One year ago it was chaos for NASCAR fans as the announcement came through there was a new version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, one that put emphasis on winning, had eliminations, and an expanded field. Many, include me, thought this was the dumbest idea ever and no way would it work. Sometimes I can admit when I’m wrong, and judging by the tempers that overflowed and nail biting season finale at Homestead, this was the correct move for NASCAR to make. Continue reading “Sprint Cup Series 2015 Season Preview”
Kevin Harvick flat out dominated the Quicken Loans 500 from the Phoenix International Raceway. He led 264 of the 312 laps and punched his ticket into the Chase finale with his win. Joining Harvick with a shot at the title at Homestead next weekend is Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Ryan Newman.
Here are some observations on the Chase and this weekend’s race:
Anything For A Championship
If the past few weeks haven’t been indicators of the pressure teams and drivers are under, today provided another example of that. While there were no post-race fights on pit road, Ryan Newman did everything he could to wrestle 11th place from Kyle Larson, which included a slide job into Larson to get the spot. Different from last weekend, Larson did get into the wall, but still salvaged a 13th place finish. Dirty move by Newman? No way, he’s going for a title and it is racing. Larson might not disagree, but he’ll understand in time like Newman said.
Second Just Isn’t Good Enough
Jeff Gordon finished second and became the first loser when it came to the Chase cut off. He might have tied Kevin Harvick for fourth place, but Harvick’s win gets him in. After last weekend, there will be lots Gordon will dwell on, but this season has been a major resurgence on his career. Capping off with another Homestead win will go a long way to putting this behind him.
Hamlin And Logano Try To Give It Away
Both Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano tried to give away their positions in the Chase. Hamlin had a tire go down and lost two laps, but battled back to make it in with a top-5 finish. I had already given up on Hamlin, equating him to being toast at one point, and began to wonder where crew chief Darren Grubb might be working next year. They hang on for one more race, but I can’t imagine there will not be changes across the board at Joe Gibbs Racing. Logano had a simple pit miscue, and like Hamlin, he just couldn’t get through the traffic back in the pack fast enough. Both persevered and will look to take home a title.
First Timer Next Weekend
We will have another first time champion when the checkered flag falls next weekend. The only driver of the four that has a NASCAR title on his resume is Kevin Harvick, owning two Nationwide Series championships. A quick look at the title contenders at Homestead, you’ll see by virtue of average finish it is Harvick’s to lose. He’s averaging an 8.08 finished followed by Hamlin (11.22), Newman (17.00), and Logano (20.80). Hamlin though owns two wins at the track versus the zero for everyone else.
Harvick Takes The Record
Kevin Harvick used his dominating performance to move past Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, and Jimmie Johnson to become the all-time lap leader in Sprint Cup Series history at Phoenix. He now has led 978 laps, which is 45 more than Johnson. This is one record that could seesaw over the next couple of years, but it is an impressive list of drivers Harvick got past. Rounding out the top-10 are Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Denny Hamlin.
Johnson Continues To Look At 2015
It’s hard to rationalize a four win season as being “terrible,” but when you’re Jimmie Johnson, that’s how the bar is set. Phoenix was another forgettable race for Johnson and his team as an accident knocked him out on lap 235 for a 39th place finish. Dominating last weekend to near last the next has been the exact example of his season.
Ambrose Gears For The End
Marcos Ambrose’s NASCAR career has one more race left in it, but he is not going down without a fight. Ambrose picked up his 46th career top-10 finish at Phoenix with a late charge past Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson. Coming into Homestead, Ambrose has a lot to be proud with after his eight years in the Sprint Cup Series.
For the past two years, I have accompanied Mike to the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen with media credentials and cold garage and pit passes. Each year, as we walk around the track and I take in all the sites, Mike explains to me what is like to come to the track strictly as a fan. I have been very spoiled (and thankful) of the opportunities to participate as a member of the media to cover the race, but I also feel like I have missed out on certain passage rights of NASCAR fans.
A few weeks ago, some friends and I came to Watkins Glen to attend their annual Wine Festival; my absolute favorite festival of all time! We decided that the easiest and most responsible way to ensure our safety and continued fun would be to camp at the track. Do not be fooled! I guarantee it was a very comparable experience to camping during race weekend – the late night drinking fests, blaring music until 3 am, toga party, bon fire and fireworks. There was little sleep acquired, which was okay with us since that was not the intent of our stay. My imagination (and from leisurely walking around the track at 8am and seeing all the beer cans strewn about) tells me that race weekend is not much different. So I have checked camping at the track off my list this year.
This weekend (yesterday), Mike was very motivated to be out of the Media Center as much as possible in order to freshen our horizons and spark creativity by experiencing the garages before and during practices. This may sound boring or naïve to some, but for me, it was absolutely amazing!
First, we casually walked past the cars and their appropriate teams working diligently to perfect them for the races. I am accustomed to watching these guys work from my living room couch. I know they work fast and there are constant sounds of power tools and engines, but to smell the exhaust (and other fumes) and feel the rumble of the cars travel through my body as they light up the garage area really brought my attention to how much this is new to me… and I love it!
Mike successfully set up a few interviews yesterday, including Jeremy Clements and Chase Elliott. Normally, I do not attend the interviews. Initially I figured I would be a nervous mess that would rub off onto Mike, so I would just let him go on these adventures by himself. This year he insisted I come along and I am so appreciative. Though I probably did not say more than three words to either driver from what I remember, it was a remarkable experience for me because it yet again reminded me that this is real, these people are real, and it is not as easy as it looks on TV.
Thanks to Can-Am Spyder, Mike and I received Hot Passes this year which has allowed us the freedom of wandering the garage and admiring the atmosphere to my heart’s content. During the Sprint Cup practice, my adrenaline surged as I watched the cars go in and out and crews work speedily from inside the garage area. Because I like paying attention to small details that probably means nothing to anyone else, I was fascinated focusing on when drivers choose to get out of their cars. Jimmie Johnson caught my attention a few times when he jumped out and immediately began working on the car with his crew. Kyle Busch was another one I watched relatively closely and was a little surprised at the speeds he used while literally pulling his car into the actual garage. The roar of the cars was phenomenal; I cannot think of words that truly justify an explanation of exhilaration.
I am excited to see what I experience today and cannot wait to report back!
Last night’s Budweiser Duels provided an interesting insight into what we can expect in Sunday’s Daytona 500. With most of the early practices gear towards single car qualifying, it wasn’t until the Sprint Unlimited where we saw how the racing could be with this new package on the Daytona International Speedway. Continue reading “What Can We Learn From The Budweiser Duels?”
Much was made last November about a changing of the guard in NASCAR when we ran the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mark Martin and Ken Schrader made it be known it would be their final Sprint Cup Series race. For Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte it represented their final full-time race in the series, although Labonte did not make the trip south as his finale was a week prior at Phoenix. Continue reading “The Paradigm Shift In NASCAR”
If it wasn’t bad enough to be second (aka the first loser) in the final Sprint Cup Series championship rundown, here’s another reason to hate it. Since 2007, the driver finishing second has not finished better than seventh the next season. That was done by Jeff Gordon (second in 2007) and Clint Bowyer (second in 2012). Continue reading “Second Place Hangover”
The slugfest between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth is for all intensive purposes over after the AdvoCare 500 was completed Sunday. With Johnson’s third place finish and Kenseth’s struggle filled 23rd place finish the dynamic has shifted. Johnson enters the final race with a 28 point advantage on Kenseth. The only other driver math mathematically in the battle is Sunday winner Kevin Harvick, who is 34 points behind.
“Just excited to go racing. I’m in a position I want to be in. I want to go down there and need to defend the championship. We’ve got a nice points lead so happy to be back on the West Coast. I want to say hey to everybody in the stands. Thanks to all those No. 48 fans out there and we will go to Homestead and race some more,” Johnson commented after the race.
Kenseth was on the opposite end of the spectrum from Johnson. “I’m disappointed, obviously with the way our season has gone and kind of being in the championship hunt, you hope to go down to Homestead and race for it on performance. On the other hand, I’m extremely happy. I’m really, really happy with my team. There’s not another car out here I’d want to be driving. It’s a special group of guys — we’ve had just an amazing, incredible season and we still have one week left.”
Being the wildcard in all of this, Kevin Harvick is happy that there’s a chance for him. “That is all you can ask for to happen (have a chance). Anything can happen. You have to be in it to win it and done a good job of winning races in the Chase and we will see what happens.”
To win the title regardless of what everyone else does, Johnson needs to finish 23rd or better without leading a lap. If he leads one lap, he can finish as worse as 24th. If he leads the most laps, he can finish at worst 25th.
Nothing is a lock as Johnson has been very up and down in his 12 career starts at Homestead. He has four top-5 finishes and seven top-10 finishes. That said his previous two races has been a 32nd (2011) and 36th (2012). While most will give Johnson the title, it’s not over until it’s over.