Dover Round Up

There is a theme to NASCAR in 2016.

Our theme is epic finishes.

Dover provided this year. Holy moly Dover provided.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Youth Shows Up

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

Truex’s Doom and Gloom

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

So I guess this doubles as a Shout Out too.

The Rest of the Shout Outs

Shout out number one… Danica!

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

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

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

Pit Stall 13 Update

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

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

Charterless Update

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

All Star Weekend Up Next

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

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

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

As for what to expect?

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

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

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

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Bristol Round Up

So after the Texas Round Up (which really sounds like it should be a rodeo and/or tacky steakhouse) got lost to the whims of the internet, NASCAR heads back to the short track racing.

It’s time for Bristol, touted as a modern colosseum that hands out gladiator swords as trophies.

It wasn’t that long ago at Martinsville that I rambled on about the awesomeness of short track racing, so I shan’t get repetitive with you. I really wish NASCAR would swap the Texas and Martinsville weekends so we could follow the West Coast Swing with the Short Track Rumble, a three in a row of short tracks. I’ll happily take three of four though.

So how did this round of the “PR unapproved hashtag I just made up in the last paragraph” Short Track Rumble pan out?

edwards wins bristolCarl Edwards won from the pole, leading over half the laps of the race and doing his patented backflip of victory. Between Edwards and Kenseth, the two cars led over three quarters of the race, Kenseth ultimately wrecking in the front half of the race to finish 40 laps off the pace, the last car which did not DNF. But 16 lead changes is nothing to sneeze at. 15 caution flags. These cars were out there beating and banging in the best short track tradition. It’s my favorite kind of racing and Bristol put on a show.

Too bad not many were there to see it.

Every picture of the stands looked really sad. The estimated crowed at Thunder Valley was only 90k. That leaves 70k seats empty. This gives me a sad face. I am one of many that thinks NASCAR overbuilt in the late 90s and early 2000s. A lot of grandstands across NASCAR have been getting the ax. I’ve seen it with my own eyes at New Hampshire. Bristol used to be a guaranteed sell out but those days look long gone. I get that people’s sports viewing habits have changed a lot in the last fifteen years. People tend to go for the high def big screens with their own kitchen and bathroom a short jaunt away, or with the portable on the go pocket screen. It is what it is. I can’t fix that part, especially since I got one of those high def big screens, but Bristol is one of the most unique and exciting races on the schedule. It’s on my bucket list. Bristol should be the last place that needs to “enhance the race day experience.”

Rant over.

This year’s spring Bristol race was a great one. So we’ll just go with that and pretend there were butts in those seats.

Woman hit by Kyle Busch’s car

kyle hits pedestrianThis is one of the more WTF moments I’ve seen in NASCAR in a long time. Or racing period.

Kyle Busch was coming into the infield after his second crash. The right front was shot. The wheel was bent, so steering was… less than optimal. So he’s pulling into the garage and BAM! Clips a woman in the back of the leg with the car.

It looks like Busch was driving off under a rope divider. You can see a guy holding it up in the clip. And one guy had to quite literally jump out of the way. And it’s Bristol, so it’s going to be louder than other tracks. But still. Looks like she was doing something on her phone.

She rolled her ankle and went down. Frankly, I think she’s lucky the splitter didn’t hamstring her.

Even if Busch was driving in an area that one wouldn’t expect traffic, PAY ATTENTION!

I’ve had hot passes at New Hampshire before. It’s not nearly as crowded as Bristol but you PAY ATTENTION to where you are.

Every now and then we’re reminded that NASCAR can be dangerous. We’re lucky that woman wasn’t severely hurt.

Shout outs!

This is a great week for Shout Outs. Normally, restrictor place races are where you expect to see surprise finishes, they are unpredictable and the great leveler at the same time. But Bristol paid off for some people who needed great runs (or never had one before).

dibenedetto at bristolMatt DiBenedetto!

Holy crap Matt DiBenedetto!

BK Racing has been running full time for five years, taking over from the remnants of Red Bull Racing. This is a team where a top 20 finish is a great day. They finished in sixth place. Not only is that the best finish for the second year driver, it is the best finish for BK Racing period. And this is a small team that would regularly show up to the track with four cars in the pre-charter days (and still did at Daytona). Running some of the old MWR equipment that the team picked up at auction, I had this team and DiBenedetto pegged as a guy who could make some improvements this year. I expected it to come on a restrictor plate track or one of the cookie-cutters where even small teams can get some good data. Their performance this week even got the #83 team to ink a sponsor for next week at Richmond.

There’s also a twitter hashtag on now #VoteForMattD to get him in the All Star Race. Remember Josh Wise and the DogeCar? Well, wouldn’t Danica just be pissed if those internet nerds out voted her for second time.

bayne stenhouse at bristolTrevor Bayne

Here’s a guy who really needed a solid finish. Since winning the 2011 Daytona 500 as a part timer for the Wood Brothers, the fifth place finish at Bristol was his best race. Bayne is one of the people I think is on the hot seat for not having a ride next year. Roush’s struggles have been well documented across the board. Stenhouse has finally been showing improvement and I see Roush as the type of team that will have a veteran paired up with younger drivers so Biffle is safe(ish). With Bubba Wallace waiting in the wings, I figured Bayne was on the hot seat. This race was huge for that #6 team, only their third top ten since Bayne went full time and Roush resurrected the number.

Also, holy crap look at how roughed up Bayne’s car is in the picture I used here. Yay short tracks!

bowyer at bristolClint Bowyer

Bowyer didn’t forget how to drive. Looking at his numbers this year, it’s easy to think he might have. But we have to remember, even though his number and sponsors are the same, he’s running for HScott now and not MWR. Even though he’s on a winning drought for almost three and a half years, he wasn’t bad last year with twelve top 10s. Since heading to HScott for his temporary assignment before taking over Tony Stewart’s #14, California was the only top 20 he posted in the first seven races. Ricky Craven, over at ESPN, wrote a couple days ago how a driver can out think himself in a slump and how Bowyer can get his head back in the game. The best cure all in NASCAR is a good finish. One of NASCAR’s biggest characters should get a little bit of his swagger back.

cassill at bristolLandon Cassill

The finishing position of the #38 Front Row Motorsports Ford says 22nd, which is an okay day for that team. That doesn’t tell the whole story though. Cassill was mixing it up at the front of the pack at Bristol. He led laps around the mid point of the race and spent much of the second half of the race in the top ten. Unfortunately, a late race tangle with Ty Dillon, running the #95 this week, hosed that up for Cassill. Landon is one of the drivers who has been going about his career in an old school way, starting with the small teams and working his way up through the ranks. He got a top five for the Hillman-Circle Sport Tangle a while ago at Talladega. Cassill has long been one of the drivers I want to see get a chance in top shelf equipment, so even though his finish didn’t reflect it, I love seeing him mixing it up and leading laps.

Pit Stall 13 Update

There is now a tie at the top of the Pit Stall 13 Leaderboard. Matching Kyle Larson’s Martinsville performance, Kurt Busch took home a third place with the magic of pit stall 13 behind him.

Kurt’s driving style has always fit the short track races on the NASCAR circuit. He qualified pretty poorly in 26th place, but broke into the top ten by lap 200 and never looked back, staying the top ten for the rest of the day. Bonus points for having excellent pit stops all day too. The official NASCAR stats put him at third best average pit time of the day behind Edwards and McMurray.

Charterless Update

  • 11th – #21 Ryan Blaney – Cracked the top 15 quick and stayed there all day, much in the top 10. If it wasn’t for Chase Elliot coming home 4th, we’d be hearing a lot more Blaney Buzz
  • 28th – #98 Cole Whitt – Survived the attrition only four laps off the pace
  • 33rd – #30 Josh Wise – Survived the attrition but not as well as Whitt
  • 40th – #55 Reed Sorensen – The caboose of the field conked out at lap 169 and called it suspension

On to Richmond!

One more week of the “I just made it up” hashtag #ShortTrackRumble over at Richmond before hitting the exact opposite with Talladega the first week of May. There is going to be a lot of talk about all the important data next week what since Richmond is the final pre-Chase race in the fall. I’m just glad to watch short track NASCAR as often as I can.

whitt at bristolOf note for next week, Richmond will be only the second race of the year with more than 40 cars on the entry list. For the first time since Daytona, someone is going to have to go home and that’s kinda big in a season where we’ve only been hitting 39 cars for a lot of the races already. BK Racing, fresh off DiBenedetto’s team and career best finish, is rolling in with a third car for Ryan Ellis (who ran one Cup level race last year with Circle Sport). BK Racing got two Charterless cars into the Daytona 500 and they’ve been running decent midpack races so I think that probably leaves Premium with either Whitt or Sorensen as the odd man out.

As for predictions? After this past week at Bristol, who knows anymore. I’d say “the usual short track faces” but this past week was full of faces up front which aren’t usual. My hope is that guys like Cassill and Menard who ran well this past week can get the finishes to go with the up front face time. And of course I’d love to see DiBenedetto pull off another run like this past week. I can see Roush riding some momentum too, although, Stenhouse is better at short tracks than Bayne. The #17 is quietly solid at short tracks so I would not be surprised at a good finish.

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.

Can-Am Duels

Can-Am_Duel_logoWhat did we learn from the Can-Am Duels?

Well, first of all, I learned how to spell Duel.

I thought this whole time it was Dual, as in two of them, not Duel, as in a face off. Spellcheck doesn’t help you when you type in a different word. Do the words Duel and Dual sound different to people with a southern accent? My Connecticut accent has them sounding the same combined with not being able to spell worth a damn meant I was wrong for a very long time.

What did we learn about the Daytona 500?

Well, we learned that really, when you get down to it, all that changes really just stays the same.

Daytona and Talladega are not quite the crapshoot that they used to be. The Let’s Never Change Cadre would be up in arms about that, except it’s their favorites that have become safe bets on plate tracks.

dale jr at daytonaDale Jr won his Duel. Kyle Busch won his. The Gibbs cars showed up to throw down and the Hendricks were their main competition. Keselowski got shuffled back in the pack, but Penske teammate Logano and affiliate Blaney were throwing down in the end. Roush, decent enough finishes all around but you’d have to look up the results afterwards because they made no real noise during the race. At this point, that doesn’t surprise anyone. RCR and affiliates were hot and cold. The Dillons ran well enough for some TV time. Mears made some waves til he ran out of gas. Menard and Newman ran strong but konked out with engine issues. McMurray and Larson were willing to dance but not a huge factor. The little teams showed some spark but that was all.

Copy and paste that general sentiment for all the plate races recently.

can-am damageThere was a lot of freight train racing with a big mess at the end. Kenseth, Truex, Johnson, Allmendinger, and Scott are all heading to back up cars for the 500. Kurt Busch took a hard hit but kept going across the finish line and the team expects to repair the car.

The results were mostly as expected.

And the Let’s Never Change Cadre is happy again.

I know I’m in the unpopular minority that loved tandem racing on the plate tracks. Eighty lead changes and constant passing, yet for some reason people cried “TRADITION!” and it got tossed by the wayside. The Unlimited and the Duels are the prelude to the big show. The Daytona 500 has all the pomp and circumstance as the marquis event in the sport. We’re all excited to see a proper race after the off season.

But freight train racing at our biggest event of the year is not how NASCAR is going to grow. The Ragan/Gilliland run from 10th to 1st at Talladega in 2013 was one of the best plate races in years. Not every race is going to turn into a classic, I get that, but the tandem racing puts on fantastic racing. That’s how you grow the sport.

Tangent aside.

busch wins can-amHere’s what we really learned (tho we knew these things before the Can-Ams)…

  • Dale Jr is the favorite
  • The Gibbs cars will be his competition
  • Blaney is going to be just fine

 

The Charterless

The Duels are not like back in the day when a dozen cars might miss the show. There were eight charterless cars gunning for four spots. No matter what happened, Blaney and DiBenedetto were going to be in by speed, but if either ended up being the highest finisher in their Duel, then the next fastest on speed would be in, McDowell and Richardson, both driving extra rides for their teams. So there was a lot less drama than in the past, but McDowell, talking to Ryan McGee on ESPN, said it was a lot more intense since “the margin of error was zero.” Beat the other guys, you’re in.

So. Blaney. He’s going to be just fine. I figured that even before Speedweeks considering the speed and results he showed last year in the limited schedule. His Wood Brothers Ford actually had a loose wheel during his Duel, lost a lap, got it back and managed to finish third.

McDowell, running the second CSLFR car with Ty Dillon in the #95, finished 14th, beating out Wise in the TMG #30 and Cole Whitt in the #98, who spun and retired out with damage.

In the second Duel, DiBenedetto finished in 9th with a similar situation as Blaney. He was the fastest on speed, beat out the other charterless, so the other open spot fell back to #26 Richardson, his BK Racing teammate running another extra car for the team. It looks a little odd though, because Gilliland in the extra Front Row car actually had a better finishing position, but it goes highest finisher and then fastest speed. Richardson had better speed than Gilliland so that’s the end of that.

richardson dibenedetto can-amI think it is super worth noting that BK Racing managed to get four cars in the Daytona 500 with only two charters. For a small team, that is a huge accomplishment. For people who keep all their eyes on the front of the track in NASCAR, it could be easy to miss all the improvement that this little team is doing just to survive ever since they took over the old Red Bull Racing. They sunk a lot of money into buying up a bunch of the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas so they get to run with some proper TRD engines. They’re stepping up their game. Four cars in the show is going to hand out a solid pay day for BK.

One of the great things about the Daytona 500 is talking to those guys who get to make their first show. It was a pleasure to see DiBenedetto and Richardson, a longtime Xfinity racer, get into the 500.

The Feels

Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death in the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Junior fan or not, NASCAR collectively had some feels when he won a race at Daytona on Feb 18th.

daytona can-am 2Daytona Predictions

What do I think will happen during the 2016 Daytona 500?

Winner – Junior. His vocal fan base will go nuts. It will be a great accomplishment for him. Said happy fan base will let the NASCAR officials go “Everything’s ok” no matter how the other 199 laps turn out. Junior, meanwhile, will have to park his favorite car (named Amelia) in the museum for a year and he won’t have it available to run for the other three plate tracks which may come back to haunt him later in the season.

As for the rest of the field? Well, copy and paste my summary of the Can-Ams. Gibbs, Hendrick, solid. RCR, hot and cold. Roush, decent enough. RPM, constantly improving but not quite there yet.

Someone from a little team is likely to pull off a top 10, but not threaten for the win. Cassill could do it, his best finishes are all at plate tracks and he’s played that role before. Josh Wise did it at Talladega last year but he missed the show and Phil Parsons Motorsports doesn’t exist anymore. Labonte in the Go FAS #32 might get that shot as the wily veteran. David Ragan could do the same for BK Racing. If I had to pick one guy who could pull it off though, I’m gonna call DiBenedetto’s name here. Solid finish in his Duel and showed more speed than a lot of the other minnows.

The number one prediction that I can guarantee…

Truex and Vickers running with the same sponsor is going to be confusing as hell.

two bass pros