The Frontstretch: Four Burning Questions: McDowell and Raikkonen's Chances, And All-Star Surprises by Mike Lovecchio -- Thursday May 19, 2011

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With a limited number of Cup drivers in Iowa Sunday, which driver has the best opportunity to prove himself?

Michael McDowell is just one of many Nationwide Series regulars that will have a chance to shine this weekend with majority of the Cup Series drivers opting not to make the trip to Iowa for Sunday’s race.

A number of Sprint Cup drivers this weekend have opted to not double-dip and strictly turn their attention to Saturday night’s All-Star race. That leaves a number of quality rides in the Nationwide race Sunday in Iowa, a great opportunity for young up-and-coming drivers or veterans in dire need of a break. To find two drivers who have great opportunities this weekend, all you have to do is turn your attention to one team – Joe Gibbs Racing. There will be no Kyle Busch or Joey Logano in the No. 18 and No. 20 this weekend, instead it will be Michael McDowell and Drew Herring. McDowell has struggled to be competitive since breaking into the Sprint Cup series with limited experience in 2008 and has mostly been competing in a start-and-park ride with HP Racing. But this is the weekend McDowell can make race fans’ perk up their ears and say ‘Hey, I remember that guy!’ He may not have the most success in stock car racing, but he does have experience – more than most in the Nationwide field – and a top 5 ride, easily. McDowell has a chance this weekend to compete for a win, or at least a top 5.

McDowell’s teammate this weekend, Drew Herring, may be a relative unknown, but the 24-year-old driver has had a solid albeit brief Nationwide career. In four Nationwide starts Herring has two top 20s for Baker Curb Racing and has a great opportunity to improve on that this weekend. A win may be a stretch, but Herring has a chance for his first career top 10 and to impress other car owners who may be looking for a talented young driver.

How will Kimi Raikkonen fare this weekend?

Speaking of opportunities to impress, there are few rides across NASCAR’s national touring series more dominant than any truck owned by Kyle Busch, and this weekend former Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen gets the chance to pilot the No. 15 KBM Toyota at Charlotte. Raikkonen is the latest open-wheel standout to dabble in NASCAR and should immediately have an opportunity to earn a top 5. Busch has said both he and Raikkonen turned competitive laps in a recent test, which means if Kimi is anywhere close to as fast as Busch, he should be quicker than 2/3 of the Truck field. I’ll go as far to say that if something were to happen to Busch Friday night, Raikkonen could win in his first ever start.

Will we see anymore on-track fireworks at the All-Star race?

The no-points, high-payout race Saturday night has been known to create more than a few fireworks, and with a couple of scores to settle fans are wondering if they’ll come to a head this weekend. Unfortunately, for those who want to see Harvick/Busch II, the probation will carry over into the All-Star race and it’s highly unlikely the two will sacrifice the possibility of missing a points paying race next week just to vent off any frustration one may have with the other. Still though, don’t be surprised to see other disagreements this weekend. It’s obvious that ‘boys have it’, although few know what the boundaries are, has produced more than a couple of frustrated drivers. A non-points race is the perfect race to not give that driver you feel hasn’t raced you cleanly an inch, and if there’s contact made, so be it. Don’t be surprised to see some fireworks Saturday night, but they won’t be from Harvick or Busch.

Will we see a double winner Saturday night?

It’s hard to remember a year with a more talented group of drivers in the Sprint Showdown. Between Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Burton, Martin Truex, Jr., AJ Allmendinger, Brian Vickers and Joey Logano one of those drivers can easily hit on a setup in the Showdown that can lead to the potential of a win in the All-Star race. But still, there’s a reason these drivers aren’t guaranteed a spot in the main event – they haven’t won a race in the last year and a half. It would be surprising for a winless driver over that span to suddenly win two races in the same night, but stranger things have happened.

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05/20/2011 01:31 PM

Mike that’s kind of silly to make such a prediction re: Raikkonen, it really is. He has barely stepped into a stocker and on ovals for chrissakes. He has to get pit speeds, pitting, long runs, restarts, side-by-side, double file, “air off spoiler”, guy on your bumper making you lose, man I can’t even begin the preamble of what the guy is gonna have to learn. And to say that if Kyle Busch goes out then Raikkonen may win his first, well jezuz man you are surely forgetting that a whole lotta guys will have their say before that happens: like multi-time champ Hornaday, multi-winner and champ Bodine, talented Bowyer and Dillon, Menard, winners Sauter & Kvapil, and a whole list of other talented guys. To say Raikkonen may win cause Busch is out surely pays a disservice to a bunch of veteran drivers, sets up Raikkonen for failure and shows just how a limited view you do have of racing…jezuz…journalists

05/25/2011 10:42 AM

So, um, Mike. Whasup wid da Raikkonen thing? I mean I am a fan of his actually but I say again, the guy is gonna have to learn a 1001 things before he really will be competitive in NASCAR’s series. You found out last week that being fast isn’t always that good. Scott Speed was fast for 5 laps but could never get down what he needed the entire race to be fast and win. Maybe he wasn’t given enough of a chance. Montoya is a dam good driver and will eventually win but he has to settle down and quit beating himself. Raikkonen if he wants it bad enough could become a star but I think he is just having fun—a guy with money. No harm in that and he eventually could really win big in Cup. But these are long long races and you need to be able to communicate with your crew chief for 3-4 hours on what to do with your car to make it to the winner’s circle. F-1 drivers can be as good as anybody on the planet, but so can NASCAR guys. F-1 has high high I say high downforce cars and all electronics and many many high paid engineers running the show for what is a 90 minute show. Sure F-1 drivers gotta have a neck to withstand the g-forces but Cup racers, the ones that win, can dig in late in the game of this 3-4 hour game and get er done. Take an F-1 driver to the 600 and he may puke before halfway. Scott Speed said his fitness regimen was higher in F-1 than Cup. But maybe that’s one of the reason’s he ain’t in Cup. Cup fitness or to be successful in Cup requires more training than most think.

All this is to say and to take you to school over your comments about Raikkonen. I know you are young. I also know Raikkonen is talented. But I resented the way you threw the truck guys under the bus saying Raikkonen is faster than 2/3 of the field. And what if you are correct, and you are not, so what if he is. He has to run that way for 200 laps or more—something he didn’t do in F-1. NASCAR racing is about running hard for a lap or two and running hard for 50 laps or more and racing for 200, 300, 400, 500 laps. It’s something that Scott Speed maybe had a hard time with. It’s something Danica Patrick ain’t King of yet and it may yet be her achillies heel and it’s something Raikkonen if he lasts will have to master that he hasn’t had to master before. So before you give the trophy away to Raikkonen or any other newcomer/outsider, you better do your research. Cause even Mark Maryin can be wrong. I don’t think Sliced Bread is gonna be the star he thought he was or is. Maybe with much much more time. But I don’t see him breakin out in 2011 or maybe not even in 2012. So like Raikkonen Mike you must learn your craft better.

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