Tuesday, September 29, 2009

View From The Flagstand

Race two of NASCAR's Chase is over and with Jimmie Johnson's HMS team flexing their muscles at Dover on Sunday it just became a lot more familar. You have to go back to 2006 to find the last time JJ finished lower than 15th in a Chase race.

After the high banks of Dover, we'll be on the sweeping Kansas prarie, and racetrack, this weekend for round three. This race should shake out the three or four title contenders from the pretenders.

CHECKERED FLAG.....Jimmie Johnson won the pole, won the race, and led the most laps at the Monster Mile on Sunday. No one has ever won the fall race in Dover and went on to win the championship that year.

GREEN FLAGS........HMS cars finished first, second (Mark Martin), and sixth (Jeff Gordon). the other HMS car did recieve five or six 'Lucky Dog' passes. No? It just seemed like it? Matt Kenseth in third, got his first top-5 since February. RPM drivers AJ Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne finished 7th and 8th.

YELLOW FLAGS.......The Dover 'Big One'. Joey Logano, Robby Gordon, Reed Sorenson, and Martin Truex Jr were all involved in a major wreck early in the race. ESPN's lone Sports Center highlight of the race was Logano's seven barrel rolls.

RED FLAG.......Joe Gibbs Racing. In addition to Logano's thrill show, Kyle Busch seemed to relish in swiping the wall multiple times. JGR's lone Chase entrant, Denny Hamlin, was their highest finisher at 22. While Logano has the Rookie of the Year award sewn up, it looks like JGR's fourth Cup championship will have to wait at least another year.

BLACK FLAG......I hate to pile on ABC/ESPN every week but they must not care. I wasn't kidding about their SC highlights. Less than 10 seconds devoted to a sport that THEY are airing! Sunday night's SC showed Logano's flips and Johnson taking the checkered flag. Then back to the riveting NFL highlights of Detroit beating Washington, Denver vs Oakland, and the WNBA playoff highlights.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Right Sides Only ©

Week two of NASCAR's Chase for the Championship rolls into Dover and hits the highbanks of the Monster Mile Sunday. Mark Martin won the first race of the playoffs last week in Loudon and kept his grip on the top spot in the points.

That race in Loudon was somewhat exciting and entertaining. So, why were the TV ratings for it the lowest of any Chase race....ever! That's six years! Just as I predicted after the ratings bump at Richmond, the NFL steamrolls anything head-to-head on Sunday afternoons. ABC/Disney/ESPN/Pixar/Proctor and Gamble (?) air NCAA football on Saturday nights, so don't expect them to ask NASCAR to schedule more Chase races for those nights.

Martin Truex Jr is buying 100 tickets to the race at Dover this Sunday and giving them away to fans. The strange part is that he's giving them to ex-season ticket holders. What, Chad and Muffy went with the home sauna/dry cleaner addition instead of renewing their Dover suite seats? No worries, Truex comes through with a personal bailout.

In a surprise to no one, Danica Patrick signed a three year contract to remain with Andretti Green Racing and the IRL. Maybe she kept visiting SHR headquarters just to see Tony Stewart socially?

Brian Vickers becomes the youngest driver ever to make 200 starts in the Cup series when he gets the green this Sunday. Something called 'Vaseline MEN Lotion' will be Truex's primary sponsor on Sunday. Too bad I vowed not to make any jokes about Carl Edwards.

The #18 of Kyle Busch was found to be too low in post race inspection last week in Loudon. Busch was fined 25 points. A spokesman for JGR claimed that a spring broke during the race and caused the problem. Wouldn't NASCAR take that into consideration?

National Guard drivers, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr, visited Arlington National Cementary earlier this week and placed a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. Both drivers and Rick Hendrick all said they were very moved by the ceremony. Our quote of the week comes from Gordon afterwards......

"The peace, the security that we feel in the safety of our country is because of the men and women here at Arlington."


Monday, September 21, 2009

View From The Flagstand

After the past few races in the heat of Dixie, this week's view was as refreshing as a cold Dr Pepper on a hot day. Lots of hard racing in Loudon on Sunday made it hard to fall asleep for once.

The first Chase race is in the books and we have nine to go. Up next week is another one mile track, Dover. Dover is more of a superspeedway type one miler, where as Loudon is a short track style, one mile, flat track. Night and day.

CHECKERED FLAG.......Mark Martin stood up to all challenges on Sunday and earned the win. He's made the Chase, received a contract extension, and won a race all in the last week. The AARP should be so proud. Any room left on the bandwagon?

GREEN FLAGS......Juan Montoya won the pole, led the most laps, and then finished 3rd. Denny Hamlin capitalized on a Montoya miscue at the end to take 2nd place. Kurt Busch (6th), and Ryan Newman (7th) both had strong Chase runs. Kyle Busch won the Truck Series race on Saturday, then somehow, came home 5th on Sunday. A rare Elliott Sadler sighting in the top-10 (8th) earns him his first Green Flag since February.

YELLOW FLAGS......Tony Stewart (14th), Jeff Gordon (15th), and Carl Edwards (17th). While all three of these Chasers were strong at some point of the race, their finishes didn't show it.

RED FLAG......Kasey Kahne lost his engine before lap 50 was complete. Not a great way to start his Chase. His team, RPM, has no engine department now after announcing that they're switching to Ford next season. RPM is crumbling from the inside. Last week a longtime VP was fired by the owner, the engine dept either quit or got fired, one of their drivers has been racing for no salary for weeks, and they accepted a merger (takeover) as a way to save money next year.

BLACK FLAG......Kevin Harvick displayed strange behavior during the Truck race on Saturday, to say the least. Harvick, who was in third place, demanded that his employee (2nd place Ron Hornaday) pull over and let Harvick run down leader Kyle Busch and win the race. Hornaday is in a points race and would like to keep every spot that he EARNS. If you can't even pass the second place truck, what makes you think you can catch and pass the leader, Kev? The whole situation made Harvick look like a spoiled brat. Probably not far from the truth.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Right Sides Only

The Chase! Ten races. Twelve drivers. Forty points. That's the separation from the points leader to twelfth position. The NASCAR playoffs start this weekend in Loudon, NH. In this special Chase edition of RSO, I'll give a short cap on all twelve drivers and what I think of their championship chances.

The points have been reseeded with Mark Martin's four wins vaulting him into the points lead. It's a very slim margin from first back to the four guys tied for 9th. Forty points is only seven or eight spots on the track. With double file restarts that's one bad restart, one missed turn, or one balky air gun in the pits.

1....Mark Martin. A popular choice to win it all. Look for a lot of old Bud, AMP, and National Guard tee shirts on Marky Mark's bandwagon. I'll admit, I never thought he would make the Chase or even win more than once this season. Has he been showing his hand all year? Probably yes. Look for some other teams to juice it now, and the #5 team won't be able to keep up. Guarantee.....Martin will give his standard "we gave it everything we had" speech.

2....Tony Stewart. Smoke has really limped into the Chase. Mostly bad finishes over the last month or so. Has HMS already started giving Stewart-Haas second line equipment? Probably yes. Stewart is a late season terror though, and you can never count him out. Guarantee....Top four in the final points standings which is more than a new team should even dream about.

3......Jimmie Johnson. Three time defending champion. Actually ran up front most of the year instead of waiting for the Chase....again. Will JJ, and Chad Knaus, make it four in a row? Probably yes. Another team would have to bring it very strong, make JJ race them for it, and have a lot of luck to keep the #48 team away from the head table at the banquet this year. Guarantee....Top two in....aw, hell, here's your champ.

4.....Denny Hamlin. One of the strongest teams going into the Chase. Has been pretty solid all year. Will the #11 guys benefit from teammate, Kyle Busch, not being in the Chase? Probably yes. Guarantee.....Denny will have that sour, confused look on his mug a few times in the next ten weeks.

5.....Kasey Kahne. Kasey also has a head of steam entering the Chase. This team just doesn't have the resources that the teams ahead of it does. Will being a lame duck Dodge team hurt Kahne's chances? Probably yes. Guarantee.....Kahne will win at least one race in the Chase.

6.....Jeff Gordon. Has been runing good as of late. You can not count this team out either. Gordon needs to show that he still has the fire in his belly to contend, though. This could be his last real shot to prove he's still Big Daddy. Will the #24 team fall short in the title hunt? Probably yes. Guarantee....Will be racing Martin for second place honors at HMS.

7......Kurt Busch. The Chase begins on a great track for Busch. Too bad it's great for about half the other Chasers, too. Now would be a great time for Dodge to show what they can do for their flagship team. I just don't see it. Add in their lame duck crew chief, and these guys are in survival mode. Will they finish out of the top ten in points? Probably yes. Guarantee.....Second best Dodge in final points standings.

8....Brian Vickers. Hard nosed driver, raced his way into the Chase. Hard nosed is not the way to win a title, though. You have to throw in a little smarts too. Will Vickers lead the most laps in one of the final ten races, yet not win the race? Probably yes. Guarantee.....take 'probably' out of that last sentence.

9....Carl Edwards. Won the most races last year. No wins this year. Yet, his car owner, Jack Roush, is not crying about it to NASCAR. What gives? Is Roush laying in the weeds with something special just for the Chase? Probably yes. Guarantee.....Will finish in the top five in points.

10......Ryan Newman. Talk about flying under the radar. No wins here either. If HMS has already cut Tony off the good stuff, I doubt Ryan will be much better in the Chase. Does Newman consider this season a success just by making the Chase? Probably yes. Guarantee....Will not win a Chase race this year.

11.....Juan Pablo Montoya. 'Raced' his way into the Chase. Finally another team copies the #48's recipe for making the Chase. Top ten finishes whenever possible and you'll make it. JPM says he's not changing that recipe now, either. Is that sound stategy? Probably yes. Guarantee....This will not lead to dozens of other teams stealing this recipe.

12....Greg Biffle. Another of the four teams without a win making the Chase. Da Biff started last year's Chase with two straight wins and finished third in points at year's end. No lightning in the area. Will Roush treat Biffle like a stepchild, compared to Edwards? Probably yes. Guarantee....Biffle will win a Chase race.


Monday, September 14, 2009

View From The Flagstand

The view from Richmond cleared up and revealed the twelve finalists into NASCAR's convoluted Chase/playoff format. Regular readers know that I'm no fan of the Chase, and that still hasn't changed. Where else could a driver with ONE top five finish make the playoffs, but another driver with FOUR wins doesn't?

I know, I know, they all play by the same rules, NASCAR rewards consistency, yada, yada, yada. I might be impressed if the championship goes down to the wire; not the race for 12th place. If the driver who wins the title this year is the same guy that most of us think will, can we just rename it 'The Chase for Second Place'?

CHECKERED FLAG............Local boy, Denny Hamlin won at his home track, finally. He's been running strong as we go into the Chase. JGR only having one car in the Chase should help him get better equipment, but don't look for him to win the title this year.

GREEN FLAGS........Kurt Busch (2), Jeff Gordon (3), and Mark Martin (4) all had strong runs and solidified their Chase dreams. Brian Vickers (7) kept Kyle Busch (5) in his sights all night and raced into the Chase. Sam Hornish finished 7th after spinning through the infield. I bet Sam leads the league in top-10 finishes after bringing out at least one caution during a race.

YELLOW FLAGS.........Matt Kenseth was the only driver to fall out of the top 12 in points, and thus miss the Chase, at Richmond. Tony Stewart finished 17th. He has had bad runs in 3 of his last four races. Not the way to enter the Chase for the points leader. Carl Edwards had problems all night after winning the NNS race the previous night.

BLACK FLAG.......ABC/ESPN.......Matt Kenseth was the driver who was in, then fell out of the Chase. So, who is the very first driver's face that they stick a microphone in? No, not Matt. Maybe Hamlin, the winner? No, not him. ABC thought they would get a good sound bite, or maybe even a tirade, at the very least a little tantrum by rushing Kyle Busch as he climbed from his car. Congrats to Kyle for not coming through for them.

RED FLAG.........Stop it Kyle. Please don't turn into Robo/Corporate/Driver. We already have 42 of them out there.

P.S. Poll results to make the Chase:
Kyle Busch 80%
Matt Kenseth 10%
Brian Vickers 10%

One person voted for Vickers. You know who you are.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Right Sides Only ©

The battle tested warriors of NASCAR march into the capitol city of Richmond Saturday night. After a high speed shootout in Atlanta, the stars and cars of the Sprint Cup Series face off for a final showdown before the Chase begins.

This must be the drama that NASCAR envisioned when they came up with this Chase business. Only 122 points separate fifth place from fourteenth. Eleven drivers are still mathematicaly alive for the final eight spots in the twelve car Chase.

NASCAR's TV ratings have improved for the last four races, and that trend is sure to continue on Saturday night at Richmond. That's the good news. They start going head-to-head against the NFL on the following Sunday. That's the not so good news.

Richard Petty Motorsports driver, Kasey Kahne won last week at Atlanta in a Dodge. Next year RPM will be racing Fords as they merge with Yates Racing. Reed Sorenson is already looking for a job for next year. Paul Menard, and his dad, will be one of the four RPM cars next season, along with Kahne, AJ Allmendinger, and Elliott Sadler.

Jamie McMurray and his #26 team was supposed to go to Yates next year also as RFR cuts to the NASCAR four team limit. With no sponsorship in place, McMurray will soon join Sorenson in the unemployment line.

Jeremy Mayfield finally filed that wrongfull death lawsuit against his step mother, Lisa Mayfield, this week. He's seeking $10,000 in damages. No, I didn't leave any zeroes out.

The end of an era? Morgan Shepherd had to lay off all but two of his employees last week. His status is day-to-day. Kenny Wallace will make his 800th NASCAR start at Richmond on Friday night. Kelly Bires is the early leader in the JR Motorsports derby to drive the #88 in the NNS next season.

Benny Gordon will have a drive a special 9/11 tribute car in the NNS race Friday night. I used to pull for Benny at Summerville Speedway back in the 90s. He's a talented driver who won't back down. Look for the "Always Remember" #72 in the NNS race this week.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

View From The Flagstand

The view from the flagstand was excellent this week in Atlanta. We thought that maybe the twelve driver field for the Chase would be sorted out a little in the A.T.L. But, the standings are closer now for the final transfers than they were last week.

As of now, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch are on the outside looking in. They are the only two drivers with a chance of joining the party. They will have to go for the win, lead some laps, and hope for some bad luck for their rivals Saturday night in Richmond.

CHECKERED FLAGS........Kasey Kahne benefited from a late caution flag to overtake, leader, Kevin Harvick. Then it was time for some cold Buds in Hotlanta. Harvick wound up second, and also dominated the NNS race at Atlanta on Saturday night.

GREEN FLAGS........Juan Pablo Montoya finished third, and David Reutimann was fourth. Ride swappers, Bobby Labonte (18) and David Gilliland (19) both were better than expected. So were David Stremme (14), Paul Menard (15), and Robby Gordon (16). Probably the first, and last, time those three will get a green flag from me.

YELLOW FLAGS.......Kyle Busch led a lot of laps early, then couldn't close the deal. He was as high as sixth in points at one point during the race, but ended up losing a spot and falling to 14th. With just one regular season race to go, he won't be able to depend on his talent to make the Chase. Kurt Busch was also strong early, hanging aroung the top-5. He kissed the wall and finished 38th. Jimmie Johnson may have had the car to beat, but problems dropped him to 36th.

RED FLAG.......Bobby Labonte may have been jobbed by his race team. His team, HOFR is in bed with Yates Racing, who are, in turn a puppet for RFR. Bobby thought it strange that his car didn't have sponsorship for seven races.....at the end of the season. Also, strange that a driver can drive in seven races without losing his standings as a rookie driver....for future runs at the ROY award. Nothing against Labonte's replacement, (future ROY contender) Erik Darnell (who finished 30th).....it's not his fault he drives for Beezlebub in a hat.

BLACK FLAG......Tony Stewart, who not only isn't exactly peaking as the Chase looms, is reportedly this close to bringing Danica Patrick to NASCAR. Why? Money! There can be no other reason. A handfull of open wheel aces have tried to drive the taxi cabs in the last few years. Other than Scott Speed, in ARCA and the Truck Series, none have come close to a win. And, all are far more talented than Danica.

WHITE FLAG......I'm no big Carl Edwards fan (no, really) but the story that aired during the pre-race about the young girl with cancer was a real tear jerker. Carl's sponsor, AFLAC, had a contest for youth cancer patients to design the paint scheme for Carl's #99 that he would drive at Atlanta. The winner was Carl's guest and she even got to ride around the track with him as part of the pre-race introductions. So for getting me all choked up, Carl gets the white flag of truce. Which means no more jokes about him until season's end.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Right Sides Only

NASCAR hits the Dirty South one more time this week when they storm into Atlanta Motor Speedway. No glitter rock and roll for this Labor Day weekend show. The official 'end of summer' race returns to the Southeast this year. Not quite Darlington, but laps ahead of Fontana.

The Cup series just enjoyed it's last weekend off for the rest of their year. Twelve straight races will determine this year's champion. Atlanta, and Richmond next week, will set the playoff field for the Chase.

I have to take one last look back at last week's debacle in Montreal. Stock cars are not meant to race in the rain! Especially last week when three quarters of the race were run under fair conditions for all drivers. Then, the rain tires went on and the race was turned upside down. Just like driving on the interstate in the rain, the moron up front who hits the brakes, unexpectedly, comes away with no damage. The cars behind him pay the price in lost points, damged equipment, and, in the near future, injuries. If Kyle Busch had stole this race instead of Carl Edwards, everyone would be calling for the end of rain tires in NASCAR.

Brad Keselowski signed to drive the #12 Cup car for Penske next year. Let's see, he's leaving the best NNS team to go drive the third car for a second rate Cup team. Bradley, only one driver has ever improved or had any success after leaving HMS. And he's in a lot better ride than you're getting in. Talented Penske developmental drivers, Parker Kliggerman and Justin Algaier, will be ready to take over at your first signs of struggle. When that happens, don't expect Rick to return your calls....out of sight, out of mind.

RCR and Kevin Harvick announced that they are staying together---at least untill the kids are out of school. Harvick has been disruptive for months now as he tried to force Richard Childress to let him leave early. Happy and Richard both put on a happy face when they announced this rededication to winning. Don't look for Kev to be smiling if RCR doesn't come out of the gate fast in February.

For the first time in the last 568 races, Bobby Labonte won't be starting a Cup event. RFR driver Erik Darnell will bring sponsorship to the #96 HOFR Ford for seven of the last twelve races. Labonte is one race behind Jeff Gordon is current consecutive starts. Hopefully some team will see the fire still burns---- and the past champ's provisional doesn't hurt either--- and put Labonte in a competitive car.

Danica Patrick visited the SHR shops, again last week. Her tour guide was none other than Tony Stewart himself. She also visited the office of Mike Hanner: PI. Seems she also wants to see more of Victoria Lane. Hanner threw her out. I guess he's still not drinking.

David Stremme and Paul Menard both make their 100th Cup start at Atlanta. Both are still gunning for that first win. Three more NASCAR crewmen have been suspended for drug violations. Among them was Gary St Amant, former driver, turned crew chief in the Truck Series. Say it ain't so Bluebird!

Darrell Waltrip is forcing a Canadien memorabilia shop to change it's name from Boogity Sportswear. The owner opened the shop, then named Boogity, Boogity, Racing, in 2001---- four years before DW trademarked his lame ass catch phrase. DW should be thanking the guy for being the only one in North America that thinks that's a cool name for a store.