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.

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.

Kansas Round Up

After the mayhem at Talladega, there’s no place like home.

There. I got the required Wizard of Oz reference covered and out of the way.

I wonder if the people of Kansas get as sick of that as the people of Rhode Island get sick of most of the country not knowing where we are on a map.

In all seriousness, that mayhem from last week isn’t something I really want to see again. I’m more than happy having a “normal” race this week. Normal is good. NASCAR has been spoiled with a big string of epic finishes this year, so I’m sure there are people complaining about the normal race, but I don’t want to see drivers as risk like that again.

kyle wins kansasKyle Busch won for the first time at Kansas and the third time this year. This was never a track he liked before. He’s crashed out multiple times here before, including twice in the fall Chase race at this track. Unlike many Saturday night races where the transition from day to night causes some cars to fade and some to show up all of a sudden, much of the top ten hung out there all day. Busch, Harvick, brother Kurt, Kenseth, Blaney… all stayed in the top ten all day. Newman was in the top 12-ish all race. The only reason there weren’t more in that list is because Truex, Logano, and Larson all had late race misfortune to hose up good runs. (More on that later)

Kyle Busch winning a race isn’t exactly spectacular news at this point. It’s bigger news if he doesn’t win. There were many jokes flying around twitter about him beating up on the field on a Saturday, when the Xfinity races are usually run. But love him or hate him, Kyle Busch is on the verge of a major accomplishment that I do not believe has been done by anyone else in the sport’s history. He has won on 24 of NASCAR’s current 26 tracks on the schedule. The tracks have changed with the eras and all, but at no time has anyone had a clean sweep of all the current tracks. Gordon didn’t do it. Earnhardt never did (much to my chagrin, New Hampshire was on his no win list… there’s a longer story about that one for another day). Parsons, Petty, Allison…. none of them ever held a clean sweep. This is going to be a big deal heading into those tracks this year.

The only tracks left for Busch to get a clean sweep are Charlotte and Pocono. It will be extra fun if he can win the Coke 600 because the first Pocono race is the following week. If he doesn’t win the Coke 600, the other Charlotte race is  during the Chase, so that could be a big storyline.

  • Charlotte – May 29 and Oct 8
  • Pocono – June 5 and July 31

Bad Luck Hits Drivers Who Need Good Finishes

Screenshot_2016-05-07-22-00-24~2Truex has some sort of personal rain cloud that follows him around. He’s had some of the worst luck of any top driver I’ve seen in years, going back to all the shenanigans with MWR and Clint Bowyer’s “itchy arm.” The #78 car had the pole and was absolutely housing the field this week He regularly had four to five second leads on the field. In a race without many cautions, a lot of the pit stops came under green. The second he drove back on track, loose wheel. The second stop dumped him a lap down. Tony Stewart was off sync with the leaders and stayed out leading laps. When he came in for his service, boom caution. Truex was in the lucky dog position… until that second. Bad luck there. He did eventually get his lap back, but was mired in traffic and couldn’t get back to the front. Truex is a class act though and didn’t grouse about it in his post race interview.

Kyle Larson and Paul Menard also got bit by bad luck. Menard was cruising to a 10-15th finish. Likely could have done better on a night when the other RCR cars and affiliates had good finishes. Busted a tire, scraped the wall, lost a few laps for repairs. Not good, but not exactly catastrophic. But then the engine blew. That’s a last place finish. When you get into the Chase by top-15ing the field to death, it’s hard to soak up finishes like that. The #27 got hosed in the disaster filled Talladega race and was one of many with tire issues back at Phoenix. The Neon Chariot needs some good races and fast.

larson at kansasLarson was running “high line and handsome” all race… with massive props to Larry Mac on the Fox broadcast for dropping the Harry Gant reference. Double bonus points because Larson was two years old when Gant retired. The #42 car charged into the top ten and was a staple there most of the race. He charged hard on every restart making big gains but chewed up his tires faster than everyone else. Still, he was heading to an easy top 5. He got caught up in a weird double aero spin with Hamlin and Keselowski. Both of the other cars spun without contact when going three wide with Larson. Keselowski had no damage and managed to finish 10th. Hamlin shoved Larson up into the wall. Running so high on the track meant he had no where to go. It borked his car enough that he went into the books with a DNF in 35th.

Truex, despite his personal rain cloud, is sitting tenth in points. The Toyotas have been showing so much strength, it’s a matter of time before he gets a win. I’d circle Pocono as a good place for that. He’s had road course wins in the past too. Truex and his Furniture Row team will be ok.

Larson and Menard have to be careful though. They’re mired in 21st and 23rd in the points. We’re getting to the point in the season where anymore finishes like that are going to put them in jeopardy of missing the Chase without a win. Larson’s breakthrough win hasn’t happened yet. Menard hasn’t won since 2011. They’ve got to shake off the bad luck.

Shout Outs!

allmendinger at kansasThe first Shout Out goes to AJ Allmendinger.

The Dinger started waaaay back in 29th place and was completely off everyone’s radar until about 30 to go when he crept up near the top ten. He cracked the top ten by staying out and picking up a couple spots when others came in for tires. The older tires held up. The #47 team has now matched their top ten total from last year and we’re only 11 races into the season. A good follow up to the wrecking out of the Talladega disaster last week.

My other shout out this week goes to Tony Stewart.

stewart mug shot at KansasSmoke had an up and down day. He started in the middle of the pack and then fell back somewhat. Midrace, chunks of the field got off sync with pit stops and Stewart led some laps, the only person who really led any outside of green flag pit cycles other than Kyle or Truex. Anyone with any stake in NASCAR should have been happy seeing Stewart up front. He fell back after finally pitting but managed to get back up to a 12th place finish. Combined with Dillon getting the 6th last week as the relief driver, he’s already got 87 points in three weeks back. He’s got 59 points to make up on 30th place Regan Smith in fifteen weeks plus notching up a win to make it in the Chase.

Pit Stall 13 Update

Whoops. Kansas is just like Daytona and Texas. There is no pit stall 13, only 12A. That means the races here don’t count for our season long Pit Stall 13 Standings.

12A did go to Larson this week, and we already talked about his bad luck at Kansas.

Ironically, Larson does lead the Pit Stall 13 Standings with his third place finish at Martinsville. He holds the tie breaker of better qualifying over Kurt Busch’s third place finish from Bristol.

Charterless Update

  • 5th – #21 Ryan Blaney – Top ten all day, he ran a veteran race. The Wood Bros are only going to get better as they get in the swing of running the full season
  • 33rd – #55 Reed Sorensen – Still unsponsored (and I wonder why unsponsored cars tend to be black?).
  • 36th – #30 Josh Wise – Made the field this week since only 40 cars rolled in to Kansas. Bowed out with suspension problems.
  • 39th – #98 Cole Whitt – Went behind the wall for a large chunk of laps but got out of the caboose position when Menard’s engine let go.

On to Dover

NASCAR takes it’s traveling road show back east next week to hit the concrete banking at Dover. I always enjoy watching Dover since it was the first race I ever went to when I was a kid before New Hampshire opened only 3 hours away instead of 8 hours away. Alan Kulwicki and Rusty Wallace wrecked right in front of me in a big cloud of tire smoke while Harry Gant lapped the field in the high line to win the race.

The second trip to Dover in the fall is a Chase race, so there will be lots of crew chiefs with their notebooks out for this one. Harvick won last fall. Jimmie Johnson and Kenseth have the best driver ratings there. I think Truex is going to roll in to Dover as a man on a mission. He hasn’t won at Dover since 2007 with DEI, but where better to ditch that rain cloud of bad luck than at his home track?

Talladega Round Up

This year’s Talladega race needs no preamble from me. The carnage is best in the driver’s words…

“I hate it. I’d much rather be at home,” Kyle Busch

“If they’re cheering for crashes, man, it’s not a good thing,” Austin Dillon “I’ve grown up in racing, watched a lot of bad crashes. I don’t think they’re true fans if they like the excitement.”

“You get butterflies in your stomach even thinking about coming here because you don’t know what’s going to happen.” Trevor Bayne

“I don’t know if really anyone in our sport knows the answer,” Keselowski

“Hell, I’m going home,” Earnhardt Jr. said after the second accident. “I’m done. We need to park the car for a while, too.”

“That’s probably the most scared [I’ve been] trying to hop out of a car with a fire on the inside,” Danica Patrick “I closed my eyes and hoped for the best. … It hit really hard.”

“All the time I’m upside down, I’m praying the whole time it lands on its wheels because I think I’ll be pretty claustrophobic if it lands on its roof.” Kenseth

“I am pretty sick and tired of speedway racing at this point,’’ Buescher

Brad Keselowski won at Talladegakeselowski wins vegas in a race where 35 of the 40 cars were involved in accidents. There were three Big Ones within the last 30 laps. The only safe place on the track was up front. And even then, that’s iffy. The first Big One was triggered within the top ten on lap 162 when Kurt Busch tagged Jimmie Johnson and hooked him up the track into Paul Menard.

The only drivers who missed the wreckfest were Keselowski (winner), Kyle Busch (2nd), Elliot (5th), Ty Dillon who took over for Stewart mid race (6th) and Trevor Bayne (10th).

Everyone else wrecked at some point in the race.

The car’s leaving NASCAR’s biggest track looked more like they were leaving Bristol. At 200mph that is a big problem.

Wrecks are part of the sport. The cars are made as safe as possible, in fact, NASCAR’s safety has come a long way in the last fifteen years. But when cars are getting airborne routinely, we are in trouble. Airborne cars became rare after the introduction of roof flaps. As a kid when I watched, any time a car got backwards on a superspeedway, there was a good chance it was going over. NASCAR introduced roof flaps and made the sport safer. They’ve added hood flaps since to allow air to escape the underside of the car better.

buescher talladegaYet for some reason, we are seeing a rash of cars going airborne. During an Xfinity race at Daytona a couple years ago, Larson went into the catch fence on the start-finish line. Last year in July’s Daytona race, Austin Dillon’s car hit the fence and was so thrashed, everyone was surprised to see him walk away from the hunk of metal. Fans were injured that day. This past Sunday, Buescher barrel rolled down the back stretch when he was hooked from behind. Kenseth was in midair heading for the infield camping areas. Harvick slid across the top of the SAFER wall like a skateboarder grinding a stair rail.

Let’s not forget all the other hard crashes.

Edwards car broke and slammed Earnhardt into the wall at full speed, destroying an already wrecked car. Danica hit the wall at close to 200mph, hard enough that she needed chest Xrays to check for broken ribs. Harvick’s skateboard move across the wall put his car on top of Stenhouse and Allmendinger. NASCAR’s tv spots like to keep showing the Talladega race from a couple years ago where Tony Stewart barrel rolled over the hood of Paul Menard.

It’s gotten to the point where I am surprised we don’t have an injury report after every single plate track.

How do we fix this? I dunno. If anyone did, it’d probably be done by now. NASCAR is in a tough spot. This is a sport where the more you know about it, the more fun it is. When you know all the little ins and outs of the sport, it makes the drama on the track better. But NASCAR needs to get eyeballs on the screens and asses in the seats first. Get them hooked so they want to learn. The sport has been gifted a lot of excellent races this year. We haven’t had a single snoozer yet, but TV ratings are still tough to come by. I agree with Austin Dillon’s rant about how if people are only cheering for the crashes, they’re not real fans, but how else can NASCAR sell the sport? Stewart’s barrel roll over Menard’s hood has been a staple of the NASCAR promo spots since it happened. I cringe every time I see it.

A less dramatic crash than all of these killed Dale Earnhardt at Daytona.

A less dramatic crash than all of these killed Adam Petty at New Hampshire.

allmendinger at talladegaThe irony here is that the first half of the race, before the wreckfest, was one of the better plate races that I’ve seen in a long while. With the possibility of rain, the drivers were racing hard and not just logging laps (as happens often in plate races). This year’s Daytona 500 was a great race without all the crashes. It’s just a crap shoot if you going to get them or not.

But, then we had the wreck fest. Cautions breed cautions, no matter the track.

I’ve seen some of the reactions out there. Ideas that, I may not think are good, but are well intentioned and dreamt up out of a love of NASCAR. Jeff Gluck of USA Today said to ditch the banking or use the infield road courses. Hamlin mentioned getting rid of the restrictor plate and let the cars spread out at 250mph. Crazy speeds but no packs.

Personally, I think NASCAR should bring back tandem racing. I have no idea why people hated it so much. I’ve always been in the minority that loved tandem racing at the plate tracks. There was much more passing and excitement than most plate races where big chunks of it involve logging laps. It would succeed in spreading the cars out more to prevent the Big One. But that might not work anymore. There’s a new generation of cars on the track since tandem racing was a thing.

And if I had all the answers, I’d be working for NASCAR, not blogging about it.

Good Runs Busted

One of the non-life threatening problems of NASCAR’s latest wreckfest, is that it hosed up a lot of good runs from people who needed them. Plate races are often where smaller teams get to shine, but this past week, they shined briefly before they were snuffed out by the big wrecks.

menard talladegaECR Engines showed up to party. Menard and Newman were both in the top ten when they were taken out. RCR affiliate Casey Mears was running well at the front end of the race before he got damage early. The other RCR affiliate, Michael McDowell in the Circle Sport-Levine car broke into the top ten a couple times. Whoops. Too bad for all of them they lost the Talladega dice roll.

Danica and Larson led laps. Cole Whitt led laps and was cruising for a top ten before the last Big One. Bobby Labonte in the GoFAS car led laps. Regan Smith made it look like all the kids at Golden Coral might get to eat for free. Not a single one of them got a finish to go with it. (Although for Cole Whitt’s Premium Motorsports, they’ll be happy with the 18th)

Logano and Kenseth… Again

After Kenseth got out of his wrecked car he said to the tv cameras “I thought we were done with that, but maybe we’re not.” Logano and Kenseth were racing for the same real estate on track when Kenseth was shoved out of line and lost a lot of positions. That put him in the back of the pack to get caught up in the mess that flipped his car.

Kenseth was caught on camera later having (angry pointing) words with Logano. Logano meh’d if off.

Frankly, from watching the race, I want to chalk that one up to “that’s racing” and tell Kenseth to deal. There was aggressive racing all day and what Logano did wasn’t any worse than how everyone else was racing. I think if Kenseth had been shoved out of line by anyone else, it would have been a complete non-issue.

Shout outs!

Usually plate racing shout outs go to the little teams with the good finishes. This week it’s more about “did you survive?”

dillon at talladegaThe best “did you survive” story of Talladega goes to Austin Dillon. The front end of his car is more duct tape than sheet metal. Aerodynamically, it imagine it was like a brick. On the last restart, he still managed to power from 17th all the way to a third place finish. If I hadn’t watched the race and you showed me the picture of that car, I would have guessed Bristol. Two wrecks. 17 pit stops for repairs. Dillon drove the wheels off that car and huge props to Slugger Labbe and crew for keeping that rolling heap in a position for that to happen.

Shout out number two goes to one of the few who survived unscathed. Tony Stewart started the race to get the official points, but on the advise of his doctors, (and holy crap, it’s a good thing he listened) he turned the car over to Ty Dillon at lap 50ish. Stewart said afterwards that Ty had been a rockstar for the team. Doubly so today. He kept the car intact which was no small feat this week, and scored 35 points for Stewart who needs every point he can to hit the top 30 and pull a Kyle Busch to get in the Chase.

My other shout out goes to Landon Cassill. He was involved with the wrecks, as was most everyone, and managed to get an 11th place finish for Front Row. I’ve said repeatedly that I want to see him in top shelf equipment. He has become an adept plate racer. Five of his seven top 15 finishes have come at restrictor plate tracks. This week ties his second best finish with his three best races all being at Talladega. Harvick had words about Cassill after the race, but Cassill laughed it off saying Harvick is too “emotional.” (I totally agree and don’t really take anything Harvick says seriously… let’s just say I don’t think I’d hang out with him). After Buescher’s barrel rolls, Front Row will be more than happy with this.

Charterless Update

  • 9th – #21 Ryan Blaney – Did well last year on plate tracks for the Wood Bros. and survived well again.
  • 12th – #55 Michael Waltrip – Waltrip took his old MWR Toyota over to Premium this time instead of BK Racing like he did for Daytona. Led some laps, had the longest most awkward spin ever, and finished well.
  • 17th – #35 David Gilliland – After missing Daytona, he did well in an extra Front Row car. Was one of the first battle scarred car to show everyone the scars didn’t matter much. Finished decent, could have done better with some luck.
  • 18th – #98 Cole Whitt – Look at this, all the Charterless in the top 18. Whitt was doing even better until he was caught up in the final Big One. Spent time in the top ten and led a lap.
  • DNQ – #30 Josh Wise – I’m sure he would have rather been racing than not, but after the mess last Sunday, maybe he was in the best position… home with his kids.

On to Kansas

There’s no place like home. I couldn’t resist, but I think we can breathe a sigh of relief to head back to a sane track.

It’s a cookie cutter mile and a half so expect the power teams to show us all why they’re the power teams. I’ll put my money on the Gibbs cars. They are the team to beat until they show us otherwise. Jimmie Johnson has the best driver rating on the track. I expect Penske to ride some momentum and Kenseth to be all pissy about Logano. Should be a fun race where we don’t have to worry about people not walking away from their cars.

Richmond Round Up

One last week of short track racing at Richmond before the whole circus packs up and pulls a 180 at Talladega. It’s our last entry in the “I made it up last week” hashtag #ShortTrackRumble. Let’s get our fix in now, cause we won’t have this much sheet metal banging and beating until we hit the first road course race at Sonoma in June.

Let’s get right into this thing.

edwards wins richmondCarl Edwards won with a bump and run on his teammate in the last corner of the race.

I’m going to stress this again. LAST CORNER OF THE RACE!

NASCAR fans are being spoiled this year with one epic finish after the other. Yesterday’s race was the very first time in the history of the series at Richmond. And Richmond isn’t one of those new cookie cutter tracks that opened during the building surge of the late 90s and early 00s. Richmond has been hosting NASCAR Cup level racing since 1953.

Carl Edwards has now gone back to back for the first time since 2010. Joe Gibbs Racing has won four in a row and five of the nine races at the one quarter mark of the season. Edwards leads the points with only one race outside the top seven so far this year (Vegas). The team, and the driver, have positioned themselves at the favorite at this point the season. JGR teammate (and victim of the bump and run), Kyle Busch is the defending champion and all, but I’d still favor Edwards. Yes, Busch has two wins and sits 4th in the points, but he had the adversity of the injury comeback to fuel his focus last year. He’s one of the most talented drivers in the history of the sport, whether you think he’s a hero or a heel, but I still want to see him hold his focus for a full 36 races before I can consider him a perennial contender.

stewart at richmondTony Stewart is back!

One of the biggest news items in NASCAR during the off season was Tony Stewart’s impending retirement followed by the injury suffered during a vacation tooling around in some sand rails out in California. Back injuries are nothing to mess around with so everyone knew it would be a while before he could safely race again. He’s been walking around at the track the last couple weeks playing the role of owner and mentor to his team and the Vickers-Dillon combo keeping his car warm for him. It’s a role that Stewart will excel in just as he has in all his other racing endeavors.

But we’re all happier that Stewart is back in his car for the rest of his final season.

Stewart ran a mid pack race all day, losing a lap, getting it back, beating and banging all day. He tangled with Logano and ended up with a shredded tire fighting for the lucky dog position. It happens. The man was just ecstatic to be on the track again.

Of Lug Nuts and Fines

Of course NASCAR shot itself in the foot and created a PR cluster for themselves by fining Stewart 35k for speaking out about lug nut safety. The crazy thing about the fine is that the statements were very tame by Tony Stewart’s standards. It stems from the rule about not having a NASCAR official monitor that all five lug nuts are secure on each wheel anymore. Junior has spoken out against the same thing. So has Biffle. NASCAR has made it sound like it’s a self policing policy. But teams are paid to push the limits. Three or four lug nuts for an extra tenth on pit road on the final pit stop? Hell yes that’s going to happen. Many drivers feel this is a huge safety risk and are put into a bad position by NASCAR.

hamlin helmet in carWell, the new(ish) Driver’s Council decided to step in and pay off Stewart’s fine. That’s a big deal. NASCAR has never traditionally tolerated dissension in the ranks. Hamlin was quoted as saying “that we just believe that we should have the right to speak our opinion” and not everyone exactly agrees with Stewart’s opinion. The Driver’s Council just sent a shot across the bow.

I think this is a good thing. The Race Team Alliance and the Driver’s Council are a happy medium for the sport between NASCAR doing whatever it wants and having contentious battles between NASCAR and some sort of union. There are too many players with money in the pot to form a full fledged union in NASCAR. Baseball and the NHL have months and whole seasons to union battles and not that long ago. Frankly, NASCAR would not survive something like that. Baseball and hockey barely did. Hell, baseball losing the ’94 World Series to a strike let the NFL swoop in and take the title of the most prominent sport in America, a title the NFL’s billions aren’t going to let up on any time soon. Baseball has never fully recovered. Hockey hasn’t recovered. NASCAR has too many of it’s own issues to ever survive a proper union blow out.

But what the Driver’s Council is doing here is important. NASCAR, the tracks, the sponsors, the TV partners, they’ve all got fat stacks of cash involved with the sport but the driver’s are still the stars. The council makes sure their voices aren’t lost in the shuffle. This is NASCAR’s new reality and it seems like it will be healthy for the sport. People constantly deride the sport for becoming too button up corporate. Guys like Keslowski have said they censor themselves because they don’t want to be fined. But NASCAR needs to let the driver’s be human beings, not machines. We’ve got machines, they’re called race cars.

One Angry Cat

I really have nothing to add here beyond Kyle Busch’s Banfield Pet Hospital paint job will go down as one of my favorites all time. The cat on the right rear looks so pissed at having that thing on its head. I love it.

kyle banfield livery jgr facebook 4-20

Shout outs!

So now that I’ve rambled on about NASCAR’s unnecessary distraction with those Tony Stewart fines, (side note, some day I want to figure out how much in his career he’s been fined… I imagine a lot), time for the Richmond Shout Outs!

My predictions from last week… eh. It was a lot of the usual faces with no huge surprises like last week at Bristol.

kahne at richmond mtn dew blackThe biggest shout out goes to Kasey Kahne.

Richmond was his third top ten and first top five of the year. Although he hasn’t been running as well as he did in the first nine races of last year, Kahne needs more finishes like this. With Chase Elliot out performing his rookie expectations already, he does not want to be mired in a lower tier of performance than the rest of Hendrick Motorsports. Again. Kahne is 14th in the standings at the one quarter mark of the season. That’s not bad per se, but his teammates are 3rd, 6th, and 11th. More races like this will help Kahne a lot. Started 8th and never left the top ten on the day. That is an excellent day for anyone.

The other shout out on the day goes to Chase Elliot.

The rookie started way back in 23rd place after qualifying was rained out and went to practice speeds. He spent over 150 laps running a lap off the pace but managed to get the lap back and claw his way back up to a 12th place finish. Twenty six cars finished on the lead lap this week, a very high number for a short track even in this modern era of waive arounds. Getting his lap back was a big deal, especially after running so long without it. I think it takes more focus to have the patience and perseverance to get the lap back the way he did rather than running 12th all day long. Chase is showing a veteran temperament behind the wheel again.

Pit Stall 13 Update

ragan at richmondDavid Ragan in the BK Racing #23 was the lucky recipient of pit stall 13 this week. He ended up finishing in the same spot as his number, but the BK team had a solid race anyways. Ragan started 30th after the washout of qualifying but he leap frogged a pile of cars early and stayed on the lead lap the entire race. Ragan raced in the top 20 most of the day. A series of cautions late in the race made the lead lap pretty crowded for a short track so he lost a couple spots near the end, but this kind of race is very good for the little team that could. After Matt DiBenedetto’s epic run last week at Bristol, I’m glad to see BK’s whole performance is getting better.

Charterless Update

  • 28th – #21 Ryan Blaney – Top of the Charterless again, but finished a lap down on a day where a lap down wasn’t going to get you much
  • 37th – #93 Ryan Elis – Running a third entry for BK Racing, this was Elis’ second start at Cup level. He’s got a couple more on the books later in the season
  • 39th – #30 Josh Wise – Survived ten laps off the pace
  • 40th – #55 Reed Sorensen – Survived ten laps off the pace, but actually with a sponsor this time. Also note how all 40 cars finished the race this week.
  • DNQ – #98 Cole Whitt – The primary Premium Motorsports car missed the show after qualifying was set by practice speeds. First race since Daytona where anyone DNQ’d.

The 98 had the lowest speed of the Charterless, a half mile per hour slower than Elis. But notice how I said Charterless. Annett would have missed the race normally since he posted no time after damaging his car earlier in the weekend. Annett, Bowyer, Jeffery Earnhardt in the #32 all posted slower practice times than Whitt.

The irony is that HScott’s charter for #46 was leased from Premium. So the team that missed the race did so to the person they gave up their charter to. Annett got a 36th place finish out of it.

On to Talladega!

We’re done with short tracks until August and NASCAR switches things up as much as they possibly can by hitting Talladega next week. The biggest track in the sport provides a holiday for the state of Alabama. This is the most rambunctious track out there.

We got two big news items already for Talladega. The official race entry list has not been released this early in the week, but Tony Stewart will still run the superspeedway. When talking about his return to the car last week, he said that he’ll start the race to get the points, but will likely hand over the car to Ty Dillon. The big track makes a driver change a hell of a lot easier than most places. I also think this shows Stewart is playing his recovery smart. Spinal injuries aren’t something to mess around with so no need to put more strain on it than he needs. After Talladega, the next race with speeds even approaching that like that won’t be til Michigan in June.

ives twitterThe other item was floating around Twitter this morning. Greg Ives, crew chief for Junior, said that Amelia has been repaired and will return to the track this week. If you don’t know, that’s the name of Earnhardt’s favorite restrictor plate car. He’s won a pile of races with that car but it got banged up. This is going to put Earnhardt way inside his comfort zone and, like his father, he is an ace at the plate tracks.

Earnhardt is instantly the favorite for Talladega. He would be even without his favorite car behind repaired. Other favorites to look out for… Hamlin, first of all. The Gibbs cars are the top in the sport right now and Hamlin won the last plate race in Daytona.

I keep wanting to say to watch out for the RCR cars. That team tends to perform well at the plate tracks, but with Austin Dillon having a rough couple of weeks and Newman and Menard having trouble carrying on with their top 15 parades, I’m putting a big asterisk on the end of that. I really don’t want to. Just like with Roush, the sport is better off with RCR, one of the old school teams, being relevant. At this point though, I think RCR needs to swing for the fences to break their win drought. Talladega is a place to do it.

And of course, we get to see what little team is going to bust out a good finish. That right there is my favorite part of restrictor plate racing.