Race Weekend Central

2011 Season Preview

1) NASCAR chose to address the issues of the past few years by … tweaking the Chase (slightly) and revamping the point system. Good move? Bad move? What’s the one thing they didn’t fix you wish they had?
I really would like to see the old system come back, or at the very least, back to the original Chase format where 10 drivers got in and at the very least, keep the ranking they earned all year. However, knowing that won’t happen, the Chase changes they did make were pretty good. I like that fact that the 11th or 12th place guy can’t get bumped deep into the top 10.
The new points system is a lot easier, but I’m still struggling to see the issue that NASCAR claims this created. I’m don’t think fans have been leaving the sport in droves over the past decade because they thought the points system is too complicated.
I still can’t believe they haven’t got rid of the Top 35 rule in qualifying, that makes it difficult for the underdog teams that ever one loves to root for, to even make the show. The old provisional system was complicated, but it did the trick, give the good drivers so many mulligans and if you still messed up, you probably deserved to miss the race.

2) There’s been increasing criticism in recent years over NASCAR’s TV broadcasts. What do you think is the biggest hurdle these broadcasts have been facing, and what network needs to revamp its coverage the most for 2011? How?
First, I think what they should not have done is move the start times back during football season. I’m not a T.V. expert, but if someone wasn’t going to choose a race over the NFL at the start of both events, why would they do so when they are already deeply involved in the second quarter of their football game?
The things that they should do (or continue to do) in 2011 is reduce the amount of commercials and focus more on the racing. Still not sure why NASCAR can’t get sponsors to agree to a side-by-side format like Indy Car does.

3) The last three seasons, the closest challenger to Jimmie Johnson has experienced a hangover the following year: Jeff Gordon (2007), Carl Edwards (2008), and Mark Martin (2009) all suffered through winless seasons while Martin actually missed the Chase. Should we expect any different from Denny Hamlin this year? Why or why not, and how do you expect his 2011 to play out?
Those are three big names in the sport so if they can fall in a year, anyone can. However, I see Denny Hamlin breaking the trend. My logic is pretty simple here. If ACL surgery can’t keep this guy out of victory lane, a “runner-up hex” certainly will not either.

4) While the Nationwide Series eliminated Cup full-timers from championship contention this year, they stopped short of keeping them from running the full schedule. Do you expect them to do so when all is said and done, and with no rookies or new teams on the horizon are these moves too late for the series to survive over the long-term?
Difficult to tell and it all depends on what do sponsors value more – winning races or winning the championship. Owners will often resort to putting well-known Cup drivers behind the wheel of their Nationwide machine because sponsors will pony up the cash a lot easier for Mark Martin or Denny Hamlin than they will for Nathan No-Name. So at the end of the day, are sponsors ok with not having a shot at the championship to stay associated with the Sprint Cup names or will the be more willing to roll the dice ing an attempt to associate their brand with the next star of tomorrow? I may be an optimist here, but I think the latter is true and the series will gain some sustainability.

5) Hendrick Motorsports played crew chief musical chairs this offseason, giving Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon, and Mark Martin a breath of fresh air. Will any of the three benefit from the arrangement, and if Junior struggles again, do you expect him to leave the Hendrick camp a year early?
I believe all three will benefit. Jeff Gordon isn’t exactly low maintenance as some of his radio transmissions would suggest. Even if they will never admit it, frustrations had to be growing between both he and Steve Letarte after the four-time champion recorded only one win in the last three seasons. Alan Gustafson has the fresh voice and the engineering savvy that should be just what the doctor ordered.
If history is any indication, a change atop the pit box has often proved to be answer to Mark Martin’s struggles. Think Ben Leslie in 2002, Pat Tryson from ’03-’06, Ryan Pemberton in ’07 and Gustafson in ’09. In each case except for Gustafson, the new crew chief had only experienced limited success before pairing with the veteran driver, similar to the resume of Lance McGrew. One more championship run might be a stretch but don’t count out a return to victory lane.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has never been able to duplicate the success he has while having the voice of Tony Eury, Sr. in his ear. A stern voice to tell to keep the sometimes short-fused Earnhardt focused is exactly what he has lacked since the departure of the elder Eury and what he will get with Letarte. Just a win not influenced by gas mileage would be a huge step in the right direction for the No. 88 team and driver. If expectations aren’t meet, I don’t expect Jr. to leave. He has adamantly stated that he does not want to drive for RCR, so where else would he go? The answer is nowhere.

Championship Predictions (Top 12)
1.) Carl Edwards
2.) Jimmie Johnson
3.) Kyle Busch
4.) Jeff Gordon
5.) Denny Hamlin
6.) Tony Stewart
7.) Matt Kenseth
8.) Kevin Harvick
9.) Jeff Burton
10.) Mark Martin
11.) Jamie McMurray
12.) A.J. Allmendinger

Rookie of the Year
Trevor Bayne

First Driver Fired
Scott Riggs

One To Three Sentences, Max, On Why You Felt The Way You Did
I’ve said it the last two years and have been wrong but I’ll say it again, this will be the year Johnson’s streak ends and it will be Edwards taking advantage of a revamped Roush-Fenway Racing team to do it. A.J. Allmendinger will be the surprise Chase entry. Keyed Up Motorsports will not be it the top-35 in points at the end of five races and the driver will take the fall, whether it is fair or not.

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