NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Great Expectations

What to Expect:
It’s hard to know what exactly will to expect this Saturday night with the new format for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The revised rules will certainly make for some interesting strategy in the second set of fifty laps before we finish up with the 13-lap sprint to the finish and the big check. I would imagine there will be some Hail Mary-style gambles on track position before the final segment and it might be that one crew chief hits the approach perfectly and wins his driver the race — I’m assuming Danica Patrick makes it in on the fan vote, just FYI.

The added element of the unknown will make for an exciting evening, but it also has the possibility to turn out somewhat farcical depending on how teams let it play out. Either way, fair play to NASCAR for at least attempting to do something different. This time last year, Denny Hamlin led into the first corner of the final segment and pulled away to win his first All-Star race despite being clearly not the best car on the track. Now it’s true that in a lot of races, the best car doesn’t always win; nor, to be fair, should it always as this is racing after all, but this new format should at the very least shake things up. One way or another it should be interesting to watch. Here’s hoping I’m not writing next week about what a fiasco it was.

Nearly Halfway to the Chase:
Time passes quick doesn’t it? Hard to believe we’re just one race shy of the half-way mark in the regular season. With twelve races in the books we’ve seen most of the usual suspects win a race (or two). Already essentially locked into the Chase (in order of wins) are: Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and with Sunday’s win at the Monster Mile, Matt Kenseth. The likes of Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Martin Truex, Jr. are still without a playoff place-guaranteeing win, which I expect to change over the coming months. Austin Dillon is holding down a top-10 position in the points while rookie Chase Elliott is an impressive seventh place overall (on points) with four top-5s, eight top-10s and two poles in the 12 races so far.

Harvick has led the most laps (688) some nine more than Kyle Busch (679) who leads the way in wins (three) and top-5s with an impressive nine out of 12 thus far. Older brother Kurt Busch leads the way with ten top-10s. So, in short, it’s very much business as usual at the business end of the standings. All that being said, there are still plenty of chances for unexpected names to make it to the Chase. Watch this space.

(Photo: Russell LaBounty / NKP)
Matt Kenseth did his best Miles the Monster impersonation after winning at Dover.(Photo: Russell LaBounty / NKP)

Kenseth Wins:
After a frustrating first eleven races Matt Kenseth finally wheeled his number 20 Toyota all the way to Victory Lane this past weekend, despite the best efforts of Kyle Larson and Elliott. It was a veteran performance from the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who used all his racing nous garnered over 590 top-echelon races to take the checkered flag.

“It was one of those days where everything lined up for us at the end of the race, said Kenseth post race. “It all worked out for us, kind of the opposite as I feel like it’s been going the last couple months. We’ve had really fast racecars. We’ve been in position to win a lot. This wasn’t our fastest car by any means. But we were able to be there at the end of the race and pull it off.”

And just like that all the “Kenseth woe” type stories we’ve been reading recently are no more. Kenseth has his win, his provisional playoff spot, and can now continue on picking up a few more “W’s” before the regular season is done. The win for Kenseth means that the quartet of JGR racers all now have wins. For a team that has been dominant for pretty much a calendar year now this win, while nice, was just a sign of business as usual. Expect more from the robot.

The popular vote:
We’ll be hearing a lot about voting headed into this November’s Presidential election –maybe too much – so forgive me for mentioning “voting,” now it won’t happen again before that vital day in a few months’ time. Ahead of this Saturday’s race, the top-5 vote getters have been announced. They are, in alphabetical order: Ryan Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Danica Patrick. You would have to figure it will once again be Patrick who wins, but if I had my choice I’d like to see the underdog DiBenedetto make it especially after that plucky sixth-place finish at Bristol a few weeks back. As Edwards, who won that race, said at the time, DiBenedetto’s effort was more impressive than his race victory. Let the other four fight it out in the qualifying race, I say. One point to note: since the Fan Vote was introduced in 2004, some twelve years ago, only one driver, Kasey Kahne, has won the race and gone on to win the whole shebang. I doubt that stat will be troubled this weekend.

Rule Changes:
And finally this week, we will see an update to the current NASCAR rules package this weekend at the All-Star race. The goal is for this new package to reduce both downforce and side force with a view to 2017 rules. NASCAR Senior Vice President of innovation and racing development, Gene Stefanyshyn, noted that three areas have been addressed with this latest raft of changes: truck trailing arm and cross member assembly, electric fans used for cooling purposes on the cars and rear wheel toe alignment. Credit is due to NASCAR for continuing to experiment in this area. The racing this year has been incrementally better already. Hopefully the teams and governing body will learn something from these new innovations.

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Bill B

“I’m assuming Danica Patrick makes it in on the fan vote, just FYI.”

Unless all the old Bill Elliott fans decide to vote for Chase.

Ken

Chase won’t need the fan vote, as he will most likely win the first segment of the shootout on Friday. Beside that, since the 24 was a race winner last year (Martinsville in November), doesn’t he get a bye for the main event as he took over a car that had a winning driver from last year? I thought that was the rule, as David Ragan got in when he took over Mark Martin’s car the year after Mark left Roush. Or did NASCAR since change that rule?

Ken

OK, I stand corrected. I just read the entry list, and Chase is entered on Friday. So I guess that NASCAR did change the rule. However, I still stand by my comment that Chase will win the first segment, thus negating needing the fan vote.

Bill B

Yes Ken there is a good chance that he will gain entry by winning. I was just making a joke about how Bill Elliott won the “most popular” driver award every year back in the day.

Broken Arrow

That’s no joke, Bill B. Bill Elliott’s fan base wasn’t the widest, but it certainly was the deepest of any driver of his era. His fans made getting the MPD their #1 priority, especially through the lean years in the #94. Chase has two MPD wins in the NXS Series and how much of that is Bill’s old fan base getting re-organized behind him after being splintered since they stormed from behind to give Bill MPD #16 in 2002? I look for Chase to be gathering momentum in the voting as his own fans and Bill’s fans get their act together again.

And also remember that Bill had to literally call off his fans by taking his name off the ballot in 2001 to give the award to Dale Sr., Teresa Earnhardt’s bitchy comments notwithstanding.

Bill B

Well Broken Arrow if my choice is between Danica (who will finish somewhere between 24th and 28th in the points standings and likely never contend for a win) getting the MPD vote or Chase (who will most likely finish decently in the points and contend for wins) then I hope Chase gets it.

Yeah, I remember BE having to take his name off and call off his fans in 2001. Kind of funny looking back now.

Broken Arrow

I know the purpose of the fan vote is to let the fans vote for their favorite, but Danny Peters, shouldn’t merit count for something? DiBenedetto may be a nice kid, but does a single 6th place finish make him more deserving than Larson, Elliott, and Blaney who have actually been factors in racing this season? How far does this underdog BS that seems to reign supreme at FS really go? Was Josh Wise really a great pick for the All-Star race? And why vote for Danica knowing she will just ride around and finish last every year among those who finish the race? Why not vote for somebody who actually could mix it up with the All-Stars?

Ken

As was pointed out by “Earner”, the fan vote is exactly that, a vote by the fans. The year Josh Wise got in exposed the fan vote to what can happen when a well managed campaign is launched, especially by a bunch of geeks with a lot of time on their hands. The story was that some 16-year-old was dragged off to a race, where the kid met Wise. This kid was also a member of some social media group called Reddit, and he organized other Reddit members to vote for Wise to get into the All Star Race. They even got a campaign going to pay for some sponsorship for Wise through BitCoin. The one thing I will never forget about that year, was the total shock in good ol’ DW’s voice when he announced Wise was in the race. In a way. it looked good on NASCAR, who is always being accused of race manipulation. Too, that group of geeks had begun a campaign to vote Wise as most popular driver. Can you imagine what would of happened had they been successful.

If you hate it so much that Danica gets in on the fan vote, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is, like those geeks did, and get an on-line campaign going for the driver you deem as being worthy, and hopefully beat a driver that makes your blood boil when that driver gets in.

Intomidator

Frankly, I would like to see Patrick make it into the All Star Race.

Now, before you get all excited hear me out.

I would like to see Patrick make it into the All Star Race ON MERIT. In other words, actually win one of the 3 segments.

Of course, we know that isn’t going to happen so she will get in via the fan vote. It’s a popularity contest after all (I was going to say she would be “Miss Congeniality” but she’s not (congenial, that is).

Intomidator

For the record, Patrick only has to be 4th in the fan vote and she STILL could make it into the All Star race.

That scenario would involve 3 drivers scoring higher than her in the fan vote and each of them winning one of the 3 segments.

Essentially she’s a shoe-in.

Earner

The Fan Vote is just that..For the fans..I would agree with those who say F/S always has to chose the underdog , but simply put Blaney & Elliot are the ones making a difference & meeting/exceeding expextations(esp Wood Bros) & Danica certainly has given far more to Nascar (not driving tho) than Matt…Matts a young man & will have his shots to get there(lucky he got a Sprint Cup ride) ..On This more reduced downforce ..What a joke..It seems brian is so dead set against any further reduction on the aerodynamics that we are being sold the the cooling fans & tracking the vehicle are not aero changes but mechanical changes…Reduce Down Force ! As Dover proved there is still a ways to go..Best to all

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