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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Professor Of Speed: When Art Imitates Life

Boy howdy! Last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway was one that fans won’t likely forget very soon. Both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races kicked it old school as the 2012 season wound down to its final events. Nothing like some blown tires and bent sheet metal to grab headlines. Fussing and fighting and whining and fining always put NASCAR squarely back on America’s sports pages.

That is, unless you’re the parent of a child in elementary school. If you’re dealing with backpacks and lunch sacks every weekday, your radar screen has likely been preoccupied with the motion picture Wreck-It Ralph, the latest release from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Did You Notice? … A Quality Champion, Resistance To Change And Quick Hits

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*Did You Notice?…* Brad Keselowski’s Chase is one of the more impressive in the history of the playoff format? Lost in the shuffle of Jimmie Johnson’s wreck, the Gordon-Bowyer brawl and “cell phone gate” is just how well the No. 2 team has performed, putting them in position to cakewalk to the title Sunday at Homestead. Barring a major mishap, like some sort of engine failure or blown tire Keselowski should ease to a top-15 finish, all he needs to secure the hardware for the first time in his Sprint Cup career.

So how has Keselowski done it? A three-pronged combination of consistency, wins, and heart. Let’s tackle them one at a time. Here’s how the driver’s Chase average finish to date compares with other champions since 2004:

Double Standards in Play as Gordon Avoids a Deserved Suspension

Well that was quite the race wasn’t it?

In fact, so much happened between Jeff Gordon’s deliberate and premeditated wrecking of Clint Bowyer just before the leader took the white flag, I almost forgot there was still a race to finish whilst the fifteen-minute red flag delay occurred. In many ways Kevin Harvick’s victory and Brad Keselowski all but sealing his first Sprint Cup championship became little more than afterthoughts, given the melee and general carnage after Gordon’s remarkably ill-advised on track actions.

Did You Notice? … Too Much Time, Vickers Breaking Ground And Chasing Stats

*Did You Notice?…* A focus on everything but the drivers at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing? As we spoke about “in Mirror Driving today,”:https://frontstretch.com/md/42022/ EGR is switching to Hendrick engines next season, moving away from an internal program combined with Childress in an effort to improve on-track performance. That follows a total housecleaning, at the end of 2011 where just about everyone important _behind the scenes_ got a Pink Slip lump of coal from Target Santa. Among those who got the axe: Competition Director Steve Hmiel, Team Manager Tony Glover and Lead Engineer Ed Nathman. Considering Hmiel and Glover were at the top of the charts in the ‘90s, with Mark Martin and Sterling Marlin, respectively; they had dozens of Cup Series victories, Daytona 500 triumphs and pole positions earned in a combined six-plus decades of NASCAR service.

Consistent Inconsistency: NASCAR’s Latest Licensing Episode

While the usual suspects will be battling for the win at Texas come Saturday’s Nationwide Series event, one driver that will not be there is Nur Ali. The driver who two weeks ago made history as the first Pakistani to start a Nationwide Series race was not approved to run Texas, with NASCAR sending Ali back to shorter tracks to garner more experience. A replacement for Rick Ware Racing’s No. 41 car remains to be named.

Of course, what else would one expect from NASCAR, the sanctioning body whose only consistency is inconsistency? If there’s one element of their governance that has proven the definition of subjective and impulsive, it’s with regard to competitors’ licenses.

Joe Gibbs’ Title House Of Horrors

20 points down in the title Chase, entering Sunday Martinsville for Denny Hamlin was pivotal. At a place where he’d won four times, more than at any Cup track on the schedule, a fifth would put him back in the throes of title contention. With rival Jimmie Johnson just as successful, the race was a clear case of make-or-break.

So Hamlin heaved a deep breath, took the green and followed the path of so many Joe Gibbs Chase contenders before him.

Eyes On the Prize: NASCAR’s Coolest Trophies

There’s just something about Martinsville. NASCAR’s oldest track, on the schedule since 1949, has a certain ambiance that is missing at the high-banked, high-dollar speedways that take up the lion’s share of the schedule. The little track, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, seems to have been passed over by the sands of time.

But there is another reason why the drivers want to win at the little paperclip-shaped oval in the hills, and it’s not just bragging rights. It’s the trophy.

Since 1964, the speedway has handed out what is perhaps the most unique prize in motorsports, a grandfather clock, manufactured locally by Ridgeway Clocks. It’s worth a cool ten grand, but that’s not why the drivers want it. It’s different, a symbol of conquering what is still one of the hardest tracks in all NASCAR to master.

Did You Notice?… Earnhardt’s Financial Flaw, NASCAR Tire Testing For Two And Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?…* Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is coming back with no real incentive to do so? Yes, you can tell me all you want about how Earnhardt loves to race, there’s still four chances to win and an outside shot to sneak back inside the top 10 in points, an improvement that would give the driver a little extra TV time at the Las Vegas Championship banquet. At heart, these men are racers, the passion for their craft pushing them to get back in the driver’s seat as quickly as possible. But outside of Martinsville, the No. 88 hasn’t exactly had the history as of late to suggest wins will come at Texas, Phoenix, or Homestead. Momentum for 2013 is a moot point, both in setup notes and at-track finishes as a new car will wipe the slate clean come Daytona. And while Earnhardt could assist teammate Jimmie Johnson with setup information, their relationship being better than Johnson and Regan Smith’s, it’s arguable that Smith was producing better results, driving quickly into the top 10 at Charlotte before blowing the engine and slotting in seventh at Kansas, the team’s best all-around performance since Michigan in August.

A Quick Rundown of NASCAR’s New Qualifying and Testing Changes

On Tuesday, NASCAR revealed multiple changes to the sport that will affect both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series when they take effect come 2013. Most prominently, the sanctioning body announced the abolition of the top-35 rule for qualifying and new testing procedures.

Let’s waste no time and take a closer look at all three changes, one by one.

Most notable is the Sprint Cup Series’ new qualifying format. Well… new-ish. Actually, come to think of it, it’s not very new at all. Recycled is the better term.

Nationwide Breakdown: Dollar General 300

Joey Logano proved once again that the Nationwide series is his world and the rest of the Nationwide drivers are just squirrels trying to get a nut. Logano led a race high six times for 62 laps. Logano beat Kevin Harvick to the line for the win. Elliott Sadler, the series point leader came home in third. Kyle Busch drove the No. 54 to a fourth place finish with Denny Hamlin finishing up the top 5.

Logano has not run all of the races on the Nationwide schedule this season but, when he has climbed behind the wheel in the junior series, he’s won almost half of the races. This victory is number eight for the year for Logano in Nationwide competition, far and away the most in the series. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is second in season wins with five while Sadler has four. The race was slowed by five cautions, four of them for on track incidents. There were nine leaders who participated in a total of 21 lead changes. Sadler played it conservatively because he is the leader in the point battle, and in the end added to his point lead by not opening himself up to potential pit road pitfalls.

Voices from the Cheapseats: Repercussions of a Jr. Concussion

In light of Dale Jr.’s shocking announcement yesterday, there are a few observations and/or questions that I’d like to throw out there.

As I read through the “transcript”:http://www.jayski.com/news/teams/story/_/page/88-Hendrick-NASCAR-Team-News of the news conference, the first thing that caught my eye were a few statements that seemed a bit off. Well duh, you say, the man has a concussion! Yeah, that’s very funny and all, but here is what struck me as strange.

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