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?

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Las Vegas Roundup

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

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

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

How was the race?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shout Outs!

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

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

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

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

Pit Stall 13 Update

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

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

Charterless Update

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

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

On to Phoenix!

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

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

Bonus Points!

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

larson bumper

 

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.

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

Speedweeks Round Up

Heading into the Don’t-They-Make-Those-Backward-Trike-Motorcycles Twin 125s.. or are they Duels now? Heading into the Gaterade Twin 125s, ‘cause I’m old school like that, the biggest news of the week is PR gold for NASCAR.

Elliot at DaytonaChase Elliot, the rookie, the young guy stepping into the #24, the heir to Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, scored the pole position for the Daytona 500. He was one of only two cars to top 195mph and will share the front row for the race (and number one starting spots in the Duels).

NASCAR has had a pretty solid string of PR wins with the Daytona pole. Chase this year. Last year Jeff Gordon scored it with his final 500. Austin Dillon scored the pole as a rookie in 2014 and the return of the #3 to NASCAR. Danica won the pole the year prior.

Of course, Dillon and Patrick haven’t won a race yet. Guys like Gilliland and Jeff Green and Mike Skinner and Loy Allen Jr have won the pole at Daytona and never won races so it’s not always an indicator of success. Chase Elliot himself said [quote from Elliot gets the pole article] “Nothing special I did to earn it. It’s about those guys, the kind of car they brought to the race track. That’s the biggest thing I look at.”

Plate track qualifying is all about putting the hammer down and seeing how much your crew put into your machine so it’s nice to see a young guy like Elliot have a very mature perspective about it.

It’s still an accomplishment that should be celebrated because despite what outsiders say about our sport, NASCAR is a team sport.

Hamlin wins the Unlimited

Hamlin at DaytonaI still want to call it the Clash, but whatev,#11 Hamlin won the exhibition race last Saturday followed by #22 Logano, #27 Paul “There was a smile under that beard all along” Menard, #42 Larson and #13 Mears.

The race got messy, as plate races are wont to do, so out of the 25 cars, only 15 were rolling at the finish and not all of them on the lead lap. It isn’t a points race and what since plate races are such a gamble anyways, everyone wants to win (or they wouldn’t be race car drivers) but it does get treated as an extended practice. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t really have any long winded thoughts about the Unlimited. It’s fun to finally get to watch NASCAR again after the off season. They let in a lot of cars to guarantee the 25 people, which… eh… When the sport first did that a lot of the cynics, myself included, called it the Danica Rule, but whatever. The head honchos want 25 cars, it’s not like we’re gonna skip watching because there are more cars than there used to be.

Stewart’s Fill In

VickersBrian Vickers got tapped to run the 500 for Tony Stewart in the 14 and subsequently had a rough go of it at the Unlimited, wrecking out and finishing 24th of 25. I’m glad the guy can get a shot at running some more races. He’s had some bad luck with his medical problems coming and going. Vickers has the chops, he’s won a few races, including New Hampshire in 2014 on a part time schedule, but with such an unreliable availability, no one can take a chance on a full season with him. So yay Vickers on getting some more seat time.

Word on the street though is Ty Dillon is going to land at least a few of the open #14 races. Bass Pro Sports, which still has some sponsorship with Stewart’s team, has also been a long time sponsor of both Dillons through the years they came up the ranks. Ty Dillon is running the 500 in the Circle Sport – Levine chartered #95 (regular CSLFR driver McDowell is running a second, charterless entry), and was scheduled for a few races with them through the year. Basically he’s pulling a Blaney and getting as much seat time as NASCAR will let him but still qualify him as a rookie when he does go full time. RCR had deals with Circle Sport like that for a long time. Brian Scott and Austin Dillon did exactly that.

Getting long winded on this, but Ty wasn’t scheduled to run the #95 for the next handful of races, and Bass Pro Shop is signed on to sponsor the #14, so Ty is in. Brandan Gaughn has experience in Cup and has been tossed around as another seat filler for the #14.

Bass Pro Shops sponsorship rotating among Stewart, Truex, Vickers, and Ty Dillon might get confusing. And doesn’t Austin Dillon run a couple Cup races with them too?

Truex’s #78 gets impounded, Harvick and Vickers penalized

Truex at DaytonaIn “This might be big news,” the #78 car of Truex got impounded before being allowed to make a qualifying time over the weekend. It failed inspection and the specific penalty is a “roof flap violation.” So with no qual time, Truex has to start at the back of his Duel. It’s a plate track so ok, sucks, but not the end of the world. It’s not like he has to start at the back of the pack at Bristol. With the new charter system, it’s not like Truex even has to race his way into the 500 anyways. The car has a guaranteed spot.

The potential catastrophe for the #78 team comes from the roof flap penalty itself. It can be as high as a P5 penalty and NASCAR has said that context matters when they bring down the hammer. An aero issue is going to be taken a lot more seriously at Daytona than it will at Watkins Glen. P5’s carry a minimum 50-point penalty, a minimum $75,000 fine and a minimum six-race suspension to the crew chief. All kinds of bad news and having the crew chief on the bench is serious, but more so for a team starting with a new manufacturer this year.

The #4 of Harvick and the #14 of Vickers had their times disallowed because of bad track bars. Again, these are chartered cars and we’re on a plate track so not the end of the world for either driver. It’s the other penalties that could hurt, but no one is talking as high as P5 for either of them.

The Charterless

Blaney at DaytonaThis is something I am going to follow week in and week out, because in the last few years I think the health of the minnow teams can be a better indicator of the health of NASCAR than just the top tier teams.

Qualifying being such a unique procedure for the Daytona 500, it’s not just the fastest four Charterless teams get in the show. For the 500, the fastest two on time trial day are in and the top finisher in each Dual is in. If the top Charterless finisher in a Dual is also the fastest on speed, then it goes to the next finisher.

#21 Blaney and #93 DiBenedetto were the fastest Charterless cars. Blaney, in a car everyone expects to be very competitive this year, had the 7th fastest time and DiBenedetto pulled off the 24th fastest time. Normally, DiBenedetto will be in a chartered car, the #83, but Waltrip is running with that number/charter for the couple races that he pulls this year. So those two guys are in. Who’s left to race their way into the 500?

  • #59 McDowell – 25th fastest – extra ride for Circle Sport Levine
  • #26 Richardson Jr – 36th fastest – extra ride for BK Racing
  • #98 Whitt – 37th fastest – Premium leased their charter for the season to HScott’s #46
  • #25 Gilliland – 38th fastest – extra ride for Front Row
  • #30 Wise – 40th fastest – TMG did not qualify for a charter, longtime Xfinity team, part time Cup since 2015
  • #40 Sorenson – 41st fastest – Hillman Racing did not qualify for a charter, Part time Cup, slowest car that had an allowed time

 

Three of the teams that have to race in for spots, plus DiBenedetto’s #93, are not planned to be full time competitors this season. So having such a crowd for the Charterless seems like it will be unique to the plate races. On a normal week it seems like it’s going to be Blaney, Whitt, and whoever rotates into the TMG and Hillman cars. On the weeks Ty Dillon runs the #95, CSLFR may run the #59. I haven’t seen any news on how often they plan on rolling in with two cars as opposed to just one.

We may be at peak drama for the Charterless right now, but it will be something that I follow throughout the year.

Wood Brothers leave RTA

wood bros logoIn related news of the Charterless, and also a duh moment, the Wood Brothers announced they are leaving the Race Team Alliance. I don’t blame them. I’m not the only one thinking that they got left out to dry by the new charter system. I saw a note in an ESPN article about driver contracts and driver pay that mentioned the performance clause for a team losing a charter is not what I hoped it would be. A team has to be in the bottom three points standings of chartered teams for three years straight. That’s a long time. A long long time. I’m going to crunch some numbers later, but I am not sure if that’s a practical number to ever let another team in by performance. I think that’s not cool at all.

I don’t blame the Wood Brothers for telling the RTA to screw.

Jeb Burton Lands a Ride

jeb-twitterThere’s some happy news for up and coming driver Jeb Burton. The son of Ward and nephew of Jeff, he was showing some solid results in the Truck series in 2014 and even scored a win, but his teams funding fell out from under him right before the start of last year. He scored a ride with BK Racking but DNQ’d for a few races and BK went with David Ragan and DiBenedetto for the two chartered cars. Burton announced that he landed a full time ride in the Xfinity with Richard Petty Motorsports.

High five for this. I like when drivers are allowed to climb the ranks of the sport without being rushed. Yes, guys are doing it at a much younger age than they used to, Elliot is 20 but he’s got some seasons under him already. I remember all the careers that flamed out in the rush to find the next Jeff Gordon in the late 90s and early 00s. So watching guys like Chase Elliot, the Dillons, Eric Jones, Rico Abreu, and Bubba Wallace actually get a chance to work their way up the ladder gives me a good feeling for the health of the sport once all the current stars pull a Jeff Gordon and retire to the broadcast booth.

Rookie of the Year

The NASCAR Rookie of the Year completion can be an odd thing. A driver’s rookie year doesn’t always predicate a career of success. Some of the sports biggest names missed out on a RotY title. Jimmie Johnson. Mark Martin. Terry Labonte. Dale Jr.

Remember guys like Andy Lally, Kevin Conway, and Stephen Leicht? They all won. There was a severe dry spell of rookie drivers between Joey Logono and Rickey Stenhouse Jr.

However, I feel that the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year competition is slated to be one of the best in years. The sport has been seeing a generational shift in the last couple years and it is intensifying this year. Let’s take a look at the candidate who have been announced for this year’s rookie campaign…

Ryan_Blaney_Road_America_2015-wikipedia
R. Blaney via Wikipedia

Ryan Blaney

Blaney ran part time in Sprint Cup last year for the Wood Brothers. He’s been working closely with Penske and Keselowski in the lower tiers. There is a lot to be glad about with Blaney running for RotY this year. I was worried he was going to get Trevor Bayne’d and told he ran too many races to qualify as a rookie. The Wood Brothers have formed an alliance with Penske now and they’ve got the funding to run a full season for the first time in years. This is fantastic for one of the oldest teams in the sport and it’s a fantastic opportunity for Blaney. He picked up a couple top tens last year, including having a shot for the win at Talladega in May. The improving fortunes for the Wood Brothers are only going to mean improving fortunes for Blaney. He’s going to be strong at the plate tracks and I won’t be surprised if he snags a win this year.

Chris_Buescher-wikipedia
C. Buescher via Wikipedia

Chris Buescher

Buescher is the reigning Xfinity champion and following along the path that Stenhouse and Dillon have done recently by jumping up to Cup. Buescher is making the move with Front Row Motorsports and say what you will about the recent performance of Roush or RCR, FRM does not have the same level of resources. This is a team that has survived as a multi car operation for years, and that is no small feat in NASCAR, so I do not want to diminish their success. Hopefully they will be able to take another step forward with the new talent behind the wheel and a proper technical alliance with Roush. Buescher is still a developmental driver for Roush so the timing of his promotion to Cup and the technical alliance make sense. Roush just didn’t have any available seats for Buescher and wanted to keep him in Ford stable. Here’s hoping it doesn’t hold back Buescher. FRM does have a plate win from a couple years ago so I do expect Buescher to do well at Daytona / Talladega as a minimum.

Jeffrey_Earnhardt_2014_wiki
J. Earnhardt via Wikipedia

Jeffery Earnhardt

NASCAR finally has two Earnhardts that will be competing on a regular basis again. There’s a certain segment of the fan base that’s going to get stoked about that. However, this Earnhardt is not running the same level of equipment that his uncle and grandfather have. The Go FAS Racing #32 was driven by committee last year, including two starts for Earnhardt (including the September NH race I was at). The best finish for the team was a 23rd at Talladega with Bobby Labonte at the wheel. The Earnhardt name should attract more sponsors to the team and the team’s can make some progress from where they are. Unfortunately for Earnhardt, plate tracks are the great equalizer and Bobby Labonte is going to still drive the car for those races.

Chase_Elliott_Road_America_2015-wiki
C. Elliot via Wikipedia

Chase Elliot

NASCAR has been chomping at the bit for this for years now. Elliot is the most heralded second generation driver since Dale Jr started driving full time in 2000. He’s taking over one of the most storied rides in NASCAR history now that Jeff Gordon has retired. Love them or hate them, Hendrick cars set the bar as far as performance goes. If you’ve ever seen Elliot speak in any tv interviews, he handles himself like someone far more mature than someone who is only 20 years old. I definitely do not think the pressure is going to get to him. I think there are a lot of fans that will be disappointed, though, if he does not win a race this year. I think that is an unfair expectation, even with his pedigree. Unless the Chevrolets drop the ball across the board, Elliot should be competitive. I even think that there is a good chance he will out perform his teammate Kasey Kahne. I think it is more realistic to expect Elliot to have a similar trajectory in Cup as Larson and Dillon (whom I expect to both score wins this year).

Brian_Scott_Road_America_2015-wiki
B. Scott via Wikipedia

Brian Scott

Scott is a longtime Xfinity racer and actually the oldest Cup rookie this year at 28. He’s been running for RCR in the second tier series and as the unofficial fourth RCR Cup car with their arrangement with Circle Sport in the #33. He’s switching over to Fords and taking over Hornish’s renumbered car with Petty’s team. Scott is going to take guff this year because he has a built in sponsor, Shore Lodge, which is owned by his family along with some grocery store out west that I’ve never heard of on the East Coast. Look, NASCAR can be as financially responsible as taking a boat load of money and sinking it out in the Atlantic. It takes money to run. If you have money and no talent, you’re just going to run out of money fast. If you have talent and no money, you still behind the 8-ball. So what Brian Scott has a built in sponsor? It’s not like he’s a slouch. Scott has five consecutive years in a row of top ten points finishes in Xfinity. In ten Cup races last year, he pulled off three top 15’s and would have had better numbers at the plate tracks if not for wrecks. Does he have the pedigree of Elliot? No, but he will hold his own just fine. Richard Petty Motorsports are making great strides the last couple years, just look at Almirola. I don’t quite think Scott will be challenging for wins, but I think he can pull off solid results and work his way into competition along with RPM as a whole.

Overall

I think that the stake of 2016’s Rookie of the Year battle mirrors the state of the sport. NASCAR is changing the guard. It happens. This is a good thing. It’s healthy. It happened in the 90s when Jeff Gordon helped bring the sport outside of a southern niche. This is a very strong rookie class. Blaney and Elliot should be able to compete for wins and a spot in the Chase. Scott and Buescher should have some strong showings. Even Earnhardt running with the minnow team is going to improve that team’s fortunes and be able to build off of something. I think that all five of these rookies should have some staying power in the sport and it’s been a while since a whole rookie class had that feel. 2007 was the last year which had five rookies become regular contenders (Montoya, Menard, Ragan, Reutimann, Allmendinger). Despite all the doom and gloom of tracks downsizing grandstands and tv ratings and such, this rookie class signals to me the sport will be just fine.

Prediction

Conventional wisdom says Elliot. I’m going to buck the trend.

  1. Blaney
  2. Elliot
  3. Scott
  4. Buescher
  5. Earnhardt