Friday, July 29, 2011

Brickyard can breed champions; picks too

Drivers who win the Brickyard 400 often go on to bigger and better things, like Sprint Cup titles. Of the 17 races at Indy, the winner has gone on to win the title eight times.
You've got Jimmie Johnson with three (2006, 2008 and 2009), Jeff Gordon with two (1998 and 2001) and Dale Jarrett (1998), Bobby Labonte (2000) and Tony Stewart (2005) each with one.
So, pay attention to Sunday's winner. If he makes the Chase, it could be a sign of better things to come.

After a week off (and a winning pick with Ryan Newman), we're back with picks for Indy.
1) Tony Stewart - He's won twice here and really needs a win to help his Chase chances.
2) Jeff Gordon - Will he become the first five-time winner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? It's quite possible.
3) Juan Pablo Montoya - Could be the first guy to win the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400, so have to pick him here.
4) Jimmie Johnson - A three-time winner at Indy, could join teammate Gordon with a fourth.
5) Kevin Harvick - He's got one win here and is one of three drivers (Stewart and Gordon are the other two) to average a top 10 finish at Indy.
Until next time

One prayer video you gotta see

Whether you believe in prayer or not, you gotta see this prayer before last week's NASCAR Nationwide race. And whether you believe in God or not, you gotta laugh at least a little.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Inside the Indy numbers

The Sprint Cuppers travel to Indianapolis this weekend. This will be the 18th year that NASCAR has been there, but it's already considered one of the series' most prestigious winners. Mainly because, other than Daytona, it awards the most money.
Here's a look at some of the mosts when it comes to NASCAR at Indy.

0 - Drivers to earn first Cup win at Indy
3 - Most poles won, by Jeff Gordon (get used to seeing his name in this post)
4 - Most Brickyard 400 victories, Gordon
6.1 - Best average start, Ryan Newman (with at least five starts)
8.2 - Best average finish, Tony Stewart (with at least five starts)
9 - Most top five finishes, Gordon
13 - Most top 10 finishes, Gordon
15 - Most lead lap finishes, you guessed, Gordon, but wait ... Mark Martin, too.
17 - Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin are the only four drivers to run all 17 races at Indy.
440 - Most laps led by Gordon again
2684 - Most laps completed by Jeff ... Burton.
Until next time

Friday, July 22, 2011

The 1-2 punch

The Sprint Cuppers have the week off before they head to Indianapolis next week. Here's a look at some things about teammates Ryan Newman's and Tony Stewart's 1-2 finish at New Hampshire last week.

It was the first time that the drivers who started first and second finished first and second since the June 2006 race at Pocono.
It was the first time that teammates started 1-2 and finished 1-2 since the 1989 Daytona 500 when Darrell Waltrip and Ken Schrader did it for Hendrick Motorsports.
It was also the first time that the teammate who started first finished first, and the teammate who started second finished second since April 7, 1957, when Fireball Roberts won and Paul Goldsmith was second at North Wilkesboro.

There are seven races left in the race for the Chase to the Championship, and obviously, Newman is almost certain to make it. With a coveted victory and an eighth-place spot in the standings, he's in good shape. Stewart helped himself with the second-place finish, but is still 11th in points (he's actually tied for 10th with Denny Hamlin, but Hamlin has a win) and without a victory. However, he does have some tracks where he has been successful coming up on the schedule, including Indianapolis, Pocono and the road course at Watkins Glen. Stewart's bound to get a win at one of those places.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. took another hit in the points standings with a 15th-place finish due to a penalty when his pit crew didn't corral a tire properly during a pit stop. Junior is now just seven points ahead of the 11th-place Stewart and doesn't have a win to fallback on like 13th place David Ragan does, who would be in the Chase if it started this weekend. And for those of you snoring at home, Earnhardt Jr. hasn't won in over three years and 111 races.
Another driver to watch if he gets another win is Brad Keselowski. He's 23rd in points, but has one win. If he gets into the top 20 in points he would be eligible for one of the final two Chase spots. A second victory would likely accomplish that feat.
There have been 13 different winners in 19 races this season. If that trend continues the race for those two wild-card spots to reach the Chase could be wild. And there will likely be a lot more gambling on fuel and tire strategies to gain track position for drivers in the top 20 who need a victory.

Not a bad week in the picks department here last week. My five were Kyle Busch (blown tire put him in 36th), Kurt Busch (10th), Stewart, Jimmie Johnson (5th) and Newman.
Until next time

Friday, July 15, 2011

New Hampshire picks

The Sprint Cup season is half finished, but for those fighting to get into the Chase for the Championship, there are just eight races left to get one of the coveted 12 spots for NASCAR's version of the playoffs.
A lot of questions remain as they head into Sunday's race in New Hampshire:
Will Brad Keselowski, who has a win, make it into the top 20 in points to become eligible for the top 12? He's just two points out of 20th.
Will Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s freefall continue? Once considered a lock to make the Chase, he's 21 points ahead of 11th, with no win to fall back on?
Will we have a new winner this week? There have been 12 different winners in 18 races, so it's quite possible. And if a top 20 points guy like Greg Biffle or Juan Pablo Montoya wins, it could put a twist into the points standings.
So, here we go with this week's picks:

1) Kyle Busch - Won last week and may be ready to get on a roll.
2) Kurt Busch - Easily could have won last week and races well at New Hampshire.
3) Tony Stewart - A win would give his Chase chances a real boost, and this has been a good track for him.
4) Jimmie Johnson - New Hampshire is also a Chase track, you can expect the five-time defending champion to be good this week.
5) Ryan Newman - He's ninth in the Chase and qualifies well at New Hampshire, which could give him that always sought-after clean air early in the race.

Until next time

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Of Junior and traffiic woes

Last week I wrote that even though he didn't have a win (that's now 95 races and counting for those of you snoring at home), Dale Earnhardt Jr. by virtue of his seventh place in the point standings was in pretty good shape to make the top 10 and qualify for the Chase for the Championship. That would be, of course, barring a series of disasters in the final nine races before NASCAR's Sprint Cup playoffs begin.
So, while looking to get at least a decent finish Saturday night in Kentucky, somewhere between 10th and 15th probably, Earnhardt Jr. had disaster number one. When entering pit road late in the race, he was worried about getting caught speeding. So, he slammed the brakes to get himself slowed down. He didn't want to change tires, needing a quick stop under green flag conditions.
Check out the video of Junior's pit entry here (notice the smoking tires):

So, no tires were changed, a fuel only stop. Then, his left front tire went flat as a result of the wear from the hard brake he put on when entering the pits. That led to a 30th place finish and now he's just 21 points ahead of 11th place Tony Stewart in the Chase for the Championship without, of course, a victory to fall back on as insurance.
Junior now has four straight finishes outside the top 15. That's not exactly the way to join NASCAR's elite 12 when the Chase starts after eight more races.
But Junior wasn't the only driver to have a bad day in Kentucky Saturday night. Here's a local video of the traffic nightmare there.

There were about 10,000 or so drivers of non-racing vehicles that never got in to see the race. Some traffic issues were expected for the track's first Sprint Cup event. Officials knew the amount of parking spaces they had were less than the anticipated amount of vehicles that fans might drive toward the vicinity of the track. Many got in well after the race started, many more never made it in at all. The track offered to exchange unused tickets for Saturday's race for tickets to next year's race. That may be of little consolation to the thousands who waited for years to witness a Sprint Cup event in Kentucky, only to never get in to see it.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bluegrass Stakes picks

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has nine races remaining in its regular season, the stakes are getting higher each week to see who can qualify for the Chase for the Championship, which will include the top 10 in the points standings, and the next two drivers with the most wins who are in the top 20 in the points standings.
For the first time in 10 years the Sprint Cup Series will race on a new track, the Kentucky Speedway. It's hosted other NASCAR events, but not a Sprint Cup event. It's probably long overdue for Kentucky to get a Sprint Cup race because it's a true grassroots NASCAR region, even though it's not located near a big market like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.
So, trying to make picks heading into Kentucky can be a little different because there is no Sprint Cup history at this track. But here we go.

1) Jimmie Johnson - A new place is going to favor the bigger teams who have a bit of technological edge on how to adjust.
2) Jeff Gordon - Won the initial Sprint Cup races at Indianapolis, California and Kansas. Why not Kentucky? One more win would give him 85 and put him sole possession of third place on all-time win list.
3) Greg Biffle - Has had success in Nationwide and Truck races at Kentucky, so at least that's something to go on.
4) Kyle Busch - He can drive fast in any type of car on any kind of track. So this probably is not a big adjustment for him.
5) Tony Stewart - He's won twice at Chicagoland, which some say is similar to Kentucky. And he needs a win really bad to help his Chase chances.

Until next time

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Chasing the Chase

There are nine races remaining in the Chase for the Championship to see who will be the 12 contenders for the Sprint Cup Championship for the final 10 races of the season. The last two spots go to the drivers with the most wins who are in the top 20 in points.

Here's a quick breakdown of who's sitting comfortable or who's squirming in their chair when it comes to getting one of those final 12 spots.

Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson.
They each have at least one win this season. Barring multiple disasters for each of these guys in the final nine races, they are going to make it. Even though Johnson is sixth, he is 30 points ahead of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who does not have a win. Which brings us to ...

Dale Earnhardt Jr. He hasn't had a win forever (that's 94 races and counting for those of you snoring at home). But still at seventh in the standings, he's got a 36-point lead over 10th place Ryan Newman. So, whether Junior gets that elusive win or not, he's probably going to make it.
Denny Hamlin. Yes, he's 11th in points, but he's got one win and as the Sprint Cup heads to Kentucky for the first time, the next driver in the top 20 in points with one win David Ragan at 62 points back. Of course, that could all change if a winless driver in 2011 picks up a victory. Hamlin is gaining momentum and he's generally been great at Pocono, which is Aug. 7 on the pre-Chase schedule. Let's just say he's probably in.

Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart sit in 9th, 10th and 12th place. But the big deal here is that none of them have a win this season.
Stewart is particularly strong on the two road courses and restrictor plate courses. But he didn't win at either of those places that last two weeks. Stewart is only four points behind teammate and employee Newman, so he could still make it in without a win. But a victory would bring him a lot of security.
Newman and Bowyer have been consistent this season, but like Stewart, they each badly need a victory for some insurance.
That brings us to David Ragan. If the Chase was to start this weekend, he would be in because of his Daytona victory and his 17th place in the point standings.
Next there is the Brad Keselowski factor. He's got a win, but is not in the top 20. However, he sits just 11 points out of 20th, so he still has a chance.

These guys are in the top 20 points heading to Kentucky, but realistically, the only way they can make it will be through the wild-card.
They are Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, AJ Allmendinger, Paul Menard, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano, who's 20th in points. Also, Marcos Ambrose is 21st in points and with one road race remaining, you can bet that Ambrose, Montoya and even Stewart, are focused on winning there.

So nine races to go, and a lot of Chasing remaining.