Monday, February 28, 2011

NASCAR numbers all over the place

First, it's wonderful to be surrounded by so many NASCAR fans in the office. There's nothing better than to come in the morning after the race and talk about what happened on the track the day before.
And speaking of Sunday's race, here are a few different statistical leaders courtesy of NASCAR that are not always published, so enjoy. These numbers figure in after the first two races.

Average Running Place: Kurt Busch 7.146, Tony Stewart 7.933, Ryan Newman 9.899. They're the only three with an average under 10 after two races.

Best Average Finish: Kyle Busch 5.0, Kurt Busch 6.5, Tony Stewart 10.0, and A.J. Allmendinger 10.0.

Best Closers: (Positions moved up in last 10 percent of race): Juan Pablo Montoya 21, David Gilliland 17, Carl Edwards 14, Bobby Labonte 11

Fastest Drivers Early in a Run (based on first 25 percent of laps run since a pit stop): Jeff Gordon 2.0, Clint Bowyer 2.0, Tony Stewart 2.5, Kurt Busch 3.5.

Fastest Drivers Late in a Run (based on last 25 percent of last 25 percent of runs after a pit stop): Trevor Bayne 1.0, Jeff Gordon 2.0, Tony Stewart 2.5, Jimmie Johnson 3.0

Percent of Fastest Laps Run: Jeff Gordon 18.1, Tony Stewart 11.7, Kyle Busch 9.9

Fastest Starts on Restarts (first two laps after a green flag): Kurt Busch 4.0, Tony Stewart 6.0, Kyle Busch 10.5, Kevin Harvick 10.5

Fastest Green Flag Laps: Trevor Bayne 1.0, Jeff Gordon 1.0, Regan Smith 3.0, Kyle Busch 4.0.

Most Laps in the Top 15: Kurt Busch 483, Tony Stewart 455, Ryan Newman 429.

Most Laps Led: Jeff Gordon 139, Tony Stewart 59, Kurt Busch 50, Ryan Newman 44.

Most Miles Led: Jeff Gordon 140.5, Ryan Newman 99.50, Kurt Busch 78.50, Clint Bowyer 77.50.
Highest Percentage of Laps Run on Lead Lap: Kurt Busch 100, Kyle Busch 99.81, A.J. Allmendinger 99.62.

Most Quality Passes (passing a car in the top 15): Tony Stewart 315, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 297, Kurt Busch 287, Clint Bowyer 282.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Phoenix predictions

OK,so after a thrilling Daytona last week we're on to the rest of the schedule, where really the championship race begins. Daytona's great because the style of racing is so different, but history tells us that it often is not a good predictor of what will happen the rest of the season.
So race No. 2 is Phoenix and here's a look at my top five picks to have some fun in the desert.

1) Carl Edwards - This team is starting on the pole and won the last two races last year, and was second at Daytona. They could keep right on rolling.

2) Tony Stewart - He may have more laps at this track than any other driver and he wants to get the season off to a good start, instead of waiting for a mid-summer surge.

3) Kurt Busch - Always a strong contender in Arizona.

4) Kyle Busch - Too close to Vegas to be shown up by his brother

5) Denny Hamlin - Is he ready to show us he can win a championship? Today will be a real sign of what's to come.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A quick look at those Daytona records

Yes, it was a record-setting day at Sunday's Daytona 500. Here's a look at the marks that were broken.
Youngest winner - Trevor Bayne, 20 years, one day. The previous youngest winner was Jeff Gordon when he was 25.
Lead changes - 74. Significant in that the former record was 60 lead changes and was set in 1974.
Number of leaders - For the second straight year this mark fell, with 22 different leaders Sunday, compared to 21 last year.
Caution flags - There were 16 Sunday, which led to a record-tying 60 caution flags.
Years between Daytona victories for a team - The last time the Woods Brothers had a car win the Daytona 500 was in 1976 when David Pearson beat Richard Petty to the line in a famous last-lap battle. That makes it 35 years between Daytona 500 victories. This is not an official record, but considering most teams racing today weren't even in existence 35 years ago, it's safe to say this is a record, too.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Daytona 500 a remarkable reminder.

Some may say Sunday was the best Daytona 500 ever? Probably not. Was it well worth, watching? Definitely yes.
There were a record number of lead changes, a record number of yellow flags (the four hours even for us faithful was a bit long), and a record for the youngest winner.
But maybe the best part was not that Trevor Bayne, at age 20, was the youngest winner. It was that a part-time team, the history-rich Wood Brothers, could put together a good enough package to win certainly America's biggest race, and let's face it, the world's biggest race.
Just look at it this way. The big budget teams like Hendrick, Roush and Childress certainly were favorites to have a winner. But Bayne winning is comparable to the Los Angeles Clippers winning the NBA title, or maybe the Detroit Lions winning the Super Bowl, or maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates (well no, let's not go too far here), maybe the Washington Nationals winning the World Series, or if Butler had beaten Duke for the NCAA basketball championship last spring.
What also told you volumes about the young Bayne, is how many other drivers and pit crew members congratulated him after the win. If there were some jealous losers, they were certainly in the minority. The fact that Bayne's victory was so well received is a testament to his attitude at such a young age. It's something a lot of veteran drivers should look at and at least try to imitate.
Earlier in the race, when eventual second-place finisher Carl Edwards got on the radio during a yellow flag and tried to hook up with Bayne, the rookie mentioned his car was too fast to go out front in the 2x2 pairings as he was pulling away from would be helpers. It turns out that worked to his advantage in those crucial final two laps. They could catch him, but they couldn't pass him. He hugged that yellow line all the way around to the checkered flag for his first Sprint Cup win in just his second Sprint Cup race.
Remarkable and a reminder that the underdogs can still win.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Daytona and season predictions

NASCAR starts the season with its biggest event, partly because of tradition, and partly because it's a race they have the most time to prepare for. Nobody likes to finish second in this race, which has always made for an interesting final few laps on the famed 21/2 mile oval in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The trend to make these cars go faster this year has been to break off in pairs as was the case in the Bud Shootout last week, the qualifying races Thursday and the Nationwide race Saturday. It should be no different Sunday. It might not be quite as exciting on that last lap, when you could have a driver running 15th still have a chance for the win. If they're running Noah style (2 by 2), there's not likely going to be seven or eight pairs with a shot for the win. There will likely be three, four, or possibly five and that will favor the more experienced drivers.
So, here we go with the first predictions of the year on who will finish in the top five.
1) Jeff Gordon - he's been good all week and he's got plenty of partners.
2) Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Yes, he's got to start from the back, but that's not a big deal on this track and he understands how to draft as well as anybody.
3) Tony Stewart - Winning the Daytona 500 is the one big feather missing in his NASCAR cap.
4) Michael Waltrip - He won't be driving a lot this year, but he does know how to get around Daytona and it would be no surprise to see him finish up front.
5) Regan Smith - Yes, there's always a chance for a bit of a long shot to win this thing (see Derrike Cope as example A). Smith seems to have a knack for drafting. His biggest issue is that the veterans might like him to be a pusher, but not a passer.
Who I should've picked, but didn't, probably Kurt Busch. He's figured out the drafting too and looked good in his qualifying race win. He then declared himself one of the favorites for Sunday, which, well, let other people do that Kurt. So for that reason alone, I couldn't pick him this week.

Season Predictions
Next we go to the season predictions for the top 12 who will qualify for the Chase for the Championship. So here goes.

1. Jimmie Johnson - A stunning pick, I know. I picked him in the NASCAR media poll, so it wouldn't be very upright of me to pick him there and not here. He's the king of the hill and until someone finds a way to knock him off, I've got to pick him.
2. Kevin Harvick - He just needs a little more consistency and a slightly cooler head and he could very well win the title. He's got the right team and the talent, no question.
3. Denny Hamlin - Very easily could have won it last year. He knows how to win, now he just has to learn how to grind out that fifth or sixth place finish when things are going wrong.
4. Tony Stewart - He's the last guy not named Jimmie Johnson to win a Sprint Cup title. He'll challenge again as he wants to become the first owner-driver to win the title since Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
5. Jeff Gordon - He's really due to win the title. He would have had another one under the pre-Chase for the Championship rules, but that's not the way the game is played these days.
6. Carl Edwards - He finished on a hot streak winning the final two races last year. He and Delco native crew chief Bob Osborne might have things figured out.
7. Kyle Busch - He had a frustrating season in 2010 that included a lot of just simple bad luck. Maybe it's time for him to have some good luck.
8. Kurt Busch - You can't pick one shrub without picking the other. He's good on these restrictor plate tracks and the short tracks, but the chase has a lot of those in betweeners he's yet to completely figure out.
9. Clint Bowyer - He appeared to get off to a good start in the Chase last year, only to have his team get caught cheating. The team and driver are too good not to make the top 12 this year and maybe try to prove a point once they're in it.
10. Juan Pablo Montoya - He should have the heavier car figured out now, he's just needs to understand there are times when it's just as beneficial to let off the gas instead of plowing into the guy in front of him. He's talented and really wants to win, which is good to see. But you can't win'em all and he may be learning it's OK to take that eighth place finish rather crashing a car that's not capable of winning on that particular day.
11. Jamie McMurray - OK, he would've made it last year as these final two spots go to the drivers with the most wins of guys not in the top 10. If he can just stay away from appearing in soap operas, maybe he'll make it in this year.
12. Brad Keselowski - A big of a long shot for sure, here. But he knows how to win and I liked that he pushed his brother into a spot in the Daytona 500 in the qualifying races. Maybe that bit of unselfishness is a sign of better things to come.

Final thoughts
Something important to remember is the results of the Daytona 500 have little bearing on what the rest of the season will look like. ... Would've loved to have picked Junior to make the top 12, but he's at a point in his career where he has to prove himself again. ... Kenseth, Biffle, Newman and Reutimann and Kahne are the others who could sneak into that top 12. .. Would love to see Brian Vickers make the Chase after missing much of last season due to blood clots.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gatorade Duel Class 101 ... we hope

Thursday's Gatorade Duels at Daytona will be televised on SPEED starting at 2 p.m. The two 150 mile races will determine most of the starting field for Sunday's Daytona 500. So, hopefully, we can simplify somewhat what these two races mean.
First, the top two qualifiers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon are in the 500 and guaranteed to start first and second, unless they have to change engines and go to the back of the pack.
Second, the top 35 drivers whose owners finished in the top 35 in owners points last year are guaranteed spots in the Daytona 500. Which spots they get will be determined in these races.
OK, that leaves eight spots up for grabs.
Then, the top two drivers in each of the races not among those 35 guaranteed spots, will make the race.
That gives us 39, so four to go now.
After that, the next three spots are determined on qualifying times from last Sunday. So, if a driver wasn't in the top 35 last year, and has a bad race Thursday, if he qualified fast Sunday, he will make it in.
The 43rd spot will be filled by one of two ways: First, it would go to the driver who is the most recent Sprint Cup champion if he does not make the race in any other fashion. If there are no former champions who need this provision, then it goes to the next fastest qualifier.
So there we have it, 43 drivers.
Hopefully this clears things up at least a little.
And one final note, in case you're wondering how the starting places for the Daytona 500 are determined. The eligible finishers from Thursday's first race will lineup on the inside row Sunday, and the eligible finishers from Thursday's second race will start on the outside row.
So there you have it.
Hopefully, we'll get a good preview of what is to come Sunday.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dale Jr. and the Bud Shootoout

Yes, now we can smell the start of the NASCAR season, as it's less than one week away before the first points race. Of course, you've got the Daytona twin qualifying races Thursday afternoon to wet your appetite. I've followed NASCAR for years and never tried to figure out how the drivers that need the transfer spots to get into the 500 get them. It's just too complicated and I'd rather just watch what will hopefully be some good racing.
Which brings me to the Bud Shootout.
The first NASCAR competition on the new pavement at Daytona was I thought, a little disappointing at the end. Yes, they can say there were more lead changes in those 187 plus miles than there have been in 25 Daytona 500s, but what really matters is coming down to the end how many guys had a chance for the win? The answer was four and that's not a good number. If the answer had been 12 or 15, OK, I can live with that. If the answer had been more than 20, now that would be better. NASCAR won't likely let a four-car pack control the final laps in the 500 Sunday, they may pay somebody to throw some debris on the track to cause a yellow, to bunch the field back up if that happens.
So, let's just hope the 500 has a better finish than the Bud Shootout.
And for the record, I've always hated the yellow line rule. Either you can pass'em or you can't.
On to Junior.
Yes, everyone is loving it that he's on the pole after Sunday's qualifying. There are two things to say about that: 1) It should be no surprise. He loves Daytona and it is probably one of the few places where he still have confidence to go fast. 2) Where you start at Daytona is pretty much meaningless, except for the fact that if you start up front it might help you avoid "the big one" early in the race. But that stuff usually happens later when everyone forgets they're going 206 mph and starts bumping each other around.
Don't get me wrong. I like Junior, though he's not my favorite, he's a easy to pull for. If he would happen to win at Daytona it would be great for him and the sport, but winning Daytona does anything but guarantee success for the rest of the season.
And one last bit: Darrell Waltrip's new word when it comes to drafting, coopitition, yeah, I'm into it, even though I often agree more with what Larry McReynolds says than what Darrell says.
Later this week, I'll have my season picks to make the top 12 Chase for the Championship.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why I like the Bud Shootout

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Bud Shootout at 8 p.m. Saturday will give us our first real action of the season. Yes, we realize it's a made for TV event and we know there are no points awarded for this sort of preseason showdown. And that's just the point.
Everybody in this race is going for the win. There's no talk about having a good day for the points standings, or the dreaded "points racing" quotes we hear from time-to-time. It's all about being first to the checkered flag, which is the way it should be.
The field will feature the 12 drivers who qualified for the 2010 Chase for the Championship, past Bud Shootout champions, past Daytona points race winners and Sprint Cup rookies of the year for the last 10 years. There are 30 drivers eligible and there are really no significant absences. Neighborhood bully Kevin Harvick has won the last two Bud Shootouts and it would be no surprise to see him up front again considering his aggressive driving style and there is no risk of losing any points.
The event also is run in two segments, the first being 25 laps and the second 50 laps. There will be a 10-minute break between segments to allow crews to check their cars, especially the tires as it will be the first race on Daytona's new pavement.
The starting order will be set by a blind draw at 8 tonight.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Guilty as charged

When the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship prediction ballot came out a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to pick somebody other than Jimmie Johnson to win the title. Denny Hamlin, with a break here or there, could have won it last year. It could be time for Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart, the last guy not named Jimmie Johnson to win the Sprint Cup title, to take a turn as champion. Maybe neighborhood bully Kevin Harvick will bump enough people out of the way to win the big trophy.
But when the green flag dropped to make the pick, I reluctantly picked Johnson. The reluctance wasn't because any particular dislike for Johnson. Other than goofing around on a golf cart and falling and breaking his wrist between the 2006 and 2007 seasons, he's done nothing to warrant national negative attention.
The reluctance comes because at some point, the championship run has to end. But Johnson and crew chief Chad Knauss have those last 10 races in the Chase for the Championship figured out. There was no change in the schedule, so there's no reason to think they won't have the end game figured out again.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A bit of good news from Dover

If you're a NASCAR fan and for financial or other reasons, can't get to the Sprint Cup races at Dover on Sundays, then Saturday just may be your day. It was announced earlier Wednesday that the Saturdays at Dover will be cheaper and busier.
First, Sprint Cup qualifying at Dover will be on Saturdays for the Sunday races on May 15 and October 2. The Nationwide races will also be on Saturdays, so you'll get to see plenty of your favorite drivers on that day.
The other bit of good news from Dover came in the Saturday ticket pricing. The age limit to receive the $8 children's ticket has been raised to 14. That's an opportunity for more of the family to go. It's definitely a step in the right direction to get more people in the seats on Saturdays and make the ride to Delaware worth it.