Sunday, February 27, 2011
Jeff Gordon: he gets first slot as this week's race winner. What a way to break a 66-race winless streak! Gordon led the most laps, even after suffering damage due to a wreck on lap 60. He passed Kyle Busch with eight laps to go and cruised to his 83rd career win, tying Cale Yarborough on the all-time wins list. With Alan Gustafson as his crew chief, I can see a few more wins in Gordon's season, maybe another championship before he retires. Good job Jeff!
Kyle Busch: he had a GREAT weekend. Winner of the truck race on Friday night. Led EVERY lap in the Nationwide Series race last night. Finished second today. He leaves Phoenix with a three-point lead over older brother Kurt. It's the first time family has been 1-2 in the points standings since after the 1988 Daytona 500, when Davey (son) and Bobby Allison (father) were in the top 2 in the points.
Jimmie Johnson: he basically made chicken salad out of chicken(bleep). He had a HORRIBLE car all throughout the weekend. He struggled to get any speed in qualifying, struggled with it in practice, and struggled at the beginning of the race. But what helped is that he was able to escape two major crashes that affected over half the field. Today, he was more lucky than good, but his car got better as the race went on. After crashing at Daytona and leaving there with a bad finish, he gets a much-needed top 3 finish. Phoenix was the medicine the 48 team needed.
Kevin Harvick: he got affected by the first big wreck on lap 60 when Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch made contact. Harvick checked up to avoid the carnage when he was bumped from behind by Mark Martin, sending Harvick spinning. There was some damage to Harvick's rear bumpers, but not enough to adversely affect the car and he was able to stay on the lead lap. Then right after the restart, The Big One hit when Matt Kenseth flat-out wrecked Brian Vickers, sending him sideways. (Ya think there's going to be payback down the road? I think so.) Harvick avoided the carnage by stopping while the carnage was taking place. (He was at the rear of the field at the time.) Happy rallied to a fourth-place finish, a MUCH needed top 5 after the worst showing of his career last week.
Ryan Newman: he was strong in the Tornados paint scheme again at Phoenix. (Yaaay Dinuba, CA--where the parent company of Tornados is located!) Newman led seven laps en route to a fifth-place finish.
Tony Stewart: Smoke was stout for most of the race, and for awhile, he was the car to beat. But on the final pit stop he took on two tires and gambled on track position. Two tires wasn't the way to go, unlike last year, when Newman gambled and won. Smoke went backwards in a hurry. It's easy to second guess him now, but it's better to roll the dice now and fail than to roll the dice at Richmond and miss out on the Chase entirely as a result of a failed gamble. I thought it was a gutsy call myself. He gambled and lost. Simple as that. Still, a top 10 is good.
Kurt Busch: like Smoke, the Double Deuce was stout, particularly in the first half of the race. He was on the point for 31 laps total. Although he fell off a bit late, he was still strong enough to finish in the top 10.
Honorable Mention: Kasey Kahne, AJ Allmendinger, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Joe Nemechek: he was the first start and parker, declaring himself done after running just 22 laps.
Dave Blaney: he was the second start and parker, turning five more laps than Nemechek.
Matt Kenseth: it isn't often that I put a lead lap car in this category. But he goes here because he caused the Big One by wrecking Brian Vickers and cutting his tire in the process. As soon as he did his damage to Vickers' #83 Red Bull Toyota, he drove off while cars were wrecking behind him. Understandably, Vickers wasn't too happy with Kenseth and hinted at payback down the road.
The two wrecks: these two wrecks affected more than half the field, with the Big One causing a red flag to be thrown for 15 minutes for track cleanup. Carl Edwards was affected the most, because he had to go behind the wall for a whole new front end. A sub-Good goes to Edwards for returning to the track in 39th position and gaining 11 positions to finish 28th. (IF Edwards does win the championship, he can point to this race where he won it by gaining all those positions.)
Those are my nominees for the week. Feel free to come in with yours!
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Trevor Bayne: as the race winner, he gets first billing. He is the youth in the recipe. At 20 years one day, he becomes the youngest winner of the 500 and the second youngest winner in Sprint Cup history. He also ties a record in winning in just his second Cup start, joining Jamie McMurray, who accomplished the feat at Charlotte in October 2002. He also joins Lee Petty as the only drivers to win the Daytona 500 in their first start in the Great American Race. (Lee Petty won the inaugural Daytona 500.) For the first time since David Pearson in 1976, the Wood Brothers are back in Victory Lane in the Great American Race. It's also the first time the Wood Brothers 21 car has won since Elliott Sadler's first Cup win in 2001. And also he joins six other drivers to have their first Cup win be the Daytona 500. What cannot be overlooked is the block Bayne put on Carl Edwards coming out of turn 4 for the final time. He looked like a 10-year veteran that's won a few titles rather than a rookie in just his second start. Great block! Congratulations Trevor!
Carl Edwards: he very nearly won his third straight points race, but the aforementioned block by Bayne put the kibosh on that. He ran a smart, sound race, and was PATIENT, something he's had a short supply of in the past. Although he never led, he put himself in a position to possibly win the 500. He now leads the points standings by one over Bobby Labonte and David Gilliland.
David Gilliland: like Edwards, he ran a smart, sound race, and slowly crept his way towards the front. He managed to stay out of trouble when the leading contenders FOUND trouble. And like Edwards, he never led, but put himself in position for a very good finish.
Kurt Busch: he had an amazing Speedweeks. He won the Bud Shootout, one of the two twin 125s, and was stout in the 500. It looked like he was going to be the first driver to win the Speedweeks Trifecta (Shootout, 125s, and 500). When he lost his draft partner Regan Smith, he paired with younger brother Kyle, but Kyle didn't have the juice Regan had. Still, Kurt had a Speedweeks to remember.
Regan Smith: he had an AWESOME Speedweeks. He and Kurt Busch did a LOT of dancing together during Speedweeks and the 500. But late in the race, he and Busch got separated, Tony Stewart tried to bump Busch into Smith, but bumped too hard. That led to the wreck that ended Smith's chances to win the 500. A great bounce back to finish seventh, easily his best Daytona result.
Juan Pablo Montoya: he was strongest in the middle of the race, when he and Jamie McMurray swapped the lead. The Ganassi teammates ran well together, but when McMurray lost a cylinder and dropped off the pace, Montoya had to find a new partner. He was in a late race crash that could have killed his chances for a strong finish, but he dug in for a sixth place finish.
David Ragan: he was in prime position to get his first Cup win until he got black flagged for leaving his lane prior to passing the start/finish line. He had to start at the tail end of the lead lap and that was too many positions to make up. But he gets a Good for running up front for most of the race.
Brian Vickers: his first race in nine months after battling life-threatening blood clots. The long-term prognosis for Vickers is good. Unfortunately he got caught up in a crash. Welcome back to Cup, Brian!
J.J. Yeley: he was the first car out with engine trouble at lap 10.
Michael Waltrip: in possibly his final 500, he causes the Big One on lap 29 that took out A LOT of good cars, including 3/4 of Hendrick Motorsports' lineup. (Can you guess which HMS driver was NOT involved?)
Kevin Harvick: for the first time in nearly 160 races, he blows an engine, and blows it early. The ECR engine packages are usually some of the most reliable engines on the circuit, and for Harvick to blow the engine early was an anomaly, to put it mildly. A sub-Good to Harvick for leading a lap early.
Jeff Burton: Harvick's RCR teammate also blew an engine, but his lasted 72 laps longer than Harvick's. A sub-Good to Burton for leading laps and running a sound race up to that point.
Those are my nominees for the race. Feel free to come in with yours!
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Kurt Busch: as the race winner, he gets first billing. He had the best car when it counted. He was also fortunate when Denny Hamlin advanced his position below the double yellow line. In NASCAR, that's a no-no. This is Busch's first restrictor plate win in any race. A good start for the Double Deuce as they embark on their relationship with their new sponsor, Pennzoil.
Jamie McMurray: he was content to be tethered to the Double Deuce's rear end. While he didn't lead a lap, he was strong throughout on his own merit.
Ryan Newman: Rocketman was just that, a rocket. He led a good part of the final portion of the Shootout before being passed by Busch and McMurray. This bodes well for him at the 500.
The racing itself: in a short segment, no one really checked out. It wasn't until near the end of the race that you had drafting partners checking out.
RCR Racing: Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick were drafting partners for the first segment, and Burton led more than half the laps in that segment. When Burton was drafting with Clint Bowyer in the second segment, they fell off a bit. Jeff Gordon, who had a bit of a slow car, paired up with Harvick and almost immediately they went to the front. At one point, Gordon was leading, followed by the three RCR cars. An extra Good goes out to Harvick, who had a stout car, as evidenced by his pushing the Jeffs to the front.
None: there were no start and parkers in the Shootout.
Regan Smith: he brought out the first in-race caution on Lap 28, shortly after the 50-lap segment began by making contact with Carl Edwards and causing a multi-car accident.
Kasey Kahne: his Shootout was over almost as soon as it started. Not a good start for the #4 Red Bull Toyota. His luck's GOTTA change soon!
Those are my nominees for the Shootout. Feel free to come in with yours!
- Jeff Burton*: he'll finish just outside the top 10, but will make it based on his three wins going into the Chase. But there are too many other good drivers ahead of him for him to make serious noise in the Chase. Predicted finish: 12th.
- Clint Bowyer: he'll be more consistent than last season. Predicted finish: 11th.
- Tony Stewart: I'm probably going to catch some flak from Smoke fans, but I see him having one bad race early in the Chase that will have him trailing the field. That one bad race will cost him a chance to win his third title. He'll do his best to catch up, but I only see him gaining three spots. But, if he avoids that, he'll be in contention. (I hope he's consistent, and he's in contention heading into Homestead.) Predicted finish: 10th.
- Jeff Gordon: we'll see him in Victory Lane this season. Paired with Alan Gustafson, I won't be surprised to see him contend for the title. However, I see him falling a bit short. Predicted finish: 9th.
- Kyle Busch: he'll be the only Busch Brother in the Chase. It's either going to be hit or miss. He'll have a few misses along with a lot of hits. He'll run better than last year, but the competition is very intense, and he'll fall short. Predicted finish: 8th.
- Greg Biffle: we'll see Biff in Victory Lane a few times this season, and he'll be strong heading into the Chase. But I see a late season fade. Predicted finish: 7th.
- Denny Hamlin: last year had to be demoralizing, when he had the championship lead going into Homestead, but made that crucial error allowing Jimmie Johnson to overtake him. I see some hangover this year. Predicted finish: 6th.
- Matt Kenseth: he'll be his usual consistent self in the Chase. He'll finish where he started in the Chase. Predicted finish: 5th.
- Jamie McMurray*: he'll finish behind Burton in the regular season standings, but get in based on his three wins going into the Chase. I see him getting on a roll and winning a couple more races in the Chase. He'll be in contention heading into Homestead, but struggles at Homestead will cost him a chance at a championship. He'll learn and grow from this. Predicted finish: 4th.
- Carl Edwards: he ended last season on a roll, winning the final two races and establishing himself as a contender. IF he finishes as strong as he starts, he COULD end up dethroning JJ. But I don't see it happening, at least not this year. He'll be stout, but fall just short. Predicted finish: 3rd.
- Kevin Harvick: he had arguably the best season of his Cup career. He led the points for much of the season. Due to the bonuses in the Chase, he started in third and finished there. He'll start in third and improve a position. Predicted finish: 2nd.
- Jimmie Johnson: he'll be here until someone dethrones him. I look for him to win a very tight battle between him, Harvick, and Edwards. Your 2011 Sprint Cup Champion: JIMMIE JOHNSON. Predicted finish: 1st and still Champion.
Those are my 12 Chase drivers for this year. It was very hard deciding on WHO was going to make the Chase, as I think 15 drivers could be Chase contenders. Just as I see these drivers I think could win it all: Johnson, Harvick, Edwards, McMurray, Stewart, Gordon, Kyle Busch, and Hamlin. LET'S GO RACIN' BOYS!