Danny Peters · Monday October 21, 2013
ONE: Four To Go and All to Play For
Now we’re really getting down to the wire with just four races remaining on the 2013 schedule. First up, it’s the smallest, slowest track and in my opinion best track in NASCAR, Martinsville Speedway, then it’s on to Texas Motor Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway before we finish things up for the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
As things stand, the title does look like it will come down to either Jimmie Johnson (1st) or Matt Kenseth (2nd, -4 points) but Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick (both -26 points,) and Jeff Gordon (5th, -32 points) remain in contention. With four races to go in 2012, five drivers were separated by just 30 points: Brad Keselowski held a seven point advantage over Johnson with Denny Hamlin (3rd, -20), Clint Bowyer (4th, -25) and Kasey Kahne (5th, -30.) By the time the checkered flag flew in Miami, Keselowski had a 39 point lead over Bowyer in 2nd place, Johnson was 3rd, forty in arrears, followed by Kahne (4th, -55), Greg Biffle (5th, -68) and Hamlin (6th, 71). All of this goes to show that much can change. Yes, Keselowski won the championship but the point spread was significantly stretched. At this stage of the season every mistake is magnified, every slip scrutinized and every pit road miscue punished.
Johnson and Kenseth may have paced the Chase to date but there’s still plenty of time for both to drop out of the running. Stay tuned, folks, stay tuned.
TWO: Three Notable Win Streaks in Jeopardy
Fifteen drivers have won a race so far in 2013, and with four races remaining there are several drivers still desperate to pick up their first win of the year and extend their winning streaks.
Top of the list is Denny Hamlin who has won at least one race in each of the seven previous seasons. As has been well documented, Hamlin has struggled through a horrific season. Yet, if ever there was a track for the streak to continue, that track would be Martinsville where Hamlin has picked up four of his 22 career victories to date. Hamlin has also won twice at Texas and once a piece at Phoenix and Miami.
Then there’s Clint Bowyer, who is on a three year streak having won six times between 2010 and 2012. Of his eight career victories none have come at the next four tracks, but given his knack of finding solid finishes I wouldn’t rule it out just yet.
Jeff Gordon and Marcos Ambrose both have two year win streaks in play, but only the former looks likely to keep it going. The four-time champion has won seven times at Martinsville, twice at Phoenix and once at Texas in addition to two second-place finishes in 2013 to date.
For Hamlin, Gordon and Bowyer with just four attempts remaining the pressure is well and truly on.
Three: Dixon Wins His Third IndyCar Series Title
Target Chip Ganassi wheelman and native New Zealander Scott Dixon survived the carnage that was the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday night to record his third IZOD IndyCar Series title. The victory came at the expense of popular veteran and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who battled hard all night, but ultimately fell short in his quest for a first ever IndyCar championship.
All told, it was a compelling finish to what has been an extremely competitive open wheel racing season. Four drivers — James Hinchcliffe (three total wins), Simon Pagenaud (two total wins) Takuma Sato and Charlie Kimball — picked up their maiden victories. Ten different drivers from seven teams won across the 19-race slate; while three double header weekends in Detroit, Toronto and Houston proved both popular and successful, as did a return to the schedule for Pocono Raceway.
It will be five months until we’ll see the Series back on track and I will miss it. For much of the year, Indy has been the best top echelon racing series to watch and Saturday night’s season finale was great example of just that.
FOUR: McMurray and Larson Could Be A Dynamic Duo in 2014
With an IndyCar Series title won on Saturday night and Jamie McMurray’s heartwarming victory at Talladega, it was a seriously good weekend for team principal Chip Ganassi and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. After a terrible 2011 season and a 2012 that wasn’t much better, 2013 has been a much more positive year for EGR.
“I think we’ve had a lot of opportunities to win this year, and we’ve had some bad luck,” said EGR co-owner Felix Sabates after McMurray’s victory on the high banks of Talladega. “If you look at all our races this year, some it’s our fault that we lost, but some of the races we just get caught in accidents that wasn’t our fault.”
With Montoya moving over to the IndyCar Series in 2014, ironically with Team Penske, Kyle Larson will take over driving duties in the No. 42 Target Chevy. Garage insiders are particularly hot on the 21-year old phenom, with some that I’ve spoken to regarding him as about as close to a can’t miss prospect as any driver who has come through the ranks in the last decade. McMurray’s veteran leadership can only help with Larson’s development and this team should be fascinating to watch throughout 2014.
“I’m excited about next year,” said Sabates.
There’s every reason to suggest he’s right to be.
FIVE: The Little Paperclip That Could
And finally this week, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there aren’t many problems that can’t be fixed at the Sprint Cup level with a trip to the lil ol’ paperclip nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Martinsville Speedway was the site of race number six (of eight) in the inaugural 1949 season, and 129 races later it’s still, quite rightly, on the schedule and long may both of its races stay.
What I love about Martinsville is that it has the potential to be just as much of a wild card as Talladega. With laps taking about 16-17 seconds, any kind of mistake (be it yours or someone else’s) can be crucial. Even a slip out of line in the waning laps can see a driver drop as many as or more than 20 spots. Plus, Martinsville also has one of the coolest trophies of any sport you care to mention: a custom made Grandfather clock. Martinsville, unlike many other tracks, rarely disappoints. I don’t expect it to on Sunday. Enjoy the race, folks.
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