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

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