Phoenix: Finally NASCAR is Worth Watching Again

Harvick celebrates his 8th Phoenix win. There's a reason they call him "The Closer".

Harvick celebrates his 8th Phoenix win. There’s a reason they call him “The Closer”.

I know, villagers, pitchforks and all that. However the truth is, at least for me, is that NASCAR over the past decade has been a once popular child that had lost it’s way. A victim of group-think.

It never seems to amaze me just how hard it is for large corporations to change their processes, marketing or product to suit what the consumer want’s and needs.

For me, I just sat in amazement years ago, or rather disbelief, as they rolled out the ‘Car of Tomorrow’ and steadily tried to make an Edsel into a Ferrari. All those wasted years. No matter, they seem to have turned the corner, at least so far in the 2016 season.

The lower down-force cars have certainly been a step in the right direction if Phoenix is to be used as the barometer de jour for a functioning formula.

I watched the Phoenix race yesterday and sat back in amazement at how long it took NASCAR to get to this point. Over a decade to recover the hard on-track battles that had been the norm pre COT. Incredible.

However, the past is the past and looking too far back on it does no one any favors. Lets just hope NASCAR will build on the platform it has. Translation: Don’t be afraid to take more down-force off of these cars.

Phoenix was the one race I had looked forward to seeing simply because it’s a flatter and more challenging track in many ways than the 1.5 milers. To me that was to be the first of several tests that would reflect the success or failure of the new aero platform. Fontana is the next.

I don’t think anyone could argue that to date Phoenix was the best race for both the fans in the seats and the television viewers. Multiple passes, Kyle Busch’s early dominance not withstanding, were the norm throughout the race.

Edwards did everything he could to beat Harvick. Just .01 seconds made the difference.

Edwards did everything he could to beat Harvick. Just .01 seconds made the difference.

A few bugs here and there were the tires that left Newman, Menard, Stenhouse and Keselowski in the outhouse, but not something that Goodyear can’t work with for the upcoming one milers and shorter.

No one should be surprised that even though the drivers wanted less down-force, the teams will and should try to add back as much of the invisible grip as they can. The only cure for it is to mandate, albeit slowly, less down-force.

There is a point where removing down-force will end and we’ll be looking at a locked in spec series. One could argue that it is now, but in this case what we’ve had in the past will make the newest platforms brilliant by comparison.

Some detractors might say that it’s the same old group of teams and drivers up at the front so it’s business as usual. To that mindset I have to say: What do you expect? It wouldn’t matter what rules you handed Hendrick or Penske, they are going to be at the front along with the hand picked drivers they employ. That’s why they are who they are.

We may be looking at a point in NASCAR where growth could come back to the sport, although that is going to take more time than folks might imagine. It’s always difficult to cultivate new fans all the while trying to keep the ones you have. Remediating lost fans is almost impossible.

However from what I’ve seen so far this season, they have my attention and I’m looking forward to the Auto Club race. High speed, flat track and low down-force. I’m sure that the fans who make the trek to Fontana will get their money’s worth.

 

NASCAR: No Excuses For Carl Edwards in 2016

Carl Edwards has high hopes for 2016.

Carl Edwards has high hopes for 2016.

At the onset of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Carl Edwards made a dramatic career move after ten full seasons with Roush Fenway Racing to join Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) as driver of #19 Toyota Camry in an expanded four car team stable.

Even more striking was Edwards’ brash prediction at the time of the change, as he stepped out (or up, depending on your viewpoint) and made a proclamation that caught everyone’s attention, declaring “I plan on winning ten races and the championship.”

Perhaps Edwards was tempted by the inaugural success that his former Roush teammate Matt Kenseth achieved in 2013 by transferring to JGR, going on to win seven races and finish second in the Sprint Cup Championship in his debut.

Or perhaps Edwards was eager to emulate the domination that Kevin Harvick achieved during 2014 in his initial year with Stewart-Haas Racing by winning the Sprint Cup Championship.

Things don’t always play out as planned, however. In 2015 at JGR, Edwards had a solid season with 2 wins, 7 top 5’s, and 15 top 10’s. Yet, JGR teammate Kyle Busch went on to win the Sprint Cup Championship. Moreover, comparing 2015 with his last season at Roush, Edwards’ 2014 results were virtually identical with 2 wins, 7 top 5’s, and 14 top 10’s.

Edwards has shown that he can “walk the talk” based on past performance. From a career standpoint, he already has an XFINITY Series Championship, and he is probably one of the best wheelmen who has not yet won a Sprint Cup Championship.

Edwards has never bean an average driver, but he and Toyota expected more from 2015. Perhaps with the lower downforce pack for 2016 we'll see 'Cousin Carl' in a better place.

Edwards has never bean an average driver, but he and Toyota expected more from 2015. Perhaps with the lower downforce pack for 2016 we’ll see ‘Cousin Carl’ in a better place.

Edwards has finished second twice in the Championship battle during his eleven year career. In 2008, he fell just short to six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, perhaps letting the pressure get to him in the Chase, given Edwards lost the points lead near the end of the season despite collecting nine race victories. In 2011, he was back in the championship mix through the season finale at Homestead-Miami, where he lost in a tiebreaker to three-time champion Tony Stewart.

So, by Carl Edwards’ noble expectations, 2015 might be considered a lackluster debut with JGR. As a result, JGR shuffled two of their Sprint Cup team crew chiefs with Dave Rogers moving from Denny Hamlin’s #11 Toyota to the #19 Toyota of Carl Edwards, and Mike Wheeler becoming Hamlin’s crew chief, having spent a year as crew chief of JGR’s #20 XFINITY Series ride.

No surprise, as neither Denny Hamlin nor Carl Edwards attained the 2015 Championship title that they covet, given their taste of having finishing second in the Chase in previous years. For JGR to make these leadership changes, both Edwards and Hamlin must be convinced that these new crew chief relationships will give them a higher likelihood of securing the title in 2016. 

Something must not have clicked with Edwards’ former crew chief Darian Grubb, as he is the odd man out left to “explore other opportunities”. No doubt the 2015 season did not start the way Edwards and Grubb envisioned, as the #19 team only recorded one top-10 finish through the first eleven races; as well, for a majority of the regular season, Edwards’ team sat outside of the top 15 in the Championship standings.

What is most curious is that “Cousin Carl” has been fairly mum on the crew chief change, deferring to the deep bench strength that JGR possesses in both their Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series programs, along with trusting that Joe Gibbs is best positioned to undertake the proper leadership actions.

But “chemistry” is the most popular word used to describe the relationship between driver and crew chief when performance is there. As Jimmie Johnson has supremely stated, chemistry is the intersection where the magic happens and bonding occurs between driver and crew chief. When there is perceived room for improvement in team chemistry, crew chief changes will occur.

And make no mistake, any Sprint Cup championship caliber driver will have substantial input into any crew chief decision. So, “Cousin Carl” surely conferred and concurred with the crew chief swap. Edwards is a charming pitchman for his sponsors and always strives to be likeable. Fans savor Edwards’ victory celebrations that include his signature backflip and plunges into the grandstands to mingle with fans.

So, regardless of his low profile behavior in the crew chief situation, Edwards surely interviewed Rogers prior to the change to assess what he could bring to the #19 program and make sure they were on the same page.

From Edwards’ perspective, he must be convinced that this change in team leadership will spur the #19 team to great things in 2016.

As a confidence boost, NASCAR heads into 2016 with new low downforce aero rules, and Edwards has been an enthusiastic proponent of this rules package. In 2015, Edwards won the Southern 500 at Darlington, where the new package was being tested. He even lobbied to have the low downforce package adopted early for the 2015 Chase playoff, but NASCAR did not wish to change its rules mid-season.

Edwards’ patience is wearing thin, having previously remarked that he is eleven years into his career having yet to win the Sprint Cup title. At JGR, Edwards believes he is learning how to take advantage of the vast JGR resources. Now, if he can hit on the new downforce rules and forge a tight bond with his new crew chief, Edwards just might finally pocket that Sprint Cup title in 2016.

By Ron Bottano. Let’s connect on Twitter @rbottano

Harvick Will Be The Dominant Driver At Phoenix

Gordon's teammates will be playing chess at Phoenix in order to limit the competition for Gordon at Homestead.

Gordon’s teammates will be playing chess at Phoenix in order to limit the competition for Gordon at Homestead.

With this weekend’s NASCAR race at Phoenix looming four drivers will be out of the game and four will be in, Count on Kevin Harvick to be one of the drivers who advance to Homestead for the finale’.

Harvick has had one of those seasons that had the usual ebb and flow we’ve come to expect from top drivers and teams. Periods of excellence that move to mediocre results and then come back with a vengeance aren’t uncommon for those who are in the elite club. The trick is when to peak.

Kevin Harvick seems to be more than at home in Phoenix having won 5 consecutive races at the desert track as well as 8 wins overall. He’s the favorite to win again ensuring his Homestead spot for the chance at his second Cup championship.

There are no more chances, this race is it. Jeff Gordon is ready to go, having won Darlington. The top four drivers in points are: Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, Jr, who seems to many to be an outlier.

One thing is certain the games will be in play at Phoenix with virtually all 7eligible drivers getting no help from their teammates and Hendrick rallying it’s team to block as many strong contenders as it can from being a threat to Jeff Gordon’s chances at Homestead.

Edwards should be the favorite to transfer to the big show after Phoenix.

Edwards should be the favorite to transfer to the big show after Phoenix.

We were witness to that type of chess play when Jimmie Johnson so skillfully and stealthily ran down a dominant Brad Keselowski to take away a guaranteed spot for the Penske driver as well as further keep Joey Logano at bay.

That could actually play into Martin Truex, Jr’s hands, though the cards aren’t in his favor as his record at Phoenix are far from stellar and Furniture Row is a one car team.

When it’s all said and done, the money seems to point to Gordon, Harvick, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards making the big show in South Florida.

Edwards has two wins at Phoenix and they are within the last few years rather than a decade old, so count him as a real threat to knock Truex out of the picture.

My picks going into Homestead: Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards. Not a stretch, right?

My real hope is that Gordon goes out as a Champion and we can close the books on these cars with too much down force.

2016 is pivotal point for not only NASCAR but IndyCar and Formula One as well. It can’t come too soon for me.

NASCAR: Chase Hasn’t Helped As Much As Low-Downforce

Edwards pulled out a great win over Brad Keselowski in Darlington over the weekend.

Edwards pulled out a great win over Brad Keselowski in Darlington over the weekend.

This coming weekend, Richmond is the last NASCAR domino to fall before the chain of qualifying events start to come into play. Has the Chase format and it’s subsequent tweaking over the years really helped NASCAR? My opinion is no. The numbers seem to support my opinion. Make the racing better with low down-force and tire packages for the tracks and tell everyone who hasn’t heard, how great the racing is. There is a formula for this sort of issue.

NASCAR suffers from the same problems that befall large corporations, whether they are public or private, and that is gridlock on decision and strategy. Why? Because everyone in their meetings is, no doubt, the smartest guy in the room.

There was a point, roughly two to three years ago, that it appeared as if the Chase would be effective in reviving the numbers of television viewers and those who might consider attending a NASCAR race. It had appeared to stop the bleeding, but the wound is open again and NASCAR is in full triage to stop it.

According to Sports Media Watch: “NASCAR Sprint Cup racing from Darlington drew a 3.4 overnight rating on NBC Sunday night, up 13% from the comparable Atlanta races last year and in 2013 (3.0 both years). Those telecasts aired on ESPN. According to NBC, the 3.4 is the highest for NASCAR on Labor Day weekend since 2007.”

The major networks do matter to NASCAR and it’s ability to effectively reach it’s fan base. Here’s the kicker: NASCAR is slowly returning to it’s status as a regional sport. It may never live in the obscurity that it once did, but make no mistake, the demographics are Southern.

Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, looks on from the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 5, 2015 in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images)

Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, looks on from the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 5, 2015 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images)

What to do? You have to look around carefully at the way we consume media. Mobile and non-traditional means of sports consumption are rapidly moving to mainstream. The cable networks are sweating bullets over freshly minted pimply faced kids creating the next Hulu, Apple TV or Netflix to come along and poach the domain they thought would never end.

My opinion on the racing so far in the 2015 season is that it is demonstrably better and Darlington proved that out. Less down-force has a lot to do with it, however the reduction in horsepower, while designed to cause the drivers to roll faster through the corners, has had a slightly negative effect. They would be much more of a handful with that 100 HP back.

But is that all it takes? Put out a great product and the eyeballs will show up? Not a chance. IndyCar is the perfect example. Some of the best balls out racing on the planet right now and yes, they are growing. They had to, they had no where to go but up and upwards they’re headed, albeit slowly.

But, you have to start somewhere and low down-force seems to be the answer de Jour. According to Carl Edwards, winner at Darlington: “I think we’re at a bigger crossroads than most people realize,” Edwards said after winning the Southern 500. “We can go with a package that makes our cars easier to drive and have a (boring) Talladega every week.

“Or we can make them harder to drive and show off the massive talents of our drivers and crew chiefs in these races. I hope they go with the latter and stay with this package.”

Most drivers believe if NASCAR starts 2016 with the current package and then removes more down-force, the racing will be even better. If you remove enough down-force, then the horsepower issue is diminished.

We should all be looking to see who is going to be the breakout kid in the Chase segment of this years Championship, but we should also be concerned that NASCAR is marketing the improved product with a vengeance.

One can only hope.

 

NASCAR Competition Grows Despite the Uneducated Criticisms

SHR has shown that it's a true player in the NASCAR game. The competition is better now than at any other time in sport's history.

SHR has shown that it’s a true player in the NASCAR game. The competition is better now than at any other time in sport’s history.

American racing, both NASCAR and IndyCar may very well be the best on the planet right now. NASCAR anyone in the top 20 have a shot at winning and, so far, in 15 races there have been 10 different winners. In IndyCar, there have ben 8 race winners in 11 races.

(I say 15 due to the fact that the Quicken Loans 400 has been rain delayed more than an outdoor electrician’s convention in South Florida during a storm. It has now been called giving Kurt Busch his second win of the year.)

Compare this to Formula One with 3 winners in 7 races, which may seem competitive but is really among two teams, Ferrari and Mercedes. 2015 will be a major Mercedes rout. Ferrari won’t catch up this year. Scratch the word competitive from F1 this year.

What this means is that, despite the ludicrous cries of the villagers, NASCAR is more competitive than it’s ever been. It is poised to become even more competitive at Kentucky where more rules changes, so it’s being touted, come into effect. Namely less down-force.

When you put more control back into the drivers hands you naturally discover who can drive a racing car at this high level. So far, they seem to be doing a great job of mixing it up just fine. On the other hand, the drivers want more.

According to Carl Edwards, a long-time proponent of less down-force: “I’d be in favor of anything that makes the cars able to race around each other and to put more of the speed into the drivers hands,” Edwards said. “I know NASCAR is all for the same thing. Everybody wants this thing to be the best possible show for the fans and I don’t think NASCAR is scared to make changes. 

Carl Edwards has long been a proponent of removing downforce on the Cup cars to [put more control in the drivers hands.

Carl Edwards has long been a proponent of removing downforce on the Cup cars to [put more control in the drivers hands.

“I think it’s really cool that they’ve been talking with the drivers more, they’ve been more involved with it and without knowing really the details, I think we’re heading in the right direction. I have a sense that there will be some neat things coming.”

What more do the NASCAR fans want? The cars leaping through fiery hoops on the straights? Humpy wheeler would surely approve, but anything other than bringing the cars back down to the wheelman’s control is not in NASCAR’s long-term interest.

The more competitive the better. NASCAR needs to stand out among the myriad of leisure decisions American sports fans have at their disposal. So far, the general press has been kind to the sport giving it it’s due.

The one thing that has everyone nervous at the moment is NASCAR floating another balloon revealing the possibility of tailoring the aerodynamics to each individual racing track. One only hopes that they give the lower down-force option a solid chance.

Rushing something that has an obvious and definite complexity to it is tantamount to the recent legislative shenanigans of our esteemed Congress.

I sincerely hope that NASCAR implements the changes at Kentucky, takes stock over the next few races on different style tracks and then makes a decision on tailored aerodynamics.

The last thing we want to see is a repeat of IndyCar’s first few races with Frankenstein add-ons. This is NASCAR and it should remain as simple as possible.

That is what breeds competition, that’s what shows whose got what.

NASCAR: The Coke 600 Is No Longer Necessary

Cousin Carl Edwards finally gets his win. It was only a matter of time.

Cousin Carl Edwards finally gets his win. It was only a matter of time.

It cannot be argued that Sprint Cup racing has reached a level of dog-eat-dog competition that the rest of the motorsports world envies, with one exception, The IndyCar Series.

Watching the Cup teams on Sunday battle for 600 long, and unnecessary miles, they have established themselves as great drivers, great strategists and great athletes. 600 miles of hard driving should put to rest any doubts that they are athletes.

Unfortunately the Coke 600 is an absurd display of those talents. It’s too damned long.

After you’ve won the ratings war by a hundred fold, why go through the agony of having to watch the teams spend themselves on a race that was designed to out perform the Indy 500. That was long ago.

Maybe it’s because this year they didn’t. The Indy 500 was hands down the best racing on planet earth for Memorial Day weekend. The Coke 600 drug on like a Yugo drag race.

I’ve stated my position before, which is, shorten some of these NASCAR races where the competitors have to race hard for every moment of the race. What I saw in the 600 was a great deal of driving to set up for the last 50 laps. Why take 550 miles to do that?

600 miles for a NASCAR are has outlived it's novelty.

600 miles for a NASCAR are has outlived it’s novelty.

I know, IndyCar does the same in it’s oval races, but they race harder throughout the race, you can’t hold back as much with a modern IndyCar, you’ll lose the draft and precious momentum, the same could be said for the NASCAR races, but it’s just not as immediate.

NASCAR thrives on tradition, but this tradition began in order to one-up the Indianapolis party. It’s now become overkill.

A weekend that has three great races on it’s calendar need not have to come with an over-reach of trying too hard to be seen. The Cup races bury the IndyCar series in viewership. The Formula One races are so horribly predictable now the most exciting thing about them is the standing start and the first turn.

Formula One is in crisis, IndyCar can barely contain the bleeding and NASCAR is keeping it’s head just above water in attendance and viewership, but it’s far more stable at the moment than either of the aforementioned series.

The competition in NASCAR, both Cup and the Xfinity series has never been better, never had more competitive drivers and teams and has never been more interesting. So why bother to cling to a tradition that really isn’t? It was a creation that happened when NASCAR was on the defense.

NASCAR no longer need worry about IndyCar or Formula One. It has become entrenched as an American sporting institution and now has to concentrate on competing with other sports. NFL, NBA and Baseball are it’s main competitors and where it’s marketing efforts should be.

The 600 mile stock car race has simply outlived it’s value to the consumer.

 

Edwards Glad Tony Mad: Less Downforce Coming

Carl Edwards is thrilled at the further changes in the Cup car's handling.

Carl Edwards is thrilled at the further changes in the Cup car’s handling.

The 2015 Sprint Cup season has, so far, been better than expected in terms of Post Daytona races that have some excitement in them. What this means, if you know what to look for, is that the cars have become harder to drive. Less downforce.

Harder to drive means harder to run away with a race because you have less horsepower and less downforce to work with. However NASCAR needs, and intends, to take it one step farther.

It would be wonderful to take more downforce off of the cars before Texas Motor Speedway (Duck Commander 500). But, NASCAR has set a schedule for it that seems reasonable. The Tire tests this week at Charlotte, and upcoming tests April 13-15 at Kentucky and April 27-29 will deliver enough information that no one is blindsided by the changes. Those changes are scheduled 4 races from now at Charlotte.

Earnhardt credits the driver adjustable track bar adjustment for keeping him in the top 5 at Las Vegas.

Earnhardt credits the driver adjustable track bar adjustment for keeping him in the top 5 at Las Vegas.

That process has already begun, according to Carl Edwards from the Charlotte testing. He said:

“NASCAR, drivers, fans – we all want to see the best racing,” Carl Edwards said. “The question is how, exactly, do we get that? The way I understand it, Gene Stefanyshyn (NASCAR’s senior vice president for innovation and racing development) and everyone at NASCAR are trying to remove a little bit of downforce and make the cars race better.”

He added, “I’m hoping there’s more of that in the future. As you remove horsepower, there’s less time off the throttle and eventually, if you keep taking horsepower away and the teams keep finding more and more downforce, it will be impossible to pass. NASCAR has to stay ahead of that curve. They’re working on it.”

Track bar 101

Track bar 101

With removing downforce you do change the balance of the car and some drivers, most notably Tony Stewart, was having trouble coming to grips with it (no pun intended). He wasn’t at all happy, comparing the Sprint Cup cars to Xfinity Cup cars in a screaming team radio tirade at Las Vegas.

It isn’t hard to understand. If you remove 100 horsepower and then remove downforce, by way of a shorter rear spoiler, then you have effectively forced the driver to carry more momentum into the corner, but still force them to try and accelerate out of that corner quicker. This is something the Xfinity cars do, but with more downforce.

Some drivers are quick to catch onto it through suspension adjustment and others not so much. It requires a crew chief who can take a few swings at the set up during a race as the cars are now more susceptible to minor changes.

We saw evidence of that with drivers wildly adjusting their track bars as the conditions changed. This is a new rule as well, and they are driver adjustable.

NASCAR explains it this way: “The track bar is located underneath the rear of the car. By raising or lowering the right side of the bar, a driver can alter the position of the rear axle in relation to the car’s centerline.

Any changes affect the weight distribution of the car and how it moves through the corners on the track.”

Apparently in May, at the Sprint All-Star Race is where all of these changes will be fully implemented. That’s fine by us.

Driving these cars should be a challenge and require the driver to earn the nickname “Wheelman”.

Who Will Win The Daytona 500? NASCAR

It would be foolish to rule our Brad Keselowski taking a Daytona 500 win.

It would be foolish to rule our Brad Keselowski taking a Daytona 500 win.

Every year the journalist, pundits and fans, with not enough to do, come up with their predictions of who will win the Daytona 500. Frankly it’s a hollow exercise.

The Daytona 500 is one of two-restrictor plate racing tracks on NASCAR’s schedule; the other is Talladega, the famed Alabama track.

Despite the rule changes for 2015, Daytona and Talladega wont be subject to them, apart from bending the fender skirts out to achieve any aerodynamic advantage. It’s disallowed and the outlawed practice will be monitored by a new sophisticated video monitoring system

This means the same show we’ve seen since NASCAR restricted the engines. Pack racing.

So what are we to make of the predictions we’ve seen from NASCAR’s ranking system? Not much other than we know the top teams will have the best equipment and will have the greatest chance of victory.

If you look at NASCAR’s ranking system of the top ten driver ratings at Daytona it does have a reasonable algorithmic feel. About ten steps above Facebook’s timeline news feed.

Fear is a great motivator. Kurt Busch could be on the edge of disaster with his legal woes.

Fear is a great motivator. Kurt Busch could be on the edge of disaster with his legal woes.

It’s still worthy of consideration but leaves out a few drivers that have shown, so far, that they have more than just a chance. NASCAR’s rankings are legitimate, but don’t take the element of luck into consideration. You cannot leave out the looming ‘Big One’, or two

Kurt Busch is in NASCAR’s top ten, but let’s face it, he has to go for it harder than a gazelle with a Somalian Cheetah chasing him.

He may have restrictive order against him, but that won’t get him fired. If the District Attorney in Maryland files criminal charges against him, Stewart–Haas Racing has a contingency plan. It’s called “You’re Fired”! Fear is a great motivator.

Carl Edwards showed himself to be a hard charger in the Unlimited but he’s still getting used to working with his team. It won’t take him 500 miles to figure that out. He has more than a shot at the 500.

Marin Truex, Jr also showed his skills in the Unlimited with both speed and race craft. Don’t rule him out, rule him in as a distinct possibility.

Kyle Larson isn’t on the list but has every bit a chance to win as Danica Patrick, probably more so but she too could pick up her first win at the famed oval.

Brad Keselowski doesn’t appear on the list. Perhaps his aggressive nature is to blame, but frankly, if you’re going to race at the top level, then I frankly don’t want to see a Tupperware party but a driver who will go for any spot that he can. Keselowski has every skill to win this race.

Tomorrows (Thursday) Duals will tell more about what we may see in the 500 based on the way the Duals are lined up this year.

3 drivers in the first Dual and 3 drivers in the second Dual have to race their way in. Out of all 6 drivers Ryan Blaney, in my opinion, has the best chance of racing his way in. Virtually all of the other drivers have got a great chance of making the show. 13 of them are locked in by way of points, provisional or front row locks, etc.

It’s the drivers who are desperate, are having problems during the race and have to defend or those that simply feel that starting near the front is going to be of some great advantage over those who pose the biggest risk of knocking out potential contenders in a catastrophic crash.

It’s a 500 mile race that if you make the show, you have a shot. Luck truly plays a huge role in this race and having steady information delivered during the Duals as to where everyone is has paramount importance to several of the drivers. Dale Earnhardt, Jr is among them having been disqualified from the group qualifying.

The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s biggest race of the year and 2015 is no different. It needs to show who really has done their homework with a race set-up that will evolve throughout the event.

A lot of press has been given to the ‘Knockout Group Qualifying’, much more than in years past so the big question is: Whose going to win the Daytona 500?

NASCAR, that’s who.

 

Here Are Potential All Star Race Winners: Pick Your Favorite

Jimmie Johnson, the winner of the 2012 edition of the Sprint All Star race, is going to be a favorite to win this year’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

With the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star race merely hours away it’s all I can think about this weekend. I get super excited about the prospect of an all-out, ego-driven, no-holds-barred race where points aren’t on the line but bragging rights are.

In the past we were treated to the likes of legendary moves like Earnhardt’s misnamed “pass in the grass” or a sparks-fueled finish that sent winner Davey Allison to the hospital in 1992, but that’s for reminiscing.

This year there are so many strong contenders for the win that it defies imagination!

Here’s my list of this year’s potential winners of this one-of-a-kind contest.

Jimmie Johnson – Yes, sure this is a no-brainer pick, but I am not sold on this three-time winner of the All-Star race (2003, 2006, 2012). He certainly knows the formula to win and has enormous success at the event, but he has a lot of strong competition here. Last year Johnson had the win coming out of Darlington, but this year he does not. Johnson may be a sure bet – he has wins at the Daytona 500 and Martinsville to date. It’s hard to bet against Five-Timer.

Matt Kenseth – A new manufacturer, a new team, and being a “seasoned” older driver could have led Kenseth to stumble during the transition but he was hot right out of the gate. Driving for Joe Gibbs Racing has been a rebirth for Kenseth’s career – and he wasn’t floundering at Roush Fenway Racing last season. This year Kenseth has already racked up three wins – Las Vegas, Kansas, and Darlington – the latter coming on the heels of a high-profile penalization for Kenseth and the JGR team and a realized appeal. It seems like Kenseth doesn’t know how to lose this season and a win here, something he hasn’t accomplished since 2004, would be some great icing on the cupcake of the first leg of the season.

Kyle Busch – Kenseth’s current teammate, Busch is having a far more successful year than last. With wins at Fontana and Texas, Busch is hard charging. Winning at this venue for this esteemed contest would be a great coup for Busch and would possibly signify a career boost that could indicate a more intense, focused, and, well, lucky Busch than the past where he chokes in the Chase if he even races his way into the post-season.

Carl Edwards had a good season in 2011, the year in which he won the All Star Race. He’ll be one of several contenders for victory this year.

Carl Edwards – Does anybody need a boost more than Edwards? Well, yeah, certainly, but Edwards wouldn’t say so. A lackluster season last year ended with a terrific win in Phoenix earlier in the season. Edwards won the All-Star Race in 2011 so he knows how to get the job done. The question is, does he have the equipment, team, and mental comfort to do it this year? Cousin Carl’s fans would say undoubtedly yes!

Kasey Kahne – Performing well in Hendrick equipment, running toward the front a lot, and earning a win at Bristol puts Kahne on the fast track to victory at this contest. Kahne won in 2008, it is possible for him to revisit victory lane five years later.

David Ragan – “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner” at Talladega, Ragan may seem like a long shot to win but he raced his way into the event in 2011. Ragan is a proven racer and his team has a ton of heart. He may not be considered a front-runner, but Ragan is in the race for certain.

Kevin Harvick – “The Closer,” “Happy”, and the guy with nothing to lose and everything to gain from winning this season, Harvick is on the hunt to continue his attention-grabbing season.  Harvick won here in 2007 and he’s looking to do it again to impress his alleged future boss, Tony Stewart.

Tony Stewart – A “racer’s racer” Stewart has proven in his career he can win on any surface in any equipment, including three NASCAR Sprint Cup titles. But lately “Smoke” does not indicate fire but tirades. He’s clearly unhappy with the team’s lack of performance and needs a reboot on his season. Stewart won this contest in 2009. If it’s hot in Charlotte on Saturday night, this could be his night. He certainly needs it to be to change the direction his season has been going.

Kurt Busch – Champion, hothead, a driver’s driver who has so much raw talent it cannot be contained, the elder Busch is a very possible winner at the All-Star Race. He won here in 2010 and I’d bet the farm his memory muscle remembers back that far. Kurt Busch has been running well all season and aching to score a win. Look for him to come on strongly Saturday night.

Joey Logano – Like Kenseth, Logano’s switch to a new team, Penske Racing in his case, has done much for his self-esteem. Logano is running well and seems to enjoy flexing his racing muscles. Logano may be a long shot, but a win at the All-Star race would be fabulous for this driver once labeled “Sliced Bread.” He has the goods.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – This is a good year for Earnhardt Jr. coming into the All-Star Race as he is automatically entered. In recent years he’s been brought in to the event by receiving the most fan votes and last year by racing to the win in the Sprint Showdown. This year Earnhardt Jr. is running decently and could possibly take this contest hands down. It would do so much to continue the esteem building needed and jump-start his bid to The Chase and ultimately that heretofore out-of-reach championship.  Earnhardt Jr. has a legion of fans, a great team and equipment, and the knowledge to find victory lane. He’s a contender.

Denny Hamlin – Recovering from a severe back injury that took Hamlin out of contention for six weeks this season, Hamlin returned to racing for a full event at Darlington and earned a second place finish to teammate Kenseth. He is determined, focused, and under the gun to earn a ton of points to get a coveted spot in the Chase. A win at the All-Star Race would be more momentum for the team and perhaps indicate a potential win at the following week’s Coca-Cola 600. Hamlin seems to pull out all of the stops when he is injured and recovering. Look to him to be an enormous threat.

Jeff Gordon – If you’ve been around long enough people sometimes forget your greatness. Gordon is still great and is a driver who can claim three victories in this contest in the years 1995, 1997, and 2001. It’s been a long time since he’s won at this event, but Gordon’s still got it and would be a fan-favorite if he took the victory on Saturday night.

Mark Martin – Veteran, gentleman, mentor, racer, Martin is many things including winner of the All-Star Race in 1998 and 2005. A bit of a vagabond since leaving his ride with Roush, Martin still flickers brilliance at any race he competes. I would never count Martin out in this event.

Of course names like defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Marcos Ambrose and Ryan Newman are all clawing for the win as well.

It’s a fabulous time to be a NASCAR fan with the depth of competition so rich and full. The All-Star Race is a spring party that is full of music, pageantry, and ego-infused racing at its most delectable. I’ll be watching to see who wears the crown at the end of the night.

Who’s your pick?

 

 

Tough Handicap Chore By Numbers – Fantasy Insight Kentucky

Carl Edwards

New tracks on the schedule are difficult to forecast by the numbers due to the lack of – numbers. Last year at this time I wasn’t even 100% positive which “Track Type” category should include Kentucky Speedway. No two “Cookie Cutter” tracks are identical but usually there are similar enough characteristics to be fairly certain about the decision.

It has more to do with how the track races rather than the blue prints and degree of banking. Banking in the corners at Kentucky is 14 degrees versus 15 at Kansas and 18 at Chicagoland. That compares to 24 degrees at Atlanta and 20 at Las Vegas.

The educated guess was that Kentucky would race similar to Kansas and Chicago therefore it was added to that “Track Type” group. Last year some special tweaking of the “Horses for Courses” formula was needed to estimate driver performance at Kentucky. Race winner Kyle Busch had a solid 261 power rating and Matt Kenseth, who had the top rating last year, had a strong race. Based on that data the assumption of track type has remained for this season.

Engine issues at Joe Gibbs Racing have me concerned and that is why I will avoid JGR teams on my fantasy lineup until I see proof they have solved their issues. As I mentioned a few weeks ago fantasy race fans can assure solid performances each week by loading up on drivers with Roush-Yates or Hendrick power under their hoods.

This week at Kentucky Speedway I also think Brad Keselowski is a good bet and the Vegas line of 20-1 makes him an attractive longshot. Lame duck driver Matt Kenseth will have a solid race but this week I am betting on another driver to get his first win of the season…that driver is Carl Edwards.

Good luck with your fantasy racing picks this week and don’t forget to send in your pick for “Whiteboard Fantasy Racing” this week for the big race at Kentucky.

Send in your pick to win this week’s Cup race to dennis@racetalkradio.com for a chance to win a copy of the National Speedway Directory from SpeedwaysOnline.com.

 

Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Winner Last Week

Dirt Track Racing won at Sonoma

Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Top Ten After 16 Weeks

Rank

Player

Points

1

RA

34

2T

Carbon

30

2T

Gertie

30

4

LAM

29

5

Grainger

25

6

Rick

22

7

DMIC

20

8

Chris U

19

9T

Aaron C

16

9T

Mike N

16

Brad Keselowski

Weather Report

Hot and humid with a threat of thunderstorms. High temp 99F with green flag temp of 89F

If you have a question about Fantasy Racing send it to dennis@racetalkradio.com and get it answered next week. 

NASCAR by the Numbers- Lubricated by TheOilMedics.com

Using a proprietary race analysis technique we take the fans inside the numbers every week. DMIC’s rating system has been in use since 2002 and has proven to pick the contenders from the pretenders!

Consistency is King (Last Five Races)

Driver

Last 5

J Johnson

95

C Bowyer

94

M Kenseth

93

D Earnhardt Jr

92

G Biffle

90

K Harvick

90

J Gordon

90

T Stewart

89

B Keselowski

88

M Ambrose

86

 

Horses for Courses (Track Rating)

Driver

Course

J Logano

96

M Kenseth

94

D Ragan

93

B Keselowski

93

K Harvick

91

Ky Busch

91

G Biffle

90

J Johnson

90

D Hamlin

89

M Ambrose

88

 

Type Casting (Track Type Factor)

Driver

Type

J Johnson

95

B Keselowski

95

C Edwards

94

M Kenseth

92

K Harvick

92

T Stewart

90

K Kahne

90

Ku Busch

89

Ky Busch

89

D Earnhardt Jr

89

Dale Earnhardt Jr

 

Power Rating (240 Minimum to Qualify as Contender)

Driver

Power

J Johnson

280

M Kenseth

279

B Keselowski

275

K Harvick

273

G Biffle

266

T Stewart

264

C Edwards

263

C Bowyer

262

J Logano

262

D Earnhardt Jr

260

D Hamlin

260

Ky Busch

258

K Kahne

257

M Ambrose

256

R Newman

253

Ku Busch

251

D Ragan

251

J Gordon

251

P Menard

248

JP Montoya

247

M Truex

244

J Burton

242

A Almirola

241

J McMurray

239

R Smith

237

AJ Allmendinger

234

L Cassill

224

B Labonte

224

M Waltrip

223

C Mears

223

D Gilliland

220

T Kvapil

217

D Blaney

213

 

DMIC’s Fantasy Picks

Each week we will take you beyond the numbers to handicap the field from top to bottom to help your Fantasy Racing team succeed. You are also invited to join Lori Munro and I on “White Board Fantasy Racing” every Monday night on “Doin’ Donuts” at 8pm ET on RaceTalkRadio.com. Win fun prizes by picking just the race winners in our unique format. Send your picks to info@racetalkradio.com to enter. 

Top Pick (Last Week 6th)   

Carl Edwards- Will go into stands and validate everyone’s parking to celebrate win

(10 to 1 Odds) 

Best Long Shot (Odds of 20-1 or More) (Last Week 39th)     

Brad Keselowski- Strong Type Cast rating

(20 to 1 Odds)

Top Dogs (Group A in Yahoo) (Last Week 5th)      

Jimmie Johnson- Team adapts well to rule changes

(7 to 1 Odds) 

Second Class (Group B in Yahoo) (Last Week 8th)    

Dale Earnhardt Jr- Super consistent at speedways this year

(14 to 1 Odds)

Middle Packer (Group C in Yahoo) (Last Week DNQ)     

Aric Almirola- Should have a solid 15th-20th place finish

Crazy 8s for Kentucky

Each week Lori Munro and Dennis Michelsen battle in the most unique racing game around! We pick one driver each from each 8 driver group using the current points’ standings. Our picks can help you round out your fantasy racing lineup!

Last Race at Sonoma: Dennis won the matchup 3-2

Season Record: Lori leads Dennis at 9-7

 

Group 1: Dennis picks Jimmie Johnson and Lori picks Tony Stewart

Group 2: Lori picks Kyle Busch and Dennis picks Carl Edwards

Group 3: Dennis picks Kasey Kahne and Lori picks Jeff Gordon

Group 4: Lori picks Kurt Busch and Dennis picks Bobby Labonte

Group 5: Dennis picks Michael Waltrip and Lori picks David Reutimann

Do you have what it takes to handicap the races? Join Lori and Dennis every week and play in the Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Series! Send your pick for the Cup race to info@racetalkradio.com

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