Monday, September 29, 2014

No Fairy Tales Here

 Chase Grid after Dover

The four drivers eliminated from the Chase after Dover are:
AJ Allmendinger
Kurt Busch
Greg Biffle
Aric Almirola

The 12 drivers advancing to the Contender Round are:
Brad Keselowski (Won at Chicagoland)
Joey Logano (Won at New Hampshire)
Kevin Harvick
Jimmie Johnson
Jeff Gordon (Won at Dover)
Kyle Busch
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Matt Kenseth
Ryan Newman
Carl Edwards
Denny Hamlin
Kasey Kahne

And then there were twelve......

Not a very exciting race. Though there was some scrapping for the last few spots during the mid-part, none of the four who dropped out was much of a surprise. Kurt Busch could have been Kasey Kahne or Ryan Newman or Carl Edwards instead  and none of those would have been a shock either. 

Kasey Kahne hasn't had much luck this year but evidently, he'd been saving it all up for just this race. There was a time, when he was almost five laps down, when no one would have believed he could come back into contention but couple his amazing good fortune with Kurt's misfortune and here he is in the Challenging Twelve. Having said that, after scraping into the Chase by the hair on his chinny-chin-chin and moving on the next round the same way, does anyone expect the 5 to suddenly catch fire? 

Meanwhile, back at the front, poor Kevin Harvick once again won the pole and was the pure class of the field and once again was struck down by the racing gods. I wonder what he ever did to gain their malicious ill will? Most ironic is that it was this same circumstance that brought him down in the last Dover race - a lugnut playing havoc inside the tire. What are the odds of that? 

After Kevin there was Brad and Jeff....and you figured that the winner was probably going to come down to whether or not there was a late caution. If the race ended in a short run, the odds were with Brad; a long run and the odds were with Jeff. Two men, driving with crossed fingers, hoping for a caution or no caution. Having disposed of Kevin, those mischievous racing gods called it for Jeff. 

Of course, proud as the winners may be of their victories during the Contender Round, those wins mean absolutely nothing now. The top twelve were all dead even again as soon as Dover was over.

The fact is that though there is an occasional Cinderella story in sports, usually the endings are more predictable. Those who've shown strength all year are most likely those who will prevail at the end of the year. In 2014, in NASCAR, those powerhouse teams have been Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon. Jimmie and Junior have had their moments when they could compete with the top four but not consistently. As a Jimmie fan, I keep hoping that Chad is playing a game of strategy that I don't understand. 

So if you had to bet your life savings on the 2014 NASCAR champion, you'd probably want to go with the 2, the 22, the 24 or the 4.  But we'll know more in three more weeks. 

The Camping World Truck Series was fun, pitting two of the young guns, Erik Jones (winner) and Darrell Wallace, Jr. (runner-up) against one another. Kyle Busch probably would have been happy either way seeing as he owns both trucks.

Ugh. I quit watching the Nationwide race partway through when it was obvious it was going to be between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, or maybe I should say, between Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing. Does anyone watching really give a damn which one of these mega-teams win the owner's championship? I sure don't. I think Nationwide races would be way more exciting if Chase Elliott actually finished first, rather than coming along in third behind those two, He's the Nationwide Regular winner, which helps toward the championship, but that doesn't get the trophy or the $$$. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mayhem at Loudon

First things first. I gotta' say it: I hate New Hampshire's trophy. I tend to think of any creature that has managed to survive the vicissitudes of life on this planet for close to a century, whether on land or underwater, as something rather noble, even a lobster. So the ugliness of using a living thing as the trophy for a race, its claws taped shut, with humans parading it about and taking its picture, until it is finally eaten or mounted or whatever happens to it, strikes me as rather awful. I love NASCAR as much as any fan but a race is still just a freakin' race....and nothing should have to die for it. Call me a liberal bleeding heart, I don't care. It's how I feel.

So, both the Penske teams have won their way into the Chase. The Penske boys are definitely at the top of their game. On the other hand, just to calm things down a bit, regarding future expectations, wasn't it just a couple of years ago that Matt Kenseth won the first two races in the Chase. As I recall, that did not result in a championship. It's the end of the Chase and not the beginning that matters. Still yet, I'd definitely rather have won one of the first two than not. Team Penske has the advantage right now.

Loudon was like the tale of two races and it shook the standings up quite a bit. The first part was rather mundane and then all hell broke loose. Chase driver after Chase driver suffered setbacks. Poor Denny Hamlin was the first and the worst. He was looking good until his fuel intake unit suffered a malfunction. The team more or less worked through that and then he was wrecked. Blow outs, pit stops and crashes wreaked havoc on Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch.... Meanwhile, Aric Almirola and A. J. Allmendinger had solid runs, bringing them closer to the others. The Roush cars were under-achievers and so was Ryan Newman.

Drivers are now bunched up down at the bottom of the Chase field more than they were before which should make Dover an especially exciting race with all those guys clawing to be in the top twelve. Jimmie never really contended for the win but at least, his race was uneventful and he had a top five finish. Ditto, Kevin Harvick.

Two non-Chasers crashed the Loudon party and both were from Ganassi. Another shout-out to Kyle Larson (this is becoming a weekly occurrence!), who was second and also to Jamie McMurray (4th).

So we forge on to Dover....and then there will be twelve.

Congratulations to Cole Custer, who won the Camping World Truck series race - the youngest winner ever! Wow, NASCAR has an abundance of riches when it comes to talented kids!

And to Brendan Gaughn for winning in Nationwide.

Miscellaneous comments - I agree with Brad Keselowski - sending the Tony Stewart case to the grand jury is a Cover Your Ass move if I ever saw one. A district attorney is a politician first and foremost and this D.A. is in a precarious position. If he files charges against Tony, he will instantly be hated by legions of NASCAR/Stewart fans. On the opposite side, if he doesn't file charges, his constituents who live in the area where Kevin Ward was born and raised will be furious and accuse him of letting a rich, famous NASCAR driver buy his way out of trouble. Naturally, he'd rather pass the buck to a grand jury and let them make the call.

I think it is likely that this will result in Tony getting screwed. The people on the grand jury likely have their own biases in favor of the Ward family. They probably know little or nothing about Sprint car racing, all of which could lead to them justifying the filing of charges.

And, of course, we hear that there is another video with a different view of events. If this video makes it appear that Tony's actions were deliberate or not, it could be the deciding factor.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Chase Expectations


Well, hell, I so wanted Kyle Larson to win that race! Still, it was quite a show the kid put on, coming from dead last to compete for the win, even though he finished third in the end. And quite a performance from Brad too when he drove through the middle to take the lead in the final laps. 

It does seem to me that the Miller Lite team has an edge over everyone else at the moment. Whether they maintain it throughout the Chase remains to be seen. My way of choosing who I want to win or lose is simple: I'm against Anyone-Who-Is-Ahead-Unless-It's-Jimmie.

Kevin Harvick seems to be the consistently fastest car as far as plain speed is concerned but that is only part of the equation. The Two has the whole package - speed, horse power, pit stops and a brilliant crew chief paired with a smart, gutty driver. Poor Kevin, even trading pit crews with Tony Stewart's more experienced one, he had to deal with a screw up on pit road. 

Then there is the 24 who also seems to have the wind at their backs this year with a car that is always fast and a driver with a new-found drive and determination (the latter probably a consequence of the former). 

Except for Kyle Larson, I'd say the results of Chicagoland were about what I expected - Brad, Jeff, Kevin, Joey, Dale, Jr, Jimmie have always been my top six, with the 48 still a tick behind. Sucking hind tit were Biffle, Newman, Almirola, Allmendinger....about what I would have guessed as well...although disaster in the first race isn't as catastrophic as in the past so the current standings may not be definitive.

I felt the sorriest for Almirola. He was the biggest surprise to make the Chase and he had such a great run going. He was sixth, I think, when his engine let go. 

So far, the Chase grid is pretty predictable although the race itself was enjoyable and entertaining.

Unlike, the lower series. No sense re-hashing this old argument but watching Kyle Busch swarp the field in the Camping World Truck race...again.... just isn't fun to watch. And he probably would have done almost the same in Nationwide if not for a strategy call that didn't work out. It's not that I dislike Kyle himself driving but Gibbs essentially bringing his Cup team down to win the Owner's Championship (and this almost as true for Penske as well) that strikes me as greedy and unfair.

Speaking of Nationwide, I love the commercial with Chase Elliott, Dale Jr, Bill Elliott - 

This week, we discovered that Marco Ambrose will be leaving the Sprint Cup series. This wasn't a surprise. I think we've sensed for a while that Marcos was unhappy, not having the results in Cup to make up for the homesickness that comes from being thousands of miles away from family and friends in Australia. He gave it the old college try but just hasn't had the success he hoped for. 

I also think it was rather cruel for the police in New York to announce that the investigation into Tony's Stewart's tragic accident was complete but they wouldn't be announcing their findings until this week, keeping Tony on tenterhooks through another race weekend. Why not just say, "the investigation is complete and here's what we've decided"? 

I really can't believe we're down to just nine weeks left in this season. Of course, they most suspenseful nine.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Worst NASCAR Race is Better Than The Best Football Game!

Well, I gotta' say, this was, over all, a pretty boring weekend of racing what with Kyle Busch leading all the laps in the Nationwide race and Brad Keselowski leading almost all the laps in the Cup race. Maybe my expectations were too high. The media had billed Richmond as a fight to the death - the last race to try to get into the Chase. Mild-mannered drivers like Jamie McMurray promised to wreck anyone that got in their way. It was going to be intense as drivers who'd won gouged for the extra points that came with another win and drivers who were desperate for those last two Chase spots went at it no holds barred. Restarts, they said, were going to be crazy.

So what we got was Brad in the lead through lots of green flag racing. Brad getting away on every restart of which there weren't many and those were for a) a competition caution, b) a fan climbing the fence and c) a couple of debris cautions. If there was any bumping and grinding, I didn't see it. I'm not saying the drivers who had the most of lose by not making the Chase didn't drive hard but often there was no where to drive to when everyone got strung out and just held serve. In the end, the same 16 drivers who started the race in Chase positions still held those position when it was over.

Maybe part of it was the hot, humid weather. Jimmie collapsed from dehydration after the race and I expect several of the others probably felt nearly as bad.

Anyway, onward and upward to the Chase now that we know who the 16 teams will be.

I have to admit that for those of us whose favorite drivers locked themselves into the Chase early on, it has been rather pleasant to watches the races without stress. Not that we didn't want our guys to do well in every race, on the other hand, we were sort of "ho hum, not to worry, our team is safely in."

Now anxiety will again be a constant companion during every race and this year, it will be clear to the very end if our driver gets that far.

It seems to me that at this point, the strongest teams going into the championship run are the two Penske teams, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick. (Remember when Brad said he thought Penske was a year behind Hendrick? ha!ha!) Behind them, Junior is a possibility. Far be it from me to doubt the six-time champion but Team 48 seems just a little off. Their last few races have been a big improvement over that dismal stretch they had a few weeks ago but their finishes have only been so-so, not outstanding, so we'll see if they can once again pull a rabbit out of a hat. JGR seems too inconsistent (although this format could suit a streaky driver like Kyle Busch). Same goes for Kasey. Roush? It would take a miracle. Almirola and Allmendinger? No way.

So, yes, this weekend was rather humdrum but at least it wasn't football!  

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Most Satisfying Result


A Most Satisfying Result

                              NASCAR Power Rankings: Hendrick Motorsports shines again

Well, that was an exciting race in the end despite being a little tedious at first when it looked like Kevin Harvick was going to literally run away with it. There wouldn't have much suspense at all in the first half if it hadn't been for the incredible performance of Denny Hamlin's pit crew. Every pit stop under 12! That is about as perfect as you can get. The only problem for Denny was that his car wasn't as fast as Kevin's so he couldn't hold his lead.

Kevin was grumpy about his own crew's performance which was excellent except when compared with the 11 bunch. Come on, Kevin, would you rather have been in Denny's position with a faster crew but a slower car?

I was crushed with the caution that came out when Kasey was leading resulting in a green/white/checkered finish. Damn, so near and yet so far. I've gotten so used to something happening whenever it looks like Kasey is having a good run and there it was....again. I grumbled and cursed under my breath but then there was another caution and another attempt at a G/W/C and that time, Kasey was in the perfect position. So now all the Hendrick drivers are in the Chase. If you'd been in the car with Kasey, you'd probably have heard the biggest sigh of relief in the world.

And that scenario of always expecting something to happen to a driver to queer their race goes double for Danica. I watched her work her way up through the field in Atlanta with my fingers crossed but expecting tragedy to strike at any moment. But it didn't and she finished sixth, the best finish of her Sprint Cup career. Yes!

Danica has so many haters and they tend to be such a thoroughly vile bunch (example of what they call her: Danicunt) that any time she does well, I'm thrilled. Not that it makes a difference to them, of course. They always find a reason that any success she has isn't worthy. Because, even if she wins, she'll still have that one fatal flaw they hold against her the most: she's a woman.

Kyle Larson ended up in 8th after many trials and tribulations. Not bad although not good enough to capitalize on Clint Bowyer's hard luck. I would love to see Kyle L. somehow make the Chase but I don't really expect it to happen. It seems as if he's a lock for Rookie of the Year though and Chase or not, he will be able to say he's had a season to be proud of.

It was great to see Tony back at the track and especially good to see the enthusiastic and supportive reception he got. That had to be heartwarming for him. Although, he ended up with a DNF, it was surely encouraging to see how well the car performed before he left the track. I didn't think NASCAR should have made him Chase-eligible though. The rules are the rules and he missed three races....end of story, no matter how sad that story is.

He won't make it unless he wins in Richmond, which seems unlikely, although having seen Tony pull rabbits out of the hat before, it isn't entirely impossible.

What is up with Kyle Busch? He appears to be backsliding into the "old" Kyle - the childish, vengeful, self-destructive Kyle.