If Evidence Is Anything, Edwards Earns Title Sooner Than Later

Edwards

Carl Edwards did all he could to win his first career Cup championship in 2011. He was the points leader for most of the Chase, but in the last race of the year he gave way to Tony Stewart, who won five times in the last 10 races. Edwards has learned from the experience and should again be a title contender.

If most of the media picked up on the vibes Carl Edwards emitted during Champion’s Week in Las Vegas, which I think they did, they got the sense that the Roush Fenway Racing driver enjoyed himself.

But he also clearly felt the disappointment of losing the Sprint Cup championship by the closest margin in NASCAR history.

Shoot, do you really have to be told that? NASCAR drivers are intense competitors who love to win and hate to lose.

To have a championship within grasp only to see it snatched away at the last moment has to be agonizingly frustrating.

Throughout NASCAR’s history there have been many types of competitors, ranging from those who raced as an expensive hobby, to those who won multiple championships and became legends.

There have also been some who have come very close to winning a championship, but never did so throughout their careers.

I don’t think Edwards is going to be one of them.

First, if experience in championship tussles means anything, Edwards has lots of it. He finished third in 2005, second in 2008 and fourth in 2010.

Of course, there followed the 2011 season. Edwards was the point leader going into the final race at Homestead, where he finished second.

Unfortunately, rival Tony Stewart won the race to forced a tie in points with Edwards at 2,403.

Stewart became champ on the tiebreaker, which was the most seasonal wins. Stewart had five – all in the Chase – and Edwards had only one. That proved to be his Achilles’ heel.

Second, Edwards has said that, rather than succumb to disappointment and continually bemoan his fate, he is going to learn from the experience and do just a bit better in 2012.

Edwards knows, and has told us more than once, that his team was clearly championship caliber in 2011. At no time during the Chase did he, or it, make a mistake too large to overcome.

Nor did either give in to Stewart and his Stewart-Haas team. As the season came to an end, Edwards and Stewart fought for every point they earned in the Chase. One never attained a significant gain over the other.

Edwards lost the title by, perhaps, the only way he could have: because of a scintillating, come-from-behind performance in the Chase by Stewart.

Edwards looks at racing as his career, during which he wants to get better with each passing season. Therefore, he looks at 2011 as a stepping stone, something from which he has learned valuable lessons.

He vows he will not let emotions rule performance. If he slips competitively in 2012 it won’t be because “We got messed up in the head over not winning the championship.”

Let’s add proper attitude to experience as another ingredient for a championship.

Edwards has both.

Which is why I think that sooner or later – most likely sooner – he’s going to earn one.

As an aside, it’s going to be interesting to see how hard Edwards presses for victories next year. Something else I suspect he learned in 2011 is that the more he wins, the better his chances will be to emerge a champion if it all goes down to the wire.

If the outcome was disappointing, nevertheless Edwards’ championship run was the high-water mark for the Roush organization in 2011.

Edwards and his team took the lead in the four-car organization. Those that followed had seasons rated very good to unexpectedly unproductive.

Matt Kenseth was the only other Roush driver to join Edwards in the Chase. After the reseeding, he was fourth in points with two wins, one position ahead of Edwards.

Kenseth had five top-five finishes in the Chase, including a victory at Charlotte.

Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth (left) put up some good numbers for Roush Fenway Racing and joined Edwards as the only team drivers to make the Chase. Greg Biffle did not have the type of season expected of him and wasn't eligible for the Chase. He was 15th in points when the 10-race "playoff" began.

He rose as high as second in points following Talladega, the sixth race of the Chase, but finishes of 31st at Martinsville and 34th at Phoenix greased the path for his fourth-place standing at season’s end.

Kenseth, the 2004 champ, can certainly claim another title for Roush. His team can, and does, win races. However, perhaps a little more consistency would seal the deal.

Greg Biffle never figured in the Chase. With no wins, only one top-five finish and seven among the top 10, when the Chase began he was 15th in points and on the outside looking in.

I’m pretty sure Biffle – and Roush – are not pleased with all of that and I don’t think it’s too harsh to say that something needs to be done at Biffle’s team. I strongly suspect that is something the organization already knows.

With his victory in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, David Ragan won his first career a long way toward fulfilling the potential Jack Roush saw in him.

Ragan flirted with making the Chase, hoping that the victory would be enough to land him in one of the final two slots in the 12-car field.

It didn’t work out that way and Ragan finished 19th in points.

It seems all but certain he won’t be with Roush next year. The UPS sponsorship his team enjoyed has moved on and with no new financial backing on the horizon, Roush has released Ragan to search for work elsewhere (Penske?).

It appears Roush will be a three-car team next year – and it still needs to locate sponsorship for Kenseth’s team.

While Roush may be one of several organizations downsizing – or closing – because of the economic situation, I don’t think anyone should be surprised if it puts, at the very least, one car into the Chase in 2012.

Nor should we be surprised if that car is driven by Carl Edwards.

Busch Wins As Championship Race Tightens Significantly

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has reached this conclusion, but I think there’s a bit of irony that Kurt Busch took the measure of Jimmie Johnson to win the AAA 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway.

After all, as you know doubt remember, the two have had their on-track run-ins, followed by post-race confrontations compete with verbal barbs that were exchanged via the media.

So it might be that, at Dover, Busch may have smiled with a bit of self-satisfaction in the knowledge that he bested the guy with whom he’s been at odds for some time.

“Take that, Johnson,” he might have thought.

But, to be honest, I doubt it. It’s far more likely Busch was more caught up with his second victory of the season, and his place in the running for a championship, that he didn’t give Johnson a second thought.

As for Johnson, I doubt he gave a darn about who won. He didn’t.

He might have finished second at Dover, which was certainly disappointing after leading the most laps in a dominating performance, but in so doing he righted himself from a shaky start in the Chase. More on that later.

Busch was able to win at Dover for the first time in his career because he got the jump on a couple of late-race restarts – which proved to be Johnson’s undoing.

Johnson was the leader – which was routine for most of the race – until lap 359 of 400 on a restart from a caution period.

Mike Bliss spun off Turn 2 to bring out the ninth yellow flag and Busch, solidly in contention for most of the day, took the lead moments after the green flag flew.

Greg Biffle’s collision with the frontstretch wall on lap 361 and brought out the 10th caution period of the day. On lap 369 Busch again got away from Johnson and maintained a healthy margin of five car lengths or more until the race was over.

I wanted to get a jump on him and stretch out our lead because I thought he’d reel us back in with about 10 to go,” said Busch. “We just had to maintain to bring our Dodge to victory lane.”

For Busch, who was the 2004 champion while with Roush Fenway Racing, the victory was the 24th of his career. He led the final 42 laps of the race.

But, perhaps more important, he fully immersed himself in what is now a very tight competition for the championship. He rose from ninth in points to fourth, and is only nine points behind co-leaders Kevin Harvick, 10th at Dover, and Carl Edwards, who rebounded from a pit road speeding penalty to finish third.

After Dover, the separation between first and ninth in points is just 19 points with seven races remaining in the Chase. Just a week earlier, the margin was 26 between first and seventh. Busch was 29 points in arrears.

We are right in the mix,” said Busch, a driver for Penske Racing. “You just have to run consistent. Steve Addington (crew chief) helped tremendously because he kept making air pressure adjustments in the car and it kept coming back to us.

The first 100 laps were perfect. The last 100 laps were perfect.”

Making up the top nine in the current point standings are, in order, Harvick, Edwards, Tony Stewart, Busch, Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon. As said the margin from 1-9 is only 19 points.

The Chase is, for now, really a chase. Only two drivers have slim hopes to win the title. They are Dale Earnhardt Jr., 10th and 34 points back and Ryan Newman, 11th and trailing by 41 points, have a chance. Denny Hamlin, 12th and behind by 68 points, is essentially out of the hunt and he knows it.

Earnhardt Jr. battled car problems all day, including a malfunctioning sway bar, to finish 24th. Newman, never in contention, was 23rd. Hamlin, also a non-entity, was 18th.

Stewart won the Chase’s first two races to soar from ninth to first in points but at Dover, never one of his better tracks, he stumbled. At one point he was three laps down. He finished 25th in the AAA 400 to fall two spots in the standings.

But he’s only nine points down and still very much in it.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s performance was just what he needed to overcome a bad start in the Chase. In the first two races he finished 10th and 18th at Chicago and New Hampshire, respectively, and was 10th in points, 29 points down.

Some suggested Johnson was already finished in the Chase and would not win a sixth consecutive championship.

However, he’s rebounded from adversity before and, at Dover, he might not have won, but he put himself firmly back in contention, which is what he had to do. He’s 13 points behind the leaders.

Are we out of it?” Johnson asked sarcastically. “Last week I was considered done.

It was definitely disappointing to give up a win by not getting a good restart. I’ll think about it tonight. And I’m certainly disappointed in the fact that I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity I had up front.

But finishing second, big-picture wise, we’ll take it. It’s not the end of the world, but the restart mistake’s on me.”

In the Chase, it’s not the end of the world for at least eight other guys, either. With seven races to go we have one of the closest and most competitive scenarios in the history of NASCAR’s “playoffs.”

Watkins Glen: More Safety, More Road Races


The skill set required to road race a modern Sprint Cup car is necessary as road races become more appealing. The safety has become the issue. Monday’s Watkins Glen race showed these cars are too heavy to not upgrade the tracks they run on.

Brickyard A Critical race: Nationwide A Mistake

No doubt that the Brickyard 400 is an important race this season. This race will weed out more contenders for a Chase berth. Nationwide at the Indy Speedway is not a good idea. 50,000 people in the stands looks like 5,000 at a track Indy’s size.

The Points System Has Provided Intrigue, With More To Come

Maybe I’m wrong and you may disagree, but if nothing else, NASCAR’S new points system has, to date, made the season intriguing.

As I understand it, the modified system awards a winner 43 points. He gets three more points for winning and another for leading a lap, which means a minimum of 47 laps.

If the winner leads the most laps that means another bonus point. The total is now 48, the most any driver can earn in a single race.

The most points the second-place finisher can get is 44 points, 42 for second, one for leading and one for leading the most laps.

Putting bonus points aside – NASCAR wanted to maintain the race winner reward – the system is pretty basic. There’s only a one-point difference between each position, from the base of 43 for first place to just one for last place.

The unique change NASCAR made for this season, in addition to rewarding consistency of performance, was to allow the top 10 after 26 races to qualify for the chase. Spots 11 and 12 would go to the drivers who have compiled the most victories and rank among the top 20.

OK, that’s enough. I’ve dwelled long enough on something you already know.

But what I find interesting about the new points system is that it has kept things fairly undecided as we enter the final six races before the Chase.

While there are a few drivers who seem safe when it comes to the Chase, there are others whose status is very much uncertain.

And Carl Edwards, the points leader, by no means has a lock on the top spot. He’s just seven points ahead of five-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

Among the top 10 every driver except one has a victory. Kevin Harvick, fourth in points and eight behind Edwards, has three victories, as does Kyle Busch, who is fifth in points, 13 in arrears.

Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon have two wins each – and are ranked sixth and seventh in points, respectively.

I would think all four drivers are pretty much guaranteed spots in the Chase.

I’d say the same for Edwards, Johnson, Kurt Busch (third in points), Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin, who each have a victory and are among the top 10.

OK, here’s where the situation becomes a bit tense for some drivers.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ranks ninth in points largely because he’s been in a competitive swoon. He was once as high as third in the standings.

But he does not have a victory. Which means two things if he wants to make the Chase: He has to hang on to the top 10 over the next six races, or, at the very least, earn a victory, something he hasn’t done since 2008.

Tony Stewart faces a similar situation. He’s tied with Hamlin for 10th in points, but unlike Hamlin, he doesn’t have a victory.

So if the Chase started immediately, Hamlin is in and Stewart is out.

But it doesn’t start immediately so Stewart has a chance to secure his place. Most likely he would prefer to do it with a victory. He hasn’t had a winless season in a career that dates back to 1999.

Other notables, such as Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle, pretty much have to rely on winning to make the Chase.

Bowyer is 12th in points, Kahne 14th and Biffle 15th. They are 110 points or more behind the leader. Bowyer is 28 points out of 10th place. He can certainly make up the difference but the odds are quickly stacking against him.

It’s the same for Kahne and Biffle, who are each 47 points out of the hunt.

For these three guys, a victory would be the tonic. The last time Bowyer went winless happened in 2009. He won two races last year.

Kahne has had two consecutive winless seasons. Between 2003-10, Biffle had only one year without a victory, 2009.

I don’t think there’s much doubt any of them can win this year. The question is can they do it in time to help them make the Chase?

They are not alone. It’s going to take a win for several others who rank 11-20th in points to make NASCAR’s “playoff.”

They include A.J. Allmendinger, Juan Pablo Montoya, Joey Logano, Paul Menard and Mark Martin.

Fact is there’s only one driver out of the top 10 who is assured a position in the Chase – for the time being, anyway.

That’s David Ragan, who won at Daytona on July 2 to earn the first victory of his career. He’s presently 13th in points.

He’s 46 points out of 10th place. That’s not insurmountable, just as it is for Bowyer, Kahne and Biffle, and I’m sure that, like the others, gaining positions is what he’d like to do.

But he’s the only one with the luxury of a victory.

As it stands right now, the only other driver who has a shot at the Chase is Brad Keselowski. He has a victory but, in 23rd place, ranks out of the top 20.

He’s going to have to scrap his way in. He’s 25 points behind 20th-place Martin, again certainly not an insurmountable margin. He has six races to do it.

The next half-dozen races are worthy of our attention. For some drivers it’s obviously going to take victory to make all the difference.

Can they win? Certainly. The 2011 season has already produced 13 different winners, including three who won for the first time.

Since NASCAR’s modern era began in 1972, the all-time record for most winners in a single season is 19 and the record for most first-time winners was five twice, in 2001 and 2002.

We’re on a pace to have 25 winners this year, including six who won for this first time in their careers.

I don’t know if that will happen, but the point is this season’s variety of winners would indicate that anything could happen over the next six events – and thus alter the starting field for the Chase.

The All-Star Race: Hype Wasn’t Reality, But That’s Not New

A few notes about the NASCAR Sprint Cup All Star Race:

 

** As usual, the race was hyped as a “dash for cash,” “checkers or wreckers,” and even “payback time,” because of its format.

As you know, the race is not about points. It’s all about money – at least $1 million to the winner – and is tailored to end with a 10-lap “shootout” finish, one in which drivers, supposedly, will take all manner of chances to win.

On paper it sounds good. And, admittedly, there have been some all-star races in the past in which a driver surprised everyone over the final 10 laps and pulled off an upset victory.

There has also been some closing-lap mayhem – plenty of it, in fact.

Not this year, however. It a race decidedly devoid of virtually everything for which it’s hyped, Carl Edwards pulled away over the final 10 laps to win easily and earn $1.2 million.

“Checkers or wreckers?” No one got close enough to Edwards to crash him. Hey, the Roush Fenway driver did it to himself.

After his victory, as he plowed through the frontstretch grass, the front end of his Ford dug into the sod, hit a drainage port and nearly turned over.

The car was severely damaged. Edwards was embarrassed but still entertained the crowd – a very large one, by the way – with his victory backflip and a dash into the grandstands with the checkered flag. He posed for photos with fans as the theme from “Flipper” (you read that right) played over the public address system.

For Edwards, the all-star race was “checkers AND wreckers,” but as far as many others were concerned, it was “boring and snoring.”

Normally, drivers do go somewhat bonkers in the special event and there’s usually plenty of crumpled metal to go around.

This time, there were just two unscheduled caution periods caused by two minor, one-car wrecks.

There were no frayed tempers, such as displayed last year when Denny Hamlin crowded teammate Kyle Busch into the wall during a fight for the lead, which prompted Busch to question the value of his teammate’s life.

There was, however, some good, hard racing among NASCAR’s top stars, such as Edwards, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and David Reutimann.

But when it comes to the all-star race, many folks think that’s just not enough. It’s not what the race is all about. They expect to see a free-for-all, a heavyweight slugfest with knockdowns aplenty.

And let’s be honest. That is exactly how the all-star race is hyped.

Hype did not become reality this year. But, in all honesty, that’s nothing new. We don’t always get what’s advertised.

 

** That said, there have been ongoing suggestions as to how the format of the all-star race might be changed so that it more often lives up to its billing.

These suggestions, offered by media and fans, started well before the race was over. That clearly indicated many observers weren’t pleased with what they saw.

The most prominent suggestions referred to shortening the race and eliminating episodes of what were called “momentum killers.”

The race was formatted thusly: It had a 50-lap opening during which there was a mandatory four-tire pit stop. There followed two 20-lap sessions. After the second, teams took a 10-minute intermission (with on-track running positions frozen) to make permissible changes to their cars.

Then followed another mandatory pit stop for four tires. This, ostensibly, would allow pit crews to play a role in the outcome. With fast, mistake-free work, they could advance their drivers’ starting position on the restart.

There followed the 10-lap “shootout.” In all, the race consisted of 100 laps.

The most prominent suggestions were to reduce the 50-lap opening segment; make it shorter so that drivers feel more urgency to get to the front rather than nurse their cars.

It was also mentioned that there is no need for the 10-minute intermission. It brings racing to a stop. Why not, some said, reduce the inactivity time? Simply throw a caution, require another pit stop and then restart the race – with cars aligned in the order they left pit road.

In a published report, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that the 50-lap opening segment was too long and that the race would be better served if, overall, it was shorter.

“From a fans’ standpoint I think the first segment is too long,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Make the event a little shorter and make it a little more about the fireworks that the drivers provide in the event.”

Jeff Gordon, who has competed in the all-star race throughout all its mutations over the years, maintained that fewer cars and shorter segments are the answer.

“Let’s face it, it’s a 10-lap shootout,” Gordon said. “So it’s whatever process gets you to that 10 laps. The four different segments, to me, seem to be pulling and stretching things a bit.”

Gordon also favors the revitalization of the now-defunct inverted field created by a fan vote. It was put in place at least one segment before the final 10 laps.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” he said.

Other drivers, I’m sure, have their own opinions about the all-star race’s format.

Frankly, I can see where trimming some fat would help. An opening segment of 50 laps is too long – drivers have said they feel no sense of urgency and prefer to race calmly as they sort out their cars.

I also agree that the 10-minute intermission kills all racing momentum. Is it really needed?

But, to be honest, as far as NASCAR is concerned what I think doesn’t matter.

However, fan opinions do. I daresay the format of the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star race is reviewed every year. And we can assume the sanctioning body isn’t foolish enough to completely ignore its supporters’ views.

So if you feel the need, speak up. Change never comes for those who remain quiet.

 

Richmond: Thoughts On Busch, Montoya, Newman And A Bit More

A few random thoughts after the Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Raceway:

** The 2011 Sprint Cup season is one-quarter over and, while it’s still too early to draw any real conclusions, some drivers whom we thought would be in the championship hunt, and aren’t, now have more pressure on them.

Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Burton, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray are some of the drivers who figured to rank among the top 10 by now, and thus Chase eligible, in many pre-season reports.

However, at present, Biffle ranks 14th in points and the others are 17th and beyond. It’s especially surprising to see Hamlin at 17th, given that he was considered the man who could potentially bring Jimmie Johnson’s string of five consecutive championships to an end.

A couple of tasks face these drivers. First, they have to start piling up decent finishes, and somewhat quickly. That, obviously, could lead to a rise in the point standings.

It can be done. Clint Bowyer provides ample proof of that. At Richmond, where he finished sixth, the Richard Childress Racing driver posted his fifth consecutive top-10 of the season. He has gained 17 positions in points in the last five races. He’s presently seventh in the standings.

But, while it can be done, what Bowyer has achieved isn’t routine in NASCAR. It’s the exception, not the rule.

Consequently, the aforementioned drivers, who will certainly do their utmost to match or better what Bowyer has done, can’t rely it alone.

That brings up an alternate strategy – which is to win.

With its revamped requirements for the Chase this year, the top 10 in points are eligible after 26 races. Also in the field are “wildcard” entries consisting of the two drivers ranked among the top 20 who have won the most races.

So if the mentioned drivers, not all of whom currently rank in the top 20, by the way, and several others not in the top 10 can win a race, that adds a measure of insurance.

Jeff Gordon, who is 16th in points, is the only driver outside the top 10 in points who has a victory (yes, Trevor Bayne is another but he is not eligible for the Cup championship). So at the moment, Gordon has an advantage.

Several others would, at the least, like to match it.

But if putting together a series of high finishes is an exception and not the norm in NASCAR, what do you think winning is?

As said, it’s early in the year and there’s time for any number of scenarios to play out.

What could prove to be a very exciting one for fans is for a few drivers, desperate to make the Chase as its start looms, throw strategy and caution to the wind and make an all-out lunge for victory.

It could happen. No, make that it will happen.

 

** Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch demands respect as a race driver.

His Richmond victory was the 21st of his young Cup career. He ranks third in NASCAR to achieve that many wins by the age of 26, behind Jeff Gordon (26) and Richard Petty (22).

That Busch won should not have been all that surprising. He now has won Richmond’s spring race three consecutive times, which ties him with Petty. Hamlin has won the other two races at RIR in the last three years, which gives Joe Gibbs Racing five straight victories at the 0.75-mile track – and eight overall.

Hamlin, incidentally, was the runnerup in the Crown Royal 400 and he dominated the Nationwide Series race on the previous night.

It’s not likely that Busch will ever be NASCAR’s most popular driver – but you never know. Wiseguy Darrell Waltrip was once, like Busch, called a jerk. But he was the fans’ choice twice in his career.

You don’t have to like Busch. But I think his talent should always be recognized, even if grudgingly.

** The incidents between Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman were not atypical of short-track racing.

First, Newman rubbed Montoya and sent him into the wall. Then, later in the race, Montoya did the same thing. Happens all the time.

The only difference was that while few chose to call Newman’s actions deliberate, there was little doubt about Montoya’s.

NASCAR warned both drivers about bad behavior and even told Montoya that if he got near Newman, his car would be ordered to its hauler.

Many media members felt the issue would spill over into the garage area, especially since the haulers of Montoya and Newman were parked almost alongside each other.

After the race there could be some good chin-to-chin action – or more. Hey, it’s happened.

Instead Montoya left the track without comment – a good move on his part. Newman went to the NASCAR hauler. He told the media he was going to ask the sanctioning body what it was going to do about all that happened.

In my opinion, that was another good move. If he did what he said he was going to do, Newman effectively put the ball into NASCAR’s court; for it to tell him, and all of us, how it is going to rule on the issue.

Had Newman and Montoya gotten into a scrap in the garage, NASCAR would have come down hard on both of them.

Had their entanglements on the track involved other cars, believe me, NASCAR would have acted swiftly.

As it is, it appears Newman stated his case to NASCAR and asked for a ruling. Smart move.

What will NASCAR do? If it hands out any punishment beyond probation I’d be surprised.

But NASCAR has surprised me many times.

 

Biffle, Yes Biffle, Shows His Stuff On A Dragway

On March 29, NASCAR driver Greg Biffle won, what was for him, a most unusual race on a most unusual track.

On top of that, to earn the victory, Biffle had to beat a superstar who has 15 championships to his credit.

“Well, I’m still trying to beat the guy who has won five championships,” Biffle said. “But today I went right past him and beat a guy who has won 15 championships.”

The scenario was created by officials at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., located across the highway from Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The Speedway Motorsports Inc.-owned drag strip was promoting its VisitMyrtleBeach.com Four-Wide Nationals, scheduled for April 14-17.
It thought it would be nifty to pit John Force, the 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion and easily drag racing’s most recognized competitor, against some NASCAR regulars.

Chose to compete against Force were Roush Fenway drivers Biffle, Matt Kenseth and David Ragan.
In identical Ford Mustangs, they would drive in a series of eliminations. The last man standing would be the winner.
Now I admit that my knowledge of drags is minimal, although I’ve reported on several events, but given that I’ve spent my career covering NASCAR.

But even I knew that Force should easily whip up on the Roush Fenway trio.
That didn’t happen. Ragan was the first to be eliminated and, surprisingly, Force was the second.
I thought he just threw the race. Turns out he goofed and it cost him.
On the final run, Biffle nipped Kenseth and, as the victor, received a handsome trophy from Force.

“Am I better than Kurt?” Biffle asked, referring to Kurt Busch, who made a foray into drags at the Gatornationals and was eliminated in the Pro Stock first round.

“OK it’s all for fun,” Biffle added. “Don’t get me in trouble.”
Fun, Biffle said, is exactly what he had.

“Doing this is a lot of fun,” Biffle said, “and it’s exciting. But I tell you I was more nervous at the line than I was getting ready to roll out for qualifying at a stock car race.”

Several of today’s Sprint Cup drivers fooled around with drag racing when they were younger. It was something of a rite of passage.

“Yeah, I did it, but just a little bit,” Biffle said. “It was just a hobby. It was high school drags and stuff like that. My brother and I messed with it before I got into oval-track racing.”

Apparently Biffle knew enough about drag racing to follow some critical rules.
“You don’t want to mess up at the line,” he said. “If you do, it’s all over, especially with cars that are equal like we had today.
“It’s all about reaction time and then shift time – and who can do it all the quickest.”
Like everyone else, Biffle was surprised Force didn’t win it all. But he added there was a reason for that.

“It was very intimidating racing against him and I’m surprised he didn’t whip us every time,” Biffle said. “But he doesn’t do this in stock cars and one thing I know about them is that if you hit the rev chip, the car just dies. And he did that.

“He hit it and the car just shut down. It does it to protect the engine. I learned that on my car and I shifted a couple of rpms short of the red line just to make sure.”

Biffle admits it takes a different driving ability to win in drag racing as opposed to stock cars, but he adds there are some shared traits.

“Yes, it takes a different set of skills for this, but there are some similarities,” Biffle said. “There’s reaction time, the feel for the car and things like that.

“Bottom line is it takes a lot to do this.”

Ruling Could Return Nationwide Series To Its Old Self

Although it has neither confirmed nor denied it, NASCAR’s latest ruling, when announced, is not intended to bring something new; rather, it is to return to the old.

It is anticipated, and already reported by some competitors, that NASCAR will require before the season starts, drivers must claim the circuit – be it Sprint Cup, Nationwide or Camping World Trucks – for which they desire to run for a championship. This intended to achieve a few goals.

Among them is one that appears obvious. It is to end Cup driver dominance of the Nationwide Series, and in so doing, perhaps re-establish a true identity for that circuit.

If the legislation is enacted, it would seem Cup driver rule over the Nationwide Series is finished, at least when it comes to championships. And for many of the series’ fans, that’s a good thing. They have long complained about the omnipotence of the competitors once known as “Buschwhackers.”

Cup drivers can compete in as many Nationwide races as they wish – Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski plan to run the full schedule – they just can’t win a championship unless they choose to run for it. Do you really think any would do so?
That means the title will be won by a Nationwide regular.
But, given they can enter as many Nationwide races as they wish, Cup drivers may well garner the majority of victories. It’s
possible – but not likely – that the Nationwide champion could be winless in 2011. He may not even have the highest number of points.

That is not going to sit well with everyone. There will be controversy. Many have already expressed their doubts.
Nevertheless, the champ will be a driver on a team dedicated to the Nationwide Series. That’s how it used to be and that’s the way – the old way – NASCAR wants it.

The series has always been considered a “feeder” circuit, one that breeds future Cup drivers while standing on its own. It has most often been compared to Triple-A baseball.

It evolved from the Late Model Sportsman circuit, the precursor to the Busch Series and later the Nationwide Series.
In the past, for the most part, the circuit did exactly what it was supposed to do – it served as a training ground for future Cup stars, among them Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Brian Vickers, all champions by the way.

However, in the past there were several drivers who made their careers in today’s Nationwide Series and really never made any serious forays into Cup competition. Many of them simply were not interested for various reasons.

Drivers like Jack Ingram, Sam Ard, Larry Pearson, Tommy Houston, Tommy Ellis, Chuck Bown, L.D. Ottinger and several others became stars, fan favorites and champions in their own right.

Sure, they raced against Cup drivers who made regular forays into their series. The intruders won a lot of races – Mark Martin holds the record with 48 – but they never fretted losing a championship to any of them.

That’s because Cup drivers never followed the full schedule and thus didn’t go after a title.
But, as you know, that has changed over the years.
I think some Cup teams – and drivers who formed their own Nationwide organizations – realized that there was money to be made. Also, a little more track time under racing conditions was appealing. And a championship would be an excellent return on a sponsor’s investment, not to mention a boost to a career and reputation.

Since a title is not possible now it might be more difficult to attract a sponsor.
It might be easier for Nationwide regulars to acquire financial backing as sponsors realize they are going to be the only championship contenders.

Although Cup drivers will still compete in Nationwide races the chances are good they won’t do so in as many as they once did. This may mean more young, aspiring drivers could get opportunities – Cup drivers aren’t hogging the seats.

Where the Cup teams once dominated the under funded Nationwide groups, now, perhaps, they may be forced to use a junior series regular – or another promising competitor – which also affords more opportunity.

A powerful Cup organization might well run a full Nationwide schedule with a developmental driver. It’s been done before and might be more prevalent this year. That’s good for the circuit.

All said, the Nationwide Series is supposed to be a feeder circuit that stands on its own and produces its own stars. In recent years it has gotten away from that.

But now that its champion will be one who is a regular, not an intruder – and the tour will have its own “pony” cars – it has a real chance to return to what it was. It can develop its own identity.

Given that, NASCAR has done something new to return to something old.
You know, it seems it’s done a lot of that recently.

[email_link] Print This Post Print This Post

Print This Post Print This Post