Thursday, August 30, 2012

Vickers deserves to be in chase for full-time ride in 2013

You won't see Brian Vickers competing for a spot in NASCAR's Chase for the Championship in the next couple of weeks. In fact, you probably won't even see him in a Sprint Cup car for the final 12 races of the season, the first of which is Sunday night in Atlanta.
But someone, somewhere, somehow, should find a way for him to be seen in a Sprint Cup car regularly  next season. Vickers has run just six races in 2012 as part of a deal with Michael Waltrip Racing in the No. 55 car. Veteran Mark Martin is set to run 11 of the next 12 races, with team owner Waltrip scheduled to drive the one remaining restrictor plate race at Talladega.
And Vickers knows plenty about restrictions.
He had to take a seat 11 races into the 2010 season due to blood clots in his leg and lungs. He later had heart surgery that summer to close a hole in his heart after a third blood clot was found in his finger. Vickers said he was off of blood thinning medicine in January of 2011 and he then began testing for Daytona in the No. 83 Toyota for Red Bull Racing.
But when Red Bull decided it was pulling out of NASCAR as a sponsor after last season, it left him without a full-time ride. Vickers' best year came in 2009, when he had a win, four top fives, and 13 top 10 finishes and an average finish of 17.3. He raced only 11 times in 2010 due to the blood cots, but returned to a full schedule last year and had less success with an average finish of 20.5.
And while we have only seen the 28-year-old Vickers in six Sprint Cup races this season, the 2003 Nationwide Series champion has been well above average on the track. Even with a skewed average finish due to an engine failure before the Watkins Glen race started that left him with a 43rd-place finish, Vickers has an average finish of 14.3 with three top five finishes this season. He's led 126 laps this season, the 15th most in Sprint Cup and he's led 6.2 percent of the laps he's run this season, sixth best in the series.
So, if we're just strictly talking about driver talent here, shouldn't Vickers at least be in the conversation for a full-time ride somewhere next season?
But lately, his name has not been rumored as a possibility to get that full-time ride in 2013. Vickers will turn 29 in October and he's had some good days in his abbreviated season. But with his age, good health, and obvious talent, better days may be ahead for him and possibly for some racing organization.
He understands what second chances are all about. And it would be quite a surprise if he didn't take advantage of a full-time ride in 2013, if only some owner or sponsor, would him give a chance.

The Sprint Cup Series heads to Atlanta for a 7:30 Sunday night race on ESPN. It's the next-to-last race in NASCAR's regular season with the top 10 in points and the two drivers with the most wins 11th through 20th in points making the Chase for the Championship, NASCAR's version of the playoffs and the final 10 races of the season.
So, yes, that is somewhat of a factor when going through this week's top five picks because there will be some desperate guys out there, some of them really needing a win. So here goes.
1)  Kasey Kahne. If I had one pick this week, this would be the guy. He's got two wins at Atlanta and in 15 starts, he has six top-five finishes. His average finish of 18.3 is skewed by three DNFs (Did Not Finishes). He's also started on the pole twice. I expect him to be a factor for the lead late in the race.
2) Jimmie Johnson. He's also got three wins in Atlanta and is a threat to win anywhere. He's really looking like the eventual champion.
3) Carl Edwards. He's in big-time win mode as he has none this season and sits 12th in points. He also has three career wins at Atlanta so this may be the best shot for last year's runner-up to make the Chase.
4) Tony Stewart. He's got three wins here, but also, just when you think he's in trouble, and he is a bit being 10th in points with just a 16-point lead on Kasey Kahne, he comes through in a big way. He's all but a lock to make the Chase with three wins this season and could be the first to get four.
5) Kyle Busch. He has one win at Atlanta and three top-fives. But that's not the only reason I'm picking him this week. This weekend is the first time this season that Busch is driving in trucks, Nationwide and Cup races. He seems most happy when he's driving a race car (or truck) and the driver sometimes known as Rowdy may be really happy late Sunday night.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda - Greg Biffle. This is the non-pick I may regret. He's been near the front a lot lately and may just have the best chance to challenge Johnson for the title. He doesn't have any wins at Atlanta, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if that changed this weekend.
Here's a look at how last week's picks fared at Michigan.
Kyle Busch  - 6th. He was good all night, but could never make his way to the front as he didn't lead a lap.
Jeff Gordon  - 3rd. Another strong run put him back in the wild-card picture to have a shot at the Chase.
Brad Keselowski  - 30th. Two-race winning streak at  Bristol comes to an end.
Carl Edwards . - 22nd.  He's 12th in points, but is desperate for win with two races left in the regular season.
Kevin Harvick - 15th. Hung around to have an OK night, but never a factor up front.
Here's a look at my results after 24 races and 120 picks.
14  wins
41 top fives
56 top 10s
Grade for the week: C. Edwards was the only driver I had that even led any laps at Bristol. Not good considering there were a season-high 13 cautions. You think maybe Gordon or Busch could've snuck into the lead some how. But not to be.
One last thing: The two drivers in the top 10 in points without a win this season are Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick. The statistics tells us it won't likely happen at Atlanta for them either. Among drivers in the top 10, Truex is ninth in driver rating at Atlanta at 88.9 and Harvick is 10th at 83.5.

Friday, August 24, 2012

All we are saying is give Sam a chance

As NASCAR's regular season winds down with just three races remaining, a number of drivers have a number of different agendas. For some, it's about making the Chase for the Championship, NASCAR's version of the playoffs. Guys like Kasey Kahne  Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose are battling for the two wild-card spots and need either a win or top-five finishes to make the Chase.
Others, guys solidly in the top 10, can simply go for the win. Guys like Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski can experiment a little without the worry of not making the Chase. And they can gamble a little and go for the win, too, with their high reward, low risk situation.
Then there's another scenario, and one that is particularly unique. Sam Hornish is not going to make the Chase, but he's in another kind of chase. One that if successful could give him a chance at a full-time Sprint Cup ride next season. Hornish ventured into NASCAR's top series full-time in 2008 after accomplishing all that was possible in Indycar, which included winning the Indy 500 and three Indycar points titles.
But Sprint Cup cars were a different deal for Hornish. The heavier, boxier stock cars handle much differently and when team owner Roger Penske gave Hornish a shot in the Sprint Cup series, it just didn't go well. In fairness to Hornish, he had just 11 Nationwide starts before the 2008 season.
Hornish's best average finish in his full seasons on the Sprint Cup circuit was 24.9 in 2010. After that season, as has been the case with many teams, sponsorship for the Sprint Cup ride disappeared. Last season and this season Hornish competed in the Nationwide Series. And really, that might be just what he needed. In 13 Nationwide races last season, Hornish had an average finish of 13.0. And in 22 Nationwide races this season, Hornish is third in the points standings with an average finish of 8.0.
So, it looks like he's starting to figure this stock car thing out.

After a full year-and-a-half driving almost exclusively Nationwide cars, he got an unexpected chance to return to a regular Sprint Cup ride for Penske in July. While Hornish admits he didn't want to get a full-time ride at the expense of former teammate AJ Allmendinger being suspended by NASCAR and then released by Penske for testing positive for a bannd substance, he's taken the opportunity and drove with it.
After getting his feet on the ground in the first two races, Hornish has an average finish of 12.5 in his last four Sprint Cup races. That includes a fifth-place run on the road course at Watkins Glen, then taking 12th last week at Michigan. He easily could have had a better result at Michigan as he spent much of the day in the top 10.
As is usually the case this time of year, there are plenty of rumors about who will be driving where next season. We know, or at least pretty much know, that Matt Kenseth will be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing next season. And the other heavy rumor is that if Gibbs can't find a sponsor for Logano, then Logano could end up the driving the No. 22 car for Penske. No disrepect to Logano, who could have a bright future in front of him as long as he is with a decent team, but if Hornish continues to prove himself over the next few races, he may well be more deserving of that ride than Logano.
Of course, the big issue will be if a big money sponsor thinks the same thing. That's the unfortunate part of the business. Let's hope Penske and his people can convince a big-time sponsor that Hornish deserves a Sprint Cup ride for a full season.
Hornish's Nationwide and Sprint Cup results this season are telling us he's ready. Hornish can only hope a big-time sponsor is listening.

The Sprint Cup Series heads to the reconfigured Bristol Saturday night at 7 on ABC. Will the return to the old track bring  back the beatin', helmet-throwing style that made Bristol famous? We'll find out for sure Saturday. Here's a look at this week's picks, which have been somewhat influenced by the new configuration, but no matter what that is, some guys have a knack for short-track racing and some don't, and that was the biggest influence of all in these picks.
Kyle Busch.  - He's just outside the Chase picture and needs at least a good finish, but more importantly a win. He's got five of them at Bristol, so he's a must pick here.
Jeff Gordon - It's pretty much win one of these next three races or miss the Chase for the four-time champions. He's also got five wins here and the return to the former track style could help him.
Brad Keselowski - He's been excellent lately, and it seems no matter what kind of track the Sprint Cup guys are on, the No. 2 is contending for a win. Keselowski has two wins at Bristol and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him at or close the front again.
Carl Edwards - Much like Gordon, he's desperate for a win. He has two of them at Bristol and since he's 12th in points now, a win would put him in the Chase heading into the final two regular-season races.
Kevin Harvick - He's without a win this year and in the past, hasn't been afraid to use his bumper to get by slower cars on the short tracks. He's also got a new/old crew chief this week in Gil Martin, so maybe familiarity will help him win for the third time at Bristol.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda - There were a lot of tough choices this week. I kept going back to Ryan Newman and I may regret not picking him. He's usually a good qualifier, which helps at Bristol, where track position is everything. He's been relatively good on short tracks, too, with an average finish of 11.9 since the beginning of the 2010 season.
Here's a look at how last week's picks fared at Michigan.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.  - 4th. He was solid for much of the day, though never really a threat to win.
Jimmie Johnson - 27th. He had it won, until his car decided to display its grenade engine in the final laps.
Greg Biffle - 1st. He said he would have caught Johnson before the end of the race. He was fast at the end for sure. So, maybe the fastest car did win.
Carl Edwards . - 6th.  He was solid again, but the No. 99 really needs a win to make the Chase and he knows solid won't quite cut it.
Tony Stewart - 32nd. Also the victim of a Hendrick grenade engine in the early going.
Here's a look at my results after 23 races and 115 picks.
14  wins
40 top fives
54 top 10s
Grade for the week: B-plus. I thought I had the winner in Johnson, but still had it in Biffle. So, in the end, it was three of the top six, and easily could have been four of the top seven.
One last thing: At some tracks, it's true, qualifying is not a big deal. But that's not the case at Bristol. of the 103 races there, the winner has started 10th or better 82 times, and 52 of the winners have come from the first four starting positions.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ambrose's chase of Chase a chance to break stereotype

Often times in sports, after an athlete has three or four seasons of experience, we make evaluations and sometimes rightly or sometimes wrongly think, this person, as an athlete, is who he or she is.
We have a past performance to base our current thoughts and future assumptions on. And that's not all bad. We need something to go on.
However, who's not to say that athletes can evolve their talents and become even better, or stop working and become worse?
One of those perceptions in NASCAR falls on some of the road-racing specialists. For a few years now, Marcos Ambrose has been considered one of the road racing experts. He confirmed that assumption with the second-road win of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career Sunday at Watkins Glen. But the deal with Ambrose is this: He drives the entire schedule for Richard Petty Motorsports. So, he's been working to shake the stigma that he's a good driver only on road courses as he is in his fourth full season of Sprint Cup competition. His highest finish in the final points standings was 19th for JTG Daugherty Racing in 2009.
And if he really wants to put that road-racer only idea to rest, he's got four races left in NASCAR's regular season to prove it. Ambrose put himself in position to make NASCAR's version of the playoffs, the Chase for the Championship, with Sunday's win. If he can win one of these next four races, he could take one of the two wild-card qualifying spots for the Chase. The top 10 in points are guaranteed a spot, while the two drivers 11th through 20th in points with the most wins will secure the final two spots. Kasey Kahne is the lone driver outside the top 10 with two wins.
That leaves a big scramble for the final spot.
Ambrose sits 44 points behind current final wild-card qualifier Ryan Newman. So, Ambrose's best shot will be to earn another win. He has six top 10 finishes this season, including a ninth in the June race at Michigan, where he started on the pole. At the other three tracks he has one top five and three top 10s at Bristol, one top 10 at Atlanta and one top five and two top 10s at Richmond, the final race of the regular season.
"Definitely the best track for us coming up would be Michigan, after having such good speed there in the first race," Ambrose said on a conference call Tuesday. "Then I traditionally go pretty well at Bristol as well.  I've had a lot of really good runs there. Though I have yet to get a victory around Bristol, I feel that's a good place for us to potentially surprise a lot of folks and come through for another win."
Ambrose's average finish on road courses is 7.4, that's no surprise. But at all other types of tracks, his best average finish is 19th on short tracks.
So there it is. The road course numbers don't lie.
But the next four weeks will be Ambrose's chance to show us that the numbers on the other types of courses don't entirely tell the truth either.

The Sprint Cup Series heads to Michigan for the second and final time this season with a 1 p.m. Sunday race on ESPN. We will we see a repeat winner here?
Dale Earnhardt Jr.  - He broke his four-year 143-race winless streak here in June, so it would be difficuilt to not pick him here as he's got two wins at Michigan.
Jimmie Johnson - It's hard to believe he's never won at this place. He does have four top-five finishes and he could very well get the winning thing taking care of Sunday.
Greg Biffle - He's been quiet lately, but there he sits second in the points standings going to a place where the Roush cars typically perform well. He's got two wins here and could make it three.
Carl Edwards - Last year's runnerup desperately needs a win to have a shot to make the Chase and this is a good place for him to do it. He has two wins at Michigan and an average finish of 8.4 at the track.
Tony Stewart - He has just one win at Michigan, but 11 top fives. He's still trying to become the first driver to win four races this season.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda - It was difficult to not pick Matt Kenseth this week. He's third in the points, with two wins at Michigan and an average finish of 9.4. I may regret not making him one of my top five.
Here's a look at how last week's picks fared at Watkins Glen.
Tony Stewart  - 19th. Was running second until he spun late in the race, putting him well back in the field.
Marcos Ambrose - 1st. There were high expectations for him on the road course, and he didn't disappoint in that thrilling final lap.
Jeff Gordon - 21st. He was poised for a top 10 finish until the final lap oil-aided slip and slide show.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - 28th.  Also poised for a top 10 finish until late issues put him well pack in the pack.
Kurt Busch - 31st.. Early mechanical issues ended any chance he had of having a good day.
Here's a look at my results after 22 races and 110 picks.
13  wins
38 top fives
51 top 10s
Grade for the week: C. Saved only by having the race winner. It wasn't that all of my picks weren't fast, it's just that they ran into trouble at some point, pushing them back into the field.
One last thing: With Jimmie Johnson now in the points lead, he has been in first place in the points at least one week in each of the last nine seasons, the longest stretch for any driver since 1975.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Infallible formula to figure out final Chase qualifier revealed ... maybe

As we enter the home stretch in the NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season, the question, as is the case with the end of the regular season in any sport, is who is going to make the playoffs?
That's certainly the case in NASCAR as there are just five races left before its version of the playoffs, the Chase for the Championship, begins. While the top 10 in points seem to be pretty set, barring multiple disaster races by 10th-place Clint Bowyer, the focus is mostly on which drivers will win the two wild-card spots, which go to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins.
And sure, we all have a favorite driver or two. And let's be honest, we like to say, I think he will make the Chase because of this or that, when we know it's really about just wanting him to make it.
So, with a big assist from, we'll try to take an objective look at the six drivers who have a realistic shot on one of those two spots.
Kasey Kahne has the upper hand for the first wild-card spot heading into Sunday's race at Watkins Glen. He is 11th in points and has two wins this season, the only one of the six with two victories. While he's sitting in a good spot, there's no guarantee for him though. At the five remaining tracks he has an average finish of 18.39, but has three wins, two at Atlanta and one at Richmond. Still, he's a favorite to make it.
Jeff Gordon is currently in the 12th and final qualifying spot after Sunday's win at Pocono. Gordon had his share of bad luck much of the season, and had bounced between 18th and 22nd in points before a recent string of good finishes and the win left him 13th in points, tied with Ryan Newman, who also has a win. Gordon is ahead of Newman because of more better finishes this season. At the next five tracks, Gordon has an average finish of 12.99, and 18 career wins.
Newman is also on the cusp of making the Chase. He has not been spectacular this season, but the driver looking for a sponsor for next season desperately wants to be a part of the Chase. His average at the next five stops on the schedule is 16.03, with three wins.
Kyle Busch hasn't had the kind of season he would like. With just one win, he sits outside of the Chase at the moment. But there is good news for Busch. He is the only driver of the these six who has an average finish of 10th or  better in three of the five remaining tracks. That includes a dominating 4.73 average at Richmond, the final race in the regular season. He's has 11 wins on the final five tracks, including four at Richmond.
Carl Edwards is the real wild card in this wild-card fight. He sits 12th in points, just three behind Kahne, but has yet to win this season. Two of his better tracks are Watkins Glen, where he has not won, but has an average finish of  8.7, and Michigan, where he has two wins and an 8.38 average finish. Overall, Edwards has an average finish of 11.88 on these final tracks and seven wins, including three at Atlanta. So, yes, he's still got a shot.
Joey Logano is the long shot of this bunch. He sits 17th in points, but does have a win at the first Pocono race this season. He is 36 points behind Gordon and Newman, so with just five races to go, he needs another win. That means he will also need a breakthrough at one of these final tracks. He has no wins at the final five stops and an average finish of 21.06. Logano has the smallest sampling of any of the these six, given this is just his third full-time season in Sprint Cup. But the fact remains, the driver who is in a contract year at Gibbs Racing, needs a breakthrough to make the Chase.
So, just who will breakthrough? Kahne, of course, I'd pick for one of the spots, but after that, it gets a little dicey. The numbers say Kyle Busch will emerge as the other qualifier. We'll see how it all plays out in the next few weeks.

The Sprint Cup Series heads to its second and final road race of the season at Watkins Glen at 1 p.m. Sunday on ESPN. So, yes, there are some who like this style and some who don't. Here's a look at who we like this week.
Tony Stewart - He's got five wins at the Glen and could very well be the first driver to win four races this season.
Marcos Ambrose - He's got a win here and also is one of the favorites to start on the pole, which is quite helpful on road courses.
Jeff Gordon - He's got four wins here, but hasn't won since 2001. He's got some good momentum and confidence now, too.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - OK, I understand his history is not great on road courses with just two top five finishes. However, the team has had three tests on road courses this season, so this could be a chance for the points leader to emerge.
Kurt Busch - The talent to drive on the road course is not the issue here. Patience and knowing when to pass will be. But look for Busch to be among the top five Sunday.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda - It used to be that Juan Pablo Montoya was an automatic pick when it came to road courses. But with his poor showing at Sonoma (34th), and just a disappointing season overall as he sits 21st in points, I couldn't put him among the five best this week.

Here's a look at how last week's picks fared at Pocono.
Joey Logano  - 13th. Maybe he would have been a factor if the race had gone the distance, but his Chase hopes depend on him getting another win now.
Jeff Gordon  - 1st. He had a good car, and for once this season, a little bit of good luck.
Denny Hamlin - 29th. He was a contender, too, but got caught in the Jimmie Johnson flat tire melee.
Jimmie Johnson - 14th.  If not for the flat, he very well could have won. He led the most laps with 44.
Carl Edwards - 7th. A decent day, but sitting 12th in points, he needs a win is a must now.
Here's a look at my results after 21 races and 105 picks.
12  wins
37 top fives
50 top 10s
Grade for the week: B. Hey, that's another winner, and it would have been interesting to see what happened with Johnson had the race gone the distance.
One last thing: Jeff Gordon's victory Sunday at Pocono gave Hendrick Motorsports at least one victory for each of its Sprint Cup drivers this season. The last time Hendrick had each of his drivers win at least once in a season was 2007.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pocono likely Logano's best chance to make Chase

Joey Logano can be counted as one of NASCAR's many good guys. He's easy to like. There's a laid back personality, that, as best as we can tell, doesn't get easily angered.
And just because he doesn't show that kind of emotion doesn't make him less of a driver. In fact, most of the time, it probably makes him a better driver. The one time he did show some emotion came at this week's venue, Pocono Raceway, just after the June 2010 race, after appearing set to finish fifth or sixth, he got booted into the wall by Kevin Harvick late in the race. An angry Logano tried to talk with Harvick immediately afterward only to be shielded from doing so by Harvick's crew members.
That led to Logano's famous statement about Harvick, "His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do."
It was the first emotional outburst we had seen from Logano, even though he had just turned 20 at the time and was in his first year of a full-time ride with Joe Gibbs Racing after Tony Stewart left to start his own team.
So, while Logano may have turned a bit from boy to man that day, this Sunday's race at 1 p.m. on ESPN may be his best chance to turn from Chase pretender to contender. Logano sits at 17th in the points standings, but he does have one victory this season, at Pocono in June. Coincidentally, this is also Logano's contract year, so if he were to make the Chase, that would certainly be in his favor, whether he re-signs with Gibbs, or goes elsewhere.
But for him to make the Chase as a wild-card, one of the two drivers outside the top 10 in points, but inside the top 20 with the most wins, he's going to need another victory. The final Chase qualifier at the moment is Kyle Busch with his one win and he sits 11th in points. Kasey Kahne is the top wild-card qualifier at the moment with two wins.
Logano's problem is he sits 44 points behind Busch. With just six races left in NASCAR's regular season, he's not likely to catch Busch on points alone. So, yes, Logano is going to need another win to make it into the Chase.
That his second career win came at Pocono this year is a good thing. That's because there have been plenty of times where history has repeated itself at the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
Since Pocono began hosting two races per season in 1982, there have been six drivers to complete the single season sweep. They are Bobby Allison in 1982, Bill Elliott in 1985, Tim Richmond in 1986, Bobby Labonte in 1999, Jimmie Johnson in 2004 and Denny Hamlin in 2006.
So, a repeat is not out of the question for Logano, even though his other official top finishes in six races at Pocono have been 11th and 13th. The fact that Labonte and Hamlin achieved the repeat while driving for Gibbs also can't be ignored.
Logano is 22, and he's certainly young enough to think there will be more chances for him to make the Chase should he not do it this season. But there has to be a first time for everything, and Logano's best chance to make his first Chase may very well depend on whether or not he wins Sunday.

Joey Logano  - Hopefully, you just read about this. He needs that repeat.
Jeff Gordon  - Much like Logano, he deseperately needs his first win of the season to have a shot at the Chase as he sits 24 points behind Busch. It helps that he has won five times at Pocono.
Denny Hamlin - He's got four wins here, one of those slam dunk picks for the Tricky Triangle.
Jimmie Johnson - OK, he's pretty much an every week pick at this point. He's got two wins at Pocono, too.
Carl Edwards - He was set up to run fast at Indy last week, only to be slowed by engine woes. He's won here twice before, and like Gordon, is in desperation mode to get his first win of the season. He sits 12th in points, six behind Busch, for that final Chase spot.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda - Brad Keselowski is one of the guys I wanted to pick here, but just ran out of choices. He ran well at Indy last week, which is often a good sign at Pocono. He also has a win at Pocono.

Here's a look at how last week's picks fared at Indianapolis.
Tony Stewart:.10th. He didn't have a good day at all, but rallied for this finish.
Jimmie Johnson. 1st. He's capable of winning any week anywhere. Looking like a future six-time champion.
Jeff Gordon. 5th. He was strong all day at Indy.
Kasey Kahne. 12th. Also did not have a good day, but rallied late for respectable finish.
Kevin Harvick. 13th. After a miserable day, where he was mostly outside the top 15, and often somewhere in the 20s, he managed a decent finish.
Here's a look at my results after 20 races and 100 picks.
11  wins
36 top fives
48 top 10s
Grade for the week: B-plus. Three of the top 10, including the winner. Someone else making the top five could've made this day a little better.
One last thing: One of the big questions of the weekend will be if the teams figured why there were 22 speeding  penalties on pit road during the June race.  If that epidemic occurs again, it could well decide the outcome of the race.