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.

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.

Martinsville Round Up

Short track racing!!

When NASCAR rolls into the oldest track on the tour, I always do a little happy dance. Even in the years when the rules package means the racing isn’t top notch everywhere else, Martinsville always puts on a show. Because aero doesn’t mean a damn thing on the paperclip.

NASCAR needs more short tracks. Anyone who watched today’s race would agree to that.

kyle wins martinsvilleThe race this week was way more exciting than the box score would have you think. Kyle Busch finished the weekend sweep, leading over 350 of the 500 laps. That lap stat there makes it seem like he ran away from the field, but there’s the beauty of short track racing, the leader is bumping and banging around on track just as much as everyone else. There were only eight cautions, which big chunks of green flag racing in between. The cool temps at the track meant that the concrete surface never really got any grip, so there was huge tire fall off during a run. I’m more than ok with this. It’s one of those things that makes for great racing.

I feel like I’ve been talking about tire fall off and tire issues almost every week. That’s typical of a place like this or at Atlanta, but the rubber was a big deal at Fontana too. Byproduct of the low aero. (Or the Martinsville no-aero). I really think that NASCAR fans are being seriously spoiled this year in terms of excellent races. Haven’t had a snoozer yet this year really. That’s why when I saw there were empty seats at Martinsville, I thought it was a damn shame. If it wasn’t seven states away, I’d go myself. It’s on my bucket list. There are few guarantees in NASCAR, but a good race at Martinsville is one of them.

This race was full of standout performances that will tell the real story of the race, so before we start calling out those stellar runs, how’d my predictions from last week do?

Pretty much wish I had gone to Vegas with those. Last week, I called early advantage to Kyle Busch. Which was a big duh. I actually didn’t realize though that prior to this weekend sweep, he had never won a trophy at Martinsville. Seems like such a natural fit for him. After checking off this track, Kyle Busch is down to just three on the circuit that he has left on his list, Charlotte, Pocono, and Kansas.

allmendinger at martinsvilleI also hit a home run with calling on Allmendinger to carry the momentum the #47 had been building through the start of the season. Top ten car all day and stormed to the front on the last restart to finish second. The JTG Daughtry team is seriously gelling right now. Yeah, early season gains don’t always last for the whole year, but I find their gains impressive because NASCAR opens the year on a wide variety of tracks. Good finishes at Fontana and Martinsville are two very different things but this little team did both. If they can make similar gains at the cookie cutter mile-and-a-half tracks, this team can be in the mix at the end of the year.

Shenanigans!

Eh, there weren’t much. That was really the one prediction that was a swing and a miss from the last round up post. The only real drama was Austin Dillon getting fired up on the radio. But that’s starting to be a regular thing as is crew chief Slugger Labbe telling him to breathe and get back to racing.

menard at martinsville 2Menard gave Dillon a shove at one point, maybe 2/3 through the race. They were both right around 10th. Lapped traffic. Menard had a run. Just one of those deals at a short track. But with no rubber sticking to the surface of the track, people were getting freight trained on the outside lane and Dillon lost some spots. They were beating and banging on each other for a while but they left it on the track as they should and were cool after the race.

The Worst Caution Ever

I can’t find video of this floating around anywhere yet, it might be too early (since I’m writing this on Sunday night instead of the usual Monday evening), but the worst caution ever came out at Martinsville today.

Sweet Lady Debris shows up from time to time in NASCAR, but maybe the TV cameras just can’t find it. The broadcasters have more important things to cover than scanning the track to maybe find a piece of something on the track. And the cynical among us decry the phantom cautions, but at least NASCAR has plausible deniability. “Just cause *you* didn’t see the debris, doesn’t mean anything.” It’s a good line. Easy to defend.

wise atlantaJosh Wise in the #30, one of those guys I really would love to see in top notch equipment someday, was running a few laps off the pace near Truex in the Furniture Row car. After almost a hundred laps on the tires, things were getting squirrely. Truex went underneath Wise but came up into him. The doorslam put Wise up into the marbles and the caution flew.

Except Wise didn’t hit anything. Or spin. Or even slide. He just went out of the racing groove.

After taking flak for not throwing a caution at the end of the Fontana Xfinity race before the break, someone jumped the gun way too fast here.

Rally Time

I said above that the story of the race is really some of the individual highlights. Let’s look at our finishing order. Edwards had 6th. Newman 10th. Logano 11th. Earnhardt 14th. Good to meh finishes for these drivers. Normally not anything to write home about.

But all four of them spent significant time a lap down.

Edwards started deep in the field and didn’t even crack the top twenty until almost midway. Earnhardt spun for the first caution on lap six and didn’t get it back until 313 for the Wise “caution.” (I’ll be the Tin Foil Hat Crowd loves that) Logano had the pole to start, but dropped like a rock after he chewed up his tires early in a run and had to claw his way back just for 11th. Newman also started and held on longer than Logano, but lost a lap and only got it back at the end.

All of these drivers put in a hell of a lot more effort than their finish would make you think. They showed their stuff out on the track. A rally from deep in the field is always more impressive at a short track. Yeah, there are more opportunities to get your lap back, but you can lose laps even quicker. All part of why short tracks put on the best show.

Shout Outs!

AJ Allmendinger! Yeah, I talked about him above, but how can I not talk about him again? This is a seriously impressive run for him in that car. Martinsville and the short tracks are good to the road racers. The extreme style of braking carries over for both types of racing. The Dinger is always one of the best when NASCAR turns left and right and with his team stepping up their game across the board, he got a chance to show off those braking skills today. He talked about how the little teams need to pounce on good days like this and he certainly did for his #47 crew.

vickers at martinsvilleThe next shout out goes to a guy who isn’t even going to race next week at Texas. Brian Vickers had another week as the fill in for Tony Stewart, but the races with Bass Pro Shops on the hood go to Ty Dillon. He has no clue what any of his racing plans are, although there is talk he may run Indy this year. Vickers started third and ran in the top 15 all day pulling off a seventh place finish for Stewart-Haas. Even going back to his Red Bull Racing days, I’ve always felt his medical issues gave him a raw deal. You can’t blame a team for needing to bank on consistent availability, but I’ve always liked seeing him out perform these part time expectations he’s been forced into.

All of Richard Childress Racing gets a shout out today. Yeah, the Neon Beard and Dillon got into it on the track, but all three cars finished in the top ten. RCR doesn’t have Rousch problems, but it’s been quite a long time for that team to pull that off. That team is going to break the winless drought, likely sooner rather than later, and there are days when it looks like it could be any of the three. Menard in particular needed a good run. He got out front and led laps. Stats guy on twitter said in over eight thousand laps run at the paperclip, it was the first time he ran any of them out front. First laps lead on the year for Menard. The #27 had some bad hands dealt already this season, the ten point penalty for the fender whatevers, the blown tire for the 38th place finish a couple weeks ago, and for a driver who pointed into the Chase, it’s hard to soak up too many bad days like that.

Pit Stall 13 Update

larson bumperThe Pit Stall 13 Update doubles as a shout out this week! Kyle Larson had the magic pit stall this week and as a dirt racer, you’d think short tracks would be his bag, but none of his other four starts at Martinsville resulted in a finish worth calling home about. Larson’s Target car that my kid loves so much had a middling place on the starting grid. He broke into the top ten before a hundred laps were up and never left it.

Larson came home in third place and is leading the Pit Stall 13 standings now.

He’s on the upswing all together this season. I don’t like the term “sophomore slump” at all really, and I think Larson was victim of last year’s crap aero package more than most drivers. He’s improving now in year three though and I think he’ll get his breakout win soon.

Charterless Update

  • 19th – #21 Ryan Blaney – The rookie ran midpack all day, stayed out of trouble, and finished on the lead lap. A+ day for a rookie at this track
  • 30th – #98 Cole Whitt – Finished, but a number of laps off the pace. With the attrition rate lower than usual for short track racing, this was all that just surviving could get
  • 37th – #55 Reed Sorensen – Huh? That’s right, we actually had a full field now that we’re back on the East Coast. It was an extra car for Premium and I had to look that up to even figure out who had that number now.
  • 38th – #30 Josh Wise – Already talked about the Worst Caution Ever, but the car’s engine conked out later on in the race.

Texas Up Next

Big fast track coming up on the schedule next before more short tracking. Expect a lot of references to that giant ass TV screen they have at Texas Motor Speedway cause the culture of that state obsesses with largeness.

Now that we’re settling into the season, expect to see the usual faces up front. Specifically, I think the guys who ran well at Fontana will run well at Texas. RCR historically did well at high horsepower tracks, so I’d like to see them carry the momentum from today, even if the tracks couldn’t be any more different.

Las Vegas Roundup

Race number three of the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule is in the books for this year. The sport is full on with its “West Coast Swing” which the PR guys have turned into a Thing.

Which is fine. NASCAR is more cross country now a days than it ever was when I was growing up. When I was a kid before the big boom in the late 90s/early 00s, NASCAR left the south all of five times a season… Phoenix, Sonoma (which was Sears Point when I was a kid), Michigan, Pocono, and Watkins Glen. As a New Englander, Dover counts as South. We can snark on NASCAR’s scheduling problems until the cows come home, but clumping all the west coast races on the schedule was a good move for the teams’ logistics and the PR guys and gals making it into a Thing is a bonus for some early season buzz.

First on the PR approved hashtag #NASCARGoesWest … Vegas! (insert cliche about shenanigans in Vegas)

How was the race?

keselowski wins vegasI thought it was a pretty good one. This week was the first real test of the low downforce aero package of the year. Plate tracks don’t count and Atlanta’s ancient pavement requires special tires and special tactics. That means Vegas is going to be our first gauge of the meat-and-potatoes of the NASCAR slate.

Brad Keselowski won the race and in this season that seems a lot more old school than most of its recent brethren, it is fitting since he’s got an old school mentality.

The season is going to work out just fine. As the teams run with this rules package more, they’re going to get more data and figure out how to fine tune the performance to their driver’s liking. NASCAR doesn’t play around with rules packages from week to week nearly as much as they used to. So many of the drivers have raved about this particular aero package, I don’t see NASCAR futzing with it in the near future barring some unforeseen safety issue.

There was definitely still an advantage of clean air out front, but it did not seem nearly as pronounced as in years past. Keselowski stretched old tires and fuel mileage and still out ran Logano and Kyle Busch to win the checkered for the first time in nearly a year. Tangent: Penske’s performance has been so good, I did not realize that Keselowski had gone that long without a win.

This race was not going to even think about challenging any lead change records, but despite that, it seemed to me that there was a lot of mid pack passing. Whether or not NASCAR’s loop data backs this up, perception is reality in this case. The Fox broadcast never had to slowly cycle through the running order just to have something to talk about while the cars were logging laps. There was always some kind of on track action.

I think it will only get better as the season progresses.

Shout Outs!

The top ten at race’s end featured a lot of the usual suspects. The big teams and the best drivers tend to figure out the rule changes first. That’s why they’re the big teams and the best drivers. So the Penske Fords, the Busch brothers, Junior, Harvick, Jimmie Johnson… no surprises there.

dillon at vegasThe first Shout Out goes to Austin Dillon in the #3 rolling in with a fifth place finish. That’s his third top five in his career and his season has started out with 9th – 11th – 5th. That’s a solid start for anyone. Dillon is on his third full time year, so it’s time for that team to turn the corner and get results. He seems to have gelled well with Slugger Labbe (yesterday’s post pit stop rant aside) who has been around long enough to have crewed for Alan Kulwicki (and one of the small number of New Englanders in NASCAR).

Second shout out goes to Ryan Blaney…. again. Soon his good performances in the Wood Brothers #21 are going to be so common, that they won’t count as shout outs. The Penske affiliated team finished in 6th place, another very good outing for the rookie. A very good point that the Fox broadcasters brought up (probably Mike Joy, cause that man knows his stuff) is that the Wood Brothers aren’t used to running full time anymore, so once they get better used to a weekly grind, their performance is going to be on the up swing.

kahne inspection at vegasLast Shout Out before we move on… Kasey Kahne. Wow. He showed up for a race! I snark, but he quietly ran in the top ten for most of the day and finished with the 10th spot. Just last week I snarked how he was the Danica of Team Hendrick. With a lot of drivers looking good in the Trucks and Xfinity series, Kahne needs more races like this with solid finishes to keep his job long term. The last couple seasons have been kind of weak for him. Last year he missed the Chase and in 2014 he squeezed in at the last minute. I think the #5 team need to regain their consistency to make sure everyone has a job next year rather than scoring a fluke win. This is a good start.

Pit Stall 13 Update

vickers at vegasBrian Vickers ran the #14 for Tony Stewart again at Vegas (Ty Dillon is back next week to go along with the Bass Pro Shops sponsorship). He had the magical pit stall number 13 for the race.

He ran a solid mid pack race for much of the day and logged some laps in the top ten for a while. Vickers had some TV time with an almost-wreck with Truex at one point during the day. The last quarter of the race though, the #14 dropped out of sight and finished 36th. Stewart Haas Racing later said on twitter, that the car dropped out because of a rear gear failure. Late in the race, that’s not going to be saved.

Charterless Update

With PR approved #NASCARGoesWest, often the part time teams don’t make the trek. There’s a lot of money in the logistics of making it all the way out there. For the second week in a row, only 39 teams showed up to race so everyone made the show. (Entry list for next week says I can copy/paste this for Phoenix)

  • 6th – #21 Blaney – The rookie ran a great race. ‘Nuff said.
  • 35th – #30 Wise – The TMG car ran as the back marker for much of the day, but kudos for not start-n-parking
  • 39th – #98 Whitt – Mechanical failure, and I like to think that’s honest since the 98 does seem to try to run the whole race

On to Phoenix!

Next week, NASCAR keeps going with the trip out west and they head to Phoenix. The new aero package at Phoenix is of special note to me since it’s a flat track and the most comparable to New Hampshire where I’ll be sitting in my usual seat some September.

As for predictions? If anyone other than Harvick wins, I’ll be surprised. Might as well rename that one Harvick International Raceway.

Bonus Points!

My three year old realized there is a car repping his favorite store in existence. I got him hooked. No idea why I didn’t think to play that card earlier.

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