Monday, March 21, 2011

Some Bristol clear thoughts

Some observations from Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol.

Right now it's Kyle Busch's track. He's won the last five times he's raced there. It's a little ironic that a guy who has been known to have a short temper at times, has mastered a track that is known for making the most patient guys lose their saneness. So has Kyle matured a little or has he just figured out how to race around that half-mile bullring? Probably a little of both.

Speaking of maturity could that be happening to Carl Edwards as well? After the final restart when Busch and Edwards were close for a few laps, Edwards had the opportunity to do some pushing and shoving that is typical at Bristol. And with Kyle Busch as the main competitor, it would have seemed like an inevitable confrontation was ready to happen. But it didn't. While Edwards said he was thinking another yellow would bunch the field back up, the fact is he didn't bump the younger Shrub out of the way when he had the chance.

Other random thoughts: A nice rally by Dale Earnhardt Jr. to finish 11th after going a lap down. He was actually racing, not just riding around out there. ... Paul Menard had a good day taking fifth. It was nice to see somebody different up there. And now he's fifth in points, too. ... Jimmie Johnson fans shouldn't be worried. He's done nothing spectacular but is seventh in points, just 20 behind the leader. ... Kurt Busch's car was all beat up, front and rear, yet he still finished seventh and is now the series points leader by one over Edwards. That's the beauty of Bristol.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March Madness ... NASCAR style

A few things on this beautiful St. Patrick's Day before we get on to NASCAR's version of March Madness at Bristol Sunday.

On last Sunday's TV special on FOX about the Daytona 500: It would have been nice to have seen a little more done with Trevor Bayne, but in defense of Fox, there's no way they could have had him in a pool of potential winners. He was 300-1 odds in Vegas to win Daytona, so, if they had followed 10 drivers around, or even 20, they wouldn't have picked him. On the plus side, glad to see and hear the group Skillet's song 'Hero' featured early in the show.

On Carl Edwards' winning at Las Vegas two Sundays ago: It looks like Edwards has his groove back and if the team stays on track, it's going to be a contender for the Chase for the Championship. There was a little concern about Edwards doing his patented backflip off the race car on the pavement, but he did it just fine. Just wouldn't want to see him slip and fall awkwardly on the unforgiving pavement.

On Bob Osborne: It was nice to see Chester native Bob Osborne, Edwards' crew chief, so excited after the win. He's a tactician and sometimes not real emotional and that's been successful for him. He also knows how hard it is to win in NASCAR, so it was nice to see him enjoy the moment.

On Bristol: It's the opposite of Daytona, a short half-mile track, but it brings the same type of excitement and madness. It's a track where tempers often flare during the race. On more than one occasion drivers have thrown pieces of their uniforms (like helmets, or gloves) at the accident-causing drivers when they come back around during a yellow flag. It's a short track and tempers are bound to be short Sunday afternoon in Tennessee.

Last race's picks review and this week's top five picks:

1. Kyle Busch. 38th. Looked good early, then had a tire go down, then had a grenade engine.
2. Kurt Busch. 9th. Not a bad ride for the elder Busch in his hometown.
3. Jeff Gordon. 36th. Had all kind of issues all day.
4. A.J. Allmendinger. 19th. Took a Vegas gamble here and would have lost money.
5. Jimmie Johnson. 16th. Took the safe bet here and would have still lost money.

On to Bristol, Sunday, 1 p.m. on FOX
1. Tony Stewart. Has been in position to win each of the first three races, so he's due here.
2. Kurt Busch. Five wins here and not afraid to rattle somebody's cage.
3. Kyle Busch. Both Shrubs again? Well, Kyle won all three (Trucks, Nationwide and Sprint Cup) last year, so gotta pick him again.
4. Ryan Newman. He's fifth in points and grew up racing on dirt short tracks in all around the Midwest.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. He's making progress, and most importantly, has shown some patience early in races when his car has not been great. He could be ready for a breakthrough.
The possibly regrettable unpick: Carl Edwards. The car's been dynamite all three races. No reason to think it will be different in Bristol.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Kahne captures truck race

DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Kasey Kahne did it again.

Making his first and possibly only Camping World Truck Series start of the year, Kahne cruised to a relatively comfortable win in Saturday's Too Tough To Tame 200 at Darlington Raceway.
The victory made Kahne the first driver in the Truck Series to win three of his first four starts.

Second alongside Elliott Sadler on a restart with 53 laps to go, Kahne immediately dispatched of Sadler -- who had taken two tires under the previous caution -- and never trailed again.

Kahne held on through three more restarts, including a final one with three laps to go, to take the checkered flag ahead of four-time series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. and 2010 Darlington winner Todd Bodine. Matt Crafton and James Buescher completed the top five.

Kahne's stiffest challenge over the final laps came from Bodine, who once moved alongside before getting loose and falling into the clutches of Hornaday.

"I gave it a shot and got sucked around and got loose and all that and finished third," Bodine said.

Kahne, a full-time driver in the Sprint Cup Series since 2004, scored Truck wins at Darlington and Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2004 and finished second last year at Pocono Raceway.

Saturday marked Kahne's second appearance in the Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota normally driven by team owner Kyle Busch, who was vacationing in Cancun.

"This is one of my favorite race tracks," said Kahne, who qualified second and led four times for 95 of the 147 laps. "I'm really glad I came. I really enjoy driving this thing."

Matt Crafton remained the series leader, stretching his advantage to six points on rookie Cole Whitt, who moved into second after three races. Whitt finished an impressive eighth after starting from the pole and leading twice for 30 laps before dropping back with a pit-road mistake and engine issue.

Whitt, 19, was making his fourth career Truck Series start, his first at Darlington.

"The track just kind of suited my driving style, and from the get-go we just kind of fell into the rhythm," Whitt said.

The race was slowed by 10 cautions, including one for a three-truck wreck involving Johanna Long, Ricky Carmichael and Nelson Piquet Jr. that brought out the red flag for 7 minutes, 37 seconds.

Notes: Kahne's margin of victory was 1.116 seconds. ... Kahne, who started second, became the fourth winner to start inside the top five. Bodine started eighth last year, and Bobby Hamilton started 14th when he won in 2003. ... Kahne's three wins tie Rich Bickle, Andy Houston and Dave Rezendes for 27th on the all-time win list.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Racing in Lost Wages ... err, Las Vegas

OK, so we're in the desert again in Las Vegas, and maybe Jeff Gordon's car just likes that dry heat out there as he broke his 66-race winless streak last week by winning in Arizona.
First, here's how my five from last week fared:

Carl Edwards - Finished 28th. Had fast car, then was wrecked by Kyle Shrub, so after some extended garage repairs he had to come back out and try to gain a few points, which he did, thanks to a bigger wreck later in the race.
Tony Stewart - Finished 7th. For the second week in a row he was on the front row for the final restart, then faded in the final laps.
Kurt Busch - Finished 8th. He led for a while, 31 laps in all, so not a bad day, not a great day.
Kyle Busch - Finished second. He easily could have won, but Gordog was just a little bit better.
Denny Hamlin - Finished 11th. Not a disaster of a day, but could've been better.

Now on to predictions for the city that lives on predictions:

Kyle Busch - It's his hometown and he'd love to win there.
Kurt Busch - See above. Also has never won at Vegas.
Jeff Gordon - Could this be a bit of rebirthing now (thank you Skillet) for Gordon. I wouldn't be stunned if he gets on a roll.
A.J. Allmendinger - Yes, I'm rolling the dice with this one, but he's off to a nice start.
Jimmie Johnson - OK, playing it safe here. Four wins at Vegas and he looked good in the desert last week before the final pit stop put him in a hole.