1. Brad’s Big Blunder – Fans have not exactly warmed to Brad Daugherty, the former NBA All-Star player and Busch Series team owner turned NASCAR TV analyst. But Daugherty made a big blunder on today’s pre-race show when he opined that none of the Chase contenders could catch the top-three drivers: Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. “To come from the bottom, it’s insurmountable. It cannot happen. It’s too big of a deficit because those guys don’t make mistakes. It’s not going to happen,” he said. WRONG. Just ask Clint Bowyer – he shot from 12th to fourth in just one race, and is now only five points out of third. Anything can happen over the course of 10 races and there’s more to it than not making mistakes – there are cut tires, engine problems, pit-road issues, getting caught up in other people’s wrecks and many other variables that can hurt any Chase driver… even the top-three favorites.
2. Nice Guy Finishes First – Bowyer’s first win is one of the feel-good stories of the season for a guy who is widely liked throughout the garage. Bowyer was the only Chase driver without a victory this season (or ever, for that matter), but he dominated today’s race, leading almost three-quarters of the laps and winning from the pole. If you’re going to win your first race you might as well make it a big one, and Bowyer did that today as he took the checkers in the first Chase race of 2007. Said Bowyer in Victory Lane, “I’m not going to kid you – I was about to throw up those last 30 laps.”
3. Two, Four, Six, Eight – Hendrick cars ran really great. Though they didn’t win or lead the most laps, all four HMS cars finished in the top 10: Gordon (second), Kyle Busch (fourth), Johnson (sixth) and Casey Mears (eighth). Mears was the highest-finishing non-Chase driver, as the top seven ahead of him were all Chase contenders. Kudos also to JJ Yeley, who had a notable 10th-place finish and David Ragan, coming home the highest-finishing rookie at 19th.
4. Young Guns Gaining – As NASCAR writer Jerry Bonkowski points out, for the first time since the Chase started four years ago, half the field is under the age of the 30. The breakdown of ages is as follows:
The oldest contender this year is 40-year-old Burton, while Kyle Busch is the youngest at age 22. With such a split, it will be fun to see whether youth or experience prevails over the course of the final 10 weeks.
5. Achieving Better Coverage – ABC did a much improved job on today’s race broadcast than last week, thanks in large part to the fact that the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chase story was no longer the singular focus. They didn’t miss as many restarts, were much better at covering other cars besides the frontrunners, and Dale Jarrett was a nice addition in the booth. I was very pleasantly surprised that the network gave us over half an hour of post-race interviews, too.
6. Seen on CNN – Two of NASCAR’s more articulate drivers, Burton and Kenseth, appeared in a fascinating hour-long interview on CNN’s Glenn Beck show this week. Burton told Beck of his plans to run for political office when he’s done racing, and Kenseth said that he is not afraid of getting killed racing because, “God doesn’t need to have a racecar to take you away.” The interview started on a humorous note when Beck admitted, “I don’t know how you guys drive 200 mph for four hours.” Burton quipped, “We just close our eyes,” and Kenseth added, “I’m glad you know nothing about it, so we can tell you whatever.” The entire transcript can be found here if you’re interested.
7. No Passing Zone – The biggest complaint from drivers today was that it’s too hard to pass in the CoT, even when trying to get by lapped traffic. One example: “I just couldn’t pass,” said Hamlin. “Unless a guy makes a mistake or your car is superior to the guy in front of you, I think everyone agrees, you just can’t pass with these cars.” Overall, I’ve yet to hear a single driver besides Michael Waltrip who actually likes this car, and most of them detest it – which makes you wonder what next year will be like when it’s the only one there is.
8. I.D. Please – It’s expected to be announced this week that Kasey Kahne will take over the lucrative Budweiser sponsorship in 2008 when Earnhardt Jr. makes the move to Hendrick Motorsports. It will be interesting to see what kind of commercials the Madison Avenue types dream up for a guy who probably still gets carded every time he tries to order a beer.
9. The Biggest Loser – That would be Kurt Busch, who plummeted seven places in the standings from fifth to 12th as a result of a disappointing 25th-place finish. Kurt entered Loudon 40 points behind leader Johnson and now trails him by 102, falling to the bottom seed in the Chase. Busch was plagued by mechanical problems – it was initially believed to be a dropped cylinder, but sources later diagnosed it as a carburetor issue. “We lost power and tried to troubleshoot it the best that we could,” Busch said. “It’s kind of tough to accept this one. We just didn’t need this to happen at this point.”