Friday, August 26, 2011

Welcome to the quiet before the storm hits ... and picks

I had to take this blog post title right of the lyrics from the TobyMac song Ignition, which is of course, where I got the idea for the name for this blog. And yes, this really is the quiet before the storm hits the East Coast.
There's a storm, or maybe even storms, of another type that could be brewing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol tonight. Let's hope we have power long enough to at least watch the race, which starts at 7 p.m.
Some questions:
Will we see a Keselowski-Kyle Busch push and shove battle on the track?
Will we see a Kurt Busch-Jimmie Johnson push and shove battle on the track?
Will we see an upset driver who gets crashed out of the race throw a helmet at a fellow competitor?
Isn't it about time Tony Stewart's frustrations boil over at somebody, since he's got to be frustrated about not winning a race yet this year?
Is this the night Dale Earnhardt Jr. breaks his over three-year winless streak?
The answers:
Yes, no, yes, yes, no.
OK, on with the picks
Kyle Busch - He's on a roll right now.
Ryan Newman - He's on the pole and that's important at the concrete half-mile of Bristol.
Kurt Busch - He'd love to bump Johnson out of the way for a win here.
Carl Edwards - A Roush car is due for a win.
Kevin Harvick - No better track for the neighborhood bully
Until next time

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Danicamania is upon us (with video)

With Danica Patrick's announcement that she will be racing a full Nationwide schedule in 2012 and possibly up to 10 races with Stewart-Haas Racing in the Sprint Cup Series, the already famous woman race car driver will now take her popularity to new heights.
That's all a given.
But what about being competitive, as if that matters.
Patrick is a competitive person, and now that she's all in when it comes to NASCAR, she's not going to be satisfied running back in 20-something or 30-something place a lap or two down. She wants to be a regular visitor to the top 10. But it won't be easy. While the limited NASCAR experience she has so far will help her, she knows she still has much to learn. But she's at least going about it the right way.
When Tony Stewart made the jump from Indy cars to NASCAR, he first spent a full season running the Nationwide (then Busch) series before even stepping into a Sprint Cup car where he found much success in his rookie season. So, Stewart will be a good teacher here, but be sure, Patrick's financial backing certainly won't hurt the rest of the team either.
Patrick is no dummy. She knows where the money is for her long-term career interests. But eventually, maybe after three or four seasons, she will need some success on the track, too.
Here's the announcement video:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

No more driver's license for Kyle Busch

Can a NASCAR driver not have a driver's license put still drive his race car? Apparently the answer is yes. Here is the Associated Press story.

Associated Press
STATESVILLE, N.C. — NASCAR points leader Kyle Busch lost his driver’s license for 45 days on Tuesday in a case stemming from his high-speed joy ride in a luxury car.
The Sprint Cup star pleaded guilty to speeding and no contest to reckless and careless driving in North Carolina District Court in Iredell County. Busch, who doesn’t need a license to compete in NASCAR, also was fined $1,000, sentenced to 30 hours of community service and put on one year of unsupervised probation.
Busch addressed the court before his sentencing by District Court Judge H. Thomas Church, apologizing again for driving 128 mph in a 45 mph zone in a bright yellow 2012 Lexus on May 24.
“I think you’ll be different in the future,” Church said.
“I sure will, your honor,” Busch replied.
Busch and his wife, Samantha, were in the car when he was pulled over on a two-lane road in an area near a subdivision, a day-care center and a church. The hand-built LFA sports car is valued at nearly $400,000 and was on loan to Busch from Lexus.
Busch attorney Cliff Homesley argued that his client wasn’t being treated the same as other people in similar circumstances, citing a July case of a 21-year-old convicted felon who was caught doing 128 mph and received a $300 and no loss of license.
“In 25 years of practicing law I’ve never seen someone not being offered better than this,” Homesley argued before the court. “All I am asking is to treat Kyle Busch like any other citizen that appears before the court.”
Homesley, calling Busch one of the best drivers in the world, said: “He had full control of that vehicle at all times.
“That automobile in his hands was like a scalpel in the hands of a surgeon. Not a knife in the hands of a 5-year-old.”
Busch is coming off his Sprint Cup series-best fourth victory at Michigan on Sunday, and he holds a 10-point lead over five-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson in the standings. His next scheduled race is Wednesday’s Trucks Series event at Bristol, where he’s the defending winner of Saturday night’s Cup race.
Busch told the deputy who pulled him over the Lexus was “just a toy.”
He apologized for that remark and the incident in a media session two days later.
“I’m certainly sorry that it happened,” he said. “It wasn’t a toy, it’s a high-performance vehicle. It should be driven with caution. Obviously, I didn’t have caution and I had a lack of judgment.
“There’s probably reason why on the TV commercials that they always show at the bottom, ‘Professional driver, closed course.’ Mine was not that. Again, I apologize sincerely. All I can do is make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Busch will do his community service with the teen safe-driving program B.R.A.K.E.S., which was developed by drag racer Doug Herbert.
Herbert’s two sons were killed in a 2008 accident attributed to speeding, and the drag racer established the “Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe” program to teach teenagers safety behind the wheel.
Busch agreed to sponsor 300 students in the program, as well as participate in some of the sessions

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

No more right hand turns

There will be no more right hand turns (at least not intentional ones) for the NASCAR Sprint Cuppers this season after Monday's rain-delayed Watkins Glen race was completed.
What turned out to be the final lap Monday was about as crazy as one can get this side of Daytona or Talladega. And just as is often the case at those places, there was a big last lap crash. Check out this video taken by a fan who happened to be sitting in the turn where the crash took place.

So, who were the biggest losers and winners Monday.
The biggest winner may have been the second-place finisher Brad Keselowski. He's got two wins and sits 14th in points, so he's in good shape to make the Chase for the Championship with four races remaining in NASCAR's regular season.
Another big winner was of course Marcos Ambrose, who gave NASCAR its fifth first-time winner this season and the 15th different winner this season. It was Ambrose's first win in 105 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series attempts.
The biggest loser was Denny Hamlin who crashed out to finish 36th. He's still in the Chase, sitting 12th in points with a win. But he's only 27 points ahead of the next highest driver with a win, Paul Menard.
The other big loser on the final lap was Tony Stewart. He was looking at a top 10 finish, but crashed and finished 27th. He's still 10th in points and in the Chase at the moment, 25 points ahead of Clint Bowyer in 11th. Stewart nor Bowyer have a win to fall back on to be eligible for one of the final two wild-card spots, so being in the top in points is crucial to each of them.
And of course, like often happens in NASCAR, there's two guys who really don't like each other in Boris Said and Greg Biffle. Here's the video to that, too.

Until next time

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Road Course or Curse and picks

Some NASCAR drivers might call this weekend's Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen more of a road curse, rather than a road course. It's one of the two times during the season that NASCAR drivers get the chance to make right-hand turns. And actually, for a couple of times a year, it can be rather enjoyable to watch. The reason, is unlike the open-wheel cars that regularly run the road courses, the NASCAR guys and rub and bump fenders without causing a major accidents. However, if a driver does get "booted" as Kyle Busch likes to say, it can cost him several, sometimes as much as 20, places if he is running up front.
It will be curious to see if Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch get a chance to rub fenders this week. It's true what Busch said last week, that fans do like seeing two drivers go after on piece of real estate and neither one giving in.
Here's what Johnson had to stay before practice at Watkins Glen:

So, here we go with picks:
Tony Stewart - Five wins here. I'm gonna keep picking him until he gets one this year.
Jeff Gordon - Was king of the road courses until Stewart came a long. Will have to be dealt with.
Juan Pablo Montoya - The No. 42 team could soothe a disappointing week, with two crewmen being fired after drug accusations were made against them, and season with a win. Montoya is one of the best on the roads.
Marcus Ambrose - A major threat to win anytime he's on a road course.
Boris Said - As a closet "Said Head" this is one of only two times a season I can pick him, so I am.
Until next time

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A little less Thunder on the Mountain

For years drivers and many fans have been complaining that the two Pocono races were too long, at 500 miles. On the often hot and humid days up on the mountain, the extra distance took a physical toll on drivers and on equipment with its three unique turns and long front straightaway. As for the fans, sometimes it's hard to think about going and sitting out in the heat and humidity for what was often times in excess of four hours. So it was announced Wednesday the races starting next year will be 400 miles.
The pure racing fans probably won't like the move to the shorter distance. The extra miles are suppose to tell us who is the best driver and who has the best car. But with the Car of Tomorrow, that often doesn't tell us who is going to win the race anyway as these cars are hard to pass in traffic. These days it's all about track position and fuel strategy at the end, it doesn't matter if its 400 or 500 miles.

Looking ahead
With bits and pieces of the 2012 schedule known, here's how the Dover-Pocono schedule is shaping up. Dover's first race will be June 3 and then it will be to Pocono the next weekend, June 10. Then the Sprint Cuppers return to Pocono on Aug. 5 and their final time in the area will be at Dover Sept. 30.

Thunder on the Mountain
Thunder on the Mountain is a Bob Dylan song, but maybe the good people at Pocono Raceway should use that as their marketing theme for two reasons: 1) Simply the loudness of the cars as they rumble down the long straightaway. 2) It seems like you can almost count on some type of afternoon thundershower up there in these summer months to delay things for a while, like the 1 hour, 40 minute delay we had Sunday.

Helpers and hurters
The final 19 laps at Pocono Sunday brought about some changes in the points standings.
First, Joey Logano, who had been in contention to win much of the day, fell from the top 10 and finished 26th. Second, Denny Hamlin, who was also in contention to win much of the day, faded late and finished 15th. Gibbs Racing teammates Logano and Hamlin combined to lead 109 laps. Hamlin's faded coincided with Tony Stewart's charge from 20th to 11th in those final laps, meaning Stewart remained ninth in the points standings, one ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. The two wild-card spots based on the wins by drivers who are 11th-20th in the points go to winner Brad Keselowski, who has two wins this season, and Hamlin, who has one, but is 11th the overall standings.
Until next time.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

It;'s Keselowski

Brad Keselowski ovcercame a broken left foot suffered earlier this week to win Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Race at Pocono. Kyle Busch was second, and Kurt Busch beat Jimmie Johnson for third after they banged doors a couple of times on the final lap.

Caution with 21 laps to go

The fifth caution just came out as Juan Pablo Montoya spun. This will bunch the field back up for the field 18 or 19 laps left. We'll see if the sore-footed Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson or Kurt Busch or someone else can give him a challenge. Hamlin takes a big hit on pit stops due to a dropped lug nut when the tire moved a little.

A Busch battle

Kyle Busch passed his brother Kurt to take the lead and we've got 33 laps to go. It looks like the race will beat the rain. Without a yellow, to bunch everyone up, it looks like this is Kyle Busch's race.

Restart coming soon

The drivers are in their cars and have started their engines. It looks like we've got about an hour before the next rain storm hits here. Will it be enough to finish 76 laps?

rain is here

Red flag on lap 124 for rain. A lot of decisions on pit row here, on whether they think the rain will end the race of not. If they think it can go green again, then pit. If it's here for good, then stay out if you're in the top 10 or so.
Logano leads here, and the last NASCAR Sprint Cup race to be shortened by rain was won by ... Logano, at the June New Hampshire race in 2009. It's Logano's lone victory.
More later.

observations at the halfway point

I spent most of the first half of the race out on pit row. A few observations:

1) There was no way NASCAR was going to throw a yellow until this race reached the halfway point. Outside of a rain shower or wreck, or a big piece of a car out there, there was going to be no debris yellow. There were a few sprinkles around lap 80, but nothing serious. The reason for no yellow is that NASCAR wanted to get this race to the halfway point so it could be official if rain comes later.

2) When the cars are in a big pack at Pocono, you don't realize how much they have to slow down for the first turn. The front stretch is so long, they get a lot of speed, but with very little banking in the turns, they have to slow down a lot.

3) There's been a long-time argument on whether race car drivers are athletes or not. But there's no question, the pit crew guys are. More on that later.

4) The biggest cheer of the day so far was Kyle Busch spinning out early in the race.

5) The strongest cars are Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch.

Dillon rules ARCA race

Ty Dillon won the 50-lap ARCA race late Sunday morning. Dillon is the grandson of Sprint Cup owner Richard Childress. The closest thing to a local driver at Pocono Sunday was Cherry Hill, N.J..'s Tom Hessert in the ARCA race. He came in to the day seventh in points driving the No. 52 car owned by Ken Schrader. It was a good finish for Hessert considering he had to start at the back of the pack due to engine problems. Hessert took two tires on a pit stop to gain track position.
Weather is sunny right now, but could be questionable later, so there could be some pit stop, or no pit stop, games with weather watching in the Sprint Cup race.

Harvick takes truck race

The NASCAR Trucks race at Pocono had to be finished Sunday and thanks to some fuel saving abilities, Kevin Harvick came out the winner. According to Harvick's crew chief James Cook, they had enough fuel to make it through the scheduled 50 laps, but not enough in case of a green-white-checkered finish, NASCAR's version of overtime. But Cook said Harvick conserved enough fuel to earn the win.
It was Harvick's 10th victory in 110 races Truck Series races, putting him in a tie for 12th place with Bobby Hamilton for all-time series wins.
ARCA cars are going now, after a long yellow for a spectacular crash where Buster Graham's No. 59 car jumped the infield fence in turn 1, a lucky break for him, as he seemed destined to take a big hit, and something rarely seen in this type of racing.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pickin' for Pocono and flag stand crash

The last couple of weeks the end game has been the tricky part of the race, so maybe there will be more fuel strategy in the final laps at Pocono's Tricky Triangle Sunday. Last week Jeff Gordon unquestionably had the fastest car, but settled for second as Paul Menard combined a good car with better fuel mileage. So, as has been the case in racing for years, the fastest car doesn't always see the checkered flag first. Since Pocono is 500 miles (whether you like it or not), and because of the three distinctly different turns, there can be more accidents than usual.
Hopefully, a truck series hauler demoloshing the flag stand is not a sign of things to come. My guess is we could see more fuel mileage games in the final 50 laps on the 2.5-mile track Sunday afternoon. And with a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms, somebody could try and steal a win by not pitting when the raindrops start to fall.
So with all that in mind, here are my Pocono picks:

1) Denny Hamlin - Four wins in young career at Pocono.
2) Jeff Gordon - Is tied for most wins at Pocono with five.
3) Carl Edwards - The potential No. 1 free agent just announced he's returning to Roush, so there's all kind of positive vibes for this team.
4) Tony Stewart - He's got two wins here, desperately looking for a third to help his Chase chances.
5) Mark Martin - When you're talking fuel mileage, and endurance tests, he's one of the best at saving fuel and still is in great physical condition for his age.
Until next time

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Edwards staying with Roush

The first big free-agent move came early Thursday morning with Carl Edwards announcing that he is staying with Roush Fenway Racing. Here is the Associated Press story on it.

Associated Press

Carl Edwards spurned an offer from Joe Gibbs Racing, and signed a multi-year contract extension with current team Roush Fenway Racing.
The deal was announced Thursday and puts Edwards, the current Sprint Cup Series points leader, in position to compete for his first Cup championship.
“I sincerely appreciate the amazing opportunity that Jack Roush has given me in this sport and am honored to race for him,” Edwards said in a statement.
“As an organization, Roush Fenway provides the resources I need to win, and as a driver, that’s the most important thing. We’re having a fun season on the race track as we’re leading the points and in great position for the Chase.”
As the top free agent in NASCAR, Edwards had diligently researched all his options and appeared close to bolting for JGR. But Edwards was under increasing pressure to make a decision, even though he was steadfast in negotiating privately.
But four-time series champion Jeff Gordon said last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that there was no way the contract talks weren’t a distraction to Edwards, and Edwards had no chance to win the title should he decide to leave Roush.
Roush teammate Greg Biffle then intimated Edwards was leaving the organization and needed to make the announcement so RFR could begin its plans for life post-Edwards.
Edwards again dismissed the chatter, and insisted he and crew chief Bob Osborne were professional enough to keep their focus on the track and not let the contract issues interfere with a championship run.
With the new deal, he doesn’t have to discuss it again and can focus on winning a title. Edwards goes to Pocono Raceway this weekend with an 11-point lead over five-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson.
“Carl Edwards has achieved a level of success on and off track that would put him at the top of the list for any race team,” said co-owner Jack Roush. “Carl and the No. 99 team are having a terrific season again this year, and we’re thrilled that our relationship will continue for many more.”
Edwards has been with Roush since 2002, when the team gave him his break in NASCAR. It came in the Trucks Series, but Edwards was in Cup by 2004 as a late-season replacement for Jeff Burton.
He was a four-time Cup winner the next season and a bona fide NASCAR star, backflipping off the winning car in celebration of each victory.
Edwards’ best season was 2008, when he won a series-high nine races and finished second to Johnson in the championship race. The next year, though, was a winless campaign, and the struggles of 2009 are thought to have played heavily in his decision to test the market.
But it was hard to argue that RFR had not come full circle since then, particularly with how well Edwards and teammate Matt Kenseth have run this season. Edwards won at Las Vegas and the All-Star race, and has been the points leader for 14 of 20 weeks this season. Kenseth has two wins and is ranked fourth in the standings.
Roush apparently sold Edwards on even more growth for an organization that has risen to the top of NASCAR and presently has the best engines in the Sprint Cup Series.
“We saw great potential in Carl a decade ago, and it’s been a thrill to watch him grow into one of the sports’ premier drivers behind the wheel of the No. 99,” Roush said. “We didn’t take our past success for granted when we sat down with Carl to talk about his future. As an organization, we approach each week with an intense focus on being successful in the race to come.
“Carl’s position atop the points is a testament to that diligence.”
But Edwards was still interested in what else might be out there, and JGR was a viable option. The team has two solid championship contenders in Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, but the team is struggling through an engine crisis and has lost at least 11 engines this season. Hamlin lost his during Friday’s practice session at Indy, while Edwards was right behind him on the track.
It’s unlikely that the engines played any role in Edwards’ decision. But in the end, with a promise from manufacturer Ford for unprecedented incentives if he stayed, Edwards chose the team he’s been with since the beginning.
It’s a huge relief for RFR, which only has one of its four primary sponsors currently re-signed for next season. Losing Edwards would have left the organization in an even deeper hole, but signing him means it could be easier to put other deals in place.
“Carl brings a tremendous amount to the table from both a marketing and competitive standpoint,” said Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark. “He has one of the largest fan bases in the sport, is able accomplish so much for his sponsors and is second to none on the race track. We’re proud to have Carl as part of our roster going forward.”
RFR has Kenseth, Biffle and Ragan under contract.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stewart talks Pocono (video) and other notes

The Sprint Cuppers visit Pocono Sunday, and with three different turns, the Tricky Triangle can often be a nightmare for crew chiefs when it comes to making cars handle well. Sometimes you can be good in two of the turns, but not the other. There's also the matter of power as Pocono has the longest front straightaway in NASCAR at 3,055 feet and then there's the matter of endurance, with it being a 500-mile race.
Tony Stewart, a two-time winner at Pocono, says its possible to have a car that can handle well in all three Pocono turns.

Here are some other interesting NASCAR numbers heading into race No. 21 on the schedule.

4 - Number of first time Sprint Cup winners this season, most since 2007 and number of wins by Denny Hamlin at Pocono
5 - Number of wins by Jeff Gordon at Pocono, tying Bill Elliott for most all-time at Pocono.
6 - Number of season sweeps at Pocono. Those who have won two races in one season at the Tricky Triangle are Bobby Allison, 1982; Bill Elliott, 1985; Tim Richmond, 1986; Bobby Labonte, 1999; Jimmie Johnson, 2004; Denny Hamlin 2006.
7 - Number of places Dale Earnhardt Jr. has dropped in the standings since the June Pocono race when he left in third, but is 10th heading into this weekend.
167 - Number of races needed by Paul Menard to earn his first win, the 10th most all-time.
250 - The number of Sprint Cup starts Carl Edwards will have assuming he takes the green flag Sunday.
5,0000 - Number of laps Hamlin will have led in his Sprint Cup career if he leads just one lap Sunday.
Until next time

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Getting to the points

There are just six races left until the Chase for the Championship begins. So, getting into the top 10 in points, or winning one of the two wild-card spots by having the most wins of a driver in the top 20 in points, but not in the top 10, is becoming more urgent.
The two drivers who helped themselves the most at Indianapolis Sunday were Paul Menard, obviously, with his first career win, and Tony Stewart. Menard, who became the first driver to win his first Sprint Cup race at Indy, is 14th in points, but would make the Chase based on his win, even though he sits behind Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle, who are each winless this season. Bowyer and Biffle have run well at this week's venue, Pocono, in the past, so they're not out of it yet.
Stewart put himself in better position by moving from 11th to ninth in the point standings with a sixth-place finish at Indy. Stewart doesn't have that coveted win yet, but he does have a 22-point lead over 11th place Denny Hamlin, who does have a win, and 35-point lead over Bowyer.
Though he didn't have a disaster of a day, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 16th, which bumped him back to 10th in the points. He also does not have a coveted victory this season as his winless streak reached 113 races (for those of you snoring at home). He's 19 points ahead of Hamlin and 32 ahead of Bowyer. His chances of making the Chase are slipping every week as he inches closer to falling out of the top 10 and with the fact that there have been 14 different winners in 20 races this season. Junior needs one of those different winners to be him in these next six races.
Until next time.