Time To Chase Is Short, So Night Race At Bristol Looms Large

With time growing short before the Chase begins, defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski will be looking for a win at Bristol to help his cause.

It’s time for Bristol racing at night.

I’ve known this is the week for that race for many years, even before I started to memorize the schedule. I know because second Bristol always occurs around my birthday.

Bristol is NASCAR Mecca for many. The most infamous of short tracks in NASCAR’s season, second Bristol is run at night under the lights. It was one of NASCAR’s most sought-after tickets.

At this track downforce is no longer an issue with this modern car; Bristol levels the playing field making man far more important than the machine.

Short-track racing inherently brings out the fierce competitor always at the surface. Egos flex, tempers flare, and the need to win is in over-drive.

Add to the mix the tightness of Bristol, the loudness, and the proximity to the Chase and all emotions culminate to a fever pitch.

This race could very well be the one to put Kyle Busch into Championship contention. He’s great here with a sweep of all three Bristol NASCAR contests in 2010.

He currently has three wins this season and is aching to close the gap between him and Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. Busch is flying under the radar and is definitely a competitor to watch closely. Last year he was denied entry into the Chase at Richmond and does not want to be turned away again.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. still has a spot in the top 10 going into Bristol, but he’s slipped lately and can ill afford a bad race.

On the flipside, current reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski is fighting to stay afloat. Bristol is a track Keselowski has tamed in the fall of 2011 and spring of 2012. He needs this victory to stay alive before the Chase becomes out of reach.

Kasey Kahne captured the win at Bristol in March so he’s hoping for a return victory. That would put his tally of wins to three for the season, a nice tidy sum of bonus points.

Of course Johnson and Carl Edwards have earned wins at this track so they are anxious to buffer their points in this competition.

And then there is Kurt Busch. He has a five wins at Bristol, most recently in 2006. He has been poised to win all season and this could be his breakout track.

With the media attention surrounding the elder Busch this week with rumors of a job at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 – a “rumor” that both parties are currently refusing to acknowledge as fact – a win here would catapult Busch. To where, I’m not exactly sure, but it would be huge.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a win at Bristol in 2004. It’s been nearly a decade but all of “Junior Nation” hopes the memory muscle is still taut.

Earnhardt Jr. has slipped in points in recent weeks with tough luck finishing races. He’s currently sitting in seventh place but wants to secure his spot in the Chase.

Matt Kenseth was the winner at Bristol in 2006. Currently his rival is Johnson and a win here would once again upset the balance of power in Kenseth’s favor.

Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, and Jeff Gordon also have wins at Bristol so they are certainly contenders here.

Of course, the 2013 season has shown that there is no given. “Underdogs” have won, surprise names have fought their way to the front and earned a victory, and this weekend could be no exception.

The race falls on my actual birthday this year – Aug. 24. I’ll be tuning in to watch my birthday race and look forward to a rollicking good time.

Who do you see winning this event?

After Wild Pocono, Brad Keselowski Still Gets Championship Nod

With his fourth place finish in the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono, Brad Keselowski advanced from ninth to seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings and tightened his grip on a place in the Chase.

LONG POND, Pa. – The rain-shortened Pennsylvania 400 was, obviously, a most unusual race.

NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered transmission failure and his incredible streak of consistency – he completed every lap in 20 straight races this year – comes to an end.

Race-dominant Jimmie Johnson, who rarely makes mistakes, gets loose on the last restart and the ensuing wreck, among other things, takes out Matt Kenseth, the driver who only a week ago lost the points lead.

As a result, a crippled Earnhardt somehow remains the points leader. Go figure.

While you’re at it, figure this: Jeff Gordon, so desperately in need of a victory to have any chance at making the Chase, is the leader when storms rake Pocono yet again.

The bad weather forces an end to the race after 98 of scheduled 160 laps. Improbably, Gordon is the winner.

And just like that … he’s launched from oblivion to No. 2 in the “wildcard” standings, which means that if the Chase started this weekend, Gordon would be in it.

But there are now five races before the Chase begins. To assure his participation, Gordon has work to do.

Jeff Gordon was the winner of the rain-shortened Pocono race and as such, he won for the first time this year and vastly improved his chances for making the Chase and a chance at a fifth career title.

On the other hand, it would appear Brad Keselowski doesn’t have much to worry about.

The driver of the Penske Racing Dodge finished fourth in the Pennsylvania 400, which moved him from ninth to seventh in points. He’s just one point behind Tony Stewart.

But, like Stewart, Keselowski has three victories this season and therefore is all but assured a place in the Chase.

But let’s go a step further.

I am on record as saying that Keselowski will win the 2012 championship.

That may seem like I’m going out on a limb with defending champion Stewart and five-time titlist Johnson currently tied with Keselowski with three wins this season to date, but I can’t shake the feeling.

Keselowski, of course, tested my fortitude by qualifying 31st for the Pennsylvania 400. This has been an all-too-often scenario for the Penske No. 2 team.

As Keselowski noted, “I didn’t get a very strong qualifying run but that’s kind of been the story of our season.”

But what Keselowski and team lack in qualifying they seem to make up for in competition – as was the case at Pocono.

“The most important thing is race trim and the speed you have there,” he said. “Also it’s the execution that you have out of your team and, certainly, the driver and I’m proud of where we’re at in those categories.”

Pocono is one track on which Keselowski has always felt comfortable. He won there a year ago despite a broken ankle but finished 18th in June.

“For obvious reasons so it’s nice to return to a track where you’ve had success,” he said. “It just makes you feel even that much better about the outlook for the weekend.”

Keselowski explained that returning to a track for the second time means his team “always gets better.”

“I don’t think this weekend will be any exception,” he added prior to the Pennsylvania 400. And he was right.

“You know, we had a decent run coming together the last time we were here with the new pavement,” Keselowski said. “We had some electronics issues that caught us and we just never got a shot to fully recover from that.

“I think you know all things being even and not having those issues we could have had a top-five, top-10 day and I think we’re even more competitive this time around.

“So you know for those reasons I always look forward to coming back to tracks in the summer stretch.”

What impresses me about Keselowski is the depth of talent in the driver and the momentum he’s carried over from last year. He is a force with which to be reckoned this season.

As for his successes this season, Keselowski said, “I’m part of a competitive team. I enjoy going to the race track. It’s a good time in my life.”

With what looks to be a guaranteed spot in the Chase, and a strong position once there, Keselowski’s future continues to look bright.

But he adds, “The only thing I really am concerned about now is winning a race and winning another race and then another race. That’s what drives me before the Chase starts.”

With the 31st qualifying position it might have appeared a good finish would be difficult today, but Keselowski has proven throughout the season that a tough starting position will not keep him down.

He proved it again in the Pennsylvania 400.

His resiliency and his season record make him my favorite for this year’s title.

 

 

 

 

With Victory, Jimmie Johnson Adds To Hendrick Glory At Indy

Jimmie Johnson won the Brickyard 400 for the fourth time in his career. He and Jeff Gordon have combined to win eight races at Indy for Hendrick Motorsports.

SPEEDWAY, Ind-The list of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers who have won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the past 19 seasons is short. But it is composed of some of stock car racing’s most iconic stars.

Two are from Hendrick Motorsports, the Concord, N.C.-based powerhouse organization that has dominated the win column at IMS with eight victories in 19 years.

Hendrick’s success dates back to the race’s inaugural running in 1994, when Jeff Gordon drove to victory lane in the Brickyard 400, the second most prestigious NASCAR race, behind on the season-opening Daytona 500.

Gordon went on to win at Indy three more times for a total of four victories.

Jimmie Johnson, another of Rick Hendrick’s championship drivers, is now another four-time victor at IMS with his strong, winning performance in the 2012 Brickyard 400.

Johnson won what was officially known as Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at The Brickyard by a staggering 4.758 seconds over Kyle Busch. The victory was Johnson’s third of the 2012 season. He is fourth in the point standings.

Johnson joins Al Unser Sr., Rick Mears, Michael Schumacher – and Gordon – as four-time winners at Indianapolis

“To come here and win is a huge honor, then to have four wins – I’m at a loss for words,” Johnson said. “I can tell you this, I’m so proud of my team. I’m so proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports.

“(Crew chief) Chad Knaus gave me one heck of a race car today and pit road was awesome, too. It was a total team effort and we put it on them today that was nice.”

Johnson was especially appreciative of Gordon, what he has accomplished at IMS, and memories of coming to the track as a child – with a dream to win at the track in an Indy car.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth at Indy and that, along with Matt Kenseth's accident early in the race, has moved Earnhardt Jr. into first place in the point standings.

“I looked up to him (Gordon) and it’s really wild for me to get my start driving a Cup car for him,” Johnson said. “To tie (Gordon and hero Mears) and what they’ve accomplished, again, I just hoped to come here and race. I had no idea this would turn out.

“I can remember how I watched the Indianapolis 500 with my grandfather and my dad sitting on the couch. My grandfather told me stories about Indy and that he came here and was at the race track.

“I’m glad to have my own memories here for my family and also I must say I couldn’t do it without the support of my wife and daughter. It’s a total team effort on all fronts.”

Finishing third was Greg Biffle, followed by Hendrick Motorsports drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon. Pole position winner Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart rounded out the top 10.

The impressive top-five finish propelled Earnhardt Jr. into the Sprint Cup points lead. It’s the first time he has been in that position since 2004 at Talladega Superspeedway.

“We were looking forward to this race,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We wanted to run well here and wanted to win this race. We want to get a trophy here and go to victory lane. One of our teammates was able to do that so we are proud for the company.

“We’re happy with the finish. We are ready to start seeing a little bit more materialize for us. We’re really happy with what we are doing and trying to keep our minds focused on what is working for us.”

Matt Kenseth, driver of the Roush Fenway Racing Ford, fell to second in points after dropping to 35th in the race.

Kenseth was involved in a multi-car crash with Joey Logano and Bobby Labonte on lap 132 as he attempted to go high to move around the crash. He held the points lead since June 10th at Pocono Raceway.

Kenseth is considered a lame duck of sorts, having previously announced he will be leaving Roush at season’s end to drive for another team. He hopes to give team owner Jack Roush a championship before he leaves.

“Yeah, it is frustrating,” Kenseth said. “I got hung out on the restart which is one thing. I was trying to get through there and Tony Stewart wiped the whole side off my car in the straightaway for no reason and that kind of made me mad.

“I was in front of the Marcos Ambrose and saw he had a run, so I went down to block and he went across the grass and shot me up out of the groove there.

“It is crazy there at the end. You could see the wreck happening and I was just hoping I wasn’t going to be in it.”

Gordon ran strong throughout the 160-lap race. The former resident of nearby Pittsboro would have loved a fifth win at IMS, but was happy for Johnson and the No. 48 team he co-owns with Hendrick.

“I don’t think we could have passed Jimmie,” Gordon said. “Those guys were definitely the class of the field today and had the track position. They’re a strong team. They deserve that win today.

“I’m pretty disappointed really. It’s always nice to finish in the top five but at this point in the season, the way our season has gone with so many missed opportunities that we’ve had, I feel like it was a little bit of a missed opportunity today. We needed track position there at the end and we didn’t get it when it counted most and it cost us.”

Considering all the frustration and disappointment Earnhardt Jr. has been through over the past few seasons, Gordon was happy to see him take the point lead.

“I give them a lot of credit,” Gordon said. “It’s really awesome that they’re out front. They’ve been consistent and if they can keep that consistency up and maybe even take it up a notch when the Chase starts, they’re going to be a real threat for the championship. So, they’re running good.

“It’s good to see it. I’

NASCAR Drug Testing: Drivers Have Concerns, Questions, Uncertainty

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of several drivers who have concerns about how NASCAR drug testing is conducted by a third party and how results are achieved.

Since news broke at Daytona International Speedway that driver A.J. Allmendinger tested positive for a banned substance, there have been plenty of questions.

Many competitors seem concerned over the situation, especially since what Allmendinger tested positive for has not yet been disclosed.

Tara Ragan, Allmendinger’s business manager, stated that Allemdinger tested positive for a stimulant. There’s still no word as to what type of stimulant surfaced in the test.

Allmendinger constantly works out, rides bikes, lifts weights and follows a very healthy diet. Thus, to some, a failed drug test simply doesn’t make sense.

Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he has been concerned about what would happened if a false positive test result would come his way.

Sadly, being tagged for a suspicious substance abuse gives any driver a tag of guilt by association.

“I’m more nervous about the agency making a mistake and it being a big problem for the sport,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Just knowing all the guys that I race against, I wouldn’t have never guessed that Allmendinger tested positive.

“I don’t look at anybody in the sport and have any worries about them or any curiosities about anybody’s activities away from the race track.

“It’s just you don’t know how that could happen.  It’s just hard to wrap your head around a driver making a mistake or the agency making a mistake, you just don’t know.”

Earnhardt Jr. says he has always felt comfortable talking with NASCAR officials about any of their policies.

“I go ask questions,” he said. “If you are curious about anything I think to be able to go up in that hauler and ask anybody what you want to know is been always pretty good for me.

Jimmie Johnson says that for his assurance, he provides NASCAR with a list of stimulants and prescription drugs he takes to get full approval and avoid problems.

 

“I’ve never been turned away, never felt like I didn’t get an honest answer. I feel better when I walked out of there.”

Matt Kenseth, driver of the Roush Fenway Racing Ford, said he is also in the dark as far as what happened with Allmendinger. He thinks that, in time, the entire story will come out. Safety at high speeds is crucial.

“I don’t really know any details about it,” Kenseth said.

“I think it’ll become probably more clear one way or the other once we hear the rest of the details from his side and from NASCAR’s side – if we ever find out.

“It’s hard to comment on taking him out right before the Daytona race because I don’t know what it was. You don’t want to be out there with somebody if there’s something wrong with them.”

As is the case with the majority of those in the garage area, Kenseth chooses to wait for all the facts before passing judgment.

“I think you withhold judgment,” Kenseth said. “But seems unbelievable that somebody would do something or put something in their body that they don’t know about and take that risk.”

Kenseth expressed the same concerns as Earnhardt Jr. Not to know how the test is treated after it is shipped to a third party seems a bit unsettling.

“You take a test and they ship the stuff away and you hope not to hear about anything later,” Kenseth said.

“I think you always wonder and you’re never really sure until it all comes out – or if or when they ever come out and say what they did or didn’t do, or how it happened. I think you’d feel better, so I think you’ve got to let some time pass until everything comes out.

“They get the B sample done and maybe A.J. talks and you hear what it was, maybe that will clear everything up and, then again, maybe it won’t.”

Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson says he takes supplements, but follows NASCAR’s rulebook to the letter to make certain nothing he is taking will be deemed unacceptable.

“I’ve never had a sample questioned,” Johnson said.

“Prior to taking supplements, I worked out the list that I wanted to take and submitted it and four or five days later I heard back that everything was approved. It’s just stuff you buy at GNC anyway, so I don’t think there’s a ton of concern.

“But on the medical side, again, at the start of each year when we get our physicals, I make sure I lay out everything. I think I’ve had some prescription changes mid-season, and I make sure that I file those as well. And that’s been it. I’m not all that familiar with the process.

“Initially I thought the issue was from the Daytona weekend. I didn’t realize that it was Kentucky, and it took that long to get the results back. So, I’ve just been trying to get up to speed on the whole process myself.

“I guess when you’re not in question you just go about your day and don’t worry about it. But we’re all paying attention now and wondering.”

 

 

Brian France: No Gimmicks But New Rules, Policies Will Come To Please Fans

NASCAR CEO Brian France admitted on Friday that he was very pleased to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. having a good season. He admitted that if Earnhardt Jr. is successful, that is very good for NASCAR.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark DeCotis is a veteran journalist who spent 37 years in the newspaper business before beginning a second career combining leisure and earning a living.

 He covered 26 Daytona 500s, numerous Pepsi/Coke Zero 400s, Busch/Nationwide, Trucks, more than a few Rolex 24s at Daytona, season finales at Homestead, Kevin Harvick’s emotional first win at Atlanta, IndyCar, sports car, NHRA, motorcycle, ATV and power boat racing.

His favorite race car driver interviews of all time were with 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force).

 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France drew a very straight line in the sand – after all that’s where the sport’s rules have been written since its inception – when it came to improving things on track.

Speaking to reporters at Daytona on Friday France outrightly dismissed any notions of the sport adding any artificial ingredients to the porridge that is NASCAR’s racing product – his word not ours.

“It’s a very clear line to us,” France said. “What we’re not going to do are gimmicky things. I’ve heard we ought to throw a caution every 10 laps. That’s nonsense.

“We won’t do gimmicky things. But we’ll do things that incentivize performance, incentivize wins. That we are open to.  The wildcard does that. It does it in an authentic way. Anything that gets something better on the track and doesn’t employ a gimmick, we’d be reasonably open to.”

France said that NASCAR has to help find ways to satisfy fans better when it comes to television coverage. Many ideas will likely be discussed before the TV contracts expire in 2014.

That’s encouraging from a sport that has already given us cars getting a lap back for free – otherwise known as the “lucky dog” sans Michael Waltrip’s ubiquitous sponsor plug – and the overtime rule otherwise known as the green-white-checkered finish.

Overall France believes things are trending in the right direction especially since the sport’s crown prince Dale Earnhardt Jr. – a driver the boss has said is vital to NASCAR’s overall health – is having a good year with a victory and a second-place spot in the points.

In fact France was so eager to inject Earnhardt into the proceedings that it took him all of 37 seconds to mention him.

Keep up the good work Dale, Brian is turning his lonely eyes to you.

France also has his eyes focused on the future and the sport’s goal of providing “the most competitive and close competition as we possibly can.”

To achieve that goal France knows the sport has to continue to please its fans – among the most knowledgeable, demanding and yet self-entitled in all sports – both at the track and on TV, which is where the majority of its adherents get their fix, his word not ours.

With negotiations on renewing the TV contracts that expire at the end of 2014 reaching what France called the serious stage, NASCAR has a unique opportunity to blunt the rising tide of criticism of its product and its presentation from a glut of commercials to a dearth of live action – not to mention overly centric attention on certain drivers.

To accomplish that France promises an approach more focused on science than art. But he also stated no matter what new rules are put in place they like, the countless others that have been written over the years, will be authored in the shifting sands of Daytona Beach.

“Even when we get them where we want them, they’re going to change,” he said. “That’s just the nature of this business.”

That’s what has allowed NASCAR to become the behemoth it is. But the road ahead is fraught with challenges and the sport cannot traverse that road alone. It must bring along its fans, its teams and its partners – France’s word, not ours.

And NASCAR and its partners must enlist the best and brightest minds in their respective businesses to ensure the sport remains on course with the ultimate goal being the best show the fans’ money can buy, all gimmicks aside.

 

In NASCAR, Is Racing Talent Inherited Or Developed Randomly?

Richard Petty carried on the family racing heritage begun by his father Lee and enhanced it greatly with 200 victories and seven championships. The Petty racing legacy continued with Richard's son Kyle and his son, Adam.

I often wonder about talent, whether it is an inherited gift, or pops up randomly in families – especially as it pertains to race car drivers.

In the Petty family it was clearly evident that driving prowess existed throughout the lineage, albeit to varying degrees.

Lee Petty, the patriarch of the family, experienced success out of the gate in the fledgling NASCAR Grand National Series. From 1949 – 1964 Petty won 54 times.  Additionally, he collected three championships.

Petty’s son Richard has a most impressive, rock solid list of statistics prove his talent. From 1958-1992 Richard won 200 races and seven championships, achievements that earned him the moniker of “King” in NASCAR.

Talent continued to flow from the Petty family when Richard’s son Kyle became a driver in NASCAR. Although he won only eight races in his nearly 30-year career (1979-2008), Kyle possessed an aptitude for driving.

Finally, the Petty Family had a burgeoning talent with Kyle’s son Adam, a 19-year-old boy who got his shot in a Cup car at this tender age with the goal of continuing the Petty heritage.

Tragically, Adam’s life was cut short in an accident at New Hampshire International Speedway while he was practicing for a Busch Series race.

Clearly there is an argument that the formula for racing genius lies somewhat in the genes, to varying degrees.

Other families in NASCAR can support that.

Ralph Earnhardt had a modicum of success as a driver in NASCAR’s top series. But he was well respected as a short track racer, who worked hard for every dollar he earned.

Earnhardt definitely had “something” when it came to racing, he was a short-track master and national champion, but he never experienced great success at the Cup level.

Earnhardt’s son Dale was a scrappy kid who couldn’t seem to get a foothold in racing until 1979, when he won rookie of the year honors in NASCAR’s Winston Cup circuit.

The very next year Dale won the championship. This started a string of successes that led to 76 wins and seven championships – which ties him with Richard Petty.

Dale’s son Dale Jr. certainly has had a modest career in his 13 years in Cup to date. He has earned 19 wins and is still vying for more.

His two Busch Series championships were the catalyst that propelled him to Sprint Cup competition. With Dale Jr.’s career still going at full speed, there is no telling how many more wins he can accrue – and if there may be a championship in his future.

Other families in NASCAR have rich racing legacies.

Darrell Waltrip was the first member of his family to become successful in NASCAR. He won 84 races and six championships. Younger brother Michael struggled until he found success with DEI. He is now a top team owner.

The Allison dynasty comes to mind instantly. Bobby and Donnie Allison, brothers, won 84 and 10 races, respectively, in NASCAR’s top series. They earned scores of other victories throughout their racing careers.

Bobby’s son Davey won 19 times before his life was cut short by a helicopter accident in 1993. Bobby’s other son Clifford lost his life in 1992 at Michigan International Speedway while practicing for a race. He had a promising career but was struck down before it got under way in earnest.

Ned Jarrett earned 50 wins and two championships. Jarrett’s son Dale won 32 races and one title.

David Pearson has 105 wins to his credit and three championships. His son, Larry, found success in the Busch Series winning championships in 1986 and 1987. Although Larry never had a win in the Cup series, he certainly had a knack for winning in the lesser series posting 15 victories.

Coo Coo Marlin and his boy Sterling found some success at NASCAR’s top level. The elder Marlin never won a points race in his career, but did win a twin qualifier at Daytona in 1973 and earned several top fives and top 10s.

The younger Marlin strung together 10 wins in NASCAR’s Cup series in his 33-year career.

The Labonte brothers are other siblings who show talent in the gene pool. Oldest brother Terry earned 22 wins in Cup racing along with two championships. Younger brother Bobby earned 21 victories and has one championship to his credit.

Darrell Waltrip set NASCAR aflame with 84 victories and three championships. His younger brother Michael struggled until Dale Earnhardt became his team owner at DEI.

Michael now has four checks in the win column and has become a successful team owner in his own right.

The Bodine brothers, the Wallace brothers and the Busch brothers have all proven that talent can, and does, run in a family – again, to varying degrees.

But it doesn’t prove that talent springs only from families.

Junior Johnson and Jimmie Johnson may share a last name, but they are not related and appear to be the one-offs in racing talent in their families.

 

Tim Richmond, Jeff Gordon and Cale Yarborough seem to be standalones who show talent may just be random but no less incredibly potent.

For every familial link of talent there is a case of uniqueness in a brood where racing prowess had not existed.

Perhaps there is no more talent in “racing families” than in other ones. Maybe the skill has taken more time to be found and developed.

Do you believe racing aptitude is inherited or do you think it is random and racing families merely have the means to identify talent more readily?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Teams Hold Top Spots But Hendrick Motorsports Surges

Jimmie Johnson was one of four Hendrick Motorsports drivers to finish among the top six at Kentucky, which emphasized the fact that he is well in contention to win a sixth championship.

The current driver standings in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings are indicative of what is true about today’s competitive environment.

To wit, NASCAR’s “super teams,” those multicar operations that manage to acquire the abundant resources needed to succeed, entirely occupy the top 10.

Some have multiple positions. Some, perhaps, have performed above expectations while others have not. But they are all there.

Roush Fenway Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Stewart Haas Racing and Penske Racing all have drivers in the top 10.

Other multicar teams like Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports are absent from the rankings.

But then they have operated at a lower level and their results have shown that – at least to date.

At Kentucky, many of the drivers who rank in the top 10 displayed why they are there.

Roush’s Matt Kenseth again displayed his strategic style, in which he sometimes seems to “prey” rather than charge to the front, was there at the finish and earned seventh place.

It was his 12th top-10 finish in 17 races and it allowed him to keep his grip on No. 1 in the standings – which he has held for five weeks now.

Gibbs’ Denny Hamlin could not run as hard as he would have liked over the final laps in order to save fuel. He did so to finish third at Kentucky and is entrenched in fifth place in the standings. He’s the only Gibbs driver among the top 10.

He thought his Kentucky outing could – should -have been better.

“I ran the least hard as I could all run,” Hamlin said of the closing laps. “I had to save fuel. I could have run harder, really, the whole run and try to give Brad Keselowski a run for his money, but I needed a good finish coming off two straight DNFs.”

In other words, Hamlin did what he had to do and thus held his spot in the standings.

MWR’s Martin Truex Jr. hasn’t won a race this year but his consistency has rewarded him with eighth place in the standings, one spot behind teammate Clint Bowyer.

Truex Jr. finished eighth at Kentucky, his ninth top-10 run of the year. Given that his car did not drive particularly well, he took it.

“It’s tough,” Truex Jr. said. “We weren’t very good all night. We had a good finish – I guess. It pushed like hell all night and they could never fix it.

“But we came out of here still in the top 10 and that’s where we need to be.”

Indeed as one of only two drivers in the top 10 without a win – RCR’s Kevin Harvick, at No. 6, is the other – Truex Jr. has to think points, because he does not have the “wildcard” insurance victory offers.

Hendrick's Jeff Gordon still has yet to win, which he must do to have any hope of making the Chase this year. However, his recent good, competitive outings have increased his confidence and momentum.

At Kentucky, these drivers served as examples of what they have often done to help put their teams in the top 10.

Kentucky also offered examples of top-tier drivers who didn’t, or couldn’t, sustain good runs – but slips in one race haven’t booted them from the top 10, yet.

There were two other noteworthy accomplishments at Kentucky, one of which has virtually assured a driver a spot in the Chase.
The other, which involved four drivers, showed why two of them are among the top 10 and the other two may have gained, or maintained, enough momentum to ultimately beat the odds and make the Chase.

When Brad Keselowski won the Quaker State 400, it meant two things: The Penske driver held on to his tenuous No. 10 standing in points.

But, more important, it was his season-leading third victory of the season which, given wins are critical to “wildcard” entry, means he almost certainly will be a championship contender.

There is one other thing: Keselowski’s victory indicated strongly he is ready to move to true NASCAR stardom.

Hendrick Motorsports took four of the top six positions at Kentucky. Kasey Kahne battled back from a loose wheel to finish second, a solid rebound from his previous three weeks during which he could finish no higher than 14

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s fourth-place finish was his 13 of what he calls his “best season ever.” He is second in points, has a victory at Michigan that broke a 143-race losing streak and is poised to contend for his first-ever title.

“I’m just proud of the team,” he said. “I hope we can keep it up. I’d like to win another race.”

That he won just two races ago means little to Earnhardt Jr. The time for the next win is now.

“I ain’t going to be as patient this time,” he said.

Jeff Gordon, mired in a season that has seen him suffer team miscues and mechanical maladies, finished fifth. In three races he has now finished fifth and sixth twice.

Jimmie Johnson, the Hendrick driver who won an unprecedented five consecutive championships, finished sixth.

Like Earnhardt Jr., Johnson has 13 top-10 finishes for the season but two victories.

There seems to be little doubt Johnson will be challenging for his sixth title.

Presently, Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson are the only Hendrick drivers who should make the Chase without difficulty.

It won’t be the same for Kahne. He’s 14 in points but his one victory – earned at Charlotte – has made him he No. 2 “wildcard” candidate.

“Yeah, a top-five here is good but it’s not going to get us into the Chase,” Kahne said after Kentucky. “We need to win another race or two.”

“But to see how great the Hendrick cars are now and to be a part of that, well, it’s just great.

“All of the guys should be happy. They’ve prepared us some nice cars and great engines.”

Gordon, back in 18 place, has no choice but to win if he’s going to make the Chase. He knows this.

But he also knows his last three outings in his Hendrick cars have helped with confidence and momentum.

“This team has been awesome,” Gordon said of Hendrick. “The cars have definitely shown that. We’re getting the results. We can add some momentum to that.”

Overall in Kentucky we saw some drivers do what they have done all season to be among the top 10.

We saw one driver stake his claim to stardom.

We saw a team, Hendrick Motorsports, illustrate why it is perennially ranked as perhaps NASCAR’s best – and why it clearly should have strong momentum going into Daytona.

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

Will The Champ Be The Winner Of An Earnhardt Jr.-Kenseth Battle?

With his victory in Michigan, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has solidified his position as a contender for the 2012 championship. In the point standings he trails rival Matt Kenseth by only four points.

As the NASCAR world celebrates – or in some cells maligns – Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway, there is quieter activity that is taking place amidst the hoopla of late.

Before Earnhardt Jr.’s win all eyes were on Hendrick Motorsports for its all-important 200th win. Jimmie Johnson pulled that off at Darlington before the All-Star break in May.

Next was the debate over when Kasey Kahne would score his first win for Hendrick. That came at Charlotte in the Coca Cola 600.

Johnson won again in Dover, continuing Hendrick’s forward momentum, which prompted many rumblings that this indeed was another year for Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus to win a championship.

Joey Logano’s victory at Pocono followed. It was a good thing for Logano’s struggling Cup career, but it did little to sway the belief that Hendrick was in the hunt.

Then came Earnhardt Jr.’s win at MIS. After a four-year, 143-race drought, and a solid 2012 season that has seen him finish among the top 10 more than any other driver, Earnhardt Jr. finally won. Jubilation set in immediately for him, his team, and the countless fans of the “Junior Nation” that steadfastly, patiently and unconditionally supports their driver.

But that’s not the real story if one looks at the situation from afar. Once enough distance is made and the balloons and confetti are cleared, it is evident the story isn’t Johnson, Kahne, or even prodigal son Earnhardt Jr.

It’s all about the man known as “The Silent Assassin,” Matt Kenseth.

Kenseth, the winner of the Daytona 500, has earned a reputation as a driver who quietly gets the job done. He's now No. 1 in points, but, among other things, he faces a challenge from Earnhardt Jr.

While fans of the Hendrick drivers have had much to celebrate of late, their drivers have not once been in the Sprint Cup points lead this season. Roush-Fenway driver Greg Biffle dominated in the top spot for most of the first part of the season, and now teammate Kenseth has tacitly ascended to the position.

Kenseth currently has one win this season, at the celebrated Daytona 500. His consistency, which is widely recognized, has bolstered him to the top of the points after Pocono this year.

Kenseth has eight top-fives and 11 top-10s this season.

Now, Earnhardt Jr. has one win amid a consistent season with six top-fives and 12 top-10s. He sits comfortably four points behind Kenseth.

These men are not unaccustomed to this scenario. Throughout their NASCAR careers, from the Busch Series through Cup, they have found themselves in direct competition with one another.

In 1998 and 1999 Earnhardt Jr. won back-to-back Busch Series championships, edging out Kenseth.

Kenseth beat out Earnhardt Jr. for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors in Cup in 2000.

Kenseth is the only one to have Cup title. He earned his in 2003. That season, with Kenseth’s one win and domination of the points lead for an unprecedented 33 weeks, led directly to the implementation of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Now these two competitors are neck and neck. They are once again becoming NASCAR’s primary rivals and a battle on the tracks is taking shape.

Consistency is definitely key for a championship and both of these drivers are proving that week in and week out. But, as history has shown, consistency plus wins is the formula that creates a title.

Do either of these drivers have what it takes to hoist the NASCAR Sprint Cup at season’s end – or will Johnson, Biffle, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin or Brad Keselowski have something to say about it?

We’ll just have to keep watching to find out, obviously.

 

 

 

 

Coming To Terms, Personally, With Dale Earnhardt Jr.

While it is true Dale Earnhardt Jr. inherited some of his late father's fans, he has attracted many loyal followers on his own.

The subject on my mind is as difficult to ignore as it is ever-present in NASCAR.

Though I am not a card-carrying member of his “Nation,” did not throw my fandom to him when his father, my driver, died in 2001, or vote for him in any NASCAR contest (i.e. All Star Fan Vote), I cannot help but find myself drawn to this driver.

Of course it is Dale Earnhardt Jr. of whom I write.

Dale Jr. is the embodiment of so many millions of people’s dreams. He is the last tie to the hero they still worship, the legacy of his father’s hard work.

As the son of Dale Earnhardt, himself a boy introduced to the NASCAR audience by his father, it was easy to see the pride a father had in his son. Earnhardt wanted to leave his son a legacy  – Dale Earnhardt Inc. – and watch the American Dream personified in the guise of his son.

Dale Jr. is a good guy, too. He’s well spoken and friendly. He understands the sport and his father’s and his place in it. He is aware of the importance of the fans and seems to know that they kept him where he has been in recent years.

With two Busch Series championships to his credit and 18 career Sprint Cup wins, Dale Jr. had a promising start and an obvious link to his father’s talent.

But once his father’s death took its toll on Dale Jr., he found other things besides racing to occupy his time. He lost his way a bit. His career stalled and it seems to be supported by fans’ dollars at the souvenir trailers rather than by wins and contention for a championship.

Dale Jr. had no one with whom to identify when his world stopped on Feb. 18, 2001. Kyle Petty, perhaps more than anyone else, may be the closest to relate to what Dale Jr. experienced.

But the difference was, and always will be, that Petty never lost his father in the beginning of his career and Dale Jr. did. That one fact makes a remarkable difference.

While Earnhardt Jr.'s performances in the past haven't been what is expected of him, in 2012 he has run consistently well and is among the top five in the point standings.

Dale Earnhardt’s fans collectively placed their staunch fandom for him on his son. And Dale Jr. had already begun to amass fans in his own right.

But the Earnhardt fans were and are a special bunch of people who were loyal to Earnhardt and saw him as their hero.

Dale Jr., however, is the man who keeps these fans loyal after all this time. People are inexplicably drawn to him. There is no other explanation. His statistics of late are lackluster and disappointing at best, yet he continues to draw the Most Popular Driver moniker and keeps the “trinket trailers” humming.

I’ve been on record for years that I am not a member of the “Junior Nation.” It’s not that I didn’t like the man, but my loyalty was reserved for his father alone.

After my six-year hiatus from the sport I returned to have an all-inclusive attitude about NASCAR. I liked and admired every driver in the circuit – including Dale Jr.

I’ve even been critical of Dale Jr. in the past as well as defended him. It was my opinion Dale Jr. was not giving 100 percent to his racing career, preferring the celebrity that led to stints on MTV Cribs, his own night club and other pursuits that kept his mind too far away from his main career – which is to drive a race car successfully.

But I also understood that the emotional toll of losing his father, plus being thrust into the limelight to shoulder the grief of Earnhardt’s inconsolable fans, would be enough to make anyone “off.”

I’ve seen a different Dale Jr. in recent years. Since paired with crew chief Steve Letarte he has shown marked improvement He made the Chase in 2011 and has been among the top five in points for the entire season.

The bottom line is, whether Dale Jr. ever scores another victory, he has more than succeeded in NASCAR’s top series.

Fictional character Tex (voiced by H.A. Humpy Wheeler) from Pixar’s “Cars” movie stated to Lightning McQueen when he lost the Piston Cup, “Lightnin’, there’s a whole lot more to racin’ than just winnin’.”

It seems that Dale Jr. has exemplified that over the last several years. He’s won races, but more important, he’s won hearts and fans and provides the sport with a hero for a different era.

A win seems imminent, only a matter of time. The detractors scoff at that, but I’m not alone in my belief.  His consistency is definitely a factor as is Dale Jr.’s renewed sense of confidence and focus.

What I’ve learned is Dale Earnhardt Jr. is impossible to get out of my system.

 

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