NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? … A Monstrous Moment, Hendrick’s So-So Start And Quick Hits

Did You Notice? … The Monster Mile is entering a crucial weekend? Lately, races at the one-mile oval have been duds; Goodyear’s tire compound, combined with a conservative mindset have minimized the yellow flags and maximized the boredom at the one-mile oval. Dover’s track used to be one of the trickiest on tour, a matter of survival as the outside wall could come up and bite at any time.

Credit: CIA Stock Photography
Jamie McMurray was one of several drivers that brought out the yellow at Dover International Speedway in the sprint. Credit: CIA Stock Photography

Finally, this spring we started to see a turnaround, with the added speed from NASCAR’s new rules package turning it into more of an old school driver’s track. Rookie Alex Bowman, Jamie McMurray, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. were just a few of the Cup guys who caused the track’s eight caution flags, causing a bit of attrition at a place that hadn’t seen much. In the fall 2013 race, by comparison there were no wrecks, just four caution flags (all for fluid or debris) and every car that failed to finish was underfunded or a virtual start-and-park.

The hope is, with NASCAR’s new rules facing a second go-round, Dover will keep tilting back toward the track of old, which once sold out grandstands of 130,000 but would be lucky to get half that Sunday. Fans have been turned off by once brutal traffic (now virtually nonexistent), single-file racing and the longtime dominance of Jimmie Johnson. J.J., who won the spring race at Dover, is the heavy favorite again for what would be a record 10th victory.

But the No. 48 team, less than dominant so far in this Chase, has showed some vulnerability. The door is open for a driver like Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or even a Kevin Harvick to slip through and take home the trophy, a much-needed change of pace for a track whose attendance woes are well-documented. And with the aggression we saw at New Hampshire, with drivers racing on the edge for every ounce of track position, you would hope the same mindset would translate to Dover. If it doesn’t, you wonder what it’s going to take for the Monster Mile to regain its monstrous status. The best way to get fans to come back to your track is to actually have good racing to advertise; let’s hope it happens.

Did You Notice?… Two races into the Chase, Hendrick Motorsports has led a total of just 26 laps? Aside from Jeff Gordon pacing the field at Chicagoland, the HMS foursome has been largely nonexistent up front as Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have waltzed through the first two races. Particularly disappointing have been the runs of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who struggled to 11th at Chicagoland before a flat tire dropped him to ninth at New Hampshire, leaving him off the lead lap for a time before the No. 88 car fought back late. Earnhardt, along with Kasey Kahne and Gordon, the victim of a flat tire Sunday, could face potential Chase elimination with bad runs at the Monster Mile.

Is Hendrick slow-playing it, or is there a real lack of speed compared to the Penske cars? It’s hard to say. Remember, the Chase points reset for rounds two and three, meaning the object is to get to the next round in each case; it doesn’t matter if you’re first or seventh on the way there. HMS knows how to play the Chase formats well, slowly building towards a peak instead of jumping out to a big lead, early in the postseason and then holding on.

But at some point, you’ve got to flex some muscle, making the Dover weekend much more important. Kahne struggled here in the spring, running 19th while Gordon was a ho-hum 15th. Runs like that again could make them bubble drivers, believe it or not, under the right circumstances. It’s hard to believe a potential Final Four contender like Gordon sits that close, although in his defense a faulty Goodyear tire was no one’s fault; the No. 24 car was a top-5 finisher for certain at New Hampshire before that happened.

But whether it’s luck, conservatism or simply lack of speed, it’s clear Penske is now challenging for the role of title favorite. HMS can hang back behind them, for now, and then turn on the jets down the stretch, but they need to make sure they stay in the game until Homestead gets here.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off…

– There’s a lot of quality, championship-contending drivers breathing a sigh of relief that it was Greg Biffle, not Kyle Larson, who earned the final Chase transfer spot after Richmond. Larson, with two straight top 3 finishes, would sit inside the top 5 in points, in position to transfer to the next round while someone like a Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, or Kurt Busch would be in more serious jeopardy. Chip Ganassi’s recent resurgence is a bit of too little, too late but it should serve them well in 2015.

Austin Dillon, 11th on Sunday, has quietly picked up the pace a bit as well during the Chase. But Richard Childress Racing as a whole, whose Ryan Newman entry is on the bubble for Chase elimination at Dover, continues to produce top 10 cars at best in what’s been a mediocre season one A.H. (After Harvick).

– Ever so quietly, with the appropriate amount of fanfare (or lack thereof) Danica Patrick has registered four straight top-20 results, easily a first in her lackluster Cup career. Crew chief Tony Gibson has quietly been building a better race team all year and the driver is finally coming up to speed along with them. Don’t be surprised if they snag a top 5 at Kansas in two weeks.

– People are pushing hard for Sam Hornish, Jr. to get a serious look at the No. 9 seat in 2015. Remember, Hornish’s former employer Roger Penske is in the Ford camp and would love to see the former IndyCar star back in the fold, albeit indirectly. But kudos for Hornish for saying publicly he won’t just take any ride to go back full-time in Cup. A family man, he’s enjoying spending time at home with his three kids and has contended for victories during a limited Nationwide Series schedule spelling Kyle Busch in the No. 54. Too often, we see stars ruin the back end of their careers by accepting rides that aren’t up to their caliber of performance. I think Hornish would be perfect with RPM, but if they don’t come calling? Don’t expect him to land anywhere else in Cup; the openings just won’t be quality enough for him.

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Bill B

You know what? I am already totally burned out with the chase. Tired of hearing about it. Tired of talking about it. Tired of worrying about it.

JohnQ

For awhile part of my job was herding junkies (don’t ask). Pretty much all they do is whine and repeat ad naseum “I’m dope sick, I am really dope sick”. It was pretty annoying. Now I find I am really annoying myself. “Mr. BillB, I’m Chase sick, I am really Chase sick.”

GinaV24

Me, too! I just want to enjoy the racing, not have all this fake drama every week.

Racehorse

Gina, Gina.

Git outta here! Are you a blonde?

That’s what racing’s all about. Stress! Tension. Beat the other guy. Are you the type who wants a Matt Kenseth champion guaranteed with no victories? So you can sit back and relax, comfortable in the knowledge that your luke warm racer comes out on top?

That the mean ole Brad K, Jolo or Harveth won’t pass him to take the checkers.

Winning! That’s what’s great about racing.

And in spite of the format I think we’ll see Kyle Larson in victory lane before a champion is crowned. He’s not concerned about points or the chase. He’s a race car driver like Earnhardt Senior.

He wants to win.

Win every time! Stress or not.

GinaV24

not sure what the color of my hair has to do with my opinion except as the comment was intended as an insult.

Racing is also supposed to be fun for the fans and I don’t happen to think that the chase format is fun. Yes, I happen to prefer a full season of racing to decide a championship, not the “reset the points” every few races to keep it close and a crapshoot demolition derby for a last race. NASCAR has had to go to manufacturing their own excitement with their rule changes because THEY screwed things up so that people weren’t racing to win.

You are entitled to like it, I’m entitled to not like it and as a fan I’m supposed to be having fun and I’m not.

Kyle Larson is just starting out his career so I think it is a little early to compare him to Big E.

Racehorse

Larson and Big E? Very likely you are correct. It’s too early. Results will tell, and that will take time.

I can tell you this though. So far Larson has demonstrated extraordinay racing skills and the desire and the heart of a champion.

He will win And given quality cars, he will win often. I’ll bet, this season!

You must admit, Gina, the old points system fostered pretty boring races in some cases. Particularly when those leading in the points simply put it on cruise control JUST to receive a top five or ten. Protect their standing.

I don’t know about you but I’m glad to see great emphasis on winning. The cream will rise to the top.

The best team doesn’t always get to the Superbowl and win, but I go for that system in favor of one that gives the NFL victory to the team that has accrued more points over a season.

Just because you’re not having fun, that doesn’t mean everyone is not having fun. Take me for instance. I’m having a ball!!

If I insulted you with the “blonde” comment, I take it back.

There.

Oldsmo-Bill

Amen, Bill B!
But wait! It’ll be really exciting now that they’ve re-set the points again. No, wait – they did that last race. Or was it the race before? No – it’s after this next one! THEN, it’ll be really great. (No – wait – they’ll reset the points again after that one. Or is it the next one?)
Really, now, what MORON came up with this method of determining a CHAMPION? Oh, wait – it was that mental midget Brian France. That explains everything. The only reason I’m even a slight bit interested is to see someone with NO WINS end up the champion in the end. Maybe that will put an end to this &%$@#!*&! Chase cluster &^%$!

GinaV24

which MORON came up with it? The same MORON that has come up with all of the lame ideas and taken NASCAR from a growing sport to barely hanging on. Brainless France – and don’t bet that it will ever end no matter how stupid many of the fans think it all is. He’s right everyone else is wrong.

I just want to enjoy watching the races – I’m tired of being “stressed” and that is what the chase format has turned into which totally kills the fun of it IMO.

Bill B

Yep. That’s the exact word. Stressed. There’s enough stress worrying about whether there will be a caution in the last 5 laps when your driver is leading, or about whether the tire will blow or them run out of gas on the last lap, without having to worry about the big picture BS chase. And it does take the fun out of it. Before the chase you didn’t really start worrying until the last 3 or 4 races. Now you start worrying from the beginning of the season. That’s not fun for many fans.

Racehorse

Come on! The new format has breathed a little life into NASCAR. Under the old rules, I was bored to tears watching my drivers or high ranking competitors cruise along to a top five or ten finish. Snore!

Now you got to race! Every race. That’s what it’s all about.

Winning!!!!

To heck with top-ten consistency. Eye of the tiger! We want winners. Every race!

Great article, Mr. Bowles.

Carl D.

Please don’t call Brian France a mental midget. It’s offensive. The politically-correct term is “small-brained person” or “idiot”.

Jerome

Amen Oldsmo-Bill;
I remember Braind Dead France and his Minions saying something like the point system needs to be revamped because it was “too complicated”. Being “too confusing” was given as the reason that the joke that is the wave around rule was foisted upon us.Yet the morons who run NASCAR give us this abomination of a way to determine a champion; it is more difficult to understand than any old points system or cars on the tail end of the lead lap lining up in front of the leaders ever was.

Paul

Johnson is cruising just to finish cause he knows he can finish ahead of the rest at Homestead.

JohnQ

I could be wrong here as I often am but I do not think the Chase fatigue is due to the emphasis on winning. Winning is what it should be all about. I think it is the over hyped gimmickry of it all. A driver could win 6 of 10 Chase races outright and not be the Champion because after all the points resets and other pointless silliness he could get wrecked by some idiot in the last race of the season. With this format Mediocre Matt Kenseth could be Champion without winning a single race all year. The Chase is just a mess. Mr. Racehorse, I’m Chase sick. I am really Chase sick.

Racehorse

I hear what you’re saying, John Q. I’m inclined to agree that the Frances have taken manipulation of competition to an undigestable degree. First the chase, then jacking around with the chase. They’re like government. First they “fix” something, then make it worse by “fixing” the fix.

What’s your idea on how to remedy “chase fatigue” and stress winning?

How about if we returned to those golden days of yesteryear? How bout if we eliminated a “champion” and let each race stand on it’s own.

How bout if we forgot the chase altogether and just awarded the “champion” trophy to the driver with the most victories? Not accrued points. Not top fives or top tens.

Yes, NASCAR has to a great extent blown it with parity, non-brand name brand name cookie-cutter autos, caution calls at the whim of ?, and many other micro controlling measures.

But . . . the new emphasis on winning — and knock out qualifying — is a vast imrovement over the tired old system we endured previously.

Oh! Gina. What color is your hair?

JohnQ

If I were John Q France it would be a season long Championship but it would be nearly impossible to win the most races and not win the Championship. For example each race winner gets 100 points, 2nd place gets 10, 3rd 9 etc. I would award no points after 10th place to get the 10 lap down cars off the track. Simple, logical, and never going to happen.

Racehorse

Too bad you’re not John Q France!

Great idea. Submit it. I’ll vote for it.

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