NASCAR announced in February that the Sprint Cup series would be going to electronic fuel injection as of Daytona in February 2012. In anticipation of that change the series is conducting several testing sessions for teams to wrap their arms around the new technology. The latest of those sessions was Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway …
From David Reutimann’s rain-shortened win the 2009 Coca-Cola 600, to Casey Mears’ fuel mileage win in 2007, to Dave Blaney’s first career Nationwide Series win in the fall of 2006, Charlotte Motor Speedway has seen its share of unexpected, if not underdog, winners in recent seasons.
This weekend’s 500-miler was not one of those times. The only unexpected event that occurred, in fact within a boring race was the hard crash and seeming demise of Jimmie Johnson’s drive for six consecutive titles. In a race that proved to be the ultimate exercise in track position, those that started at the back ended up staying there as the cream rose to the top in NASCAR’s hometown race.
Danica Patrick is a brand. So is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. What about Greg Biffle or Marcos Ambrose or Kyle Busch? Do they qualify as “brands?” Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse is a brand, and so is Jimmie Johnson. The No. 48 Chevrolet is a brand, as well. The No. 24 DuPont Chevy has been considered a brand, but can the No. 24 AARP “Drive to End Hunger” Chevy be considered one, too? During last Friday’s press conference at Kansas – when it was announced that Clint Bowyer had been named to drive for Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012 – it seemed as though everything in-and-around the deal was deemed to be “a brand.” Bowyer was called a brand, and so was MWR. 5-Hour Energy, the company backing from 20 to as many as 24 races for Bowyer and his No. 15 Toyota, was referred to as a brand, as was Toyota itself. By the time Clint Bowyer’s press conference ended, reporters had heard the word “brand” more than they did the word “NASCAR.” Come to think if it… NASCAR is a brand, too. So what gives? What’s the big deal regarding this notion of what (or who?) is a brand?
*Did You Notice?…* All the panic when Toyota entered the Sprint Cup ranks? Within five years, American patriots feared a foreign automaker would be dominating the NASCAR circuit, piling up championships while running Ford, Chevy, and Dodge out of town. If you believed some prognosticators, right now we’d have a grid of 25 Toyotas, a rundown 1995 Ford Taurus, some Chevy Luminas and, well, that’s about it.
Except that hasn’t happened. Chevy collected their ninth straight manufacturer title Sunday, making Toyota 0-for-5 in their bid to reach the top of the NASCAR ladder. They also have yet to win a single Cup Series championship – Jimmie Johnson controls that hardware – and have just two drivers in this year’s Chase, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, with neither one looking capable of breaking that ugly streak.
It’s the homestretch of the 2011 season, meaning that the cookie cutter intermediate track is taking center-stage. Kansas Speedway marks the first of four 1.5 mile oval races that will ultimately determine the 2011 champion, as well as setting much of the field for the 2012 Daytona 500. And as could be expected, it was a play date up front for the horsepower of Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. But even as the big guns were busy at work for 400 miles, it was a surprisingly solid day for those at the back end of the garage.
One shouldn’t be fooled by the nine lead changes that show up on the scoresheet. Or that the pass for the win occurred inside 15 laps to go. In reality, this race was over almost as soon as it began. In leading 173 laps, Brad Keselowski delivered the most dominating performance the Nationwide Series has seen in recent memory, winning at Kansas Saturday after passing Carl Edwards (who was on four fresh tires) despite having only scuffs for the final run. Keselowski averaged a lead between eight and 11 seconds for much of the afternoon, with Edwards, Elliott Sadler, Paul Menard and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounding out the top 5.
by Garrett Horton Carl Edwards entered Kansas as a favorite to win, but shortly after the start of the race, it was clear his car was off. At one point, he was a lap off the pace, running as low as 20th. Just like last week, however, he rallied from a lap down to finish …
_(Dateline Kansas City)_ NASCAR officials insisted today that despite what viewers may have thought they saw, all of the seats for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 were in fact full.
“It’s a similar situation to what we saw in California a few years ago,” said NASCAR CEO and Exalted Ruler, Brian France, referring to the award winning and Oprah endorsed shopping and eateries under the stands at the race track in Fontana. “Obviously, we realize that sitting still for the duration of one of our shows is a lot to ask and that is one reason why we had decided to open the new casino a little early. Most of those fans who paid for those seats were having the time of their lives in the gaming area.”
Want to read about Turner Motorsports? Check out Wednesday’s column. The scenarios, rumors and non-nonsensical facts that were running wild around Reed Sorenson’s firing earlier this week haven’t gone anywhere, with the picture of how the third-place driver in points lost his ride five races short of the season’s end still opaque at best.
Regardless of how it came about, Sorenson is still without a racecar with the Kansas race weekend looming. Suddenly, a three-horse race is now a two-car battle between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler. Are the pieces in place for a great duel to the finish? Sure. With only 22 markers between the two and five races to go, the ever-consistent No. 2 team needs only one ill-timed spin or trading of paint from Stenhouse and the No. 6 to get back into the hunt, even without a win on the 2011 season.
It’s good to be the king, or so it is said. While many cite the spate of competitive racing we’ve seen thus far in 2011, it is important to recognize that the entire point structure in NASCAR has been revised/re-interpreted/re-invented in order to create close competition between teams. When Brian France announced the “Chase for the Championship” format back in 2004, it seemed clear that NASCAR was trying to steal attention (and viewers) away from formidable fan favorites like college and professional football. Something else, however, was perfectly clear: the idea that NASCAR could control overall competition (and fan interest) by manipulating the nature of the points system that had been in effect, in one form or another, since 1975.
In the past few seasons, it didn’t take but a few Chase races to pick at least one driver (cough, Jimmie Johnson, cough) as the championship favorite. Those with the most consistency, speed, and a few numbers in the win column would immediately bring all eyes upon them as the season came to a close.
But now that we’re three races into the 2011 Chase, a clear difference has emerged: the championship picture has yet to get any clearer. Teams like the No. 48, who struggled in the first two races did well in Dover, and those who started out the Chase on a hot streak — Tony Stewart, for instance — finished poorly or faced an uphill battle throughout the race.
*ONE: An Ill-Advised Cup Debut for Austin Dillon*
The current Truck Series points leader is slated for a full assault on the Nationwide Series championship in 2012, but he’s also popped up on the entry list for this weekend’s Cup race at Kansas, driving the No. 98 under Mike Curb’s ownership banner. Though Dillon has only 11 career Nationwide Series starts under his belt, the unprepared for Cup argument really doesn’t hold all that much water… the driver has been an established contender on the Truck circuit the last two seasons. Plus, even though the No. 98 is technically going to be a single-car team, making a partial schedule attempt, don’t doubt for even a second that there won’t be some Richard Childress Racing help all over that entry.