Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Is This What We Expected?

 1- Jeff Gordon4044Leader332413210$6,722,862
 2-1 Ryan Newman4041333004151$4,044,795
 3-2 Joey Logano40404331516214$6,382,967
 4-3 Matt Kenseth40395331012202$6,027,076
 5-4 Denny Hamlin4037732216152$5,189,339
 6-5 Carl Edwards40242033027132$4,637,813
 7-6 Brad Keselowski401331335614171$7,089,223
 8-7 Kevin Harvick401133338311172$6,094,298
 9- Kyle Busch2230181433318144$5,806,229
 10+2 AJ Allmendinger219818463301253$4,078,037
 11+2 Dale Earnhardt Jr.21961848330412182$5,716,030
 12-2 Jimmie Johnson21861858331310183$6,233,592

Ever since this new Chase format was revealed to us, we were told that it would put a new emphasis on winning. "Win and you're in!" And to some extent that's true, as far as moving on to the next level. But take a look  now that we're down to the last round and you'll see that half of our top four drivers - both Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth are in with nary a win for all of 2014 so far. Meanwhile, Jimmie with three wins, Junior with four and Kyle Busch with four are out. Brad Keselowski with six and Kevin Harvick (who has been the fastest in the garage for most of the season) with three are teetering on the brink of being knocked out. 

Are some teams gaming the system? We were told that now drivers would have to race every lap like it was the last one but it appears that some crew chiefs and drivers realized early on that, just like always, you were actually better off to play it safe and get good solid finishes than to push too hard for wins because in the end, consistency is just as important as it ever was. I wouldn't call it gaming the system because they are going by the same rules as everyone else but I would say that it is going around the obstacles rather than jumping over them. 

It is betting the odds, of course, but if you're playing the consistency game, you know there will always be one spot based on points. In this round we're in now, we know there will be at least two slots open for Homestead since a non-Chaser won at Martinsville.

So it sort of boils down to whether a solid no-wins season is more rewarding in the long run than several wins if they come along with a few bad races and the answer to that question is clearly yes.  Is that what you expected when you heard about this format? Are you satisfied with that answer?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hey, Junior - What Time Is It?


It's a good time to see someone so joyful about accomplishing a lifetime dream.  Martinsville was a happy ending as far as I was concerned. Happy for Junior who now has a grandfather clock and happy for Jeff, who came in second, and emerged with the points lead. Not so happy for Happy Harvick or for Brad Keselowski. Those two will probably have to win one of the next two races to overcome their bad Martinsville luck and be in contention at Homestead. Can Brad pull another rabbit out of hat like he did at Talladega? Can Kevin win at Phoenix where he is so good?

Because I don't particularly care for this format, I was tickled to see a non-Chaser win at Martinsville while two more of the most likely candidates for the Sprint Cup have possibly fallen by the wayside. In fact, I'd be pleased to see non-Chasers win the rest of the races.

Meanwhile, that old tortoise, Ryan Newman, just keeps soldiering on getting solid finishes.

Joey was in the final mix too and so was Matt Kenseth, although Harvick swore he'd never allow Kenseth to win the championship since he was the cause of  Harvick's own disastrous result. Does he actually mean it, do you suppose, or was this just post-race rage? Hard to tell with Harvick, who has been known to carry a grudge.

Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers batted each other around like beach balls. Since they are both out of the championship race, they seemed more interested in their own personal competition. I could definitely see this one carrying on, as intense as it seemed to be.

The first three drivers I root for are Jimmie (who finished somewhere in the 30's thanks to car problems), Danica who had a decent run going until she got wrecked and Kyle Larson who had a decent run going until he got wrecked. I'm not known for good luck. I'd probably do these three a favor by moving my support to Josh Wise...if only I understood what a Bitcoins is.

I'll be curious to see the results of the crew and crew chief swap between Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch. At first, I figured this was Gene Haas giving his very own driver, Kurt, the best chance to succeed and willing to screw over Danica to do it - but Danica seems fine with it and I guess if she is, I should be too. I know one thing - Kurt Busch earned my everlasting enmity by refusing to lend Jimmie any assistance at Talladega. I would never root for a driver to wreck and possibly get hurt but, from now on, any bad finish he gets will earn a thumbs up from me.

Finally, it was thrilling to see Bubba Wallace win the truck race carrying Wendell Scott's old number 34 to Victory Lane. Some events just seem like serendipity and this was one of them.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Four Down, Seven To Go


1 Joey Logano 4000 ---
2 Kevin Harvick 4000 ---
3 Brad Keselowski 4000 ---
4 Matt Kenseth 4000 ---
5 Jeff Gordon 4000 ---
6 Ryan Newman 4000 ---
7 Carl Edwards 4000 ---
8 Denny Hamlin 4000 ---

I don't join any fantasy NASCAR games on the internet but I always make a grid for myself just for fun. I have a pretty good record for predicting finalists. I might not get the entire list but I usually have the few most likely to be at the top toward the end. I would expect most people who predict with their heads and not their hearts could do the same. Because, the fact is, the best of the season are usually pretty obvious by the time we get down to the last six or so races. The same drivers who excelled all year will most likely keep right on excelling clear through to the end with some rare exceptions.

But not this year. The elimination system throws all those predictions into a cocked hat. You may as well pick your names out of that hat. Were the four who were knocked out, the four who deserved to be knocked out? I guess we all have to decide for ourselves but I'd say no. Should one bad race have determined that Kyle Busch, who was up near the top in points prior to Talladega, got cut in favor some of the others? Again, I don't think so. 

If performance determines outcome, the last four standing in the last round should be Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon, barring someone going on a hot streak, but we'll see how it comes out in the end. I'll go on a limb and guess the ultimate winner will be Keselowski because he and Paul Wolfe are the most clutch players in NASCAR right now and this win at Talladega will empower them even more. 

I think this race would have been less heartbreaking for me, personally, if Jimmie had had a mediocre race but, to lead the most laps and then get shuffled back at the end, well, that hurt. And, of course, as always, I was rooting for Danica and she was doing so well for a while.....it was almost as if the racing gods designed this as a teaser race for me. No, honestly, I don't really take myself that seriously!

I have always disliked team sports and I dislike the team aspect of restrictor plate racing. It was pretty obvious at the last restart when I heard Chad tell Jimmie he had no one who was willing to help him while Brad had a teammate who said, "he'd stick to his bumper like glue" what was likely to happen and sure enough.....

So, Hendrick lost three of their four bullets at one fell swoop. Penske still has both their drivers in. Gibbs has two. SHR has one and RCR has one while Ford/Roush will be counting on Carl. That's a fairly even match in terms of teams and every manufacturer and every major team still has a shot. I expect NASCAR is glad about that. 

Other than that, qualifying was sort of a mess with everyone waiting for someone else to go first and some of them waiting too long. 

I knew NASCAR's penalties for last weekend's fights and fusses and feuds wouldn't be anything that impacted the Chase and I don't think this week's penalty for Newman's failure to pass inspection will either.

I'll continue to watch the races, of course. I think people who say they're going to drop out because their driver isn't in the Chase aren't true fans. After all, their driver is still there, still trying to win and I want to be there to root my guy on whether he's going to be the champion or not. 

Okay, that's all. I have to go make the black wreath to hang on my door now. 


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Grouchy Sunday

Well, it's official.....I hate this format. I ask myself if I would feel the same if Jimmie and Junior weren't on the outside looking in with only Talladega to save them (Talladega!) and my answer is yes, I would.

Any time you have a championship play-off that probably won't include several of the top players from the entire year, that's a disappointment and I'd think that if  it was Jeff and Joey and Kevin instead of Jimmie and Junior and Brad. (And please don't tell me - football, baseball, basketball - because I don't care about football, baseball and basketball and in fact, after last night's hour-long delay to start the race, I'm pretty pissed off at football!)

I'm fine with the Chase itself. Twenty-six races in the regular season is time enough for the cream to rise to the top. By its end, you can predict who most of the contenders will be because of how long they've performed at a superlative level. Then those drivers go on to a ten-race run. Once again, that's enough that more that likely one of the teams that have excelled all year, will end up winning. It does allow for someone to go on a tear at the last, like Tony Stewart did (but he had done well enough to be part of the twelve finalists). Even at that, I disliked how a driver could have one terrible race and be put out early on, as happened with Junior last year. Over all though, the old way, we got to see all the best cars compete to a conclusion that resulted in a worthy champion.

Not so with this new way of doing things. I don't care for "win and you're in". Just because they won a single race does not mean that the 43 and the 47 were in the same league as the rest as far as a possible championship was concerned. They were just placeholders to make up the 16-car field.

On the other hand, if your driver won a race early on, then the season lost much of its suspense and tension, which is what make sports so compelling. I watched all the races after Jimmie won the first time but surely not with intensity of knowing he needed to keep accumulating points to get in the Chase.

After next week we'll be down to four, determined by the crap shoot that is Talladega. And that may not include Brad, who has had a terrific year, and Junior and Jimmie and Matt, who were all always  near the top of the points going into the Chase.

If there is any justice, of the teams that are in right now, those four should be Joey, Kevin, Jeff and Kyle but with only three deciding races, if any of them have bad luck, there won't be time to come back. It will simply be "too bad, so sad".

But heck, there were fights all over the place after Charlotte, thanks to drivers stressed to the max about possibly losing their chance to move on. And NASCAR fans love their fights...and if fans love them, then NASCAR loves them too (even if the sanctioning body does say, "tut tut" and give them a little slap on the wrist), so I expect we're stuck with this format.

And besides all that, Danica was running so well and then she got wrecked. And Kyle Larson drove up the lead until a caution shuffled him back. And a Sprint Cup driver (Keselowski) won the Nationwide race.

If I sound like I'm grumpy, I am. That's just how I feel this Sunday after Charlotte.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Upside Down

Dale Earnhardt Jr.               Keselowski hits wall at Kansas

Photos: Racing and wrecking in Contender Round opener              

Pos. Driver +/-
1 Joey Logano --
2 Kyle Busch +19
3 Carl Edwards +16
4 Ryan Newman +16
5 Denny Hamlin +14
6 Kevin Harvick +10
7 Matt Kenseth +8
8 Jeff Gordon +8
9 Kasey Kahne -8
10 Brad Keselowski -22
11 Dale Earnhardt Jr. -25
12 Jimmie Johnson -27

Well, hell's bells, Kansas sure turned out to be a low blow for a lot of people (including me). It more or less flipped the Chase standings chart upside down. Who'd a thunk that after one race in the Contender round, Jimmie would be 12th and Dale Jr would be 11th and Brad Keselowski would be 10th? That means they'd better kick ass in Charlotte because after that, it's the dreaded Talladega and who knows when disaster might strike there? The only safe place to be is where Joey is right now or standing with a W in the win column after Charlotte next week.

I'm trying to decide if I like this type of elimination format and I don't really think I do (and honestly, I'd be saying that even if Jimmie was number one right now). In my opinion, the NASCAR championship should require an equal balance of wins and consistency. Perhaps, before the Chase, there was too much emphasis on consistency and not enough on wins but I think, NASCAR has gone too far the other way now.

The top twelve drivers this season going into the Chase were the class of the field all year long. I would rather see them race for the Championship through ten races than be eliminated, perhaps by a fluke.

For instance, Jimmie and Junior and Brad have been in the top five in points all year yet now they are the bottom three in the rankings. This round has two potential wild cards, Kansas (which certainly turned out to be) and Talladega. If any or all of these all-year-long top drivers goes winless in this round, coupled with another bad (or even just semi-bad) race, they're out. I don't want to see drivers like Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin - who've all had mediocre years and got into the Chase by the skin of their teeth racing for the title instead of the teams that had superior performance all season.

So, that's my 2 cents worth on this Chase format and that is about what my opinion is worth....maybe even only 1 cent.

The bright spot of the race for me was another sterling run by Kyle Larson. Oh, I was so hoping he would catch and pass Joey. I am anxiously waiting for the day this kid finally pulls into Victory Lane. I am hoping it will happen this year.

I watched the Nationwide race only until it was taken over by a Sprint Cup driver and then I muted it, only checking in now and then to see if anyone else had taken the lead. If it wasn't for Chase Elliott, I would have completely lost interest in this series.

At first it seemed as though David Ragan was the top candidate for the seat in the 9 car when Marco Ambrose goes back to Australia next year but now it appears that Sam Hornish, Jr. has the upper hand. This seems to me to be simply trading one driver who has never got his head around NASCAR for another. Both Marcos and Sam are good but not great in this series as they were in their previous ones.

Any how, Kansas was a bummer in the scheme of things, as far as I'm concerned. Hopefully, Charlotte will be better.