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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Getting to the points: The top 12 and top 35 roundup

By JEFF WOLFE Here’s a look at the winners and losers when it comes to making the top-12 to reach NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, the final ten races of the season. The 11th and 12th positions will go to the drivers with the most wins who are in the top-20 in points. Here;s …

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Charging Into The Future: A Look At Dodge’s Top Targets For 2013

As Dodge prepares to reveal its NASCAR future, the 2013 Cup Series Charger Sunday at Las Vegas they’re also wagering a multimillion-dollar gamble on the racing roulette wheel. Despite years of development, the manufacturer is still jilted from being left at the short-term altar by Roger Penske, leaving them with a roster of start-and-park Robby Gordon Motorsports and… and… that’s about it.

Can the organization find a new top-tier team to survive? One option would be to delve back into primary sponsorship; longtime NASCAR supporters might remember their two-car backing of Evernham Motorsports. It was the best way for the manufacturer’s flagship program to develop, spending a year-and-a-half working behind the scenes before coming out, guns blazing to win the Daytona pole in 2001. But will they be willing to spend that kind of money, which today could run them upwards of $40 million to kickstart a competitive operation?

Did You Notice? … Great Gambles Already, Sadler’s Sudden Consequences And Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?…* That as we transition from Phoenix to Sin City, there’s no need for some teams to play craps in Vegas. The 2012 season is just a few weeks old, but their combination of winter personnel changes and in-race strategy have already left them cashing in the dough of a strong start. Who’s outwitted the casino of NASCAR luck? Consider…

*Chad Johnston.* This head wrench reminds me of the guy at the blackjack table who’ll hit on 17, just to do something different when the rest of the table is playing by the book. The crew chief of the mild-mannered, conservative Martin Truex, Jr. has played the role of a raging liberal, going against convention almost weekly since inheriting the position last June. When everyone pits for tires midrace, he’ll randomly leave the No. 56 on the racetrack. When other cars don’t think they can make it on fuel, well, they’ll be the ones to try and stretch. It’s a different approach, aimed at keeping the Toyota team on its toes and energizing them in what amounts to a contract year for Truex.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: Bashas’ Supermarkets 200

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Track position was king at the Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday, and it proved to be the nemesis of a dominant Kevin Harvick. Despite leading 107 circuits, Harvick’s decision to take four tires during the final cycle of pit stops on lap 164 left him behind too many cars. That left Elliott Sadler, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski to fight it out, with Sadler holding off Keselowski to score his first Nationwide Series win since 1999. Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Harvick rounded out the top 5.

Professor Of Speed: Just One of Them Weeks

It would be a glaring understatement to say that Speedweeks 2012 was one of the most unusual we’ve ever seen. Despite the excitement of the Budweiser Shootout (what feels like eons ago), the qualifying races, and the darkhorse winners we crowned in both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series events, the kickoff to the 2012 NASCAR season had a surreal vibe. Maybe it was the rain of last weekend – an ongoing dousing that pushed the Daytona 500 to its first-ever rainout in 54 years. Maybe it was the running of “The Great American Race” itself on Monday evening, when the sport seemed poised to show its stuff, capable of attracting unheralded numbers of curious new fans during primetime. Maybe it was the fact that Danica Patrick was getting her first real, points-paying chance to strap in, climb up on the wheel, and have at it in NASCAR’s premier division. There were so many compelling stories to follow – so many drivers and so many teams with so much to prove. Such is always the case when Speedweeks roll around come February.

Did You Notice?…Wreckage Recovery, Why Rookies Return And “Juan” Bad Reputation

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*Did You Notice?…* The alliteration for 2012 Daytona Speedweeks was Demolition Derby? From the drop of the green in the exhibition Bud Shootout, an 82-lap race that saw roughly half of its 25-car field fail to finish the return of pack racing brought with it a propensity to wreck. Here were the official DNF counts due to crashes for the four biggest events:

*Shootout* – *12* of 25 cars *(48%)*
*Truck Series* – *18* of 36 cars *(50%)*
*Nationwide* – *14* of 43 cars *(33%)* … plus several others which straggled across the finish line after a vicious, last-lap wreck that handed the win to the 11th-place runner coming off Turn 4, James Buescher
*Sprint Cup* – *8* of 43 cars *(19%)* … plus about a half-dozen others running with serious, car-is-totaled damage at the finish

What’s At Stake Tonight : Daytona 500

As NASCAR prepares for the 54th annual Great American Race, drying the track and doing their best to bribe the sun into a late afternoon return let’s get you revved up for the main event. Here’s a look inside the numbers, at how some of your favorite drivers and teams could make history once the …

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Nationwide Series Breakdown: Drive4COPD 300

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After a Truck Series race Friday night that went down as one of the most destructive, unpredictable endings the sport has ever seen, the Nationwide Series came in and one-upped John King’s unlikely win. Over the course of the race’s final 17 laps, three wrecks collecting 23 cars devastated the field. And when an ill-timed block pinched Tony Stewart into the fence, setting off a melee coming to the checkered flag, James Buescher came from 11th place entering turn 4 only to emerge unscathed down the frontstretch, taking his first career NASCAR victory less than 18 hours after his Turner Motorsports Truck team saw a dominant evening go sour late. Brad Keselowski, Elliott Sadler, Cole Whitt and Austin Dillon rounded out the top 5.

Did You Notice? … Playing Cinderella, Buying Super Bowls And Keeping It Real

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*Did You Notice?…* The last two 500 winners have been Cinderella stories? Jamie McMurray, in 2010 was all but unemployed after a disastrous tenure at Roush Fenway; former boss Chip Ganassi picked him up at the last minute. And who can forget Trevor Bayne’s run last year, the youngest 500 winner in history for a team in the Wood Brothers that hasn’t run in over a decade?

Well, you know what they say about how these things always come in threes (or maybe that’s just celebrity deaths… oops). But there’s plenty of other longshots this year that could turn into Victory Lane surprises in a hurry under the new rules. Let’s check them out…

Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Top 15 After the Bud Shootout

If the Budweiser Shootout was any indication, there are two things certain for the Daytona 500: (1) there will be plenty of excitement and (2) the fans will still complain about it. Between Jeff Gordon’s tumble through the infield and Kyle Busch’s makeshift demolition derby car finishing just a couple of inches ahead of defending champion Tony Stewart, there was no lack of drama (or destruction) to warm everyone up for the real thing.

How did your favorite driver’s performance affect his ranking in the first Power Rankings of 2012? How do they compare to the end of last season? Was Busch’s comeback enough to impress our writers and put him atop the board? Check out our Top 15 Power Rankings as we kick off the start to the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

Sprint Cup’s New Rookie: Everyone, Say Hello to Timmy Hill

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In the Nationwide Series last year, there was a decent battle for the championship between Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Elliott Sadler. Meanwhile, Cup drivers like Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch continued to administer weekly whoopings on the Nationwide regulars in a fashion that has become oh so familiar in recent years.

In addition, the Cup drivers and Danica Patrick (whenever she raced) managed to nearly completely steal the spotlight away from the series regulars. Other than the top few drivers in points (Stenhouse, Elliott Sadler, Almirola, Sorenson, etc.), many of the regulars in the series last year were near complete unknowns to the general racing public. And that’s a great shame, especially since there was a battle for the ages going on for Rookie of the Year.

Five Points to Ponder: Good Racing, Bad TV, and Some Mighty Fine Officiating

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*ONE: Thank You Thank You Thank You for this New Plate Package*

A two car tandem still ended up deciding this Shootout, and along with the return of pack drafting came the return of the “big one.” But if the first 180-some miles of the season were any indication, NASCAR actually managed to find a technical fix to the problem (and yes, it was a problem) that turned last year’s Daytona races into a four-hour dance marathon with stock cars. The pack racing seen Saturday had all the inherent problems that the pack racing of the past has, but the amount of control the drivers’ had over their own destinies was exponentially greater.

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