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.
Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson won’t be exchanging Christmas gifts anytime soon after their run in at Martinsville in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500. Biffle was positioned in the top-10 when contact from Johnson sent him spinning.
While there was minimal damage to Biffle’s car, the real damage was having to go to the back of the line after pitting. He did have a strong enough car to work his way back to a ninth place finish, but it could have been a lot better had that not happened.
After the race Biffle got to Johnson to explain his frustration. “Hey, you tore my rear bumper off, you (expletive),” said Biffle. Johnson contended he was next to Biffle, but Biffle warned him he’d “better watch it.” In the end it was a case of agreeing to disagree over the incident.
With three races to go and Johnson neck and neck for the title, it’ll be interesting to see if Biffle cuts him any slack in the coming weeks. Drivers tend to have very long memories and if it’s not this season, it could go into next.
In this column I take a look at the points situation in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to let you know who will be battling for the title in Homestead. Pit road cost a bunch of teams on Sunday, why was that? Rookie Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. impressed many on Sunday and might have clinched the Rookie of the Year title. And finally could there be trouble brewing between two pseudo teammates who will be teammates for real next season?
With only four races remaining in the Chase there are five drivers still mathematically alive in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Jimmie Johnson leads the points by four over Matt Kenseth, 26 over Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, and Jeff Gordon continues to linger behind by 34 points. Arguments can be made that all five could be in it until the end, but my gut and odds are pointing towards Johnson and Kenseth being the two title contenders. Take Talladega out of it and the duo have been too consistent for anyone else to gain on them. After Martinsville I figure one to two more will drop out of range, and it’ll be a matter of time before it’s mathematically down to Johnson and Kenseth.
Pit road was brutal for a handful of drivers on Sunday. Kyle Busch missed his pit stall on his first stop, which resulted in coming back down pit road and going down a lap. He was the only driver who overcame the issue as he got a caution to get caught back up. Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, and Danica Patrick each got speeding penalties that ruined their days. Patrick was running in the top-10 most of the day before her gaffe on pit road. Without any cautions the second half of the race, until the last lap, no one could gain their lost lap back. Normally it might have been an issue, but with such a clean race, all three will have to think about what could have been.
While most might say Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s great run was trashed by perceived contact with Austin Dillon to end the race, I say that doesn’t matter. Replay shows Stenhosue didn’t touch Dillon’s Chevrolet, instead it was the air movement that got him loose. I was very impressed on how Stenhouse handled himself all day working from the back to the front and vice versa with the poise of a veteran. And he had the respect of the field too, because no one left him out to dry, everyone worked with him. It’ll be hard for him to not win Rookie of the Year this season and he’s building a lot of momentum to bring into 2014. I think our cars are getting better, and everybody at the shop is all hands on, just trying to make our season the best it can be here at the end. We struggled throughout the first half of the season, definitely more than I thought we should or definitely more than we wanted to. We’ve learned a lot. I think we’re getting better as a team, and I’m learning a little bit more about what we need to do from practice to the race to make our car still fast throughout the race,” commented Stenhouse after the race.
With two laps to go, Kurt Busch decided he would step out of line on the high side and help out Kevin Harvick. The move proved disastrous because as soon as Busch moved low, Harvick moved back high. Busch was left to out to dry. Listening to his radio, Busch seemed shocked that Harvick did that, dropping some F bombs. For this season Harvick and Busch are pseudo teammates, with Furniture Row Racing (Busch) and Richard Childress Racing (Harvick) working together with a technical alliance. Next season both will be on the same team, Stewart-Haas Racing, and it’ll be interesting to see if this creates a rift to start the season. “Restrictor plate racing is all about being in the right place at the right time,” said Busch, who led twice for three laps. “We were in the right place for the majority of the race, but when it counted at the end we weren’t there. I tried to make something happen, but couldn’t get there.”
Side note, I was hoping Busch’s Wonder Bread car would have been painted more like Ricky Bobby’s from Talladega Nights, but you can’t win them all.
Everyone had this race circled on their calendar as the race that would shake up the Chase standings. As it played out, for the most part everything stayed the same. Positions changed, such as Jimmie Johnson taking the points lead, but it was nothing like the jumps predicated.
The main reason is everyone thought there would be a big wreck that would take out most of the field. That’s a normal occurrence on the restrictor plate tracks of Talladega and Daytona. One year ago such a wreck happened on the final lap and ruined a few drivers’ championship bids.
This year the wreck never happened to the magnitude that is normally expected. For 187 laps the drivers actually drove with respect, allowing for some give and take. It wasn’t until the final lap did Austin Dillon get loose and was run into by Casey Mears. A wreck at a plate track with only two cars involved? That’s nearly unheard of. “I’m OK, but that was strange being in the infield care center with only myself usually there’s about ten of us in there together,” commented Mears after being released from the infield care center.
The chaos that ensued, because drivers where just starting to make their moves forward, allowed Johnson to get by Kenseth by virtue of his 13th place finish versus Kenseth’s 20th place finish.
Without a big Talladega shake up, things have narrowed down to Johnson and Kenseth for the title. There might still be hope for those on the outside looking in, because the tight half mile Martinsville Speedway is next. It could be a place where someone takes out revenge for something that has happened during the season, and knock them out of title contention.
The great part is we don’t know until we get there. The Goody’s Headache Relief 500 gets underway at 1:30 PM EST and can be seen on ESPN.
This week’s column takes a look at the driver standings battles in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series after a weekend of racing at the Kansas Speedway. In both the Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series you could make the argument that it’s down to two drivers in each.
It is officially a two man race for the Nationwide Series title in 2013, down to Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish, Jr. You could make an argument for Regan Smith (-35), who finished third at Kansas or even a very long shot for Elliott Sadler (43), who finished 10th at Kansas, but it is surely down to Dillon and Hornish.
Dillon gained some breathing room when he came home sixth versus Hornish’s 17th. The difference is now eight points in Dillon’s favor, and I don’t see him slowing down. The remaining schedule is Charlotte, Texas, Phoenix, and Homestead. I give Dillon Charlotte and Texas, Hornish is usually a bit better at Phoenix, and Homestead I lean towards Dillon again.
That could be what’s holding up announcing Dillon to the Cup Series in 2014, maybe they want that championship to serve as their press conference to tell the world the worst kept secret.
Moving the Sprint Cup Series you have Matt Kenseth atop the standings by three points over Jimmie Johnson. Kansas winner Kevin Harvick is third 25 points behind. Now I’m saying a two man race here because Kenseth had a “bad race” and still finished 12th. Johnson had issues late, but still finished 6th.
They need Kyle Busch like bad races, where he finished 34th at Kansas. Now, with Talladega still being out there it’s a big wildcard, but I can’t see either Kenseth or Johnson doing anything to jeopardize their positioning.
Harvick and others have to go all out, like Harvick at Kansas, and lead as many laps as possible and win. Can they do it? Yes, absolutely, but I don’t think they can do it every week.