means a whole shake-up of the possibilities of who starts where in it, too. Add to that the fact that we won’t even know the whole lineup until the Showdown is over because three spots remain unclaimed; there will be two from the Showdown and one person named by fan vote. (To tell the truth, I can’t wait until we find out who the fans voted in simply because I know who I would like to see get a chance at the million $$$$ other than the ones already in or that will win their way in.)

The All Star Race is one of my favorite races to love/hate. When the person I want to see win is up front and getting ready to take home the million, I love it. In the same way, when the person I want to see win is up front and gets taken out by someone by a little more aggressive than usual driving, (or maybe I should say, “dirty or rough driving”), I hate it and have been known to hold a grudge for quite a while afterwards. Funny thing about it though, when my favorite to win takes the other guy out to win by the same measure, I think that other guy deserved to be put out and end up thinking my favorite had every right to do what he did, (and probably wear a smile thinking about it for weeks, too.)

This is one of those races I don’t even want to make a prediction about who might win. With the format being what it is, I don’t know that anyone can tell who is going to win, although I do think there are some that have a better chance than the others. The real game-changers are the way they line up from the draw and the way they line up in the pit stalls.

Even with a great pit stall though, a strong car is going to be needed to make a move through this field if for no other reason than the competition is so tight in Cup these days it is hard to move up through the field and track position will be the most important factor before and after that final mandatory pit stop. (By the way, I think that is going to prove to be the biggest game changer of all in the race tonight.) After that final stop it is a trophy dash to see who can outlast the others with all the leanin’, rubbin’, beatin’, bangin’, pushin’ and shovin’ that will be going on. Man, I can’t wait… (and did I mention it was about the money?)

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© May 22, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

Nascar At Dover After Thoughts: Kyle Bush Tames The Monster… (Mile).

Rusty NormanFor some, the Monster still looms as big and ominous as ever. For Kyle Bush, however, the monster may still have teeth but he made it purr like a kitten and he did it on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Yes it’s true, he only won Nationwide on Saturday and Cup on Sunday, but had things gone slightly different on Friday (and the fuel stops had fallen slightly different) he would have won the Camping World Truck race, too.

Kyle’s closest competition on Sunday was Jimmie Johnson but a speeding penalty on the last caution and pit stop put him a lap down well back in the field and ruined any chance for the #48 to finish near the front. Once Jimmie Johnson was out of contention, there really wasn’t anyone else that could run with the #18 JGR car for the last laps of the race.

Taking a look at the finishing order, I can’t help but think the JGR teams are happy with their performance with all three in the top ten. RCR also had a pretty good finish with Jeff Burton finishing second and Kevin Harvick finishing seventh.

The big surprise to this fan this weekend was the Roush cars. Even though it was rumored they would perform well at the Monster, they actually followed up on the rumors and threats with strong performances by Matt Kenseth finishing third, Greg Biffle finishing sixth and Carl Edwards finishing eighth. Could it be that they are finally getting a grip on things over there at Roush/Fenway? Well… I think that remains to be seen, but it could be they are ready to get back into the mix of things for the Championship at the end of the year. Sure, I know the three of them are already in the top twelve, but they just haven’t shown the strength they did a couple of years ago, especially at the end of the season.

It really wasn’t a surprise to me, although to some, David Reutimann finishing in the top five was quite surprising. I still think this will be the year that Michael Waltrip Racing will win a couple of races and could actually have at least one of his cars in the Chase. Both Reutimann and Truex have been finishing closer to the top ten on a regular basis and that is a testament to the work they’ve put in over at MWR .

Many have been quick to criticize the Hendrick teams for their performance in recent weeks, in particular, the #24 team and their inability to “close” the deal at the end of the race. The criticism of the #48 team has been lack of performance and wins since Cup returned to the spoiler and got rid of the wing. Several have been critical of the #5 team simply because they haven’t shown the strength they did last year at this time in the season. And the #88 team… well… you know.

From this fan’s view, here is what I have to say about the Hendrick teams and the criticism. I know this could possibly, and will, be construed as partiality by some out there on my part and I have to be honest, I do like Hendrick Motorsports. But at the same time, let me be very clear in stating I have a lot of favorites spread over all of the teams and throughout NASCAR.

As for the #24, (in my opinion of course), in the last couple of years, Jeff Gordon and the #24 team finished many races in the top ten and also had many top fives. He led the points, was in the top twelve and finished strong in the last two Chases.

When it comes to the #48 team, (also in my opinion), Jimmie Johnson has generally been the beneficiary of what could be interpreted as “good racing luck.” Even when something bad happened during a race in the past couple of years, it seemed the bad luck turned into something good. Let’s not forget, the #48 team is Cup Champion for the last four consecutive years. As far as “racing luck” this year is has been a different story.

Mark Martin and the #5 team have had a decent year though it has not been as stellar as last year. If you take a quick glance at the standings though, you’ll notice the #5 team is in eleventh place and that puts three of the four Hendrick teams in the top twelve in the standings for the Chase (and let’s not forget who finished 1-2-3 in last year’s Chase…)

As for the #88 team… well… you know… (Some may say, well, at least it’s not as bad as last year?)

I speak now as an opinionated observer. Don’t count out any of the Hendrick teams for being right there fighting for the Cup Championship at the end of the year. I really don’t think we’ve heard all we’re going to hear from any of them. Consider this…

  • If Jeff Gordon and the #24 team take all of their shoulda-woulda-couldas and put them at the end of the season in the Chase, it could be a fifth championship for the #24 Hendrick team.
  • If Jimmie Johnson and the #48 Hendrick team get over their bad luck and possible test sessions and begin performing like they did at or near the final ten races in the past years, it could be a fifth Cup Championship in a row for them.
  • If Mark Martin and the #5 Hendrick team just begin performing at or near the way they did leading into and during the Chase last year, it could very well be the first Cup Championship for the “old man” in NASCAR and his #5 Hendrick team.
  • If Dale Jr actually starts performing consistently… well… you know…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© May 19, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

Nascar At Dover: The Taming Of The … Monster (Mile)

Rusty Norman

Last week NASCAR faced the “The Track That’s Too Tough To Tame” and this week NASCAR drivers and teams face the “Monster Mile” at Dover, Delaware. Will it be a weekend of disappointment and frustration or will it be one of elation and a trip to Victory Lane for someone who has figured out how to tame the “Monster”?

One thing about “the Monster” is things happen fast and without warning; that’s just the nature of “the beast” and so far, Sunday’s Autism Speaks 400 looks to be no different.

The concrete track at the Monster Mile is one of the tougher tracks Nascar teams face every year. It isn’t just because of its size, it’s surface or its banking, no, not at all. It is because of all three and how narrow the racing surface is. Because it is what many call a self-cleaning track, when someone loses it and gets into the outside wall, they usually end up heading to the inside and generally taking one or more cars with them. Treacherous is probably a good word to describe racing at Dover and anyone that has any experience racing there at all knows exactly what that means.

From this fan’s view, Dover is a track that is hard to judge what will happen. No matter what the qualifying times say, they aren’t necessarily a good judge of how the race will go. Track position will be key to staying up front once someone gets there so that means pit location will be important when it comes down to pit stops. Now that I’ve said that, is there really anyplace that NASCAR Cup races that the same isn’t true? With the double file re-starts, green-white-checkered finishes and the closeness of the competition in Cup, track position has become even more important than in the past and especially at the end when those late race cautions come out.

One thing that is also becoming more noticeable as the teams try to out-fox each other with strategy on those late race pit stops is which line they are in for the double-file re-starts. If the line they are in isn’t moving for one reason or another, it doesn’t matter how good a car they have, they’re not going anywhere until the line they’re in moves or until the driver can get in the one that is moving.

Another thing that has proven out over several races this season is that not only does a driver have to have a fast car consistently throughout the race, but he also has to have a car that is fast in those late “trophy dashes” for the win in those double file green-white-checkered extensions of the race. (Of course, we all know none of these things add any pressure onto the shoulders of the crew chief… yeah, right…)

Well, I guess I should at least mention the ones I think are going to be at, or near, the top of the order when it comes time for the checkered flag to drop. I have to admit, the Monster Mile is one of the harder tracks for this fan to choose top finishers for than most of the ones NASCAR visits. Most of that is because of the unpredictability of what might happen to some of the stronger contenders simply from being in the right place at the wrong time. Hardly ever does someone make a little mistake that remains a little problem. This is one track that usually has more than one incident involving more than one car having just a blown tire or a little brush with the wall. More often than not, at least one is taken along with the car having the problem and usually more.  That doesn’t mean their day is always finished but it generally means their being in contention for the win is over, (although stranger things have happened and they have happened at this track.)

The obvious choices to win would include Kyle Bush, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr and some dark horses like Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth if you only consider the qualifying and best practice times. This is one week in particular I don’t think all of that amounts to a hill of beans, (although the JGR teams have been on a hot streak lately.)

It is just my opinion, but it appeared to me some of the teams weren’t showing all they had and were preparing for the longer green flag runs and maintaining consistency as best they could during the practice sessions. That is where the late race cautions and double file re-starts will take over. It will all depend on track position and tire strategy on that final pit call from the crew chief on the box.

There is one other thing that hasn’t been mentioned but it does have to be considered. Looking at the truck race, it appeared there was some fuel strategy that played into the final mix. Is it possible that fuel mileage could play into the mix should the race go a certain way after the last “scheduled” pit stop? You bet it’s possible… I don’t expect it to happen, but, it very well could.

When it comes down to the final laps, I think many will be surprised at who will be near the front ready to pounce and take the win. So, if I mention names like Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, David Reutimann or Jeff Gordon would any of you be surprised? If so, then go ahead and pick one of these because it is this fan’s opinion it will be one of these guys ending up in Victory Lane…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© May15, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

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 NascarFansView.com

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

NASCAR At Richmond After Chatter: Once Again In 2010 The Short Track Doesn’t Disappoint…

Rusty NormanSaturday night at Richmond International Raceway… (Wow, that sounds almost ominous doesn’t it?) It was a night of colorful cars, lots of horsepower, excited fans and two dominating cars (and one of them slightly better than the other, almost the whole race.) If anyone thinks they know what has made Nascar racing the best it has been in years, let them speak up now, (or I’ll have to speak for them)…

In fact, I will anyway…

NASCAR racing is the best it has been in years and the reason for it has nothing to do with spoilers, tires, horsepower or even those bright and shiny cars that sparkle and reflect the track lights like diamonds in a brightly lit showcase. (Wow, that sounded impressive didn’t it?) No… it has nothing to do with any of those things. The one thing that has made Nascar Cup racing what it is right now is… (wait for it… wait for it)…

Yeah, that’s right, in case you haven’t guessed already, it’s the double file restart that puts all of the top cars on any given race day (or night) together in tight formation no matter how far ahead the lead car may have been. It not only closes the gap, which is nothing new, but it puts all of the top competitors in close proximity to each other. Oh, I  guess there is one other thing that enhances the double file restart and that would be the addition of multiple green-white-checkered finishes, except this night in Richmond, the addition of the G-W-C wasn’t needed.

There is hardly any way to figure who will win with the double-file restart and, when you figure in up to three green-white-checkered tries for a finish, well, that makes the “figurin” even harder. I’m not sure if anyone is going to keep track, but, this rule will almost certainly shorten the life-span of many a crew chief. No, I’m not trying to be funny; I’m just looking at reality. It has never been harder for the crew chief to make the right call during a caution at the end of a race than it is right now. I sure don’t envy them their job, and the critics (I like to call them, armchair crew chiefs) have plenty to say about their calls if their guy doesn’t win. (Kinda funny how that works, isn’t it? It’s quite a bit like Monday morning quarterbacking.) Of course, anybody can make the right call after the race or game is over, can’t they.

Admittedly, a lot of things have to go right for a driver to come from three to four rows back and take the victory in three to six laps.

  • One, they have to be in the right spot to be able to move up instead of getting stuck in traffic.
  • Two, they have to have the best handling car in the short run.
  • Third and probably most importantly, they have to have a fast car.

It only takes being two to three tenths of a second faster than the rest to make the pass and pull far enough away to take the checkers away from someone who was obviously faster before the caution flag came out. (Hey, that’s just racing.)

There were four cars that were fast enough to win on Saturday night when it came down to the final laps and that would be, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Bush. Kyle Bush did have the car that led the most laps and even though he struggled and fell back in the middle of the race, his crew chief managed to get the handle back for him at the right time along with the help of the double file restart and it paid off with a trip to Cup Victory Lane for the first time in 2010 for Kyle Bush. It also was the first Cup victory for his crew chief, Dave Rogers which should put a lot of the criticism of him to rest, (at least for the moment.)

It is this fan’s opinion that Jeff Gordon has to be one of the most frustrated drivers in Cup right now, (not to mention his fans.) Just taking a quick look at the possibilities on the year, he could have already had four or five victories. He hasn’t always had the fastest car but he has been in good position to win if circumstances had happened just slightly different. As it is, he is solidly in the top twelve for now. (By the way, did anybody notice Jimmie Johnson struggled the whole night and though he and Jeff started next to each other at the beginning of the race, they weren’t really in the same zip code most of the night?)

It’s just an observation (and it isn’t unique only to this fan) but the on-track competition, (uh, that would be “racing” for any newbies reading this) has been some of the closest and most exciting NASCAR fans have seen in a while. Now, I realize that 2009 was a great turn around year competition-wise too, but 2010 has definitely been a notable year and most NASCAR fans everywhere are taking notice. To this fan, it couldn’t have come at a better time judging how difficult the last couple of years have been for everybody everywhere and I applaud NASCAR for doing what they have always done best. No matter what people think of their decision making processes, it appears they usually do the right thing for the competitors and especially, the fans…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© May 3, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

Nascar At Richmond: Saturday Night – Under The Lights

Rusty NormanTo me, there’s just something special about racing on Saturday night and something even more special about racing under the lights. Racing on Saturday night is what I grew up on and I always look forward to these night-time races. Nascar returns to the roots of racing tonight at Richmond International Raceway. To top it off it, RIR is basically a short track at high speed with plenty of excitement and lot’s of drama.

One statement I find interesting about RIR (and several often repeat it) is, Richmond is a short track that thinks it’s a Super Speedway. I can’t say I’ve ever thought of it that way, (at least, I don’t think so.) The thing I like about Richmond is it is a track that has multiple grooves for just plain good racing. It is a fast track with fourteen degree banking in the turns and a difference between the front and back straights that makes for plenty of excitement all night long.

The Toyotas and Chevys seem to have a bit of an advantage this weekend, at least as far as qualifying times tell us. A quick look at the top twelve qualifiers shows the Chevys with six, the Toyotas with five and the lone Dodge of Brad Keselowski. I know I’m always harping on the fact that we can’t put a lot of stock in the qualifying times, but this week, I’m inclined to think they might have something to say about what the end result will be. The practice speeds do somewhat line up with the qualifying and I do think this will be a race that could depart from the norm, (and I do admit, “norm” is a relative term.)

I’m sure many fans can’t wait to see if Jeff and Jimmie have really put the incidents of the last couple of weeks behind them. I mean, sayin’ it is one thing; doing it is quite another. (Just as a side note, did anyone notice where they are starting in the lineup?  Yup, that’s right… they’re starting in the second row, right next to each other.) I know they are both competitive in nature, but I don’t expect either one to do anything to upset the other, at least at the beginning of the race. Now… when we get nearer to the end… well, that could be a completely different story, (and one possibility many fans are looking forward to with great expectation…)

I’m not sure that we will get to see them tradin’ paint, but, one thing is certain, (at least from this fan’s view), if the finish comes down to a shootout between the two, look out because I do think some sparks will fly and it will definitely be one of those situations that anything – and I do mean anything – can happen.

Since this is basically short track racing, this is definitely a night that anyone could win and it may have nothing to do with the drivers we normally expect to win. This could easily be a night we have a totally unexpected winner taking his time in Victory Lane. It could be that David Reutimann takes the victory for himself and Michael Waltrip Racing, but it could also be a night that Martin Truex does, also.

If anyone would like to win tonight and break his winless streak, I think that would almost have to put Juan Pablo Montoya and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the top of the list. Those are some of the more noticeable names that come to mind. Let’s not forget Kyle Bush and Joey Logano; (I mention them more because of the victories of Denny Hamlin in recent races rather than the length of time since their last win in cup.)

With the strength of the RCR teams this season, I don’t see how I could not expect to see a strong performance from any of those three. Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer are probably the hungriest since Kevin Harvick won last week. (Now, don’t misunderstand, that doesn’t mean Kevin Harvick isn’t still hungry to win…)

If I had to pick a winner for tonight, (which I don’t), I’d probably have to pick one of the Hendrick cars, whether it be actual Hendrick owned cars or Hendrick associated ones like those of Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart. I still think they would like to show they aren’t ready to give up their strong performances for an also-ran place in the finishing order.

The racing tonight will be fast and furious for the most part and I do believe track position and pit strategy will play a gigantic role in who ends up in Victory Lane. It will also be interesting to see how much of a role the double file restart will play along with the green-white-checkered possibilities.

So, will it be, Kyle or Kurt? Yeah, could be… or could it be Mark or Dale Jr? Yes, it could be any one of them. In all honesty, I’m not going to rule out anyone in the top 35 simply because this is Richmond and this is Nascar and anything can happen. Personally, I think the race will come down to strategy on the last pit stop and at what point the final caution falls.

Will it be interesting? Undoubtedly; Will it be dramatic? Probably so, but I’m still hoping for that “perfect storm” possibility of a lineup for the final green-white-checkered trophy dash finish of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Bush, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano. If it did happen that the final lineup included all of these at the front, what do you think the outcome would be?

Hey… I’m just sayin’, “What if…”

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© May 1, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

Nascar At Talladega After Chatter: The Aaron’s 499 Had Something For Everyone

Rusty NormanNascar moved up on nearly everyone’s appreciation list with the race in Talladega this last weekend. Just about every Nascar fan had something they liked about it, (that is unless their driver either didn’t win or got taken out by an accident.) Overall, the general consensus appeared to be one of all fan’s seeing a race they really enjoyed and, in most people’s minds, it was an exciting race with lots of action. There were a record number of lead changes and also a record number of different leaders probably making this Aaron’s 499 a focal point in the record books for some time to come.

As expected, the two car draft (or, “the two car tango”, as Fox Sport’s Mike Joy liked to call it) was very prevalent throughout the day and looks to be a restrictor plate expectation and advantage for the future, (as long as they don’t make too many changes to the rules they now have in place.)

I had one of my questions answered by the race in Alabama this weekend and that was whether or not we could have more than one of the two car drafts going on in the main pack of cars. At one time, I counted at least three within several car lengths of each other (and that’s being conservative.) It appeared to this fan that many of the drivers were trying to take advantage of the ability to go an extra 8-10 mile and hour faster.

Now, although the advantage was there for all to use, not all knew how to use it to improve their position. In fact, it was obvious that some knew it was there and used it, but didn’t know how to really make it work for them and caused themselves and others difficulties by their inexperience.

One thing is certain… Kevin Harvick knew how to use it and RCR came up with the best place to take advantage of it during the practices on Friday afternoon. Their discoveries proved to be the advantage that took the No.29 RCR car to Victory Lane at the end of the Aaron’s 499.

Whether you agree or disagree with this next statement doesn’t really matter all that much, but, many fans were ecstatic when a failed late race maneuver put points leader Jimmie Johnson against the inside wall, causing him to finishing a disappointing 31st . (Now remember, when I say disappointing, I’m talking about him and his team being disappointed, not those fans (and drivers) that are weary of seeing the #48 finish at, or near, the top of the finishing order every week.)

While we’re talking about the #48 Hendrick team, I guess now would be a good time to mention the continuing on-track struggles between the #24 and #48. It seems that no matter how the racing goes, the two just can’t get out of each other’s way. For the second week in a row, Jeff Gordon was “disappointed” with his teammate’s actions. Although I think the word “disappointed” is putting it mildly, it does appear Jeff could have had better finishes, in particular over the last two weeks, had it not been for Jimmie Johnson. I do think, had it not been for Jimmie Johnson and some other late race happenings, the #24 team would have at least three victories this year, (and possibly four.) Although I do understand that a lot of the activity between the two Hendrick teams can be attributed to “just racing” it definitely hasn’t worked out in a positive way for the #24 Hendrick team at all. (And let’s not forget Jeff’s run-in with Matt Kenseth in the #17 Roush Ford back at Martinsville and how that went down.)

Another side note about Jeff Gordon is his obvious determination and aggressiveness this year. He has definitely been one of the hard chargers this season and, for many fans, it has been good to see “the old Jeff Gordon.” I really don’t think anyone can deny he has been in contention for the win at the end of almost every race so far this season. He may not have had the best car, but he and crew chief, Steve Letarte, have definitely put themselves in position to win almost every week.

Wow, what else can we say (that hasn’t already been said) about this race in Talladega?

Let’s see, we had Kevin Harvick finally breaking his 115 race absence from Sprint Cup Victory Lane; EGR finishing second and third, with Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya; Denny Hamlin still showing a lot of momentum since his knee surgery for JGR finishing fourth and Mark Martin for the Hendrick camp finishing fifth. We also had two car drafting because of the relaxed bump-drafting rules all the way around the track and cars able to move up or down in the scoring almost at will all afternoon. For the fans that merely show up to see the multi-car pile-ups that are part of restrictor plate racing, there was some of that, too, along with fan pleasing tight, bumper to bumper, door to door racing that always makes for an interesting show if nothing else.

With all of that, it makes a fan wonder what Richmond will be like this coming weekend. With way the races at Texas and Talladega have been, I wonder if it will be a little bit of a let down or just more of the same great racing we’ve seen all season so far this year? I reckon the only way to find out is to show up on race day and see what happens…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© April 27, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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