NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: 2/3 Season Champ, a Veteran’s First Chase & Bring on the Dirt

Kyle Busch, Sprint Cup Champ?

What a blistering run of form it’s been for Busch over the last month, winning three of the four completed races and finishing a respectable 17th at Daytona International Speedway in the only race he didn’t win. Busch now sits just 58 points back from 30th place, having made up some 70 points in the last two races alone. At this point it is probably not so much a question of if but when he cracks the top 30 and seals his Chase berth.

Assuming he does indeed vault the final hurdle, expect Busch to be a serious factor in the playoffs. And could we even be looking at the first NASCAR champion to finish just two thirds of the races run? Busch’s team, Joe Gibbs Racing, has had an exceptional couple of weeks but as we look ahead to the Chase we’re still looking at five mile-and-a-half races with the 2015 impossible to pass the leader package: a package at which JGR has not excelled this season. But should these recent signs of improvement from JGR spill over into the Chase, Busch will be a bonafide threat to win it all by the time we get to Homestead-Miami Speedway. And what a story that would be.

Jamie McMurray Edges Closer to the Chase

After running well for much of the race at New Hampshire, late race engine issues saw McMurray relegated to a lowly 26th-place finish. All told, the 14-year, 457-race veteran sits ninth in the overall points standings, but more importantly he is first on the list of six drivers who would qualify without a win. In the next seven races that list of six is liable to be culled some but probably not significantly. I’d expect at least five of the seven remaining pre-Chase races would be won by 2015 winners, and assuming Busch makes the top 30, we might only be looking at three to four spots available for winless drivers. As of now, McMurray is sitting in the proverbial catbird seat hoping to make the first Chase of his long stock car racing career.

McMurray’s first full season was in 2003, the last year of the old format, and since then he has been close but not quite close enough to make the playoffs. This year looks like the year he finally breaks that hoodoo. Of course the real question is, should he make it, can he make any noise? And he only has to look at how far Ryan Newman got in 2015 to know that whilst winning is important it’s not everything. He’ll be one to watch for sure if he makes it in.

Sophomore Slump

And while I’m on the subject of CGR drivers, it was another terrible weekend for Kyle Larson who is enduring a textbook sophomore slump of a season. The 22-year old has just one top-five finish all season, third place at Dover International Speedway, and only five top-10 runs: good for an averaging finishing position of 21.0 nearly seven places worse than his average for the whole of the 2014 season. Larson has also led just 100 laps; 90 of which came during the race at Bristol Motor Speedway. In the last three weeks, Larson has finished 39th at Daytona International Speedway, 35th at Kentucky Speedway and 31st at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this past Sunday.

The only positive he can take is that at least his result line is trending upward, albeit gradually. All is not lost quite yet, though, as in the seven races between now and the Chase, Larson has good previous form. He was seventh at the Brickyard last year, fourth at Watkins Glen International and eighth at Darlington Raceway. At Pocono Raceway, his three finishes have been fifth and 11th in 2014 and eighth earlier this year and he has comparable results at Bristol – 10th, 12th and seventh. At the start of this season nearly every NASCAR expert tipped Larson to pick up a maiden victory in 2015. Can he pick up that elusive win in the next seven weeks and make the Chase? It’s a “long-ish” shot, certainly, but it isn’t out of the question.

The Lobster Trophy

I can’t let this week go by without a quick word on the huge live lobster the winning driver holds up in Victory Lane at Loudon which really is one of the most unique trophies in NASCAR and that, to be fair is saying, something. The tradition of the live lobster began in 2010 and has been awarded for each race since then. The lobster itself is supplied by Makris Lobster & Steakhouse, a local seafood institution just down the highway from the track. Once photographs are taken in Victory Lane, the lobster is cooked, with six pounds of meat flash frozen and shipped to the winner. A taxidermist then puts the shell back together, adds a touch of paint, mounts it and ships it out for display in the winner’s trophy room. It is certainly a unique memento of a race win and there aren’t many trophies that are also edible, so it serves a great dual purpose. Good stuff.

Bring on the Dirt

For the third year in a row, the Camping World Truck Series will take to the tight confines of the half-mile clay oval of Eldora Speedway. Austin Dillon won the inaugural event in 2013 with Darrell Wallace Jr. taking the checkered flag in 2014 – one of his four victories last season. Even by NASCAR standards when anything can and usually does happen, Eldora is a unique race on a packed schedule and judging by the last two years, a fascinating one to watch. This time around both the Dillon brothers will race, as will Brad Keselowski and popular veteran Ken Schrader, who started on the pole in the first race in 2013. Even if you don’t typically watch the trucks, this race is one not to miss. Perhaps one day we might even see the Cup cars racing here.

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kb

Why does anyone continue with the farce because of one win or 6 wins, that it equates to a “Championship”. The Chase and this version have eliminated any speculation that wins (no matter how many or little) DO NOT equate to a “Championship” title. We saw how this awful version proved the obvious last season. Nope, it is a crapshoot and a bad one at that. Hard to get excited over my favorite drivers wins. It ultimately comes down one race when the sun, moon, stars are aligned, not getting an engine failure, a flat tire, hit in the engine by a wayward seagull, sideswiped and put into the wall by the usual suspects, a pit road speeding penalty, a pit crew penalty or screw up (as witnessed by the Chase points leader last year before and after the race) or a gastric upset by the Roadside Bob’s Seafood en route to Homestead before the race.. etc…. A season long great season should not come down to one race. The teams, drivers, fans deserve much more reward for their effort. So you can tout any driver (fill in the name here) who is a on a roll (for now) and it doesn’t mean shit come “The Chase”.

Bill B

Yeah!!!! What kb said!

JohnQ

Bingo! It is a ONE race Championship. But on the positive side the fans recognize the format as a complete farce so there is no real angst concerning it. Nobody, unless they are paid to do so, cares about the Chase.

kb

Very true, and I can’t stand yet more gimmicks on display that the feel compelled to explain every race “Chase Contender/Qualifier Flags” put by the drivers car before the race. WTF???? NASCAR is so lame. K. Voda make sure she tells us this about 100 times durning the pre-race show.

GinaV24

I swear the media gets paid by the # of times they say the word “chase”.

salb

What kb said!

Ken

I agree with kb all the way!

By the way, did I miss something yesterday? I notice there is a lot more civility today!

GinaV24

don’t know, but I certainly hope it continues.

kb

I asked on another article, to me it looked like the troll got booted, it looked like a lot of posts were deleted. He/She was going bat shit crazy. I said I would not feed the troll anymore and I didn’t but the insults kept coming to bait me (or not)…very disturbing stuff.

GinaV24

kb, I hope so — I was also very disturbed by the personal attacks he was making towards you.

kb

Thanks…it was just so weird….something ain’t right there..for sure… :(

kb

..and you were a target too…very weird indeed.

GinaV24

Yeah, he sure didn’t like Jeff Gordon or me for being his fan.

GinaV24

I agree with kb!

and I’m tired of the media insisting that the crapshoot of a championship is so wonderful.

GinaV24

JohnQ, I agree that the fans – at least most of them – recognize the 1 race championship as a farce but what about the people who aren’t fans? The ones who tuned in for the last 3 races last year to see if another brawl would break out? Do they know it?

Certainly the usual suspects – read the “nascar media” persist in telling everyone, everywhere how exciting this all is.

LMartin

It strikes me that any driver who can accomplish more in 25 races than the rest do in 36 is far MORE deserving of a championship and adulation than those who failed to take advantage of a full season. Ironic too that in baseball, many put an asterisk next to Roger Maris’ single season home run record because he had more games in which to accomplish his feat than Babe Ruth. To me, only irrational hatred, envy, or lack of self-confidence would cause any honest competitor to denigrate a performance accomplished under the more difficult conditions that Kyle Busch faces this year. I can only shake my head in wonder at the animosity of some of the fan base and the way that animosity overrides common sense and sportsmanship.

JohnQ

Good points all, though let us not forget that Kyle’s obsessive need to pick on the little kids on the playground put him in the position he is in. Personally I would have no problem with NASCAR declaring the driver with the most wins Champion. I shouldn’t try to speak for other fans but I think that the contorted one race Gimmickship is what drives most people nuts.

Guest

I don’t exactly buy the “He With the Most Wins Should Be Champion” argument.

Does the team with the most wins through the season win the World Series, or the Super Bowl? But I also don’t like the Chase either.

A season long champion helps differentiate NASCAR from the Stick and Ball sports. It worked for 50+ years, and still works for other racing organizations (many being NASCAR owned). The Chase has cheapened the sport in order to gain short term rewards. Why should fare weather fans watch the 35 other races when only 1 is important? Ratings are down, and the only way to stabilize them is to fix the on track product, and gimmicks aren’t going to do that.

JohnQ

I agree there are cases to be made for either the most wins or most consistent being named Champion. I think it is the silly attempt to fit the square peg of racing into the round hole of stick and ball sports that has given us the one day Champion that has left the remaining fans scratching their heads.

GinaV24

One of the unique things about NASCAR was always that its champion was decided over a full season of races. I don’t know if it was the tv driving this idea of a playoff system or one of Brian’s pipe dreams. However it came about, IMO, it is more about gimmicks and less about actual competition.

I certainly don’t HATE Kyle Busch. He’s not my favorite driver so I reserve the right to not support him. I’m happy for him and his family on a personal level that he recovered from his injuries but that doesn’t mean that I am going to jump on the bandwagon and say “woo hoo” you go, Kyle.

Also as JohnQ pointed out, KyleB has darn good equipment and team support for his efforts in racing in the trucks & Nationwide against less experienced and less well funded teams. He has fans, that’s super, so do other drivers. We don’t all have to support the same one, that would be no fun at all and throwing the “hate” word around when someone disagrees is ridiculous.

Steven B

My season ends at race #26 in Richmond and I name my Champ. Haven’t watched one race in the chase in at least 4 years.

Dan

Is a true race fan one who goes to watch a good competitive race or one who goes to see who will be a champion? Sure I would like to see my driver win another Championship trophy but I would rather see him in a race that is worth watching. That’s the kind of race fan I consider myself now since this whole Chase thing started.

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