Race Weekend Central

Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in NASCAR: Homestead-Offseason Edition

As 2011 comes to a close, it’s only fitting that Tony Stewart was the driver to end Jimmie Johnson’s five year reign, since he was the last driver to win a championship before it started. Also, if you didn’t enjoy that championship battle between Stewart and Carl Edwards, then you should probably quit watching because it won’t ever get any better than that.

All three of NASCAR’s title fights were memorable in their own way, from beginning to end, with many new faces finding their way to Victory Lane and several rivalries putting the “Boys, have at it” mantra front and center.

David vs. Goliath: Smith Sets Bar For Underdogs At Homestead, Heading Into ’12

For 400 miles on Sunday, the stock car racing world was fixated on two of the sport’s heavyweights in Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart…and for good reason. The final green flag run that saw the two title contenders go 1-2 in the finishing order was as intense as they come, a battle for the ages. And while the performances put forward by the underdogs at the back of the Sprint Cup field were not of the same historical significance, there was plenty of cause for respect and admiration with regard to these competitors as they wrapped up another grueling season. With 2011 now in the books, here’s to one last look at the lesser-known trials, tribulations and triumphs of big league racing’s little guys.

Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way: The NASCAR Comeback Of A Lifetime

Michael Jordan. Brett Favre. Tiger Woods. The world’s greatest athletes, in any sport share moments where they literally willed themselves to win.

Feel free to now add Tony Stewart’s name to that list. And he knows it.

“I would have to say that under the circumstances,” reflected the newly-crowned Sprint Cup champion, minutes after taking the checkered at Homestead, “I’ve got to believe that this is definitely one of the greatest races of my life.”

Nationwide Series Breakdown: Ford 300

For the first time since 2005, a Nationwide Series regular was crowned a Nationwide Series champion…and he nearly won the race as well. Racing as aggressively as he has for much of the 2011 season, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. made a hard charge past Carl Edwards late, but fell a car length short of catching Brad Keselowski in a spirited dash to the checkered flag. Keselowski scored his fifth win of the 2011 season Saturday, with Stenhouse, Edwards, Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin rounding out the top 5.

Stenhouse entered Saturday needing only to finish 37th or better to clinch his first NASCAR championship, which came early courtesy of the usual fleet of start-and-parks at the back of the field. Stenhouse ended up leading a Roush Fenway Racing assault on the field which saw the Mustangs occupying three of the top 5 positions for much of the afternoon, until Bayne found trouble with the wall while rim-riding and losing a tire. Still, the three RFR drivers combined to lead 111 of the 200 circuits run. Elliott Sadler finished sixth in a strong conclusion to his 2011 campaign.

Numbers game: Kobalt Tools 500K

*3* Times Tony Stewart has led the most laps in the last four races. Stewart led a race-high 160 laps at Phoenix. *4* Top-10s for Jeff Burton in 2011. Three of those finishes have come in the last four races. He was fourth on Sunday. *5* Points separating eighth through 11th place in the Sprint …

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Momentum For Two: Will Kahne, Burton Surge In ’12 After Strong Chase Showing?

It was April of 2010, in the heat of the Arizona desert, where Kasey Kahne got busy answering questions on what it was like to land your dream job… only to wait nearly nineteen months to get it. Signed by Hendrick Motorsports earlier in the week, the pending free agent had earned the keys to a No. 5 car that had just finished runner-up in the title Chase to Jimmie Johnson. With crew chief Kenny Francis all but a package deal, the future was bright … it just seemed a long way off. The road ahead seemed daunting; a “lame duck” year with Richard Petty Motorsports, then God-Knows-What in 2011 before assuming the reins of a Hendrick Chevy come February 2012.

David vs. Goliath: Few Bright Spots For Underdogs In Desert

_A new repaving often leads to new opportunities for underdogs to succeed. Old track notes become irrelevant, putting every team on the same page and opening the door for a crew chief to think outside the box. The right setup, paired with a little track position should have left David in the perfect position to aim his slingshot straight towards Goliath._

_Unfortunately for the underfunded teams, a Phoenix retooling proved unforgiving as the one-mile oval swallowed them up and spit them out. One by one, promising runs fell victim to the outside wall as the reconfigured oval came packaged without the one thing the little guys need to have a successful day: Lady Luck._

Kyle Busch Will Race, But Can Anybody Win?

Nearly a week after Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch was parked for the weekend at Texas following an incident in the Camping World Truck Series last Friday night, the sport is still buzzing with reaction and speculation about the driver, the punishment, and the future.

The picture still wasn’t terribly clear on Thursday night, just hours before the Cup cars were scheduled to open the weekend practices, though a couple of the pieces have fallen into place.

Four Burning Questions: Another Slap on the Wrist, the Championship Edge, and Red Bull Flip Flops

*1. Who has the championship edge this week, Tony Stewart or Carl Edwards?*

With a scant three points separating Carl Edwards and his Office Depot and Mobil 1-sponsored tormentor going into Phoenix, one has to wonder…who truly has the advantage? On one hand, Carl Edwards did run exceptionally well at Phoenix in the spring race at the track until a run-in with Kyle Busch, so surely he has to have the advantage, right?

Five Points to Ponder: Same Ol’ Same Ol’, Rubber, and the Former Franchise

Let’s get the whole Kyle Busch/Ron Hornaday deal out of the way. Yes, there is precedent that NASCAR followed to a T in parking Kyle Busch for the weekend. Yes, there is no defense for Busch doing what he did–making contact under yellow is one thing, but running a truck at nearly full speed into the fence at a high speed oval like Texas is taking that even further towards unacceptability. And yes, this Busch incident was a feud that’s been building for years. It was only a matter of time before the sanctioning body stepped in, right or wrong.

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