The Calm Before the Storm (A Rare Weekend Off for the Cup Teams)


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Go ahead, take that deep breath… A weekend off… Well, at least for the NASCAR Cup Teams. Even though they aren’t running this weekend, this fan is sure they are working feverishly preparing for next weekend when they’ll take on the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It could be, with only seven races to go before the Chase begins in its latest format, this could be the, “calm before the storm…”

In usual NASCAR fashion, a lot can change over the next several weeks of competition and probably will. That’s why I wanted to give my assessment of the 2014 season so far and what could prove to be a very interesting time ahead.

Looking back to the beginning of the 2014 season, probably the thing that stands out in my mind the most is the way that Hendrick horsepower seem to be “out powering” the rest of the teams. It was pretty obvious to begin with that the Hendrick teams and Hendrick associated teams were performing a bit better than the other teams whether or not they were actually winning. Now, in some cases they not only dominated but were winning but other teams were winning at that time as well, depending on how the cards fell at the end of the races.

Another interesting thing about the first part of the 2014 season was the number of winners that we had in the first 20 races. We saw it all – multiple winners along with single winners and those ranking higher in the points yet with no wins. With the emphasis NASCAR has put on winning this year points are important but winning seems to be more important. As far as that goes, winning should have always been important even though in many of the past years, consistency was what everyone seemed to look at as far as championships. This year, that may change completely.

Some surprises, at least to this fan this year, has been the performance of Dale Junior and his team and his completely different outlook. Now, it appears winning is once again important to him and poor performances matter and are at least somewhat completely unacceptable to him this year. In this fan’s opinion he’s come a long way this year compared to past years, at least in his time at Hendrick Motor Sports. It is also good to see Steve Letarte having a good year and departing the sport at the end of this year with what could be considered a satisfyingly strong year.

Jeff Gordon has been leading the points for many weeks even though he only has one win so far this year. However, this fan counts him as being a contender for the championship. It’s true that he hasn’t been exhibiting dominating performances even though many weeks he has shown up with one of the cars to beat, (Well, that is along with Kevin Harvick of Stewart/Hass Racing.) Overall, Jeff’s been very consistent throughout the 2014 season so far.

For many weeks, Jimmie Johnson was the focus of attention because he hadn’t won any races and people were wondering if he was going to make it into The Chase. He was scoring points but there was “major concern” about his inability to have any wins. Then, he knocked off three and that conversation ended. Now the talk around the garage and elsewhere is, “why is the number 48 having tire problems so often?” My opinion, is that they are just going through a time where not everything goes well whether or not they’re doing everything right but, it’s not Chase time yet.

Although it is hard to consider them underperformers, the JGR teams haven’t looked nearly as strong as they did last year, in particular, Matt Kenseth’s team. In fact, he’s the only one that JGR that hasn’t won so far this year even though last year he had seven wins. Kyle Busch has won, Denny Hamlin has one but so far victory has evaded Matt Kenseth’s team.

One of the biggest surprises to this fan has been the way NASCAR changed the qualifying sessions. The first few weeks of the new way of qualifying, this fan was not at all impressed. Now, I have to admit (at least for the present) that it appears to be a change for the better. It has added a new dimension to the qualifying sessions although I’m not so sure that it’s added that much more interest to them. One thing does stand out about qualifying and that would be how the Penske teams have pretty much dominated the new format. As for me, well, I reckon that qualifying in its present form is just one of those things I’ll take a wait-and-see attitude towards… but so far, so good.

The reason I started off with saying that this could be the “calm before the storm,” (meaning having this weekend off), is that The Chase is only seven races away. Even though The Chase will still be The Chase, it will be different this year. This year there will be an elimination format and that can totally change the outcome, at least compared to other years. Will it add more drama and interest? That’s a good question and not one this fan is ready to answer but it should prove to be an interesting time even though I think we all will have to take a wait-and-see attitude. The next seven races could tell us a lot, or absolutely nothing, about who will be in The Chase and how The Chase will end up…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© July 19, 2014 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, and
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