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.
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.
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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