The Frontstretch: Surefire Bets The Next Seven Weeks by Vito Pugliese -- Wednesday October 5, 2011

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Surefire Bets The Next Seven Weeks

Voice Of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Wednesday October 5, 2011

 

Gambling used to have a bit of a negative connotation to it. Now, it is to be celebrated and encouraged, particularly if it is on television and/or if you are wearing a stupid hat and mirrored state cop teardrops while engaging in degenerate behavior. With that said, if you know anybody who’s going to Vegas, they might want to scour the sports books to see if any of these are on tap; and if so, to lay some money down. I firmly believe and fearlessly predict that each of these the next few scenarios are money in the bank and guaranteed to happen.

Kyle Busch Catches Fire. Look Out!

Kyle Busch may have started the Chase out with a whimper, scoring just a single top-10 finish in three starts, but he’s poised to go out with a bang.

No, the car does not back into the wall, rupture the fuel cell and burst into flames. Rather, Kyle Busch remembers he’s Kyle Busch, and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team starts to resemble the operation that won four races during the regular season. While some might be ready to write off Shrub after suffering random shrapnel damage at Chicagoland, a bumping incident with Jimmie Johnson at Loudon, and a quiet if solid sixth-place performance at Dover, such is not the case.

Busch won at Michigan in August, and while it is not a carbon copy of Kansas, some similarities remain; sweeping front straight, low-banked corners, and a 50% chance of a fuel-mileage finish. In prior years this Chase would usually be cause for panic and concern around Kyle Busch, because by now he’d either have been wrecked, suffered engine failure, or suffered a complete meltdown and lost it both mentally and physically – as well as mathematically. But that hasn’t happened yet.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Will Win. Something. Somewhere. Yes.

I know every media member on the planet has used this trio as a byline for the last three years, but if it’s going to happen in 2011, it will happen at one of three tracks: Charlotte, Talladega, Martinsville. Each of these ovals saw him in position to win with a lap or less remaining this season, with Charlotte being the most glaring. Martinsville was a tough pill to swallow for the No. 88 bunch, while Talladega betrayed everything Dale Jr. and his father had accomplished at that track. Whatever the final points outcome of The Chase, over the last four weeks the No. 88 team themselves now have shown championship muster.

From taping the car back together at Richmond – to apparently using tape and not bolts to secure suspension components at Dover – what once was the weak link at Hendrick Motorsports has arguably been the most consistent team the first few weeks. Flat tires and loose wheels are out of the driver’s control, but Earnhardt, Jr., has kept his head in the game and not flipped out when failures have happened. Either he’s regained a mental toughness that’s been lost for five years, or he’s just stopped caring about trying to impress people, trying to change minds of the skeptics who would never believe it and claim conspiracy to begin with.

Kurt Busch Knocks Somebody Out

I’m not sure when the Busch brothers became so angry. Their story in NASCAR reminds me of a combination of Pearl Jam’s, “Jeremy”, Elvis’, “In The Ghetto” and the Michael Douglas movie, “Falling Down.” Not that I resent it, I celebrate it. There is nothing more entertaining in NASCAR than a Kurt Busch radio montage. Dial it up on YouTube if you want, tune into his friend Jimmy Spencer’s highlights on Race Hub during the week, or on Showtime’s Inside NASCAR. The 1979 Daytona 500 has nothing on the elder brother lighting into his team, car, owner, or self. Upon exiting his Toyota, though, you will receive the most well-versed sound bite; eloquent, well-spoken, with the perfect cadence of sponsor mentions.

In the meantime, he will cuss out a reporter, rip up their notes, or slap away recorders. Chance he totally goes bonkers and blasts somebody in the face? Probably not so much, but I don’t think he’s above turning somebody around at some place like Martinsville or Phoenix if they’re in between him and a title. The No. 48 feud might be long gone, but with the way Busch comes undone at the drop of a hat, the spotters might want to remind their drivers to check the mirror when they see something yellow and red behind them. That’s no Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.

Tony Stewart Doesn’t Completely Fold Up

Kind of odd how winning two of the first three Chase races all of a sudden has you on every pundit’s crap list. Yeah, yeah, whatever – fuel mileage races still pay up to 48 points to win, and the No. 14 team’s turnaround the first two events at Chicago and Loudon was nothing short of remarkable. Kansas was the site of Smoke’s Chase win back in 2009, and he’s just nine finishing positions away from the point lead; that’s fitting, since it was Stewart who was most in favor of the new points system because it allows a driver to easily calculate it during a race. Considering Brad Keselowski worked the pedal on the left to win at Kansas Speedway in June, coupled with a similar track in Chicago and fuel figured spot on, the flagship of Stewart-Haas Racing should show they’re for real.

The 2011 Sprint Cup Champion Will Be….

Check back with me after Charlotte. I could make a case for Kevin Harvick holding on from here on out, or Jimmie Johnson pulling the same snow job he does every season, but two things need to happen to really predict how things will shape up. You need a couple of more races to weed out those who are truly out of it, as well as eliminate a couple of events which would prevent a driver who has stumbled to overcome their folly. The difference between seven and four races remaining may not seem like a lot (well…three, really), but it’s the tracks that make up that difference and the drivers who will be left standing afterwards that will give you answers. That, at least, you can bet on…

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