Danny Peters · Tuesday May 28, 2013
ONE: Halfway to the Chase
This upcoming Sunday afternoon’s 400-miler on the concrete high banks of Dover will mark the halfway point to the 2013 Chase. To some extent, it’s an arbitrary point because certain drivers—barring catastrophic bad luck or a severe lack of form when compared to average—know they’re already all but in.
Matt Kenseth is nearly guaranteed entrance with three wins and 893 laps led or 22% of the total laps run in Cup this year; Jimmie Johnson with two wins, the points lead and metronomic consistency likewise appears to be a lock-in. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch both have a pair of wins which should do it and based on average finish. Both Carl Edwards, with one win and 32 points back in 2nd place, and Kasey Kahne with his win and five top-5’s both should be good.
Clint Bowyer (4th place, -60 points) hasn’t won yet this year but 4 top-5’s and 6 top-10’s suggest he’ll overcome the “finishing second” syndrome and make the Chase again. Despite Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s blown engine at Charlotte, his consistency should keep him safely in the top 10 in points, but a win certainly would help. The champ Brad Keselowski has endured a tough couple of 30th+ finishes in the last few weeks, but either by consistent finishes or a win or two this summer, he will also make the Chase – the No. 2 team is just that good.
By my math, which can be rudimentary at the best of times, this accounts for nine of the Chase field of 12. The battle for the remaining three spots (or more depending on what you disagree with in the above) should be absolutely fascinating to watch over the summer months.
TWO: So Far, So Good for Denny Hamlin
But what of the recently returned Denny Hamlin and the No. 11? What are his chances at making the Chase?
In the two races since his full return to driving duties, Denny Hamlin has finished second at Darlington Raceway and fourth on Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That’s 83 points earned out of a maximum possible 96, good for 24th place in the standings, 53 points behind Tony Stewart in 20th, and 97 markers behind tenth place driver and 2012 champion Brad Keselowski.
Hamlin also picked up the pole at Charlotte, his second of the season, with a blistering track record qualifying run; a lap that prompted none other than Mario Andretti to tweet, “Your strong comeback from serious injury @dennyhamlin is the mark of a true racer! Brilliant #CocaCola600 pole.”
What Hamlin still needs, alongside the top-5 finishes, is wins. The next part of the schedule, headed to race number one in the Chase, should help and then some. Hamlin has won four times at Pocono, twice at Loudon, Michigan and Richmond as well as picking up wins at Bristol and Atlanta just prior to the start of the 2012 Chase. Where Hamlin will have to be careful is at the road courses; his last six combined finishes at Watkins Glen and Sonoma read 34th, 37th, 37th, 36th, 35th, 34th.
As I said on his return from injury, Hamlin will be really fun to watch over the summer months. Nothing I’ve seen so far suggests otherwise.
THREE: Boogity Bye-Bye for 2013
Sunday’s broadcast from Dover International Speedway will be the final telecast of the 2013 season for good old shouty WE ARE FOX SPORTS. As always, after serving up the first third of the NASCAR schedule I won’t be sad to see them go. No question it’s fabulous for our sport to have as solid a broadcast partner as FOX (and by solid I mean financial; having signed up through 2022) but I just wish they could tone down the relentless hype some and let the racing speak for itself.
However, all is not a complete loss. They did stick with the Talladega race despite the long rain delay and my endless amusement at the random spots in which they put Jeff Hammond and Michael Waltrip’s comedic pit road pre-race walks are three plus points in their favor.
Next up, perhaps for the last time, is the six-race summer stretch on TNT with credible rumors that the middle portion of the epic calendar will reside with the NBC Sports Network in 2014. With races at a diverse group of tracks – Pocono, Michigan, Sonoma, Kentucky, Daytona and Loudon – there should be something of interest for every NASCAR fan in the next month and a half. And TNT doesn’t usually disappoint.
FOUR: The Duels in Detroit
After a wonderful 2013 Indy 500 and a morale boosting maiden victory for the popular Brazilian veteran Tony Kanaan, (it was his twelfth attempt to win The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,) the IZOD IndyCar Series is straight back to action this weekend on the Belle Isle Road Course in Detroit. Newly reconfigured at 2.35 miles long, the street course track will host the first of three double header races with full points paying events running on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. With future double header weekends in Toronto and Houston, the way these three weekends play out could have a profound effect on the 2013 overall standings: especially with the final double header in Houston coming right before the season finale at Auto Club Speedway on October 19.
After all the hoopla of the whole month of May and the 97th running of the Indy 500, it’s well and truly back to the grind for the IndyCar drivers, not least with races at Texas (June 8), Milwaukee (June 15) and Iowa (June 23) just around the corner. One thing seems sure: the five races of June will highlight with an unerring glare, both the contenders and the pretenders for this year’s IndyCar championship.
FIVE: The Miles the Monster Trophy
Bizarre and brilliant trophies are very much the norm in NASCAR. The one awaiting this weekend’s winning driver at Dover International Speedway belongs very much in the former category as opposed to the Martinsville grandfather clock or the Harley J. Earl trophy, which highlight the latter. The trophy doled out this Sunday is a miniature tribute to the track’s very own 46-foot high monument, which includes a full size stock car held tightly in Miles the Monster’s raised right hand. And after 400 laps on the high concrete banks of the one mile long track whoever is posing with it in Victory Lane, a 1:24 replica of the winner’s car in the trophy monster’s right hand, will certainly have earned the right. Even by NASCAR’s quirky standards, this particular prize is very much one of a kind. I bet it looks good in the trophy room.
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