Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gas and Go--Pocono (2nd race)

This week's Gas and Go comes from the hill country of NE Pennsylvania. I will offer some insights and short takes on this weekend's race.

  1. Pocono Raceway is nestled in the hills of Long Pond, PA, several hours NNW of Philadelphia. The 2.5 mile tri-oval has three different turns, each with its own quirks.
  2. To win at Pocono, you have to have a car that is adept at handling. Typically, drivers that do well at Indy also do well at Pocono.
  3. Even though the races are only six weeks apart or so, the contrast is like night and day. The track is MUCH slicker in the summer race as compared to the late spring race. Grip is at a premium.
  4. I have LONG been in favor of Pocono losing a date. Either that, or reduce the race to 400 miles.
  5. One of the most spectacular wrecks in NASCAR history occurred at Pocono in the spring race of 2002. On Lap 1, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Steve Park, teammates with DEI at the time, hooked up for NASCAR's version of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Most of the inside guard rail was torn off in the wreck, and the race was red-flagged for just more than an hour while the guard rail was being replaced. Amazingly, Dale Jr was still running at the end of the race, although his #8 looked more like a dune buggy than a stock car.
  6. Thinking of you: Jimmy Spencer.
  7. Look for the usual suspects to do well at Pocono: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya, and my dark horse, David Reutimann.
  8. The Roushkateers in Chase contention (Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth) need a strong run this week to bolster their chances of making the Chase. I'd say all three need AT LEAST a top 10.

Predicted Race Winner: Juan Pablo Montoya. He proves that Indy was no fluke and pulls away late to win his first oval race in NASCAR. He gets a bit of redemption for his gaffe at Indy.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly--Brickyard 400

This week, the Crappafoni Pictures crew is in the mecca of auto racing, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for this week's Good, Bad, and Ugly, Hoosier-style.


Jimmie Johnson: as the race winner, he automatically gets first billing. He was the beneficiary of a speeding penalty by Juan Pablo Montoya late in the race and an engine blowup by Dale Earnhardt Jr to bring out the final caution. Then he made a daring move on Mark Martin to take the lead in the final restart. But that's what champions do: they take advantage of sudden good fortune given to them. He took the lead on Lap 137 and led the rest of the way. With the win, he becomes the first driver to win the Brickyard in consecutive years. Three wins in four years--not bad. Good job JJ! Thanks for making me look like a freaking genius!! (I had picked him to win in my Gas and Go blog.)

Mark Martin: he started from the pole and was stout throughout the race. He led the first four laps, then stayed behind Montoya for much of the race until the penalty. He led on the final restart, then Johnson made a daring move to take the lead. He didn't quite have enough to overtake Johnson. Still, second place is nothing to sneeze at. Plus, he gains two positions in the points standings.

Tony Stewart: Smoke led two laps during a round of green-flag pit stops. He overcame an early pit stop mistake to finish third. He was strong throughout the race.

Greg Biffle: this was by far his best showing at the Brickyard in his career. Although he never led, he was stout throughout the day. And it was his best run in quite awhile. Perhaps Biff can use this to propel himself into the Chase.

Brian Vickers: he had a strong car all day. Although he never led, he was consistent, had good pit stops, and ran a smart race.

Kevin Harvick: FINALLY, he gets put in the Good category! Happy started 19th and slowly worked his way up the field. The #29 was getting better as the race went on. Unfortunately, he started too far back to be a factor for the win, but I'll take a sixth place showing! It was his first top 10 since Atlanta in the FOURTH race of the season.

The race itself: it was one of the better Brickyards, due to the exciting duel between Johnson and Martin.

Honorable Mention: Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, David Reutimann, Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya.


Start and Parkers: you people know who you are. At least they ran double-digit laps before parking it for the day. Probably because it's Indy, that's the reason why they ran double-digit laps.

Kurt Busch: he was uncharacteristically bad from the time the Blue Deuce was unloaded. He spent the majority of the race a lap down.

Denny Hamlin: he took a HUGE hit in the points with his 34th place finish.

Kyle Busch: he's now out of the Chase standings, in 14th place, after a 38th place finish.


Mechanical issues: several drivers had them--Dale Earnhardt Jr, Michael Waltrip, Denny Hamlin to name a few.

Those are my nominees for the race. Feel free to come in with yours.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gas and Go--Indianapolis

This week's Gas and Go comes from the mecca of American auto racing, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I will give you some insights and short takes surrounding the race.

  1. Although IMS has been around since early in the 20th Century, the first NASCAR race took part in 1994. A test session at Indy after the first Michigan race in 1992 was the main catalyst behind NASCAR coming to the Brickyard.
  2. The first Brickyard 400 was run on August 6, 1994. Although Rick Mast won the pole, it was Jeff Gordon that etched his name into the history books as the first Brickyard 400 winner.
  3. The late, great Dale Earnhardt won in the gloaming in 1995 for his only Brickyard 400 win.
  4. Along with Gordon, Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart, and Jimmie Johnson are the only other multiple winners (each driver has won twice).
  5. Kevin Harvick was the first driver to win from the pole. He did it in 2003 in a dominant performance, easily outdistancing Matt Kenseth.
  6. Thinking of you: Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, and Rick Mears.
  7. Drivers to watch for: Johnson, Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and my darkhorse, Marcos Ambrose.
  8. You definitely want to start within the first five rows: 9 of the 14 winners have started within the first five rows. Harvick and Johnson (last year) have won from the pole, Johnson barely holding off Carl Edwards.
  9. Amazingly, there has never been someone that has won this race in consecutive years. Could it change this year? Which brings me to my predicted race winner.

Predicted Race Winner: Jimmie Johnson. He makes Brickyard history by becoming the first driver to win in consecutive years, and makes it three wins in four years. I'll even give my predicted top 5: 1) Johnson; 2) Stewart; 3) Ambrose; 4)Edwards; 5; Jeff Gordon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

NASCAR at the backstretch

In my previous analysis (NASCAR at Turn 1), I analyzed the first quarter of the NASCAR season. In this analysis, I analyze NASCAR at the halfway point of the season. The top 20 drivers will be analyzed and graded on their season to date. The next analysis will be after the Richmond race.


Tony Stewart: Smoke finally got that first points win as an owner-driver under his belt, at Pocono on June 7th. (He had won the All-Star Race previously.) He would add the Coke Zero 400 to the win column on July 4th. Overall, Smoke has been stout. He has certainly surprised me. And even when he doesn't win races, it seems like he's always in the top 5. Chance to make the Chase: MORTAL LOCK.
Grade: A++

Jeff Gordon: he added Texas to the list of tracks he's won at. He's 175 points in arrears of Stewart. He also has 10 top fives and 13 top 10's. He's had a couple of hiccups, but overall has been running very well. Chance to make the Chase: LOCK.
Grade: A+

Jimmie Johnson: he's stout as always, and crew chief Chad Knaus and the #48 crew are the best in the business. At this point, he's 212 points in arrears. Like Gordon, he has 13 top 10's. He has two wins at this point. With tracks coming up that are good to him, look for JJ to get a couple more wins before the Chase. Chance to make the Chase: LOCK.
Grade: A+

Kurt Busch: the Blue Deuce is running MUCH better than at this same point last season. While he doesn't have a win to show for it, he'll get a win before the Chase. He has six top 5's and 10 top 10's so far this season. Currently, he's 358 points in arrears. Chance to make the Chase: EXCELLENT.
Grade: A.


Denny Hamlin: remember last year when he was so stout? That seems SO long ago. While he's still solid, he hasn't quite put it all together. He still shows signs of being impatient. He's taken a small step back, but not so far back that he's in jeopardy of missing the Chase. He's 427 points in arrears, with six top 5's and 8 top 10's. He's in a somewhat comfortable position to make the Chase, but a couple of bad races where he finishes in the mid-30's on back, and he'll be sweating bullets. Chance to make the Chase: GOOD.
Grade: B.

Carl Edwards: Cousin Carl has almost mirrored Hamlin in results and performance. Edwards has one less top 5 and one more top 10 than Hamlin. While he's the best Roush Fenway driver out there, something's a little off. He's not quite as sharp as he was last year. More mistakes in the pits, missed set ups, and bad calls by crew chief Bob Osborne have added up to somewhat of an off season. Edwards is 446 points behind Stewart. He is in a somewhat more tenuous position than Hamlin to make the Chase. Chance to make the Chase: FAIR.
Grade: B-

Ryan Newman: Flyin' Ryan has been much better this quarter of the season than in the first quarter. The chemistry between Newman and crew chief Tony Gibson is much better. With seven races left before the Chase begins, Newman has a 90 point lead over 12th place. While he hasn't won yet, his time is coming. But a couple of bad races could put him in danger of missing the Chase. Chance to make the Chase: FAIR.
Grade: B.

Kasey Kahne: the #9 has a win this year at an unlikely venue: Sonoma. He's been great, and he's been equally bad. Some parts of the season, it looked like Kahne was a serious contender. And other parts he looked equally putrid. He needs to be more consistent if he is to make the Chase. He's in that group that could either make the Chase, or miss it altogether. Chance to make the Chase: TENUOUS.
Grade: B-

Juan Pablo Montoya: being in the Bowtie Brigade has agreed with JPM. He has run MUCH better. The chemistry he and crew chief Brian Pattie have developed almost rivals that of Johnson and Knaus. Remember, when the #42 was running Dodges, and Pattie was the crew chief, Montoya was running very well. What has hurt Montoya is that he doesn't have a win or a top 5 this season. These next few races are critical to Montoya's chances of making the Chase. Chance to make Chase: TENUOUS.
Grade: B-

Kyle Busch: now I've come to the Lightning Rod. No, he hasn't forgotten how to drive. But his season is one of the most disappointing ones of the year. He's winless, and he has reverted back to the attitude he had as a rookie. The whole #18 operation is way off this year, and he's been mortal. I'll go out on a limb and say he MISSES the Chase altogether. Too many other drivers are running better. Chance to make the Chase: TENUOUS.
Grade: C-

Mark Martin: what else can I say, but the old man can STILL get it done! (I say "old man" with a great deal of respect.) He leads all drivers in wins with four, and is second in poles with three. He is running MUCH better in the last two months. He had put himself in a HUGE hole early in the season, but has dug out of it. He'll get a couple of more wins and put himself in a great position to make the Chase. Chance to make the Chase: EXCELLENT.
Grade: A.

Matt Kenseth: aside from the Daytona 500 win, his season has been ordinary. After that hot start, he has cooled down considerably. He has struggled with bad luck, missed setups, and uncharacteristic lack of sharpness and chemistry with the crew. In other words, the "meh" factor. He'll be the beneficiary of Kyle Busch's struggles. Chance to make the Chase: TENUOUS.
Grade: D.


Greg Biffle: now we come to the first driver outside the Chase zone. Like the rest of the Roush Fenway drivers, Biff's performance has suffered. He has uncharacteristically struggled at the 1.5 mile tracks. He seems to be going backwards as the season goes on. Chance to make the Chase: NOT GOOD.
Grade: D.

David Reutimann: Reuty has run much better this quarter. He does have a win this year. While I don't expect him to get another win, I think he CAN run well enough to make the Chase. Chance to make the Chase: DECENT.
Grade: B-

Clint Bowyer: after starting off strong, he has fallen off the map. Believe it or not, he's the first RCR driver I have mentioned. He is over 100 points behind 12th place Matt Kenseth. The #33 team seems to be in a free fall with no way of escaping. Chance to make the Chase: REMOTE.
Grade: D.

Brian Vickers: when you're 16th in the standings, you need WINS. Vickers has ONE win in his career. At this stage of the season, he's GOT to take some chances on getting wins. I don't see the Chase happening for Vickers, at least not this year. Chance to make the Chase: UNLIKELY.
Grade: C.

Jeff Burton: wasn't it a few short years ago he was considered a title threat? Now he's nearly 200 points behind Kenseth, and losing positions in the standings. To say RCR has struggled is like saying water is wet. Chance to make the Chase: SLIM AND NONE, AND SLIM JUST LEFT TOWN.
Grade: D-

Marcos Ambrose: he's been running much better this quarter of the season. He dug himself too deep of a hole to make the Chase, but he can use the remainder of the season in preparation for next season. Chance to make the Chase: NONE.
Grade: B-

Jamie McMurray: he's not the worst RFR driver in the stable, at least in terms of points. There's been times when he's run well, and times when he's really struggled. The struggles have outweighed the good times. Could be in line for a third Yates Racing team, as RFR downsizes to a four-team operation. Chance to make Chase: NONE.
Grade: D.

Joey Logano: the last of the drivers to be analyzed. After getting his bearings from under him in the first quarter, he and the #20 team have been MUCH better. He became the youngest driver in NASCAR history to win a race earlier in the season, at Loudon. I'm impressed with his coolness under pressure and how he carries himself. He has a bright future ahead of him. Chance to make the Chase: NONE.
Grade: A-

Those are my grades and analysis for the top 20 drivers at this point in the season. They are based on how they ran in the second quarter of the season. What do you say?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly -- 400

This week, the Crappafoni Pictures crew is in the heart of the Midwest, Chicagoland Speedway, for this week's The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Served deep-dish, Chicago-style, loaded with all the toppings. Enjoy!


Mark Martin: as the winner of this race, he automatically gets first billing. He was dominant once he took the lead. He led 195 laps, the most laps a driver has ever led at Chicagoland. He had that car on a rail. This was his fourth win of the season. He'll be formidable once the Chase starts. An extra good to the Musgrave family as they won a $1 million bonus by choosing Mark Martin as the winner.

Jeff Gordon: although he never led, he had a strong car throughout the race. He was consistently in the top 10 en route to a second place finish.

Kasey Kahne: he survived a wild and wooly last few laps en route to a third place finish, leading two laps in the process.

Stewart-Haas Racing: Tony Stewart (4th) and Ryan Newman (6th) were stout all race long. Stewart led a lap during a round of green flag pit stops early in the race.

Denny Hamlin: he was a quiet fifth. He was consistent, and a bold move with 17 laps to go pretty much sealed a top 5 finish.

Honorable Mention: the rest of the lead lap finishers. Martin was so good he put more than half the field at least a lap down.


Kyle Busch: he was BRUTALLY BAD. His car was bad from the outset. Then he made contact with the wall and it got worse--the track bar was bent. It would get worse. The rear end alignment on the #18 got thrown off later in the race. Then to top it all off, his engine blew late in the race and he crashed.

Jeff Burton: like Busch, he was brutally bad. Unlike Busch, he didn't have an engine blow. He was part of a late race accident involving Dale Earnhardt Jr and David Reutimann. Burton T-boned Scott Speed when Speed came down in front of him.

Greg Biffle: the #16 team totally missed the setup. He had a bad car from the outset and finished two laps down.


Kyle Busch: see above.

Jeff Burton: see above.

Those are my choices for the race. Feel free to chime in and comment.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Gas and Go--Chicagoland

This week's Gas and Go comes from the heart of the Midwest, Chicago and Chicagoland Raceway. I will offer some insights and takes on this week's race.

  1. Construction on the site began in August 1999. It wasn't until May 2000 that it was officially named Chicagoland Raceway.
  2. The Raceway complex consists of a 1.5 mile D-shaped oval, a state of the art NHRA drag strip, and a dirt track. The complex sits on 930 acres, and provides 500 acres of free parking for more than 50,000 vehicles.
  3. The first NASCAR Winston Cup race took place on July 15, 2001, the Tropicana 400. From sixth position, rookie driver Kevin Harvick won the inaugural race at Chicagoland. He would repeat the feat the following year, starting from the 32nd position.
  4. Along with Harvick, Tony Stewart is the only other two-time winner (2004 and 2007).
  5. Hard to believe, but no Ford driver has ever won at this track. Chevrolet has dominated, winning six of the eight races. (Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon are the other Chevrolet drivers that have won.) Ryan Newman (Dodge) won in 2003 and Kyle Busch (Toyota) won last year.
  6. Could this be the year that Ford breaks its winless streak at the track? Look for Matt Kenseth to be strong.

Predicted Race Winner: Kurt Busch. Busch has been stout at the 1.5 milers, and this time he breaks through.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly -- Coke Zero 400

This week, the Crappafoni Pictures crew brings you fireworks, patriotism, and lots of analysis, spaghetti-western style. This week's edition of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is served up Florida-style, with plenty of orange juice to wash it all down. Enjoy!


Tony Stewart: as the race winner, he automatically gets first billing. Smoke dominated the race, leading the most laps, 86, and surviving a wild crash involving Kyle Busch. Busch went to block Stewart and made contact, sending him flying near the start-finish line as the race was winding down. Stewart was subdued as he celebrated in Victory Lane. He didn't like the way the race ended, with Busch flying.

Denny Hamlin: he led the second-most laps (63) en route to a third-place finish. He steadily worked his way to the front after the green flag dropped and it seemed the race turned into the Tony and Denny Show. Between Hamlin and Stewart, they led 149 of the 160 laps.

Marcos Ambrose: he's not normally known as a restrictor-plate driver. After a solid top 10 finish, we may have to rethink that notion. This comes on the heels of a top 5 at Talladega in late April. He is steadily improving, and his first Cup win could well come later this year.

Kurt Busch: the Blue Deuce led a lap and got five critical bonus points. I'm sure the Blue Crew was VERY happy to come out of Daytona with a top 5.

Jimmie Johnson: he was a beneficiary of that wild crash that ended the race. He finished second, and I'm sure the Lowe's crew breathed a HUGE sigh of relief after the race.

Matt Kenseth: he led multiple laps (3). It was critical for the Killer B's to come out of Daytona with a top 10, and they did.

Honorable Mention: Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Robby Gordon, John Andretti, Jeff Gordon.


Dave Blaney: ran an amazing TWO LAPS before he parked his rig for the day. Is he trying to outdo P.J. Jones? I'm waiting for the day when an S&P doesn't even take the green flag and is credited for zero laps run.

Patrick Carpentier: it wasn't long ago I gave him an Honorable Mention in the Good category. At least he tried, as he ran 18 laps before he was done for the day.

Richard Childress Racing: aside from Jeff Burton, they had nothing to write home about, save for Kevin Harvick barely escaping the first Big One. Clint Bowyer wasn't so lucky--he got caught up in the first Big One, and he lost a lap and never recovered. He finished 29th. Casey Mears also wrecked, causing substantial damage to his left rear quarter. He finished 16 laps down in 34th. As for Harvick, he finished on the lead lap, but in 26th.


The Big One #1: that involved Kasey Kahne, David Stremme, and several other cars, most notably Dale Earnhardt Jr. The first Big One occurred on Lap 75. Earnhardt Jr's #88 had it's A-frame separated from the chassis, ending his day.

The Big One #2: this happened as both Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch were getting ready to take the checkered flag. Busch was leading the race and was attempting to block Stewart, but Stewart had a run on him, and the two made contact. Busch went flying and Stewart took the checkered flag. There were several other cars that were involved in the carnage.

Those are my nominees for the race. Feel free to come in with yours!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Daytona qualifying rained out--a response

Qualifying was rained out for the Coke Zero 400. Per NASCAR rules, the field is set by owners' points. Tony Stewart has the pole per the rules. Currently, the NNS race is being run under scattered clouds. Here is my response to the current rules: TWEAK THEM.

IF the scheduled qualifying is rained out, NASCAR should make every effort to reschedule qualifying for 8 AM the next morning. Since there is only the Cup race in the evening, and weather won't be a factor, they COULD have fit in qualifying at 8 AM. If it's clear at 8 AM, then run qualifying as normal. However, if the weather is not cooperative, ONLY THEN do you set the field by owners' points.

This rule is one of those in pro sports (not just NASCAR) that gets under my craw. It sucks for those that are 44th or farther back in the owners' points that don't even get to qualify. Sucks for Max Papis--he doesn't fit the definition of a start-and-parker. Papis just missed a top 10 finish at Sonoma. And had he qualified for this race, Mad Max would have done his best to get a good finish. One silver lining--the #64 didn't qualify. P.J. Jones drove that car for an amazing two laps at Sonoma before his day was done.

Unfortunately, we'll probably have a couple of S&Ps. Anyone want to venture a guess as to who they will be? I'll guess the #37 of Tony Raines and the #36 of Patrick Carpentier.