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.

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?

Fontana Round Up

Last stop on the PR approved hashtag #NASCARgoesWest. Auto Club Speedway, which since I’ve been watching NASCAR for over 25 years, I still call Fontana, has been producing fantastic races over the last few years. Even with the mediocre aero package last year, Fontana was a highlight of the season. Expectations were very high for this race. The track is wide and speeds top 200mph. Lower downforce this year means there was lots of passing. Junior had a race high 144 green flag passes. 144! Last year’s crappy aero package didn’t produce that many passes by the whole field at times.

So….

Did NASCAR’s trip to southern California live up to the expectation?

Yes. Yes it did.

johnson wins fontanaJimmie Johnson won a race that Kevin Harvick dominated. Harvick has been the guy everyone wants to beat so the fan base seems more than ok with him losing. Even though the #4 car led 145 of the race’s laps, almost 2/3 of the race, there was a lot more passing than that stat makes you believe. The wide track lets drivers find speed all over the place with multiple viable racing lines right from the green flag. Restarts can fan out four or five wide without wrecking anyone.

The big thing about this race again was tire issues. Multiple people had flat tires that hosed up decent runs. Kyle Busch lost a tire while running second. Larson had a scary solo crash after losing a right rear. The Fox coverage talked about how teams often ignore Goodyear’s recommended PSI on the tires. The tire pressure builds up as the heat builds on track, but it wears those tires out faster, especially when combined with aggressive camber (which we saw create issues last week). Frankly, I think ignoring Goodyear’s PSI rec’s is a self policing issue, like number of lug nuts on the tires during pit stops. Ignore Goodyear at your peril.

larson fontanaThe comfort for this is that NASCAR is safer than it was years ago. Larson’s crash on Sunday was the second or third of the year that I don’t think the driver would have walked away from 20 years ago. Maybe not even fifteen. Larson hit that wall at over 150mph head on. The crash looked spectacular when the SAFER barriers flung him back out on the track, but that was the barrier doing its job. He was winded, but ok. Danica’s wreck (which was totally Kahne’s fault) was similar. The in car camera showed just how close she came to flipping a barrel roll in traffic. Roof flaps for the win. I remember before cars had those and everyone winced when a car got turned around hoping it wouldn’t flip.

Crashes make the highlight reels among the mainstream media, but I only want to see highlights of passing and checkered flags. I don’t want to see our drivers in danger.

Safety rant aside, how did my predictions do?

newman practice fontanaWell RCR ran well during the front half of the race. As a high horsepower track, they tend to do well at Fontana. Dillon started on the pole. For a large chunk of the race, he was in the top ten with teammates Menard and Newman. The #31 ended up with an ok 14th place finish but pit road miscues doomed Dillon and Menard to mediocre finishes. The #27 team in particular needed a good finish after the tire issues at Phoenix gave them an 38th place finish and the whole or RCR got docked those 10 points a couple weeks ago. Dillon ended up 24th but still good enough to remain 10th in the early season points.

The Penske cars both pulled top 10 finishes. Keselowski’s was pretty quiet. Logano mixed it up at the front and had a run in with Truex to hose up the #78’s day (more on that later). Jimmie Johnson who I called out with the early advantage, well, we already know he won the race.

Shenanigans!

Fontana had a lot more shenanigans than a high speed track usually does. Expect NASCAR to drop some penalties very soon.

danica wrecks fontanaFirst, Kahne wrecked the hell out of Danica. As much as many people in the sport snark about her mediocre finishes in top shelf equipment, myself included, nothing about that wreck was her fault. Kahne hooked her car and dumped her in the wall. Now, I don’t think it was intentional, but if it wasn’t, it was definitely careless. Kahne has never been a beating-and-banging kind of driver and he’s never had a beef with Danica like some others have. I remember run ins with her and Vickers, Gilliland, and if memory is serving me correctly, Cassill. In her post-wreck interview on TV, Danica said “…the next thing I know I was getting spun up the track. I was passing him. He was behind me in the right rear. I don’t know what kind of day he was having. I just heard he was a lap down, actually. I feel bad if he felt like he was put in a position to have to be that desperate a lap down.” She was running the lead lap, he wasn’t. I think Danica hit the nail on the head with ‘desperate.’ I can’t be the only one who thinks Kahne’s job is going to be on the line real soon if he doesn’t improve.

Will Kahne get penalized… I don’t know. A big part of me wants to say no. NASCAR has made a trend of not over policing the drivers in the last few years. It’s not like Kahne pulled a pile driver like Kenseth did last year with Logano. But NASCAR has also made it clear that context matters and with two cars on different laps… eh… hard to say.

Speaking of Danica…

After the wreck, she marched up the track go give Kahne the ol’ WTF gesture. Not the first time she’s done that when pissed. But it is the first time she’s done that since NASCAR dropped a rule post-Kevin Ward that says it’s a no no. I expect a fine. Jennifer Jo Cobb got nailed with $5k in fines for doing that in a Truck race last year. Cup fines tend to be more what since they make more money to start with.

The most amusing shenanigan of the weekend comes courtesy of Cole Pern, the crew chief for Truex’s #78 team. Logano ruined their day. It didn’t quite seem like contact was made between the cars, but Logano took the air off the spoiler anyways and still managed to ruin it. Pern broke the number one rule of Twitter, don’t tweet while angry. The tweet, which as been deleted, said that Logano couldn’t see with his “squinty douchey eyes.” I find this wonderfully hilarious.

Fines? Eh, probably not. As long as you don’t trash NASCAR itself and don’t say anything bigoted, NASCAR usually lets that stuff go.

Speaking of trashing NASCAR (as the shenanigans list gets even longer), Kyle Busch expects to be in trouble. He blew a tire in the lead on the last lap of the Xfinity race, which Austin Dillon ended up winning. Well… NASCAR didn’t fly the yellow flag, which would have frozen the field and given Busch the win even though it was his tire which caused the yellow. But the yellow didn’t fly. Suarez took the lead for a straightaway and then ran out of gas handing the win the Dillon (which makes every Xfinity race won by Cup regulars this year). Busch was livid on the radio about how NASCAR got their wish to fix the race. Woah. That’s a big one.

I normally don’t care if drivers get heated or use salty language on the radio. The radio is primarily for them. Fans and TV don’t have to listen in on them even though it has become a big thing to do so. Look, I’m glad someone beat Busch in the Xfinity race. I’d rather it was an Xfinity regular, but take what you can get. But to even hint that NASCAR delayed the yellow to make it happen, whoa, that is going to get all the ire of the NASCAR front office right there. That’s big time fighting words.

Shout outs!

This post is getting real long, but I have to drop some shout outs for some good finishes. It is one of my favorite parts of these posts and we’ve got a new cast of characters to shout out this week at Fontana.

stenhouse fontanaThe first shout out goes to Rickey Stenhouse Jr. Look at that, a Roush car in the top five! This is his first top five since the spring Bristol race last year and only his fourth top five in Cup. With a 10th at Atlanta and a 12th at Vegas, it looks like RFR and Stenhouse are starting to turn the corner and live up to their potential.

Shout out number two goes to another driver with a quietly solid run. AJ Allmendinger finished in 9th place and ran solid around the top ten most of the day, except for a stretch in the middle when he was off sequence in pit stops. Every race this year for the one car JTG Daughtry Racing has been an improvement on the last for this team and scored them their first top ten since the August Pocono race last year.

Brian Scott, the rookie racing for Petty, matched his best finish in Cup with a 12th place finish. He ran a handful of races before this year in the Circle Sport But Really RCR car, but now he managed to score a good finish for himself with his full time team. The team only had three finishes better than this last year with Hornish so this is a good boost for the Petty team. If Scott can keep throwing down decent results, combined with Almirola’s constant gains, Petty Racing could be in the mix for the Chase.

Pit Stall 13… er… 12A Update

Fontana is just like Daytona in that there is no Pit Stall 13. Sad face. Harvick did have pit stall 12A which is close enough for an update, but won’t count for real in the season standings. By the way, I’m making a season standings for the 13th pit stall.

12A is in a good location at Fontana with an opening in front. Harvick had McDowell and the #95 team behind which works out for them as the #4 can be in and out before the #95 rolls in. Harvick led the most laps by far but only finished 2nd.

Charterless Update

  • 26th – #98 Cole Whitt – Ran flag to flag, finished on the lead lap. This is an excellent finish for the small team.
  • 35th – #21 Ryan Blaney – The Wood Brothers team was running ok, but mishaps cost them ten laps on the track.
  • 36th – #30 Josh Wise – Ten laps off the pace, but Wise has talked about the progress the tiny team is making.

Martinsville Up Next

NASCAR takes the Easter weekend off so all the teams have a week to stew about the Fontana shenanigans. Or, if you’re Landon Cassill, you get your wisdom teeth out.

I love short track racing. Love it love it love it. And three of the next four races are all short tracks. This is one of my favorite stretches of the year. I love when NASCAR gets to roughhouse on the track and the short tracks are all about the driver.

martinsville promoWhat do I expect from Martinsville? Well… I think things will get hairy fast. Drivers let their on track beef linger until the short tracks show up and they can shove each other around (somewhat) safely. You can’t pull a payback move at Daytona, but you can at Martinsville. So expect hard racing. Expect ugly sheet metal. Expect good racing.

Early advantage… Kyle Busch. He’s going to be racing mad after the close-but-no-cigar races this past weekend and the New Kyle Busch gets focused when he races mad unlike the Old Kyle Busch which would fall apart if things weren’t perfect. The Gibbs Toyotas are top of the class to start with and Martinsville favors the Busch brothers.

I want to see Allmendinger take his momentum to Martinsville too. He’s finished 11th or better in 3 of the last 4 races at the track. The man has been sneaky good there. With the team making gains this season, I’d like to see them continue. The driver and team both bust ass week in and week out so I like to see the small teams get the paydays to reward the work.

Atlanta Round Up

It’s round two of the NASCAR season and we finally get a better picture of how the season is going to go.

Or not.

The Daytona 500 has the prestige but as a plate track, we only get a sense of who’s going to be good on a plate track. Whatever. Atlanta is a mile and a half, the track type making up the bulk of the schedule.

Except Atlanta’s surface was last paved in 1997. That’s ancient by NASCAR standards. With Gordon retired, no one left has raced on the track without that pavement on it. So Atlanta is like driving on sandpaper. Tires, tires, and tires were everyone’s concern heading into this race. Lower downforce and massive tire drop off means Atlanta is a 180 from Daytona.

This is a track that favors the drivers.

This race was old school.

johnson wins atlantaJimmie Johnson won the Folds of Honor Quik Tip 500 at Atlanta. Another sponsor I have no idea what the hell they are. I actually thought it was Fields of Honor for most of the weekend.

Not a big surprise that he did well and won the race. As much as I maintain that his five years of championships were a great personal achievement that may not have been good for the competition level of the sport at a time when NASCAR needed more competition, no one can deny he isn’t one of the all time greats. As much as we may want to. Johnson tied Dale Earnhardt Sr’s mark of 76 wins on the all time list. Impressive by any measure you can think of in any era of the sport.

menard post atlantaRemember a second ago I said how this Atlanta race was old school. I mean that in the best way. There were only two caution flags, plus a lase second wreck. This race was all about the drivers out wheeling each other and the crew chiefs out smarting each other. Which the #48 team did both to score the win. Only twelve guys finished on the lead lap, and there were that many only because one of the cautions flew with three laps to go. Much of the race had less than ten. But since it wasn’t a wreck fest, the box score had everyone running at the end. Not something we see too much of anymore. The drivers were slipping and sliding all over the track. They were bumping around the old pavement. They were covered in grit and grime and chunks of rubber (bless you 50″ plasma purchased before the children). It was wonderful.

Most of the drivers I pegged as having a good race ahead of them did. Johnson. The Busch brothers. Keselowski, although his race was quietly good. Kahne… whoops. Missed that one. He’s becoming the Danica off Hendrick Racing. The biggest surprise in the results was Larson. His car never got it together and was a non factor the whole race. Without any cautions until the race was half over, the #42 team never had a chance to work on the car and finished three laps off the pace.

I absolutely loved this race and was surprised that I saw the Let’s Never Change Cadre complaining on twitter. I guess the thing that really never changes about the Let’s Never Change Cadre is that they’ll always find some reason to hate on any race Dale Jr doesn’t win. We’ll be over there enjoying NASCAR without you.

Crew forgets to tell Kenseth about black flag

Whoops! This was a big one. Kenseth was running very well up front when NASCAR pegged them with a pit road penalty. It was the gas man who dropped an adjustment wrench on the back decklid of the car for the tire carrier to pick up and do his adjustment thing with. [Buzz sound] Fail. Rules say gas guys can’t do anything but fuel the car. This is a safety thing. Gas fires still happen. Brendan Gaughan’s pit crew at a Richmond Xfinity race last year. Thing is, Kenseth’s crew chief, Jason Radcliff, argued that the gas can wasn’t engaged yet and that queuing up a wrench like that was standard practice. And while he was arguing with NASCAR, no one told Kenseth about the black flag. Which then turned into a black flag with white X. I didn’t even realize that was a thing, that’s how often that one drops. Someone on twitter said it happened to Robby Gordon at a Montreal Xfinity race a few years ago. I certainly don’t remember it happening in Cup. NASCAR stopped scoring Kenseth, so from their point of view, that lap after the black-white-X flag dropped, just didn’t count. Added to losing a lap from a pass through peanalty and Kenseth was down two. One was survivable. A couple well time cautions and all’s well. But two? Eh, not so much. He never got either back and finished 19th.

Kenseth was pissed and I don’t blame him. I haven’t seen a screw up that bad … well… since Kenseth T-boned Logano just for kicks.

Truex was … displeased with Regan Smith

truex flips off regan smith at atlantaSo I wasn’t really sure what caused this. It certainly wasn’t something caught by the TV broadcast. Regan Smith was a few laps down in mid race and Truex was among the front runners (as he was the whole race). I guess Truex figured the #7 held him up more than he needed to. Atlanta is a wide track with room to get out of each others way, but I guess if your car is handling like a dump truck on ice there’s not much you can do. Whatever the case, the Fox broadcasters had Truex’s in car camera rolling while Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon and DW were talking about him and whoops! Middle finger time! I didn’t even catch it at first. My dad was all “Did that just happen???” and I had to use the magic of the DVR to get that nice little screen cap you see to the left.

We’ll see if anything happens on Penalty Tuesday or if everyone tries to ignore it. Which is often the best tactic since the pictures didn’t make the rounds too much.

Bonus question… how the hell would Regan Smith even be able to see the bird? It’s not like Truex went full Norm Benning with the finger out the window.

Pit Stall 13 Update

newman pits at atlantaRyan Newman was the recipient of the magical Pit Stall number 13. This is the first true pit stall 13 of the year, since Daytona has 12A instead. How’d he do with the magic behind him?

Well, he ran better than his 24th place finish would have you think. Newman’s #31 RCR team stayed on the lead lap throughout the whole day when the lead lap cars dwindled down to a low of eight. But at the end of the race when everyone was trying to stretch their tires to the end, the Caterpillar Chevy blew the left rear. Newman didn’t hit anything or anyone but the tire shredded to hell and hosed up his car pretty bad and killed his good finish.

Charterless Update

  • 25th – #21 Blaney, ran decent, lost laps with a loose wheel though
  • 37th – #98 Whitt, managed to lead a lap during early green flag pit stops
  • 39th – #30 Wise, first qualified race for that team, finished last

wise atlantaWait, Wise finished last in 39th? Yup. NASCAR ran without a full field. Happened at Kentucky a couple years ago. Before that, it’s going back to the epic 2001 Thanksgiving at Loudon (Robby Gordon for the win!). The last time NASCAR ran a race with less than 40 was in the mid 90s at North Wilksboro because that track didn’t have enough pit stalls. This is part of the mixed bag that comes with the charters that we’re going to have to watch. The Daytona 500 only have 44 entries which was the least in decades. NASCAR has lost a lot of teams this year, and not just among the part timers. MWR is completely gone now. Levine and Circle Sport merged. Team Xtreme dropped off the face of the earth a couple races after having their car stolen last year. Hillman’s #40 missed a charter, exists only as a sort of extension of Premium. Phil Parsons Racing, famous for Wise’s Dogecar, got bought out by Premium last year and then condensed down to one car, with the aforementioned Hillman assets. BK Racing dropped one full time team. Front Row did the same. Tommy Baldwin did a couple years ago. That’s eight teams which aren’t around anymore from Daytona 2015, ten if you go back a couple years.

This is the reality of what NASCAR has now. ‘Course, we still got a great race this week, but I still feel that the long term health of the sport can be represented by the little teams and how they’re surviving. Two races into the season is not enough to judge the whole charter system by. I think the real test for the system is going to come when someone wants to expand and get into the guaranteed show. That might be a ways off though.

Almirola’s Fiery Wreck

almirola wrecks atlantaI had this picture ready to go and needed to use it. Nothing more. Carry on with your day.

Daytona 500 Roundup

The 2016 Daytona 500 is in the books and damn, we got a good one for lots of reason.

The obvious? Denny Hamlin won the closest Daytona 500 in history.

Just look at that finish!

daytona 500 finish

Not only was it the closest Daytona 500 finish, according to Jayski, there have only been six finishes in NASCAR closer than that one. (The closest being Ricky Craven over Kurt Busch in 2003)

Five hundred miles and the checkered flag comes down to about four inches.

But it’s easy to forget about the other 199 laps when that last one was pretty sweet like that. The whole race was a good one from flag to flag. After the lackluster Can-Am (plus big crash at the end), I was worried the cars would hook up nose to tail and start freight training laps. I get that not every race is going to be a classic for the ages, but logging laps via freight train isn’t the best way to get eyes on the race. I am soooo glad that wasn’t the case with this race. Whatever aero package NASCAR has for the plate tracks needs to stay exactly the same. While the race still skewed towards “leader controlled” there was never any huge breakaway. I think the biggest one was about eleven cars in mid race and they didn’t stay ahead that long before the rest of the pack reeled them in. This is a good thing. This is the platonic ideal of a restrictor plate race. NASCAR…. don’t touch a thing! Keep this package!

Now of course, it wouldn’t be a NASCAR race without the Let’s Never Change Cadre whining about something. I had thought that the “Grrr Toyota isn’t ‘merican!” crowd faded away into well deserved obscurity with their tin foil hats long ago. Toyota’s been in the sport for ten years. Pretty sure they’re committed while American brands have faded away from the sport. I guess some of the Let’s Never Change Cadre was going on twitter (huh, they’re ok with *that*… prolly only for Junior/Stewart/Danica) about how it was a fix or some crud like that. Really? Did you even watch the race? Four teammates/affiliates made a drafting block and outran everyone else. Swap Gibbs cars for Hendrick/Hass and they don’t whine. Get over yourselves Let’s Never Change Cadre. You’re whining is hurting our sport.

Also, you figured out twitter, learn to use google. Toyota is more “American made” than anything else.

Also, my Subaru is cooler than the Toyotas or the ‘Merican street cars.

Sorry for that rant. The Let’s Never Change Cadre bugs me. On to happy things about happy racing!

If this Daytona 500 is a preview of things to come for the whole season, the NASCAR world is in for a treat this year.

How’d my predictions do?

Well, I already said that the race was way more exciting than I thought it would be. More than ok being wrong about that one.

jr pitstop daytonaPrediction: Junior for the win….. Result: Swing and a miss

Earnhardt was one of the many during Speedweeks talking about how the plates races have become “leader controlled.” Not hard to see that, especially when Junior and his spotter TJ Majors have the #88 in the front. Those two work together better than anyone in the field. Listen to the constant stream of information that Majors gives Earnhardt and it’s easy to tell how they can keep the car bouncing between lanes to ride the push from the cars behind them.

The problem for Earnhardt is that his car drove like a dump truck once he was in traffic. He pushed it too hard and the car got away from him. Same kind of wreck happened to Chase Elliot. Handling played a bigger factor than it has in the past due to the wind and the hot weather. The worst part for Earnhardt is his favorite car is heading to the scrap bin.

Prediction: The Gibbs cars would be Earnhardt’s main competition… Result: Home run there

Ok, well, Earnhardt wasn’t up front to be in competition, but most of the race was dominated by Hamlin, Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr in the Gibbs aligned Furniture Row car. They formed up a drafting block that kept a pretty solid lock on the top spots most of the race. Edwards was riding in the back for much of the race, not sure how much was intentional. He got a mess of right front damage during one of the wrecks but kept the lead lap and put it back together with duct tape and hope. Fox’s bumper cams showed that hunk of fender flapping in the wind and I was surprised it stayed on. Edwards taking that car and managing fifth is one of the most impressive feats of the race lost in the chatter of the epic finish.

Prediction: Blaney will be just fine… Results: Spot on

Plate races being what they are, Blaney in the Wood Brother’s #21 did get shuffled back at the end. He was scored with the 19th place finish but that doesn’t really tell the story of his race. The Penske affiliate out performed Keselowski, who never really made any noise during the race. Logano picked up at the end to be a factor while Blaney faded in the end, but the #21 was mixing it up in or near the top ten for most of the race. I don’t think being charterless will hurt the team on the track (though, it will hurt their wallet).

r smith at daytonaShout out to the little teams!

One of my favorite parts of plate racing is seeing the little teams throw it all out on the track and come home with a finish. I predicted someone would (though, I called DiBenedetto who wrecked out).

This year, the little team with the big finish was Tommy Baldwin Racing and Regan Smith in the #7 car. The Golden Coral/Toy State car showed up at the end of the race for an 8th place finish. This is the teams second best finish ever since 2009 and only their third top ten. Just last year, TBR DNQ’d for the 500 and ran six races unsponsored. This team is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the charter system and I find it fantastic to see all the hard work Baldwin had made in the last few years show some success.

mcdowell at daytona 59I also want to throw a shout out to Michael McDowell and Circle Sport-Levine Family Racing’s second car. With Ty Dillon using the chartered #95 as the “unofficial” fourth RCR car, McDowell had to get the #59 in charterless. He made the 500, had some pit road drama with Stenhouse, and managed to roll in 15th. That’s a very solid finish for CSLFR. Plate tracks are still a great equalizer, even if they aren’t as much as they used to be. Circle Sport has gotten some good finishes out of the being the unofficial 4th RCR car. It’s nice to see the merged team take their actual RCR alliance and get a good finish for themselves out of it.

The Charterless

  • #59 McDowell – 15th place finish
  • #21 Blaney – 19th place finish
  • #26 Richardson – 38th place finish
  • #93 DiBenedetto – 40th place finish

I talked about McDowell and Blaney already. They had good races, even if Blaney’s finish was a bit lower than his performance. Shrug that off as “eh, plate racing.”

I had picked DiBenedetto as the rep of the little teams and instead, he wrecked with #34 Chris Buscher mid race. It was a hard wreck. It took a while for him to get out of the car and he said on TV later that it knocked the wind out of him. Yay SAFER barriers! 190mph head on hit and just a bit winded? Sport’s come a long way.

BK Racing had a rough day with Richardson losing his engine and finishing 38th to boot. Somewhat ironic that the three drivers in their first Daytona 500 finished 38th, 39th and 40th.

Richardson doesn’t have anymore races on tap right now, so it’s back to the ranch in Texas. DiBenedetto and McDowell both get to run with charters next week since Michael Waltrip goes back to the TV booth until Talladega and word on the street is Ty Dillon is going to run the #14 next week.

On to Atlanta!

Success, or lack there of, at Daytona can only really predict performance at Daytona or Talladega. Sometimes not even then. So with just the one race under our belt in the 2016 season, there’s not much to go by for the mile and a half track.

kyle at daytonaBut we do know that NASCAR is going with the low down force aero package now for all the non-plate tracks. After the shows we got last year for Darlington and Kentucky, I think we are in for a good season. So to make any predictions for Atlanta, we’ve got to look at the drivers who favor looser cars, often one in the same as the drivers who came from dirt.

Johnson, Larson, Kahne (if he’s going to decide to show up this year), the Busch brothers, Keselowski. Too bad Stewart and Jeff Gordon aren’t running right now. Until we see otherwise, I am going to call these drivers as the having the leg up on mile and a halfs.