Race Weekend Central

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

*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

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

*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.

Did You Notice? … Buying A Super Bowl Spot, Tweaking The Shootout And Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?…* The Bud Shootout has lost its sense of importance? It’s a topic beaten to death the last couple of years, but retaining steam after the latest, 2012 rule change allowed entry to the top 25 finishers in last year’s driver points. That means we’re going to have the majority of this year’s “locked in” Daytona 500 field, plus one or two “randoms” (Michael Waltrip, for one) that will combine for a bloated, 75-lap, increase-their-advantage test session prior to next week’s Great American Race.

I know, I know; the conflict with Coors, who sponsors NASCAR’s pole award makes it impossible to associate this race with qualifying speeds anymore. In the past, though, this event was a true sprint, just 20 laps and had a small enough starting grid (the past year’s polesitters and previous Shootout winners only) it stood out as an exemplary exhibition. Now? Drivers like Jeff Burton, who will tell you himself last year was a nightmare NASCAR season not worth living are getting the gift of entry as if those stats were special.

Daugherty Sets Top 20 Goal for 2102

JTG-Daugherty Racing is entering the 2012 season with higher expectations than ever and a vision for the future that includes expansion to include a second car. The team had considered adding a second car this year, but decided that it wasn’t the right time, as they will have to convert to the new 2013 racecar …

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Time To Set Your Watches: Your Rolex 24 Preview, Part II

Yesterday, we brought you a look at the 13 (originally 14) teams set to battle it out in the Daytona Prototype class. Today, we start on the Grand Touring (GT) class. However, there are currenty 46 cars entered. We cannot cover everybody in one day, lest we drive our readers insane. So, we’re splitting this up as well. This will be the first part, with more teams to be covered tomorrow. Here we go.

BEST OF 2011: A Sport In Crisis: RPM Just One Card in NASCAR’s Deck

“The house of cards is finally falling for George Gillett’s Richard Petty Motorsports.”

These words, written by “FOX Sports’ Lee Spencer,”:http://msn.foxsports.com/nascar/story/Richard-Petty-Motorsports-in-financial-crisis-in-NASCAR-Sprint-Cup-ranks-102110 began what has become the biggest story in racing this week. As Gillett’s empire crumbles around him, RPM could be the latest casualty for the beleaguered owner of several different properties, including the soon-to-be-divested Liverpool FC soccer club. But Gillett’s financial and personal woes are really just the tip of the iceberg of a Titanic-sized problem brewing for the number one stock car series in America. The team’s potential demise is a microcosm of a sport in crisis, the joker in a NASCAR house of cards becoming increasingly fragile.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly Of NASCAR 2011: The Good (Part I)

*The Homestead Season Finale Determines a Champion -* In what was certainly the best race of the season if not the decade, this year’s Cup title was on the line. Tony Stewart knew he could finish no worse than second in the points no matter how his race went. He was also aware if he won the race he had the championship tied up even if Carl Edwards finished second and led the most laps.

Five Points to Ponder: Shortcomings, Hangovers, Schedules And A Look Ahead

*ONE: Why Winning Needs to Mean More*

Both Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart entered Sunday’s 400-miler knowing how strong each other were; Roush Fenway Racing has long made the intermediate ovals their dominion, while Tony Stewart was the hottest driver in all of stock car racing. Regardless of what the math said, both drivers came into the race knowing full well it was going to take a win to take the Cup. And lo and behold, two of Sprint Cup’s heavyweights put on one of the best shows NASCAR racing has seen in recent memory. The last 40 laps of green flag racing were as intense as they come.

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