Monday, August 31, 2009
New York Giants: this team somehow finds ways to win when all seems lost. You cannot kill this team! Although they lost Derrick Ward to Tampa Bay, they still have a very potent 1-2 combo in Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. Eli is Eli, he finds ways to make plays and put the team in position to win. They may have found Plaxico's replacement in Hakeem Nicks, the rookie WR out of North Carolina. Very solid, workmanlike team. (1st)
Philadelphia Eagles: they NEED to keep Donovan McNabb on his feet. With a banged-up, patchwork offensive line, it's going to be difficult, at least at the start of the season. Their projected starting line has not played one snap together. They do have the best set of skill position players in the Andy Reid era. LeSean McCoy is the perfect replacement for Brian Westbrook. WR Jason Avant is a trusty target for McNabb. The defense, while solid, will be handicapped with the loss of MLB Stewart Bradley to a season-ending knee injury. Fortunately for the Eagles, their opponent in the season opener, the Carolina Panthers, also have injury issues. And the Eagles have an advantage of an early bye week (Week 4), plus playing suspect defenses in New Orleans and Kansas City. They should get healthy when their schedule turns brutal. (2nd)
Dallas Cowboys: they got rid of two jinxes: Terrell Owens and Jessica Simpson. The Cowboys cut Owens in the offseason and Tony Romo did the same to Ms. Simpson. I look for Romo to return to the 2007 version of Romo. The Cowboys have as talented a roster as any team in the league. Coaching, or lack thereof, will doom the Cowboys. Perhaps Jerry Jones has Bill Cowher or Mike Holmgren on speed dial. (3rd)
Washington Redskins: this is a team that is going to struggle to put points on the board, despite the talent they have on offense. And when you have a team that struggles to put points on the board, that defense will be on the field for a long time. When they are on, they can beat anyone. They seem to play their best football within the division. It's OUTSIDE of the division where they struggle and frankly, suck. This is a .500 team at best, a 6-10 team at worst. (4th)
TOMORROW: THE NFC SOUTH
Friday, August 28, 2009
THE WINLESS STREAK
Coming into the 2007 Daytona 500, Harvick was coming off the best year of his career: he won a total of 14 races between the Busch (now Nationwide) Series and the Nextel (now Sprint) Cup Series. He blew away the field all season long in the Busch Series, winning the title by OVER 900 points. In fact, he clinched the title at Charlotte. He won nine races in the Busch Series, and in fact completed all but ONE lap. For the whole season. Ironically, Charlotte was where he finished a lap down for the only time that year. On the Cup side, he scored his first win of the season in the spring race at Phoenix. While he was running well between his first two wins, he didn't win again until the Glen, when Kurt Busch committed into the pits just before the final caution came out. He stole that win BIG TIME. He should have wore a ski mask underneath that helmet! A few weeks later, he would post consecutive wins for the first (and only) time in his career, winning at Richmond and Loudon (to start the Chase). His final win would come at Phoenix, narrowly holding off a hard-charging Jimmie Johnson. Harvick would be the first driver to sweep Phoenix (since duplicated last year by Johnson).
During the 500, Harvick didn't have the best car, but his crew did a great job adjusting to the changing conditions, getting the car better as the race wore on. He had a solid car, one I thought would be a top 10 car. But as the laps wound down, he kept moving up. The final lap, particularly coming out of Turn 4, was epic. It was a drag race between Harvick and Mark Martin. Martin lost his drafting partner when Kyle Busch got in an accident, triggering the Big One behind Harvick and Martin. In the melee, Matt Kenseth gave Harvick a big enough push to give Harvick the win by 0.020 seconds, the closest finish in Daytona 500 history. Who would have thought that race would be Harvick's most recent win?
While Harvick has been winless since as far as points races go, he did make the Chase both in 2007 and 2008. He won the All-Star race in 2007 and the Bud Shootout in early February. But after Atlanta, when he finished fourth, his luck went south in a hurry. He wouldn't have another top 10 finish until the Brickyard 400, where he finished sixth.
THE CREW SWAP
Going into the season, Harvick had Todd Berrier as his crew chief. Berrier as crew chief led Harvick to the 2001 Busch Series title. But it wasn't until late in the 2005 season that Harvick and Berrier would be reunited. Immediately they clicked again. Harvick finished 2005 strong, with high hopes for 2006. With Berrier on the pit box, Harvick made the Chase three consecutive years from 2006 to 2008. In 2006, Harvick was one of four drivers that still had a chance to win the Cup championship at Homestead. But as the years wore on, it is my opinion that the #29 team stagnated while many of the other teams got better. This culminated in a crew swap with the #07 crew. Happy, he wasn't. He lost his confidante, his "security blanket", so to speak. IMO, Childress panicked. He wasn't used to seeing Harvick run this poorly. But it wasn't the crew. It was the engine builders that gave him crappy engines. It was the car chief that poorly executed a game plan on race day. And it was also not-so-Happy.
Where do I start? Do I start with Sam Hornish Jr (TWICE)? David Stremme? Cut tires? Blown engines? Bad pit stops? I'll pick on Stremme. He drove recklessly in the esses at the Glen, wrecking Harvick and causing significant damage to the A-frame of the #29 car. A top ten car went down the drain. Understandably, Harvick was pissed off. He basically said that Stremme needs to work on a new skill set. (My words added here: because the road courses are beyond his ability as a driver.)
Which brings me to this: where will Happy go next year? It's possible he's not going anywhere, as Childress will have Happy honor the final year of his contract. In the offseason, Happy and RC need to sit down and have a powwow. Tony Stewart has stated he's not immediately expanding to three teams. There's no room at the Hendrick Inn. Red Bull is staying with Toyota. Logically, Happy stays at RCR but doesn't sign an extension. If they don't make the Chase next year, he's released from the #29 early and perhaps Stephen Leicht finishes the season driving the #29 on an interim basis. But stranger things have happened.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Kyle Busch: as the race winner, he automatically gets first billing. He started 15th, and hovered around the top 10 for much of the race before making his move in the last fifth of the race. His car got better as the race went on, and he took the lead late in the race. He had enough to hold off Mark Martin in a dramatic four-lap shootout at the end of the race.
Mark Martin: he led a race-high 240 laps, and had several opportunities to move Busch out of the way, but didn't have enough. Congratulations to Martin on his 1,000th Cup start. He was big-picture racing, knowing his Chase chances got a lot better.
Marcos Ambrose: the likable Aussie scored his career-best finish on an oval with his third-place finish. (He finished fourth at Talladega earlier in the season.) Although he never led a lap, he got stronger as the race went on.
Greg Biffle: he sorely needed a top-5 run, and he got it. He led 76 laps in the race. Great comeback from being barely in the top 15 at one point in the race. He moved up two spots to eighth in the standings because of that solid run.
Denny Hamlin: where the hell did he come from? He started WAY back somewhere around Nashville. (Actually, he started 41st; it only SEEMED like he started somewhere around Nashville.) He even was the beneficiary of a free pass. He took advantage of that to finish fifth, all but locking in his position in the Chase, as he has a 230-point lead over Kyle Busch with two races to go. All he has to do next week is be 153 points ahead of 13th place AFTER the Atlanta race and he's in the Chase.
Other Goods: Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson for clinching Chase spots.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Matt Kenseth.
Tony Stewart: Smoke was uncharacteristically bad. He had issues starting with his radio and they never let up. He went a lap down early and never recovered. Near the end of the race, his car stalled. Fortunately, he has already clinched a Chase spot, so one bad race won't affect him.
Juan Pablo Montoya: I've gotta put him in this category. He had an opportunity to pit for four fresh tires under a caution when a tire was going down, but opted not to pit. It bit him in the rear at the restart, then he had to pit under green. As a result, he lost two laps, then he took a hit in the points, losing two positions and having a VERY tenuous hold on his Chase position.
ESPN's coverage: they were par for the course, immediately cutting away to SportsCenter for the latest Brett Favre coverage.
Kevin Harvick: he caused a big wreck when he checked up after making contact with his teammate Clint Bowyer, then Jamie McMurray had no room and punted Harvick into the wall. Not-so-Happy ended up with a DNF, finishing 38th.
Clint Bowyer/Michael Waltrip/Joey Logano: these three drivers were involved in a late crash. Waltrip got turned around and when Bowyer checked up to try to avoid Waltrip, Logano had no room and slammed into Bowyer, turning him around to the point that the rear of the #33 slammed into the front of the #55. Like that crash, Bowyer's Chase hopes took a major hit. In my opinion, Bowyer's Chase chances are gone. They're done.
Those are my nominees for the race. Feel free to come in with yours!
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
- The night race is what every fan looks forward to. One hundred sixty thousand fans packed into a cavernous bullring. Thunder Valley lives up to its name. Every year, with the exception of this one, the race is sold out MONTHS in advance.
- With its unique stadium setting and .533 mile oval, there is very little, if any, room at Bristol. An unscheduled green flag pit stop will put a driver at least three laps down, if not more.
- Tempers get short, as evidenced by a memorable dust-up between Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon a few years ago after a spring race.
- One of the most memorable moments in this race came in 1995, when Terry Labonte took the checkered flag going sideways. This came as a result of contact with Dale Earnhardt on the final turn of the race. Ironically, Labonte going sideways kept Earnhardt from taking the checkered flag.
- Another very memorable moment involved the same drivers four years later. Labonte was on his way to another win when he was punted by Earnhardt going into Turn 3. Earnhardt took the checkered flag to lusty boos and hisses. Earnhardt's response? "I was just trying to rattle his cage." Classic.
- Handling is at a premium. If the car is well balanced and the crew hits on the setup, the driver could have a great showing. Consequently, one can have a great car and also get caught in someone's mishap.
- Thinking of you: Darrell Waltrip. (The all-time leading winner at Bristol, with 12 wins, including an amazing seven in a row.)
- Look for the usual suspects to run well: Kurt and Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, and Clint Bowyer.
- Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon share the most wins by an active driver with five each.
- My dark horse to run well here: Casey Mears. RCR cars have historically run well at Bristol. Mears will be no exception. Which brings me to my predicted race winner.
Predicted Race Winner: Clint Bowyer. Although Bowyer has never won at Bristol, he has always ran well there. He's been running very well over the last month or so. Plus he's making a strong late push for the Chase. I'm going to go with a bit of an upset with Bowyer winding up in Victory Lane.
Special thanks go out to www.bristolmotorspeedway.com for additional information cited in Gas and Go.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Brian Vickers: as the race winner, he automatically gets first billing. He had a stout car and was in the top 5 for much of the race. He was able to squeeze every last drop of gas out of his car to get to Victory Lane. He moves to within 12 points of Mark Martin for the final spot in the Chase. Good job Brian!
Jeff Gordon: like Vickers, he was able to squeeze every last drop of gas. He was in the top 10 for much of the day. He was strong throughout the race. He solidified his spot in the Chase field.
Dale Earnhardt Jr: he was the beneficiary of brilliant pit strategy by Lance McGrew, his crew chief. Jr came in on the final caution for four tires and fuel, and he was good to go the distance while many other drivers were saving fuel. He went balls to the wall en route to a third-place finish.
Carl Edwards: while he wasn't in danger of missing the Chase, his hold was tenuous before the race. A fourth place finish greatly solidified his position. He started 32nd and worked his way up the field en route to that fourth place finish.
Sam Hornish Jr: he was the highest finishing Penske driver, finishing in fifth. Although he never led, he moved up nine positions from his 14th starting position. I think he's finally starting to show what he's capable of. That first win won't be that far away.
Casey Mears: he started near the back of the field (42nd) and worked his way up to a solid sixth place finish.
Honorable Mention: Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, David Reutimann, Denny Hamlin.
David Ragan: he couldn't stay out of his own way--causing or being a part of two accidents, one of which knocked out a Chase contender, Kurt Busch. What made it worse was that he was running in the top 5 before the first accident. He looked like he was a sure lock for the Good category. And I would have put him there had he finished in the top 5.
Weather: the forecast called for 0% chance of rain. Well, it rained. Several times. Fortunately, they were brief showers and racing was resumed quickly thereafter.
The first half of the race: it was a Hendrick Motorsports snoozefest. It wasn't until fuel strategy became a factor it got a lot more interesting. I ended up doing various things around the house in the first half.
Those are my nominees for the week. Feel free to come in with yours!
Saturday, August 15, 2009
- In recent history, Michigan is the House that Jack Roush built. Roush drivers have dominated this track in recent years. Here is a list of Roush drivers that have won at Michigan: Mark Martin (twice), Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth(twice), Greg Biffle(twice), Carl Edwards (twice). (Busch won in 2003 while driving the #97 Ford for Roush. Martin has won three times total.)
- The tide is slowly starting to change on that. Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won two of the last three Michigan races (Mark Martin earlier in the season, and Dale Earnhardt Jr last season).
- Michigan is near the home of the Big Three, and there is extra incentive for the manufacturers to win the race. Bragging rights, perhaps?
- This race is key for drivers that are eighth through 14th in the points standings: Kasey Kahne (8th), Ryan Newman (9th), Greg Biffle (10th), Mark Martin (11th), Matt Kenseth (12th), Kyle Busch (13th), and Brian Vickers (14th). All these drivers must have very solid runs tomorrow. Any slip-ups or bad runs, particularly by Busch and Vickers, and their Chase chances just got a lot more remote.
- Look for the usual suspects to have good runs tomorrow: Edwards, Martin, Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
- By taking the green flag, Stewart becomes the first driver this season to clinch a Chase spot.
- Also, look for someone surprising to have a solid run, someone you don't usually think of.
- Unlike last year, the race for the top 35 is pretty well set. Scott Speed currently is in 35th, and John Andretti is 47 points back in 36th. You have to go just over 300 points down to see David Gilliland in 37th. Even then, the battle between Speed and Andretti could be more interesting than the race to the championship. I say Speed holds on to the 35th spot, guaranteeing him a spot in the field for the first five races of the 2010 season.
Predicted Race Winner: Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya wins on an oval for the first time in his career, and greatly solidifies his position to make his first Chase. Michigan is somewhat similar to Indy, and Montoya ran very well at Indy until the gaffe.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Tony Stewart: as the race winner, he automatically gets first billing. With the win, he becomes the first NASCAR driver to win at the Glen five times. He led the most laps in the race, but had to hold off a game Marcos Ambrose for the win.
Marcos Ambrose: he finished a career-best second and led laps. He was stout throughout the weekend, and nearly completed a Glen sweep.
Carl Edwards: he finished a career-best third on a road course. He started 33rd and steadily moved his way up towards the top. Although he didn't lead a lap, he got stronger as the race wore on. The third place finish solidifies his spot in the Chase, as he SORELY needed a strong finish. The Glen was his make or break race. IMO, he clinched a Chase spot, as the remaining tracks are friendly to Edwards.
The Busch Brothers: both Kurt and Kyle got the five bonus points for leading a lap. Although Kyle had a better finish (4th vs. Kurt's 7th), both brothers had strong cars.
Max Papis: I've gotta give a shout out to Como, Italy's Mad Max. It not only was his career-best finish on a road course, it was his career-best NASCAR finish. He started 16th and finished 8th. Good job, Max!
Clint Bowyer: for a guy who admits road courses are not his best tracks, he sure did well! He started 38th and finished 9th, a MUCH needed top 10 that kept his flickering Chase hopes alive. He should still have a chance going into the final weekend before the Chase, as he goes to tracks where he runs strong.
Greg Biffle: Da Biff had a strong top 5 finish. With that finish, he improved his Chase chances. Historically, he has struggled on road courses. But not today. He was strong all weekend.
Honorable Mention: Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson, AJ Allmendinger, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano.
Start and parkers: you people know who you are.
Kevin Harvick: he was never a factor, finishing 35th, an unusually bad position for Happy at the Glen.
David Stremme: after leading early, he dropped like a stone, finishing 26th.
The Crash: this one was a doozy, even by the Glen's standards. It involved Kasey Kahne getting loose and collecting Sam Hornish Jr. Hornish then careened across the track and Jeff Gordon hit him, then hit the guard rail at full speed. Fortunately, both Hornish and Gordon are okay. A sub good to Kahne for accepting full responsibility for the wreck that finished Gordon's, Hornish's, and Jeff Burton's days early.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: he had brake issues and slammed into the tire barrier, costing him 30 laps for repairs. He would finish 39th.
Those are my nominees for the race. Feel free to come in with yours!
Saturday, August 8, 2009
- The Glen has a rich racing history that started in 1948 with the first post-World War II road course race held in the United States on October 2nd of that year. For the next five years, fans would turn up in huge numbers to watch the top drivers in American sports car racing.
- The first NASCAR race held at the Glen was in 1957. Buck Baker won the race, and Fireball Roberts finished second. True international competition began the following year with the first Formula Libre race.
- Formula One raced at the Glen from 1961 through 1980. Innes Ireland won the inaugural U.S. Grand Prix. Alan Jones won the final F1 race held at the Glen.
- The Glen fell into disrepair over the next few years as a result of financial difficulties, leading to the track's sale to Corning Enterprises in 1983. Corning Enterprises then formed a partnership with International Speedway Corporation, forming Watkins Glen International.
- On July 7, 1984, the Glen reopened with Al Holbert, Derek Bell, and Jim Adams winning the inaugural Camel Continental race. In 1986, NASCAR made its return to the Glen, with the late Tim Richmond winning. Since then, the race has been one of NASCAR's most popular.
- Thinking of you: Steve Park (2000 winner at The Glen).
- Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart are maestros at the Glen. Martin won three straight Glen races in the early 1990's. Gordon and Stewart lead all Cup drivers in wins at the Glen with four.
- Look for strong runs from Marcos Ambrose, Robby Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Stewart, pole sitter Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, and Jeff Gordon.
Predicted Race Winner: Marcos Ambrose. The popular Aussie breaks through and gets that first Cup win.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Denny Hamlin: as the race winner, he automatically gets first billing. He raced today with a very heavy heart. One wouldn't have blamed him if he had skipped the race to be with his family. But race he did, and he finished nearly a second ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya. He was stout, and led the most laps in the race. This time he didn't let this one slip away. The win breaks a 50-race winless streak. Good job Denny, and my condolences to you and your family, and the crew member and his family on your losses.
Juan Pablo Montoya: he proved that Indy was no fluke in powering his way to a second place finish. Although he didn't lead a lap, he was stout throughout the day.
Clint Bowyer: this was a MUCH needed stout run for the #33 team. He was at the point for 23 laps in the race. He was at the point late in the race when he was overtaken by Hamlin. Still, a third place finish is much needed and much welcomed. Good job Clint!
Kasey Kahne: he was at the point for 35 laps. He started 8th and pretty much stayed in the top 10 all day. He solidified his position in the Chase.
Sam Hornish Jr: he started 29th and worked his way up. Although he never led, the #77 car got stronger as the race progressed. A shout out goes to the #77 crew for hitting the setup and consistently fast pit stops.
Jimmie Johnson: I've got to put him in this category. He was three laps down at one point due to an ill-handling car. Chad Knaus and the #48 crew showed why they're the best in the business in overcoming that three-lap deficit. Rather than packing it in for the day, they kept working on the car until they hit the setup late in the race. JJ rallied to finish 13th, just behind Kevin Harvick. Had the race gone another 10 laps, they would have been a factor.
Honorable Mention: Brian Vickers, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, and Tony Stewart.
Reed Sorenson: finished 15 laps down. Fortunately, he's one step above Start and Parker City.
Marcos Ambrose: he was unusually bad in this race. He should be much better at the Glen. Finished a head-scratching 8 laps down.
David Reutimann: although he finished on the lead lap, his Chase chances took a SEVERE hit by finishing 29th, the next to the last driver on the lead lap.
Dale Earnhardt Jr: he finished 28th, and his Chase chances are pretty much done now. He needed at least a top 10 to have any chance of making the Chase.
David Reutimann: he lost three positions in the points standings because of his poor finish.
Robby Gordon/David Stremme: these two got into each other more than once. They decided to play bumper cars and both were penalized by NASCAR. Can you say, "Justin Allgaier in the #12 next season?"
Those are my nominees for the race. Feel free to come in with yours.