Speedweeks – Clash and Pole Day

NASCAR had to wait half a day to get the seasons started thanks to that pesky Florida weather. I’m sure there are plenty of traditionalist who were happy to see the Clash, back with its preferred name, during the day, back at its preferred time (if only accidentally). NASCAR can throw down the Clash whenever it wants as long as we can get a good show.

The end of the race did not disappoint.

logono-wins-17-clashLogano won the Clash with a last lap pass thanks to Keselowski and Hamlin wrecking. Really the whole Clash came down to Penske vs Gibbs. Those two teams are the powerhouses of Monster Cup right now. Yeah, Jimmie won the championship last year, but he had a very un-Jimmie-like season with a lot more ups and downs. Hendrick is close behind in third and would be right there if Kahne was running better.

The Clash looked like it was going to be Hamlin’s to own. Again. The four Gibbs cars got nose to tail and were housing the field. Four fast cars are tough to beat. Kyle Busch, running at the tail of the Gibbs train, would be the most likely to throw down with his own teammates at the end, but no way he could have gotten a run on Hamlin by his lonesome with Suarez and Kenseth behind the 11.

Fortunately for everyone, Penske was there. Keselowski was not going to coast around and let that Gibbs train happen. Things like that are why he is one of the best things to happen to NASCAR. It was a very Dale Earnhardt like bull rush up there to break up the Gibbs train and set up the nice finish.

So Logano got the win. The big teams showed up to play. None of these things are surprising. What else did we learn from the Clash?

dillon-at-17-clashAustin Dillon showed up to race. RCR hasn’t won in a long time (Going back to when Harvick was still on the team) but they tend to finish a little better on plate tracks. Dillon seemed to will his car forward more than once without help. He couldn’t make it up front without dance partners though. His qualifying time was pretty pedestrian later that day, but Newman and Ty (running ECR engines on the Germain team) did well. A couple tweaks and someone to run with and I like to think RCR can be a factor in the 500. We’ll have to see how they run with more cars on the field during the Duals.

bowman-at-clashAlex Bowman is solidifying my opinion that Dale Jr is grooming him to be his hand picked replacement when he finally does retire (hopefully on his own terms). The chaos at the end of the race let him sneak up into a third place finish. He did it without much in the way of drafting help since Jimmie wrecked out and Chase Elliot wasn’t around. Even on Bowman’s BK Racing days, I always thought he outdrove the equipment he had. He’s done very well when he’s been given the top shelf equipment. It’s very unfortunate that he can’t get into a good car full time already.

In a shocking development (sarcasm only mild), Danica actually took advantage of the Danica Rule. Eligibility for the Class was tweaked a couple years ago to say any past Daytona 500 pole winners got in if they didn’t hit any of the other check boxes. The end of race chaos let her sneak into a fourth place finish. So a top five finish in a field of seventeen cars isn’t super impressive, but any time a driver mired in the bottom half week in and week out can sniff the front of the field, it’s positive. This is definitely a put up or shut up year for Danica, and with her sponsor woes, up front TV time is a must.

elliot-dale-jr-17-daytona-pole-dayAfter the Clash rolled up, Pole Day time trials hit the track that afternoon. Showing Gibbs and Penske not to forget about the Chevys, Hendrick swept the front row with Chase Elliot getting back to back Daytona 500 poles and Junior hitting second in his first track action after injury. Kahne even showed up to play, hitting the second round and qualifying eighth fastest.

This year’s rookie class has high expectations. After running well in the Gibbs freight train in the Clash, Suarez managed an okay 15th on time. Erik Jones with the new Furniture Row car could only hit 20th. The only rookie to make it to the second round of qualifying was Ty Dillon who ended up with a 12th place time. Germain Racing this year might as well be another RCR team, the same way that Furniture Row is practically an extension of Gibbs. Good on Ty and Germain Racing for getting a good run in qualifying, but it’s got to be frustrating to RCR that the technical alliance teams keep out performing them. Newman made a top ten time but Menard and brother Austin were both down in the 20s.

Single car runs at Daytona only mean so much though. Things will change a lot during the Can-Ams. (Hey look! I’m finally remembering to call them the correct name and not the Twin 125s)

What am I watching for on the Can-Am Duals this week? The big teams are there to party but that’s not the interesting part for me. The health of the sport is reflected in the health of the little teams so the qualifying bubble is what I want to see.

There are six charterless teams attempting to qualify for the 500 this year. The two fastest on time are guaranteed a spot. Long time Xfinity racer Brendan Gaughan (remember he ran a full Cup rookie season back in 04) in the part time Beard Motorsports #75 is locked in to his second Daytona 500. Tommy Baldwin Racing sold off their charter to Levine Family Racing as part of the off season charter dance, so the 7 car is running as a part time open team. Elliot Saddler locked the car in on Sunday for his 14th Daytona 500, but his first since 2012 as a spare RCR car.

Who’s got to race in?

Reed Sorensen in the Premium Motorsports #55. Premium got a charter when HScott shut down, but they’re using it on the #15 that Michael Waltrip is running his last race in. That team was pretty consistant about showing up and making the show last year with two open cars so I think they will be ok to make the show.

kennington-daytonaDJ Kennington in the part time Gaunt Brothers Racing #96. Kennington, from NASCAR’s cousins to the north in the Canadian Pinty’s Series, is slated to run the restrictor plate tracks. This team isn’t completely out of nowhere even though it is brand new. The owners also build engines as Triad Racing Technologies supplying the non-factory supported Toyotas.

Corie LaJoie in the BK Racing #83. BK downsized to just one charter and will run this car as a full time open team. It will be driven by committee. LaJoie is a second generation racer who’s had a couple starts in Cup back in ’14 and has been picking up some races in Xfinity. He’s looking for his first 500 and only his second start on the track in any series. This might be a tough hill to climb but he does have his teammate in the same Dual and they start nose to tail (albeit at the caboose).

t-hill-daytonaTimmy Hill in the Rick Ware Racing #51. This team is jumping up to Cup from Xfinity and will be racing by committee. They plan to run the whole season but Daytona is going to be a tough bill. The 51 car ran a whole half mile per hour slower than Jeffery Earnhardt’s in the Circle Sport’s Partnership of the Year car.

2017 Preseason Round Up

Pit Stall 13 is back and the new NASCAR season is upon us and the watchword for the new year is “change.”

Which isn’t exactly that different than almost every year for the past half decade. The nebulous rules package of the last few years for the Sprint Cup… wait… the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (which by the way, I don’t think anyone will use that whole mouthful of a title. It’s Monster Cup) are well documented and this is not intended to be a history lesson. There’s google fu for that.

This is gearing up for the new season. This is excitement. I’m not just spitting out buzzwords. With the Clash this weekend and the 500 in spitting distance, I am excited for the season to start.

So what should we be excited about? Why, I am glad you asked since that’s what I’m here for.

New Series Sponsor: Pleasantly enthused

monstercuplogoI count myself among those who started to get worried towards the end of the season when NASCAR still hadn’t named a replacement for Sprint (who only took seven years to get decent cell service at Loudon). I honestly expected some established tech company to come into the scene. Some company who had the base where a few mil wouldn’t risk the company imploding but pushing the engineering sports hybrid that NASCAR is to get some edge to it. Samsung came to mind even though there would be the rumbles from the …. “ultra traditionalist” crowd… yanno, the same crowd that gives NASCAR the bad name with its Confederate flags. Coca Cola would not have surprised me, or even one of the big hardware chains (Lowe’s and the Depot… Menard’s is the number 3 but doesn’t actually exist on the east coast). The problem with one of them is that their competitors are so entrenched in sponsoring NASCAR, it would have gotten even uglier than the whole Cingular/ATT fiasco on Jeff Burton’s car a few years back.

Monster Energy Drinks came out of left field for this ‘slightly more than casual but not a professional’ observer but it makes absolute sense. They know what they’re getting into with sponsoring motorsports. They’re already doing it with motocross and team sponsorships within NASCAR (the Busch brothers) and teams across other motorsports (V8 Supercars, F1, rally).

Monster Energy. They're not newbs.
Monster Energy. They’re not newbs.

Look, the sport needs energy. Monster brings energy. NASCAR got real huge at the tail end of the 90s and the early 00s. Things were booming. Tracks were expanding. But the sport rested on its laurels too long and stopped innovating. The way people watch sports has changed. 50 inch plasma TVs in ultra high def are commonplace now and when you can get that good of a picture in arm’s reach of your own clean bathroom and all the beer/drinks/snacks you want out of your own fridge… where is the motivation to spend the better part of a whole day at the track? I have gone to a Cup race in New Hampshire every year since the track started hosting them in the mid 90s. It is a 20 hour day. I had a 230am wake up call to drive across three state lines for the race. How do you get more casual fans to want that experience?

Make it more of an experience. Create a festival atmosphere at the track. Give people things to do all day, and I don’t just mean the famous Talladega infield debauchery. NASCAR has been doing some of this the last few years. There’s a fan concourse with displays set up by sponsors and such. Last race I went to had a Miller tent, Toyota showed off its new models, the Air Force had a cut away car to show the internals of Almirola’s 43. Monster can come in and turn all that up to 11. That’s what the sport needs. I am optimistic that it will get exactly that.

The Clash: Finally!

advance-auto-parts-clashI am not an old timer, but as far as NASCAR goes, I am definitely old school. Harry Gant won the first race I saw in person. In an Oldsmobile. I was one of those fans who called the season opening exhibition race “The Busch Clash” because I had been watching it under that same name for a decade before anyone thought to change it. I am not a fan of change for the sake of change, but bringing The Clash back is happy nostalgia. Sometimes NASCAR can be blinded by tradition, but this is a good one to hold on to.

The Playoffs: Good. Also, duh.

Another naming change here. NASCAR dumped the term “Chase.” It’s just the Playoffs now.

This is a good thing. I wholeheartedly approve of the concept of the NASCAR Playoff system. I was never a fan of the naming convention of it though. NASCAR is a sport where the more you know, the more fun it is so the challenge is to get the casual observer over the hump to get in on all the minutiae of the sport. In that, NASCAR is very unlike the stick and ball sports. But NASCAR does not need to be standoffish about its differences. All nonNASCAR outlets would just refer to the Chase as “NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.” Since we are just now calling it the Playoffs, we don’t need to add another new term to the newbie potential fan.

The New Points System: ….there are so many layers here.

monsterwallThe new points system is mostly… good… I think. It’s complicated.

The big thing here is stages.

I am pro stages. This is an amped up version of the halfway money NASCAR used to pay out a few years ago. Cut a big check to the team leading at the halfway mark and yeah, it’s going to make that dash a lot more interesting. This is the same deal but with points. Throw some bonus points to the guys in the top ten at certain laps? Go nuts. I think this will help with NASCAR’s idea to avoid the middle chunks of the race where the field falls into a groove and just logs laps until the 80% mark.

Championship points (being different than regular points)makes this more complicated.

“Competition cautions” at the stage ends are really thinly veiled TV time outs which I think has the potential for abuse.

But in general? The potential for good outweighs my concerns and I think it can work well, although at some tracks more than others. (I’m looking at you road courses!)

Damaged Vehicle Policy: Ugh. Not so much.

allmendinger at talladegaMore than stages, I think this has the potential to cause chaos to the championship standings. Cars aren’t allowed to go to the garage for accidents anymore. They’re just allowed five minutes on pit road. The official reasoning behind this is a bit off for me. One of the NASCAR VPs said repairing wrecked cars is “something we don’t think enhances the show.” They’re worried about cars with “integrity issues”… eh, I’ll give you a little bit of that but only a little. They’re worried about crew guys hustling while around grinders and sparks. That one is total BS. My day job is at a shipyard and as someone who has worked with and around welding and metalwork for 12 years, I can tell you the crew guys aren’t worried about that. You get very nonchalant about being lit on fire after it’s happened a few times. NASCAR is worried about teams spending money on trashed firesuits or extra body panels. Sounds good but I doubt that.

The cynical part of me thinks the TV networks pushed this one. A lot of people (myself absolutely included) rail about Sweet Lady Debris and the proliferation of mystery cautions. I think NASCAR finally got fed up with getting trashed on for mystery cautions and went too far to fix the problem.

dillon at talladegaThis is going to hurt NASCAR at some of its biggest races. Austin Dillon pulling off the third place finish with the duct tape car was one of the rad finishes of last year. Not possible now. The beating and banging of Bristol or Watkins Glen… are they still going to happen if everyone is tip toeing around this new policy? When the Big One drops next week at Daytona, without the potential to make up some laps, how many people will be behind the 8 ball in points right after week one?

I hope this doesn’t cause all sorts of hurt, but I think it will.

New Penalty Structure: Good and needed.

inspectionNASCAR has streamlined the penalty structure. This is a good thing. The old warnings and levels and charts and whatever were complicated. I don’t honestly think that the rule book is any less complicated now. The real story here is that the penalties will be handled faster.

Penalties stacked up from warnings on previous races put the infractions at arm’s lengths. Immediate ramifications from infractions will definitely make them feel the hurt more. Which is what a penalty is designed to do. This will make it easier for the fan to keep track of, which is always a top concern. But I also think it will reign in some of the crew chiefs. A NASCAR team is supposed to push the boundaries. It’s their job. The line in the sand has a bit more sting to it now so tread carefully.

I’ve also heard the possibility of losing laps prior to the start of the race. That’s huge.

Danica’s Sponsor Woes: Eyeroll.

daytona2017danicaSponsorship woes are nothing new in the sport. They just don’t usually happen to someone which such a high profile in the sport.

Stewart Haas Racing and Nature’s Bounty are suing each other after the later cut off funds to the former in the excess of 31 mil. I don’t consider myself a Danica hater. Just to get to Cup level, you have to better than hundreds of other drivers who wish they could run Cup, so not winning a race doesn’t make Danica a crappy driver, but I do think she gets more attention than the perpetual 20-30th place finishes earn her. Like her or hate her, Danica still brings in the sponsors.

Or at least she did.

Losing 26 races of sponsorship is harsh. Gene Haas and Ford, their new manufacturers, have deep pockets, so Danica will still run all the races, but owch. 26 race sponsors are getting less common these days (we won’t even talk about the non existence of full season sponsorships anymore) so when one bows out of the sport for any reason, it hurts. Hopefully, with the new influx of oomph from Monster, the sport can get back in the limelight again with sponsors waiting to cut checks for cars.

2017 Rookies: Hell yes!

rookiesAfter a few lackluster rookie classes, NASCAR has gotten a few in a row with talent which should shine for years. Eric Jones is taking on the second Furniture Row car. Ty Dillon gets the Germain #13, the first time a Dillon has raced for someone other than Childress. Daniel Suarez takes over Edward’s car and becomes the first Mexican driver in Cup and one of the few non-Americans in the history of the sport.

Jones and Suarez are running A level Toyota gear. Germain isn’t an A level team, but they’ve increased their partnership with RCR (duh) which makes me think they’ll up their competitiveness. Couple that with Dillon having more Cup starts (18) than the other two (Jones – 3, Suarez – 0) and I think the rookie of the year race is going to be a very good one, just like last year. These are three guys who we will see race against each other for a long time.

Michigan Round Up

Low downforce. Low downforce. Low. Down. Force.

Dear NASCAR, I cannot say it enough. Low. Down. Force.

The bigwigs from the NASCAR R+D center pegged this past weekend at Michigan and another three weeks out at Kentucky as the tracks to experiment with a different aero package. They did the same thing last year with a “high drag” package which everyone agreed was a drag. (Ha! See what I did there?) This year NASCAR went the experimental route with ridiculously low downforce.

The spoilers were cut down so much, I’ve seen more solid aero packages from hoonigan Honda Civics trolling around Rhode Island.

On the Fox broadcast, DW commented that the spoilers were cut down more than he had ever seen since he started racing forty years ago.

This is fantastic. The race was a great one.

logano wins michiganYeah, Joey Logano kind of housed the field. He led the most laps by a ridiculous margin, but it’s not exactly surprising that a Penske Ford did well at Michigan. They like to go all out for the hometown crowd. Logano led 103 more laps than 2nd place Chase Elliott. No one else led more than ten laps. The funny thing is that Logano wasn’t really keen on the super low downforce package. Guys like Edwards were super stoked to run the low downforce package. A lot of people, myself included, figured that the aero down to only 1660lbs (as opposed to 3500 just two years ago) would fall into the wheelhouse of the ex-dirt races like Larson, Stewart, and Kahne.

Speeds at Michigan topped out around 216mph on the straights and dropped to the 170s in the corners. The 40mph swing really put the race in the driver’s hands a lot more than previous years at the track. For the last couple years, races at Michigan were looking like restrictor plate races. Put the hammer down and hold on, whoever have the most oomph in the engine will win it out. That is a much different style of racing than we got this past week. I’m more than ok with that. Once the drivers got comfortable with how the cars would handle forty on track at a time, there was plenty of passing. Menard led laps after starting 32nd. Harvick finished top 5 after starting 29th. Kurt Busch spent the front half of the day in the 20s and rallied up to tenth.

So despite the dominance of the #22 team up front, the race was a good one. A very good one. I understand a single good race is not a predictor of a season of success, but I think NASCAR should take a hard look at putting a similar package in place for good.

Kyle Busch’s Summer is Not So Hot

kyle at michiganThat’s pretty close to being a weather related pun, but seriously, I’m not going there.

The defending champion has been having an abysmal few weeks. In the last four races since he won at Kansas, Busch’s best finish was a 30th at Dover. Wind at Michigan this past week dropped a lot of trash on the track and hot dog wrappers have been affecting the outcome of races for decades. Toyota engineers said the #18’s engine overheated courtesy of said trash and it blew in a fiery mess. Busch limped it into the garage but his day was done and he finished in the caboose position.

The cynical Twitternauts were saying that after putting three wins in the bank already, the Chase grid format means he can play R+D car for the rest of the season. I’m pretty cynical and there are some drivers where I might believe that… however I don’t think that would sit well with Kyle Busch. He might swing for the fences, go big or go home style, but that’s pretty much how he races anyways on a normal day. Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch hates to lose. This four week stretch at the tail end of the field is eating him up.

Buescher’s Bad Day

buescher at michiganChris Buescher went from Xfinity Champion to a Cup car that can just almost crack the top 20 on a good day. That’s pretty rough. Competition in Cup is tight. There are only 40 seats to go around and a only a dozen of those are perennial contenders. With the speculation that the Michigan aero package would fit the newer driver’s real well, Buescher was actually having a pretty solid day for the Front Row #34. He spent much of the front end of the race in the top 20 and even cracked the top 10 for a while a mid race.

His finish of 20th was actually his second best on the season so that seems good… except I don’t think he should go on twitter for a few days.

On lap 63 he got loose in the turn, as most everyone did on the day, and drifted up the track. He tagged Junior who was stuck in the back of the pack from poor qualifying. Earnhardt and the #47 of Allmendinger pancaked the wall hard enough at 180+ to ruin the day and DNF’s for both. Buescher kept going. Junior’s legions of Twitternauts rage faced. Yeah… Buescher should just not turn his computer on for a while.

Shout Outs!

tony at michiganJust one week after talking about how he’s in trouble, Tony Stewart gets the Shout Out today. This was the kind of week where Tony had his old swagger back. He was racing well and having fun, at one point he messed with his crew saying he was coming in to pit out of the blue then laughed over the radio instead.

Smoke qualified third, his best on the season, and he ran in the top ten all day. A lot of that was in the top five. The #14 got shuffled around a bit in all the cautions and restarts on the back end of the race, but he finished 7th. This is good for Tony, and this is good for NASCAR. Yes there is a youth movement going on in NASCAR not seen since the late 90s, but a jovial Tony Stewart is the best Tony Stewart.

The 7th place finish puts him 45 points off of 30th place Brian Scott. Through the first 15 races, Scott has an average finish of 27.9. Tony has a 19.4 through his seven races since he came back from injury. Let’s call it an average of a 9 point gain every week by Stewart based off the numbers we have already. There are 11 races left until the Chase. The averages are in Tony Stewart’s favor to get in the top 30 in points. With the way his car ran at Michigan, there is reason to believe that Stewart could pull off that win to qualify into the Chase. Of the 11 races left before the Chase cut off, Tony has won at 9 of the tracks. Granted, some were years ago, I was surprised to see his last Bristol win was in 2001, (Chase Elliott was in kindergarten) but he still has a W there. Darlington and Kentucky are the only ones in that stretch he hasn’t won at and Kentucky will have the same aero as Michigan. I would love to see Tony pull this off, qual for the Chase, and retire with a big shit eating grin on his face.

mcmurray mcd colorsSo that was a lengthy Shout Out/Tony Update, but I still want to flag one more Shout Out for Michigan. Jamie McMurray pulled off a stealth run at Michigan. He ran in top 15ish for the first half of the race and once the cautions started flying frequently, he fell back into the 20s. As late as lap 180, he was down in 19th place. Over the last cluster of restarts, Jamie Mac surged to the front and snuck into a 9th place finish in a classic “Where the hell did he come from?” The #1 car is sitting 14th on the Chase grid only ten points to the good above Blaney. He needs these top 10s if he wants to be in the conversation come fall.

Pit Stall 13 Update

truex at doverThe magical pit stall this week went to Martin Truex Jr in the 78 Furniture Row Team.

Truex’s finish of 12th would be good by most people’s standards, however, after the epic beatdown dished out for the Coke 600, I’m sure the team would have expected more. The fact that he did so well is a testament to his crew though. Early on in the race, Truex made contact with Bowyer’s #15 who was running a lap down. He spun but managed to not hit a thing. NASCAR penalized the team though for a flared out fender. Personally, I thought it was an iffy call since it was visibly damage from the contact, but eh, not my call, NASCAR doesn’t pay me to do it. The team rallied to a good finish and frankly, runs like that are the ones that make or break a championship season.

Charterless Update

  • 17th – #21 Ryan Blaney – Ran top 10 at times but contact with the wall dropped him back to a 17th place finish. Still in the Chase grid via points.
  • 27th – #55 Cole Whitt – Still with the swapped numbers for some reason, matched his best non-plate race and finished on the lead lap. That’s a solid day for Premium.
  • 30th – #30 Josh Wise – Ran a couple laps off the pace but not bad for a minnow car.
  • 31st – #98 Reed Sorensen – Attrition helped get them up to this spot

On to Sonoma!

Oh snap! NASCAR is going to turn left AND right next week!

The traveling circus we all love is going west to Sonoma for one of the two road course races. The sport doesn’t really have true ringers anymore when it comes to turning in both directions. Boris Said can’t get a top shelf car and compete for the win anymore when top drivers need to run every race and are much better rounded than back in the day. However…. we do get some different people in the conversation for Sonoma and The Glen than on the circle tracks.

Ambrose and Montoya are gone, but anything short of a W is unacceptable for AJ Allmendinger and the 47 team. His team’s performance has been improving across the board since he joined JTG Daughtry, but the Dinger is the closest we have to a road course ringer in modern NASCAR.

The Dinger’s NASCAR W came at The Glen though. Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch are the only active drivers with multiple wins at Sonoma. Truex won there running for MWR a couple years back and could easily win again. Still, got to throw out the advantage for Allmendinger. The JTG Daughtry team will swing for the fences and expect a home run.

Pocono Round Up

NASCAR ran out of luck with the weather man. The fastest traveling circus around got washed out at Pocono over the weekend. I’ve sat through rain delays, watching people try to dry the track. It’s not fun, especially since I remember when it was just old tires dragged around behind pickup trucks. It’s doubly worse when the whole show gets rained out. Locals can skip out another day of work, anyone who travels in is hosed.

I’m sure there are people clamoring for NASCAR to get rain tires. Happens every time there’s a delay. Let’s not push our luck with safety. NASCAR doesn’t need rain tires. Honestly, who the hell wants to sit four hours in the rain? Track promoters have enough work cut out for them. No one needs rain tickets.

kurt wins poconoOnce the rain finally stopped and the race happened for real, Kurt Busch won his first of the year, stretching out his fuel mileage to the max. It may be his first win of the year, but continues an extremely impressive start to the year for him. We’re fourteen races into the year and only two of Kurt Busch’s finishes were outside the top ten (Fontana and Martinsville). I had to double check that stat because he’s sitting second in the points, but it’s been a very quiet second. He’s been a top ten machine even if he hasn’t been mixing it up for wins. Add that up with a pair of pole starts this year and it was only a matter of time before he was going to win again. It’s been almost ten years since he last won at Pocono, but the track has always given him solid results if not a W.

Now, I know fuel mileage races aren’t the most exciting for the outsider (or the NASCAR Twitternauts that need something to complain about), but this is a very impressive fuel mileage win. His crew chief, the old school Tony Gibson, was suspended  because of NASCAR’s omnipresent lug nut drama. The lead engineer for the team, Johnny Klausmeier, stepped in and told Busch he was two laps shy of fuel and to start saving.

That’s not just a little bit short.

He was dropping 40mph of speed in the corners and coasting through them to horde every drop of fuel he could and then put the hammer down on the white flag lap to make sure it all stuck. That’s some fancy driving and a fancy call from Klausmeier to even try to stretch it.

Keselowski and Gordon going at it again

keselowski at poconoSo Keselowski and the #2 team finished third at Pocono. That’s a sweet finish, but early on in the race, Keselowski’s team was penalized in the pits. The jackman pulled one of those hip checks just forward of the rear tire. Pops out the panel, adds more sideforce, and now the car has an aero advantage. NASCAR has been policing this a lot lately. And it may be more just a matter that they’re catching it more with the camera run pit monitors the officials use now. Regardless, Keselowski was irked.

“I don’t know what (NASCAR) saw so it is not really fair for me to say anything about that,” Keselowski said. “I can tell you that every car I saw had some body modifications on it after pit stops out there. I don’t know if ours was more egregious or even if we had one. That is for the team guys to really answer.”

Ok cool. “Every car I saw had some body modifications on it.” I’m going to call a “DUH” on this one. A crew chief, and by extension, the crew, are supposed to push the envelope as much as they possibly can. It’s part of the game. You push and push and push the limits of what NASCAR is going to allow. That’s how you get ahead. With the competition up front being so close, every little bit counts and can be the difference between a W and a 10th, a Championship and a busted season.

Conversely, sometimes the NASCAR officials are going to bite back. Does that make the #2 team a bunch of cheaters? Nope. Not at all. It’s part of the game. That’s how it’s always been in NASCAR, a constant push and pull between teams and The Rules. Like bleeding the air out of the tires last year. It’s also why NASCAR has a sliding scale of penalties. There are the gross and obvious “What the hell were you thinking” penalties and the “You pushed, but this is as far as you can go” penalties. We move on with them.

That’s a whole lot of words without getting back to the bold header of this section but it relates, I swear.

Keselowski called out Gordon up in the booth because Gordon talked about similar crew tactics from the 2 team won in Vegas earlier in the year. Fact checking later, NASCAR didn’t penalize the Penske crew for any body mods at Vegas, it was a speeding penalty on the same stop. Gordon owned up to that one later on ye olde twitter.

jeff gordon mug shotKeselowski does bring up a point about having people biased in the booth. Gordon and Keselowski have a history as drivers. Gordon has been a part owner in Jimmie Johnson’s #48 team since the start of that ride. Keselowski is saying that the commentators need to be neutral parties.

I appreciate Keselowski speaking his mind, I always do even when I disagree with him. Which I do in this case. Having a wholly objective observer sounds better on paper. Ken Squier will always be known as the voice of NASCAR. He was never a driver or team owner. Neither was Mike Joy. But a lot of the best announcers in NASCAR were former drivers. Michael Waltrip still runs restrictor plate races to this day and will do his prerace duties in his firesuit before hopping in the car and running laps. I think Brad Daughtry is one of the better prerace guys and he co-owns Allmendinger’s car. Ned Jarrett in the booth calling the race as his son passed the elder Earnhardt to win the Daytona 500 is ever going to say that was wrong. That’s a classic moment in NASCAR history, in part because of Ned Jarrett being in the booth on live TV.

Where do you draw the line of being “biased” as a commentator? Are we going to say that Rusty Wallace should never do NASCAR commentary because he used to race for Penske? Or his brother Kenny, one of the funniest and well spoken people in NASCAR, can’t talk about… well, half the owners on the track? Should we stop listening to Larry Mac because he used to work for Childress?

Oh and by the way, Ken Squire owns a race track in Vermont and Mike Joy co-owns the Sonoco racing fuel distributor in New England. Does that count?

See the thing is, all these people I’m talking about, they’re professionals in the booth. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be doing this year in and year out. I for one, think that Jeff Gordon is very good in the booth and hope he has a long career in the booth.

It happens in every sport. Being a part of it gives you a leg up when covering the game. Many of the best sportscasters started out as players/coaches in their respective sports. No one honestly thinks John Madden should have gone his career without covering a Raiders game. Or Pat Summerall a Giants game.

Ditto goes for NASCAR.

Tony Stewart Troubles

tony at poconoI hate to say this, but it’s not looking good for Tony Stewart to go out with a swan song. He had his best starting position of the season so far this past week at Pocono and he was running in the top ten, but got tangled up in a wreck… with Danica of all people.

NASCAR is better with Tony Stewart in it. Doubly so when he is the happy, engaging, fiery, Tony Stewart. It’s been rough on the track for him since his come back from injury. Really, it’s been rough on track for Tony for a couple years now. I think a lot of NASCAR would love to see him hit that walk off home run and pull a mic drop by walking out with a championship. Very few in any sport get to do that. Finish 29 laps off the pace cause of a wreck isn’t going to get him very far. Remember, he’s going to finish in the top 30 in points and get a win for his waiver to matter. 34th place finishes aren’t helping.

Rough Day for Jeb Burton

burton at poconoNormally a 29th place finish for the raced-by-committee GoFAS #32 isn’t much to remark on. This week, however, they put a new driver in the seat for Pocono. Jeb Burton got the call to run his first Cup level race since he was a victim of downsizing at BK Racing in the off season. He got the call to run the Richard Petty Xfinity car though so we thought it was good for him. A better car, albeit in a lower tier.

Bad news though, RPM shut down the #43 Xfinity team because their sponsor decided not to pay their bills. Racing takes deep pockets, no matter who you are. Deeper pockets if you want to do it well. Petty isn’t like Penske, or Haas, or Hendrick, or Roush… he doesn’t have an extensive business to fall back on. (Although, just ask James Finch, that doesn’t always work either) Petty’s only business is racing, so when someone doesn’t pay their sponsor bills, there’s nothing left to soak up the hurt.

Frankly, I think this whole thing sucks. Burton is a very promising racer for the future of the sport. He’s got a Truck win and two top ten point finishes in that series. Given the right equipment, he could be one of the future stars to carry the sport like Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney. Doubly so because the traditionalists love a family connection in NASCAR. He had it rough last year with BK racing, DNQ’ing for nine races and then becoming a victim of charter system downsizing. I had figured the Petty Xfinity ride would get him back in a competitive car again and get things back on track. NASCAR’s relationship with the checkbook is a harsh mistress though. I hope he can land on his feet.

Shout Outs

elliott at poconoThis first one hardly seems like a shout out because he is running so consistently, but high five to Chase Elliott. He pulled off his 10th top ten on the season so far. Everyone expected the #24 car to still run well, after all, it’s a Hendrick team that was winning races last year with Gordon, but Elliott is exceeding everyone’s expectations. Still, I have to give a shout out for Elliott leading the most laps on the day, even if he didn’t score his first W yet. Chase is constantly impressing everyone. He’s highest in the points without a win yet at 7th on a season so far. I seriously expect him to win. Soon and often.

ty dillon at poconoThe other shout out on the day goes to another guy who’s going to carry the sport into the future. Ty Dillon got the start in the Circle Sport-Levine ride as an unofficial 4th RCR car. It’s a deal that Childress has been doing with Circle Sport for a few years now ever since the former sold the owner points for the #33 to the latter. Austin Dillon did the same thing before he was officially a rookie, running a few races as an RCR flying the Circle Sport banner. Brian Scott did too when he was running Xfinity for Childress. Ty Dillon is making the most of these starts he gets. In the thirteen starts he’s made at Cup level, his best finish is 14th at Michigan last year. He didn’t top that this past week at Pocono, finishing in 21st, but he led some laps up front. Childress will get him into a Cup car in a year or two and he’ll be leading a lot more laps than that.

Pit Stall 13 Update

headshot via aricalmirola dot comAric Almirola was lucky driver to occupy the glorious Pit Stall 13 at Pocono. It didn’t translate to too much for the RPM #43 car this week though. He had a middling start in 16th and finished 20th. This day wasn’t one where just managing to stay on the lead lap was going to bring home much of anything in terms of finish. He ran as high as 14th and as low as 29th, so a 20th was right about where you figured he’d end up. They did have an “over the wall too soon” penalty pitting on lap 62 which put lost them their midpack position which the car was never fully able to recover from.

Charterless Update

  • 10th – #21 Ryan Blaney – He’s having a very good season, currently in the Chase grid on points, but is frequently overshadowed by Chase Elliott (i.e. like this week)
  • 27th – #30 Josh Wise – This is the best finish for the TMG #30 car this year finishing just one lap off the pace. This little team busts hump every race so it’s nice to see them making gains. Small steps are better than no steps.
  • 28th – #98 Reed Sorenson – The Premium Motorsports drivers swapped cars. Neither has a charter so…. reasons? Sorenson did get his best finish of the year out of it though.
  • 30th – #55 Cole Whitt – Swapped numbers with his teammate and cruised to 30th. Attrition helped.

Onward to Michigan!

Michigan is up next and I think it’s going to be a good race, unlike last year’s high drag debacle. It’s a very fast track with plenty of room to race so here’s hoping the low downforce package creates lots of passing. I think it should.

While not a plate track, this place favors teams that can put down raw speed similar to the plate tracks. I think RCR has this track circled as a place to take a huge swing and hope for a home run, especially the 31 and 27 teams. If they miss here, Newman is eyeing Daytona and New Hampshire, Menard is watching Daytona and Indy. They’ve got to take a big swing and go for a win. Newman could still point his way in, but Menard had a few races with bad racing luck and tire problems. He can’t soak those up and still point his way in. This time of year, look for the Neon Rocket, and plenty of other teams, starting to take big gambles on those W’s.

I also expect Brad Keselowski to run up front here. The best he’s ever finished at the track was 2nd during his championship year, but it really is a thorn in his side that he hasn’t won at his home track. With two wins under his belt and a spot in the Chase lined up, I expect him to go all out for that hometown crowd.

Coke 600 Round Up

So this years running of NASCAR’s longest race might not have been one for the highlight reels, but it certainly was one for the record books.

Take away the confusion of the format away from the All Star Race and you’re left with very good racing at Charlotte. Trevor Bayne’s big pass. Larson going wheel to wheel with Chase Elliott. Larson again trying his damnedest to win the whole thing over Logano. The All Star Race is a big ol’ preview of the Coke 600. Always has been.

So we, the collective patrons of NASCAR, expected something similar.

We didn’t get that.

And that’s ok. (Seriously, it really is. The NASCAR Twitternauts need to reign it in)

truex wins coke 600Martin Truex Jr had sheer and utter domination of a single race not seen in over fifteen years. Truex led all but eight laps in a 600 mile race. That’s 588 miles. That’s if I hopped in my car and drove from Rhode Island to the track in Richmond. NASCAR had one of their patented competition cautions early on in the race. Truex had taken off to something like an eight second lead by then. He started from the pole and never looked back.

The official stats say nine lead changes among four drivers but the reality is that those lead changes only happened during green flag pit cycles. Jimmie Johnson, the only driver who could even see Truex’s rear bumper, picked up five laps on two separate cycles that way. Logano one lap. Paul Menard two when he was stretching fuel in case mileage became a thing.

Cautions were minimal. Brian Scott spun and didn’t hit anything. The #32, run by Jeffery Earnhardt again this week, pancaked the wall at one point. Sweet Lady Debris was the only caution past lap 209 of 400. Truex’s pit crew and that number one pit box kept him out front.

There wasn’t a thing anyone could do versus the Furniture Row Toyota. Jimmie Johnson sniffed the lead after the Sweet Lady Debris caution and led maybe a quarter of a lap. But Truex got it back before the lap was complete so it didn’t even count as an official lead change. For much of the race, there were less than five cars within ten seconds time of Truex.

Jeff Burton's Exide colors from 96-01
Jeff Burton’s Exide colors from 96-01

The only race in my memory of watching NASCAR since the late 80s that comes close was Jeff Burton going flag to flag at New Hampshire in 2000. On the Fox broadcast, Mike Joy even dropped that reference and the other two, Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip, were actually in that race. (Tony Stewart was still new back then and Junior was a rookie) Flag to flag is an amazing achievement for any racer but on reflection, I agree with Mike Joy that this was more dominant than Burton was back then. Context is why.

First of all, every race at New Hampshire has been 300 laps (for something like 314 miles because of it’s slightly bigger than 1-mile size). Or 301 because of a thing some sponsor did years ago that sticks sometimes even with a different sponsor. Regardless. It’s about half the race distance. New Hampshire is also notoriously hard to pass at. I have been witness to some amazing races at New Hampshire, but it’s no Bristol. Ryan Newman, who’s rookie season wasn’t for another two years after Burton’s feat, has said in the past that Loudon is “the birthplace of track position.” So take a flat track, add in seven caution flags taking thirteen cars out of the race and that makes for a much different race. Oh, and by the way, that was the year that NASCAR ran restrictor plates at New Hampshire.

Two drivers, Kenny Irwin Jr and Adam Petty, died at New Hampshire within two months earlier that year. It was a quick safety fix until NASCAR made more lasting safety fixes in the wake of Dale Earnhardt’s death less than a year later.

So Burton’s race back in 2000 was an achievement, but the utter domination of Truex is a lasting one for the record books. It should be viewed as one of the greatest team performances in NASCAR history, from Truex wheeling the car to his pit crew keeping him up front.

The only problem here is that people are whining and complaining about the race.

Why? I don’t get it.

I know what the people are saying, I’m not deaf. I’ve watched NASCAR for over 25 years and live tweet as many of the races that I can. I know what the NASCAR Twitternauts are complaining about.

But I don’t think they should.

harvick edwards phoenix finishI have said repeatedly in my commentary this year that NASCAR is being spoiled with epic finishes. The NASCAR media people will be stocked for years with new clips for their promo commercials. The only downside to that is people expect that every race is going to be like that.

Can you honestly tell me that you think every race is going to be like that? If you said “yes” you’re a liar. I’m not even going to say your foolish or naïve, just a liar. NASCAR is no different than any ball-and-stick sport in that aspect. Not ever sporting event will be a classic.

Look at the Super Bowl.

For every Eli to Tyree Helmet Catch (18 and one! Nuts to you Pats fans!) that everyone will remember and be on every highlight reel until the Earth collapses in on itself, there are more Super Bowls that go by the wayside in the collective memory. I remember that the Seahawks beat the Broncos a couple years ago and Peyton had that dumb missed hike to start the game, but how long will a 48-3 beatdown be remembered? Do you remember how Super Bowl XXXV went? I only do because it was my Giants that were on the wrong end of a Baltimore thrashing. So beyond the New York fans wishing they could forget and the Baltimore fans who remember the ring, no one else is going to remember a 15 year old snoozer of a football game. Or how ‘bout the 30-13 hosing the Cowboys gave the Bills. Or the 55-10 San Francisco win? I had to Wikipedia those last two to even use them as examples.

NASCAR is no different. I remember Burton going flag to flag at New Hampshire because I was there in the seat that I’ve sat in since 1993. How many of the old school fans remember what happened at that one New Hampshire race sixteen years ago? Unless they were huge Burton fans, or maybe season champ Bobby Labonte fans, I doubt many do. Or what about the Dover race I went to when I was a kid in ’91 when Harry Gant lapped the field? Sure, it’s easy to remember that Burton was the man at New Hampshire for a long string of years and Harry Gant was Mr. September, but the details fall by the wayside.

Does a baseball fan stop watching when a game is slow? Do football fans vow to never watch another game because nothing happens in the last quarter of garbage time in a huge win? That’s not how it works so I don’t see why it would work that way in NASCAR.

daytona can-am 2I am sympathetic to the NASCAR brass when this happens though. They’re trying to maintain a presence in the national sports psyche. The sport over built and got hit hard when the economy tanked. It’s not like it was back in the day when I was a kid and I didn’t know another soul growing up in Connecticut who even knew what NASCAR was, but it’s not our heyday either. NASCAR is in a tough spot. Around where I live in New England, I get people all the time asking me why I love NASCAR. One of the big things I always tell them is that the sport is like a traveling circus and a soap opera all in one. The more you know the ins and outs of the sport, the more fun it is to watch. When you know *why* a fuel mileage battle is tense or how a crew chief is able to chase adjustments or how something as simple as clouds moving in can change the track… when you know why these things affect the race, you can get more enjoyment out of what’s going on. You can see past the surface. But for someone flipping through the channels, how do you get them to stop long enough to get below the surface?

I could come up with suggestions, sure. Anyone can. But I don’t have the answers, otherwise I’d be working for NASCAR.

I do wish NASCAR wouldn’t throw down a kneejerk reaction and try to change the rules every time a race wasn’t an epic win though. Frankly, I think that’s short sighted. Let’s look at the season as a whole and as a whole, we are doing much better in terms of on track product. All the marketing gimmicks in the world can’t make up for a great product, that’s where we’ve got to start and that’s what we got.

I think that the fans with the knowledge can appreciate Truex’s win this past week for what it was, a race for the record books which may never be beaten again.

And that’s a good thing.

Shout Outs

In a race with a very distinct line between the haves and the have-nots, there are some noteworthy performances buried within the stat sheet.

newman at coke 600The first shout out goes to Ryan Newman. He didn’t run a flashy race, at no point ever did he get much in the way of TV time. Newman’s RCR car ran midpack almost the entire race, but he managed to sneak into a top ten finish at the very end of the day. It sounds like the most Ryan Newman race ever, and it kind of was. Races like that have been his MO for the last couple seasons. It’s important this week however, because heading into the summer, Newman is how within the Chase cutoff via points. That 10th place finish bumped Allmendinger out of the 16th points spot and Newman in. He’s tied on points with Blaney and only nine behind Jamie Mac. Newman keeps on churning out those quiet top tens and he can find his way into the post season. He came damn close to winning the whole championship that way two years ago.

biffle at coke 600I also want to toss out a Shout Out to Greg Biffle. The Biff, along with the whole of Roush Fenway Racing, is quietly becoming relevant again with some consistency. Biffle started well and then had a very Ryan Newman race after that coming home in 11th. I spent a lot of time thinking at the front end of this year that when Roush inevitably shook up his driver line up to help the team’s performance, that the Biff would be one of the casualties. He’s been bringing it back the last few races though. I strongly believe that NASCAR is better off with the whole RFR stable, with the Biff still as the leader, relevant and running well. This uptick in performance for the #16 team is a good thing.

I’d also like to drop a special Shout Out to whoever runs the Circle Sport-Levine twitter account. Banana and mustard sandwiches are for the win… maybe… I’ll stick with ham and cheese though.

mustard bananas

Pit Stall 13 Update

annett at coke 600This week, the glory of the 13th pit stall went to Michael Annett and the #46 HScott team. However, it was not a particularily great day for the team. Annett did not qualify well and barely finished any better in 36th, ten laps off the pace. His HScott teammate, Clint Boywer, did not perform much better, spending the day mired in the mid-20s. Now I am adding another sentence or two so I can have an excuse to make the picture big enough to see clearly at this point.

Charterless Update

  • 20th – #21 Ryan Blaney – The Wood Brothers are still getting into the swing of a full time schedule, but props for a decent enough finish in his first complete 600 (crashed out last year)
  • 35th – #98 Cole Whitt – He spent the whole night in the 30s on a night when attrition wasn’t going to help
  • 38th – #30 Josh Wise – Ctrl+C from Cole Whitt above.
  • 40th – #55 Reed Sorenson – Fell out of the race with only 200 laps under his belt

On to Pocono

So next week NASCAR heads north. Well, not “north” for real, but north to all the southerners. Pennsylvania doesn’t count as the north to anyone who actually lives up north.

It’s the first trip there this year and always down for a good show since it’s such a unique track. Kenseth won last time NASCAR went to Pocono and Truex won the race last June. So Truex wasn’t running a Toyota last year, but with the Gibbs Toyotas already dominating and Truex riding high after this latest win, I would not be surprised to see him go back to back.

The other big story line to watch is Kyle Busch. He was never really a factor this past week at Charlotte, but Pocono is the other track on the circuit that he has never won at. I did just talk about in the paragraph above that the Gibbs Toyotas are the team to beat at any and all tracks this year. Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch is driven to be the same conversation as Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon, and Johnson as Best Ever. He has his championship and he really wants to score that W at ever track.

All Star Weekend Round Up

The subtitle for this post is “WTF happened in Charlotte?” with WTF standing for “What’s This For?”

Because no one really had a clue what was going on except for maybe Keselowski since he’s the one that came up with the idea.

Remember what I said last week “there’s some complicated thing involving pit stops that was proposed by Keselowski.” Oh yeah. Complicated didn’t even explain half of what happened for the All Star Race.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves. First let’s talk about the Showdown.

Despite getting rained out Friday night and moved to lunchtime Saturday where I caught in on TV by accident, the Sprint Showdown was the most successful part of the whole All Star Weekend. The Showdown (or whatever it’s called in whatever year we’re talking about) has always been broken up into segments. Or at least I think it has been. Look, the constantly changing format makes it confusing and after watching for so many years it kinda blends together.

Anyways. If there is one thing that NASCAR takes out of this cluster of a weekend, is that the Showdown worked perfectly. Win any segment and you’re into the big show. Used to be only one person transferred from the Showdown and one from the Fan Vote. Now three get to transfer from the Showdown and two Fan Votes. NASCAR just made heat races way more fun than the Xfinity Dash4Cash heat races going on this year… because people actually miss the show and it’s not just some glorified qualifying parade.

bayne wins all star segment 1Trevor Bayne won the first with a glorious three wide pass on the last lap of the segment. He won by .005. The man is becoming relevant with some frequency all of a sudden. Biffle won the second in ho-hum fashion proving that not every race is going to be a home run. The second segment featured a lot of people setting up pit/tire strategy for the last one. Kyle Larson put on another high octane show seriously throwing down with Chase Elliott for the win on segment three. They were beating and banging for half a lap before Larson got the edge at the finish line. Thrashed the right side of the car and the #42 crew gets props for having the car ready to go for the big show later that night.

I as actually surprised that Danica didn’t pull the number one spot on the Fan Vote. Sure, she got voted in at number two but Chase Elliott won the Fan Vote. Matt DiBurrito scored third with his surge from that Bristol finish.

allstarrace1

So back to the big show. The All Star Race. Unfortunately it was pretty down hill from there. The complicated segment format involved mandatory green flag pit stops. Then pit stops between segments. Then more mandatory green flag pit stops. Then another round of pits between segments before the last one.

So in 113 laps of racing there were five pit stops. And of course, like any good crew chief, people were trying to game the system in whatever way they thought would work. Some came in wicked early to get it out of the way. Kenseth held out as long as possible. Then a caution flew. Hosed up the whole field. Everyone was a lap down because the #20 hadn’t pit yet. But he was peanalized a lap for not getting his green flag pit in. But no one could take the wave around.

And that’s how you put most of the field a lap down and confused the everliving b’jebus out of all of NASCAR. Except Brad Keselowski.

The only driver in favor of it was Keselowski and a lot took to twitter to make it know. As one is wont to do.

logano all star carAnyways. Once the final segment happened and all the confusing crap was out of the way. Larson showed up again to put on a good show throwing down with the #22. Logano won the All Star Race in the only segment of the big show to make any sense. Larson used up his race car and brushed the wall, hosing up his car and having to bring it in the pits. Afterwards, even Logano said he had no idea what was going on with the format and figured he’d just drive and let his crew chief worry about it.

Keselowski defended his format talking about passes for the lead within the last couple laps and such. I get that. I really do, Brad. Charlotte isn’t exactly known for being a track that produces nail biter finishes. I’m looking to Darlington, the short tracks, or the plate tracks for those. Keselowski is correct when he says that the last few All Star races didn’t have much passing. Frankly, they were snoozers and I’d loaf about reading a book and only half paying attention to the race. We didn’t get a snoozer this time, but Brad, it wasn’t anything to do with your gimmicky format ideas.

Points for trying. Seriously. No sarcasm there. Points for you and NASCAR trying to do something positive. It was a flop. Own up to it and move on.

See, the parts of the racing that were good were the straightforward parts. NASCAR is on that hot streak of epic finishes this year.

larson elliott all starTrevor Bayne didn’t need some weird pit stop format to pull a gutsy three wide pass to win the first segment. Larson didn’t need any gimmicks to thrash is car in an all out effort for the W. NASCAR has put together a fantastic aero package for the cars this year (after last year’s flop) and the competition level is at an all time high. That should have been good enough.

So, keep the Showdown as is. Scrap the ever living hell out of Keselowski’s Folly. Let them race.

Shout Outs!

I covered this already, but Shout Out to Kyle Larson!

Not to dismiss Trevor Bayne’s epic pass, but the Target car is what made the race worth watching. It’s too bad that Larson finished 16th out of 20 in the big show, but it’s a checkers or wreckers kind of race. The Ganassi team is showing up with all their ducks in a row again. Everyone was focused on winning the big check, but it also doubles as a giant practice for next week’s Coke 600. Larson pulling the W there would be epic.

Pit Stall 13 Update

Seems a bit anticlimatic after the slick ranting and raving I already did to just slide into a Pit Stall 13 Update.

Especially since there was none. No one used that pit stall since pit road was working on every other stall drawn by random order.

On to Charlotte

Well, not really “On to Charlotte” since the teams are already in their home base for the All Star Weekend. More of a “Continue to Stay at Charlotte” for the Coke 600.

I am one of the people who advocate for shorter races. 400 miles had worked just fine for Pocono. I’ve been going to New Hampshire since it opened and they run slightly over 300 miles. Look at the drama that the heat races — excuse me, Showdown segments, produced in only a handful of laps. That said, I think the Coke 600 needs to stay the Coke 600. It’s one of the crown jewels of NASCAR and in this instance, I am fulling on board with the traditionalists.

The All Star race always serves as a big preview for who is going to do well for the 600. You’d think that would give the early edge to Logano and Keselwoski since they finished one-two. They’re fast all over and leading the Ford teams.

But I think the real edge goes to Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott. Since the Showdown was moved to Saturday during the day, they performed well on the track both in the sun and under the lights.

And of course, the other storyline to watch is going to be Kyle Busch. Charlotte is one of only two tracks he needs to win at for a sweep of all current NASCAR tracks.

Dover Round Up

There is a theme to NASCAR in 2016.

Our theme is epic finishes.

Dover provided this year. Holy moly Dover provided.

The funny thing is, I don’t think anyone expected an epic race out of Dover. I know I expected Jimmie Johnson to roll in and house everyone. Or Harvick. The Big Four teams, Gibbs in particular, have been wicked dominant this year. I really expected a runaway race here and for the opening of the day at Dover, that’s exactly what we got. Clean air meant a lot out front.

Then the track took rubber and the racing grooves opened up.

kenseth wins doverKenseth had to work hard to earn his win this week. I thought Kyle Larson was going to score his first win. Him and Chase Elliot were flying around the track. The ironic part is that if Larson hadn’t needed to hold off Chase, I think he would have had the time to wear Kenseth down. The 20 was slipping and sliding all over the place by the closing laps. Larson was too, but that’s the way he likes it, rim riding around the Harry Gant Lane. He just ran out of time there at the end.

I really did think Larson had him at the end too. Kenseth is a crafty veteran though. Larson could have used the chrome horn too. No one would have blamed him for going all out to score his first win. But Larson made it a point to race clean. “You can see, there’s some drama in the sport, and it takes drivers years to get over it. … I try to race everybody with respect,” he said after the race. Good on Larson for taking the high road. (Also sounds like a bit of a backhanded dig there)

Larson v Kenseth made for a fantastic ending but that wasn’t the craziest part of the race.

IMG_20160515_163037On a lap 355 restart during a race where track position was a big deal, Jimmie Johnson had the outside lane. The lane had been working best most of the day. Truex was behind him having gamed the run off pit road to get the outside lane. The 78 car was wicked fast and it was shaping up to be a showdown between Truex and Johnson. When the green flag dropped, Johnson’s transmission didn’t click. The thing got stuck in neutral. Truex got sandwhiched. The whole lot of them spun out in front of the field. Carnage. Took out a lot of the best cars on the track. Officially eighteen cars were involved, just shy of half the field. More than a couple were down for the count. You don’t think of Dover when you think of “The Big One.”

Youth Shows Up

Chase_Elliott_Road_America_2015-wikiSo I talked about Larson and Chase Elliott but they’re not the only young guys to show up with a strong race at Dover. Take a look of the ages of the top ten. Larson is 23. Elliott is 20. Blaney is 22. Trevor Bayne is 25 and finally starting to live up to his potential. Sometimes people get worried about the future of NASCAR. When I see results like that, I won’t. Add in Austin Dillon, who got crunched by the Monster Mile earlier on with some busted parts, there are five guys who are going to end up in the winner’s circle. Five guys who can carry the sport onward. I love that these guys are getting finishes to go with all the promise they came into Cup with.

Truex’s Doom and Gloom

truex at doverTruex just can’t catch a break. It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned this in 2016. Read that above paragraph. Truex was just the innocent bystander in that wreck. Green flag drops, you gotta go. That’s what he did. The red flag to clean up the big mess was advantageous though. Teams aren’t allowed to touch the cars, but everyone rolls into town with pre-fabbed bumpers and fenders. The Furniture Row team preassembled the new body work and strapped it all down on the car to get the aero functioning again. I get the sense they pretty much hoped for the best with all the internal stuff. They battled back. The car was fast and Truex managed to pull off a ninth place finish.

So I guess this doubles as a Shout Out too.

The Rest of the Shout Outs

Shout out number one… Danica!

danica at doverThat’s right. Giving a shout out to Danica. She dodged the big mess when Johnson’s transmission decided it didn’t feel like working anymore. I snark that she’s not living up to her potential and that someone else should get a shot in that top shelf equipment… and I stand by that. But credit where credit is due. This day at Dover was one where survival was not easy to come by. Many good cars got taken out and success in NASCAR is often determined by jumping at the opportunities that show up. Danica jumped. She actually spent the first two thirds of the race mired a lap off the pace in the 30s and high 20s. Once the cautions started showing up, she got her lap back and when half the field went CRUNCH into the wall, she jumped a lot of positions. A thirteenth place finish on a day like this isn’t anything to scoff at. It’s her best finish of the year and the best since the spring Bristol race of last year.

Shout out number two goes to The Man with the Checkbook.

menard at doverMr. Paul “Fear the Beard” Menard got a much needed decent finish with an 11th place at Dover. When you point your way into the Chase, a string of bad luck can kill off your whole season, something Menard had happen to him in years past with a Truex-style raincloud of doom following him around in the middle of 2014 to hose up his chance at the post season that year. Menard was the caboose last week at Kansas and had two 26th and a 38th already this year. It’s hard to soak up races like that when you’re living and dying by the top 15. Personally, I think RCR is improving as a whole this year even if not all the finishes are showing it. Menard has Michigan, Indy (where he’s won), and Daytona circled as places where the Neon Rocket can roll in and contend for the win. The trick is to keep up the good finishes in the mean time.

Pit Stall 13 Update

kahne inspection at vegasRolling in to the amazing 13th pit stall at Dover was Kasey Kahne. Despite starting well in 11th, he faded fast and spent a lot of the race rolling around midpack in the teens and low 20s. Kahne however, was on the inside lane when the Big One showed up to Dover. He skirted all the mess that happened up in the high line and snuck in with a fourth place finish. That’s good enough for third in the Pit Stall 13 Standings.

Kahne’s performance came with a kicker though. Monday morning announcement over the wire service said the #5 car failed post race laser inspection. NASCAR packed up the car to the R+D center. No word yet on any penalties or whathaveyou. Wait and see on this one.

Charterless Update

  • 8th – #21 Ryan Blaney – Took a decent midpack car and danced into the top ten towards the end of the race
  • 27th – #98 Cole Whitt – The car DNF’d near the end, but survived longer than a lot of people at Dover
  • 36th – #30 Josh Wise – The TMG car had mechanical issues a couple times, finished running though
  • 38th – #55 Reed Sorensen – Crashed out at lap 214, actually had a sponsor again though.

All Star Weekend Up Next

NASCAR heads home for real this time, no Kansas pun involved. The All Star Weekend hits Charlotte and all the glory and shenanigans that come with it. The format has been tweaked … again. I don’t even know what’s going on with it. I’ve heard that NASCAR is trying a new aero package as an experiment and that there’s some complicated thing involving pit stops that was proposed by Keslowski at the Driver’s Council. I tend to not pay attention until I turn it on and see what’s going on. It’s too tough to keep track of.

Frankly, I would love to see the All Star Race rotate locations. Maybe even hit up places that Cup doesn’t normally go to. How awesome would it be to see the Cup guys tear it up at Eldora in a race for money and glory? That would have the potential to be the best thing ever. EVER.

I do get why NASCAR keeps it in Charlotte. Old timers whine about tradition, and there are about five races where I’ll give them that. Really, I think having two weeks at home is the real treat for the NASCAR traveling circus. Except for the guys in Furniture Row being based out of Denver and not Charlotte like everyone else. The sport has three off weekends a year and it’s going down to two next year. Hanging out at home in Charlotte is a big bonus for everyone and I can live with that even if I think the All Star Race would benefit by moving around.

As for what to expect?

Well I seriously hope that someone beats Danica in the fan vote. Josh Wise getting in with the DogeCar was one of the best things ever. I stand by my statements that NASCAR needs internet nerds as fans and poo-pooing the Reddit community that supported Josh Wise and his underdog (under-doge) team was a bad move. Anyways. The fans get to vote in two people this year. The top five are currently Danica, Blaney, Elliott, Larson, and DiBenedetto.

dibenedetto at bristolDanica is kind of a duh to get in. Honestly, I have no idea who will get the other spot. Blaney, Elliot and Larson clearly represent the future of the sport. DiBenedetto is a guy I think out drives the equipment he has and after his run at Bristol and the DiBurrito campaign, he might get some of the Reddit crowd on his side. If I had to pick one to throw down money on, I think I’d have to go with Elliott. He’s getting good finishes and has the second generation built in fans.

I also applaud NASCAR letting in three winners from the segments into the main show. I’ll call on Blaney, Larson and Elliott all as good shots to get in via segment wins. Could leave the door open to DiBurrito.