Thursday, March 29, 2012

Doctor, lawyer, crew chief ... and picks

Part of being successful in NASCAR takes a little bit of brain surgery (the psychological type), a bit of lawyer-like persuasion and then simply having the guts to make the right call at the right time.
All of those things came into play when Tony Stewart's crew chief, Steve Addington, made the call to keep his leading car out as the rain drops began to fall Sunday afternoon in California. There were a couple of scenarios that could have played out. If the sun had come out and dried the track in time to go back green, Stewart would have lost the lead and that precious clean air these cars seem to need. But Addington pointed out in a post-race interview, that about six or seven other cars also didn't pit, so Stewart would have likely come out in sixth or seventh place anyway, keeping the eventual winner in contention for the lead. Also, Addington had a full view of the weather radar and liked the odds of the rain continuing. Those were easy selling points to Stewart.
Meanwhile, Stewart's champion crew chief last year, Darian Grubb, made the call for the then second-place Denny Hamlin to come into the pits. He came back out in 11th, so the move cost him nine points. Not the end of the world, but you never know when those nine points will come in handy. Grubb's a proven champion, so we know he can rebound from a mistake. He just may have to do a little more brain surgery and lawyer-like persuading the next time a key race call comes up.
As for now, Addington gets an upper hand with two wins in five races for Stewart. If the team continues to do well, that will allow them to do some experimenting later in the season before the Chase, which could put Stewart in position to make another title run.

Here are this week's picks for the 1 p.m. Sunday race at Martinsville to be shown on FOX and yes, Stewart and Hamlin are among them.

Tony Stewart - He's got three wins at Martinsville and nine top five finishes. And he's won seven of the last 15 Sprint Cup races, so have to go with him here.
Denny Hamlin - He's got four wins and nine tops fives and an average finish of 6.5. We may see these two battling for the lead again this week.
Jimmie Johnson - Six wins and 14 tops fives. The No. 48 might not need its share of good luck this week.
Kevin Harvick - He won here last fall and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him contend again.
Brian Vickers - Yes, a bit of long shot here, but he was great on the short-track concrete of Bristol, leading 125 laps and finishing fifth. He's back in the No. 55 car which has been a solid ride this season, no matter who is driving.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda - Dale Earnhardt Jr. Yes, I've just got a gut feeling that this could be Junior's week. The fact that he hasn't won in 134 races (for those of you snoring at home) kept me from pulling the trigger on the No. 88 this time.

Here's a review of last week's picks at California and how they finished.
Kyle Busch - 2nd. He led 80 laps and most likely would have contended for the win if the race had not been rain-shortened.
Matt Kenseth - 16th. A respectable showing and he's sitting there sixth in the points standings here in the early going.
Kevin Harvick - 4th. He was strong all day, even doing some pushing at times. Also a likely contender to win it if not for the rain.
Tony Stewart - 1st. There we go. Five races and finally a winner for me. He had a strong car that was improving throughout. He also had the best strategy in the end.
Jimmie Johnson - 10th. There's no official Rain Dance Award listed after race results, but the No. 48 team was probably doing just that once they realized they had an oil leak and the rain drops started falling. Johnson kept the car running until the red flag. It was a points saving-rain for five-timer, who probably would not have been able to continue.

Here's a look at my stats after five races and 25 picks.

1 win
7 top fives
4 top 10s

Grade for this week: A minus. I had three of the top four and four of the top 10. Also, I mentioned that Jeff Gordon was a possible pick that I didn't make because while his cars have been strong, he's been a bit snakebit. He was running in the top 10 Sunday when after pitting the fuel can got stuck in the car. It cost him a drive-through penalty and about 20 places in the final results.

One Last Thing: After five races this season there have been 1,410 possible laps for a driver to complete. Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth are the only drivers to all of the laps this season. They also represent five of the top six in the points standings. However, out of that group, only Kenseth has won this season.
Until next time

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lawyers, puns and money ... and picks

It's been a crazy week off the track in NASCAR. Jimmie Johnson, with the help of Rick Hendrick's lawyers, gained 25 points and moved up to 11th without winning a race. Bruton Smith says he's going to tear up Bristol and make it like the old configuration. He's apparently not making enough money, noting the lack of fans Sunday at one of the NASCAR's most popular tracks. They want the old track back. Of course, they wouldn't mind having the old ticket prices and the old gas prices back too. Those are certainly factors in the fans staying away as well.
One old occurrence that did take place Sunday afternoon was the No. 2 showing up in Victory Lane at Bristol. Brad Keselowski, who also won at Bristol last year, has taken over the Penske No. 2 car. So that win along with the successes of previous No. 2 drivers Kurt Busch and Rusty Wallace at Bristol means I'm picking Keselowski to win the fall race there, no matter what the track configuration might be.
As for this week, here's a look at the picks for the 3 p.m. Sunday race on FOX at the two-mile track in California

Jimmie Johnson - Five-timer has won five times at California. The team should be on a high after winning its appeal and it's Johnson's home track. Can't not pick him here.
Matt Kenseth - He's got three wins here and has run well all season. It would be surprising if he doesn't battle for the lead.
Greg Biffle - Well, I suppose you have to give the points leader some respect sometime. He's got one win at California and four top fives.
Tony Stewart - He's got one win and five top fives and Hendrick information to help him, too.
Kevin Harvick - No more sentimental picks at the end now. I need a win and Harvick won this race last year. So why not two in a row?

Coulda, woulda, shoulda - Jeff Gordon. He's got three wins here and has had a car capable of winning in these early races. But he seems to be a bit snakebit this year, so couldn't put his name on my top five.

Here's a review of last week's picks at Bristol and how they finished.
Kyle Busch - 32nd. An early wreck ended any chance he had of winning. He still got back out and ran 423 laps and finished 31st.
Matt Kenseth - 2nd. Just as easily could have won. He pushed Keselowski late in the race, but couldn't make the winning pass, quick re-start or not.
Kevin Harvick - 11th. He also got caught in an accident, but managed to get on the lead lap and hang in there and make what could have been a disaster into a pretty decent day.
Jimmie Johnson - 9th. He didn't lead any laps, but did hang around the top 10 all day.
Kasey Kahne - 37th. The team is good, I think the driver is good and the car is good. So far though, the luck is all bad.

Here's a look at my stats after four races and 20 picks.

O wins
5 top fives
3 top 10s

Grade for this week: B minus (a Kenseth win would have given me a boost

That zero there is still killing me.

One Last Thing: And speaking of zeros, last year's points runnerup Carl Edwards has yet to lead a lap this season. On the flip side, Brian Vickers ran his first race of the season Sunday at Bristol in the No. 55 Toyota. He led 125 laps, the third most this season in the Sprint Cup Series.
Until next time

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Goodbye cookie cutter, hello Bristol

Quite appropriately Las Vegas supplied us with some false excitement last Sunday as several restarts were needed in the race's final 50 plus laps to provide us with some close battles for the lead. But really, it was just a matter of who could get out front. That's because at those cookie-cutter type 1.5 mile tracks, it's all about getting clean air. Whoever gets ahead of the pack is going to win. It's pretty simple. Other than the first lap or two after a restart, the leader in each of those scenarios pulled away. That's why we saw some guys go crazy on the restarts, they knew that was their only chance.
Now we're on to a real race track at Bristol. It's just a half-mile and is one of NASCAR's great venues. There is no such thing as clean air, especially after the first 10 or 15 laps when the leader starts lapping the slower cars, or gently or not so gently bumping them out of the way. The reactions to those bumps is one of the things that makes Bristol great. What's the over-under on the amount of helmets thrown? Three seems like the right number here for a lot of reasons. A driver has to have the right amount of aggressiveness and patience to win at Bristol.
So with that in mind, here's a rundown of picks for this week.

Kyle Busch - Yes, that Kyle Busch. Somehow he's managed to keep his cool enough to get five wins here. So, hard to ignore that.
Jimmie Johnson - If there was ever a team on a mission to get into the top 10 in points it's the No. 48. Just one win here for five-timer, but with Johnson taking the lead, this team is focused.
Matt Kenseth - He's got two wins here and has run over 5,700 laps in the top 15 at Bristol, quite remarkable. He's got that right mix of patience and aggressiveness to get back to Victory Lane again.
Kevin Harvick - Just one win here, but he's never been afraid to use his bumper to get the slower guys out of the at the short tracks.
Kasey Kahne - Yes, a bit of reach here. At some point he's got to break through and these short tracks are just like the ones he learned to race on in the Midwest.
Shoulda, woulda coulda, but didn't - Kurt Busch, yes that Kurt Busch, has five wins here. But he's not on a big-time team any longer with the one-car Phoenix Racing. His patience will be tested more than ever now.

Here's a review of last week's picks at Las Vegas and how they finished.
Matt Kenseth - 22nd. Contended for the lead all day, only to get caught in a late-race scuffle and get pushed up against the wall.
Carl Edwards - 5th. He was not in contention all day and never led a lap, but hung around and rallied late.
Kyle Busch - 23rd. He started in the back in a backup car looked to be marching to the front. After hanging around 10th and 11th most of the day, he couldn't muster the kind of finish he would have liked in his hometown.
Jimmie Johnson - 2nd. The No. 48 team could have very well won the race, but just couldn't get around Tony Stewart in those final restarts.
Mark Martin - 18th. I went sentimental here, but it wasn't meant to be. He didn't lead a lap.

Here's a look at my stats after three races and 15 picks.

O wins
4 top fives
2 top 10s

Grade for this week: C plus (a good Kenseth finish away from emerging from mediocrity)

That zero there is killing me.
Until next time

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Some appealing answers, questions for Knaus

So, in a not so stunning development, NASCAR officials upheld their ruling that the No. 48 car of Jimmie Johnson came to Daytona last month with illegal C-Posts. That means the appeal of Hendrick Motorsports on behalf of crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec failed. Hendrick Motorsports released a statement Tuesday saying they would take the appeal to one last step, NASCAR's supreme court, where both sides sit in front of a commissioner and make their case.
And this point, the Hendrick team has nothing to lose. The penalties of 25 owner and driver points to the No. 48, the six-week suspensions of Knaus and Malec, and a $100,000 fine to Knaus leave Hendrick no choice but to take this to a higher court. Johnson has rebounded to finish fourth and second the past two weeks and is now 23rd in the points standings. It's a team that's performing like it has something to prove.
Apparently Knaus and Hendrick didn't have enough proof in their appeal argument Tuesday. So here's a list of 10 suggestions for Knaus to throw out there in the final appeal to help increase the chances of a favorable ruling.

10. What? You didn't use the 3D glasses?
9. Hasn't anybody told you I know more than you do?
8. Didn't you go to college at C.W. Post?
7. C3PO is my favorite Star Wars character and he's legal right.
6. CP3 (Chris Paul who wears No. 3) is my favorite NBA player.
5. I thought you said I can't see the post, so I made it bigger.
4. My first name starts with a C, so there's that.
3. I told them to put that on the 88, not the 48
2. Follow directions? Don't you know guys don't read directions.
1. Oooohhh, the C-Post. I thought Mr. Hendrick said to put on the Z-Post. My bad.

Until next time.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Watching the wheels in Vegas

The Sprint Cup series heads to the city of Lost Wages (OK, most people call it Las Vegas, but let's be real here) and the city likes to brag that what happens there stays there. What has happened a lot at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is Roush Racing cars have had a ton of success. In 65 starts at Las Vegas, Roush cars have seven wins, 17 top-five and 34 top-10 finishes and have led more than 1,200 laps. Also, the Roushkateers have finished in the top 10 in each of the 14 Sprint Cup races at the track and have finished in the top five 12 times.
So, yes, you'll see a bit of theme in these upcoming picks for the 3 p.m. Sunday race to be shown on FOX.

Matt Kenseth - Roush selection No. 1 has a chance to get off to a great start after winning at Daytona. Winning two of the first three is a real possibility here. He's already got two wins at this track.
Carl Edwards - Roush selection No. 2. He's also got two wins here and has a series high 486 green flag passes at Las Vegas.

Kyle Busch - He does have one win here. This is also his hometown, so you know, it's one of those cases where you just have to pick him.

Jimmie Johnson - Mr. Five-Timer's got four wins here and you know this team is on a mission to eventually get back into the top 10 in points. The No. 48 is 35 points away from that top 10 spot going into Sunday. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him take a big chunk out of that gap.

Mark Martin - So, the former Roush driver is a little old at 53, but he's proven he can still drive. He's also got a quality car in the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55. And he's also won here once and has six top five finishes. And really, wouldn't it be nice to see him hit Victory Lane at least one more time?

Shoulda, woulda, coulda, but didn't pick: It probably makes all the sense in the world to pick Greg Biffle. He's contended to win the first two races and he's a Roush driver coming to Las Vegas. He hasn't won there yet, but there's a first time for everything.

Here's a review of last week's picks at Phoenix and how they finished.
Kasey Kahne - 34th. Early mechanical issues doomed his day. He did finish, but was 28 laps down at the end.
Carl Edwards - 17th. He challenged to be in the top 10 a couple of times, but was not a serious contender all day.
Tony Stewart - 22nd. Seemed to be primed for at least a top 10 finish, and maybe top 5. But when he shut off engine to save gas it wouldn't start back up right away. He was two laps down by the time they got the car started again.
Jimmie Johnson - 4th. Looked like he might run away with the win early, leading 55 laps. Had a tire issue that cost him key places midway through.
Kyle Busch - 6th. He did lead 52 laps, but wasn't in contention to win at the end.
The overall grade is a C again.
Here's a look at my stats after two races and 10 picks.

O wins
2 top fives
2 top 10s

Maybe Vegas will bring some better luck
Until next time

Friday, March 2, 2012

Now that Daytona is behind us ... and Phoenix picks

Now that Daytona is at long last behind us, it's time to get on with the rest of the season. That can be difficult to do at times because of what Daytona means to the sport and especially this year with all of the bizarre happenings there such as dryer fires and tweets all of sudden becoming intricate parts of that Monday night/Tuesday morning in Daytona.

So on to the desert we go at Phoenix at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon on FOX. The last time we were there in the next to last Chase for the Championship race, all the buzz was about Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards as well as it should have been. One thing when making picks for Phoenix, is that last fall's race was the first on a completely refurbished track, so how drivers did then may be more of an indication of future success than what they did in previous races.
So here goes:

1) Kasey Kahne - Yes, he's on a different and presumably better team, so it's hard not to pick the winner of last fall's race again.

2) Carl Edwards - He avoided disaster at Daytona to finish eighth and now he can get on with business. He was second in the fall race here last year.

3) Tony Stewart - He has always raced well at Phoenix and was third in the fall race here last year. I would not be surprised to see him in Victory Lane this week.

4) Jimmie Johnson - Ok, Ok, I know the track is different but Johnson's numbers at Phoenix just can't be ignored. He's got four wins here and an average finish of 5.4. To paraphrase the late Dale Earnhardt, it doesn't matter whose crew chiefin' this guy can still drive.

5) Kyle Busch - He's got one win here and has run 3,601 laps in the top 15 at Phoenix, the second most to Johnson. He seemed to hold his cool at Daytona, so let's go for two weeks in a row.

Shoulda, woulda coulda but didn't pick - Kevin Harvick. He's got a knack for not running in the top 10 and then all of sudden, there he is with 20 to go challenging for the lead. I wouldn't be surprised if that happens this week, but I can't pick the whole field to win here.

We're all about accountability, so here's a look at how my Daytona picks worked out. My hindsight grade is C for Daytona.
Tony Stewart - Finished 16th. Avoided the big wrecks, but could never work his way to the front.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Finished 2nd. He still hasn't won in 130 races (for those of you snoring at home), but he was behind two Ford teammates in Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, and in front of Denny Hamlin's Toyota on the last lap. So, no help to be found.
Kyle Busch - Finished 17th. Much like Stewart, avoided the bad stuff, but seemed to get trapped in the pack late in the race.
Jimmie Johnson - Finished 42nd. He got caught in a wreck on the second lap. He was probably home in bed before the 500 ended.
Carl Edwards - Finished 8th. He rallied late after having to goto the back with 40 laps to go because one of the windshield tear-offs was removed during the red flag.

The early stats:
0 wins
1 top five
1 top 10

We gotta do better this week.
Until next time