Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: The Great Equalizer Does Little to Impact Owner Points Race

_Even before the days of the two-car tandem, the restrictor plate races have long been the great equalizer on the Cup Series schedule. Four times a year, NASCAR’s underdog teams are realistically able to compete for the win, and the same was seen again this Saturday. Bubble drivers from Landon Cassill to Travis Kvapil all ran in the top 10, with three of them leading laps (Kvapil, Mears, Nemechek). The battle for the bubble ended early though, as Trevor Bayne wrecked on lap 4, leaving the order from 32nd on back unchanged heading into Kentucky._

Did You Notice? … Kurt Busch in Championship Form, Sonoma Strategies, More

_Welcome to another edition of “Did You Notice?” This week, I will be subbing for Tom Bowles… but don’t worry, loyal readers, Tom will finally be back for good next week. Until then, here’s some things about last Sunday’s race at Infineon Raceway that you may or may not have noticed._

*Did You Notice* … Kurt Busch’s impressive performance marked the official one-eighty turn-around of the Penske organization after their early season woes. Ever since the Coca-Cola 600, both Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski have turned a corner performance-wise in 2011. The fact of the matter is that Team Penske has won two of the last three races. They have employed fuel strategy and pit strategy in those wins, but the performance has picked up by leaps and bounds. Busch has gone from a driver struggling to stay in the top 10 in points to a legitimate championship contender while Brad Keselowski has made an equally impressive metamorphosis from somewhat of a Sprint Cup disappointment into becoming a legitimate force to be reckoned with, not to mention being a driver with an outside shot at a wild-card berth in the Chase for the Cup in the past few weeks.

Five Points to Ponder: Did Logano Save Himself…and to Hell With Racing’s Elite

*ONE: The Importance of Joey Logano’s Playing Rough*

Though it largely was overshadowed for the rest of Sunday afternoon in the smoke clouds that were the Brian Vickers/Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya vs. the living bouts, Joey Logano showed perhaps the fiercest edge NASCAR has seen him employ on the track this Sunday, taking offense to rough racing early by Robby Gordon and shoving him out of turn 11 for his troubles. As far as bumps go, it was about as clean as they come, but it certainly messed up Gordon’s day, and was a departure of character for a driver who’s been pushed around about as much as anyone would expect an 18-year-old to be who is suddenly playing with the big boys.

Bubble Breakdown: Gilliland Shines In Hometown Gig Out West

_The winding esses of Infineon Raceway meant turning right as well as left; as simple as that sounds, the added twist led to a long list of substitutions for Bubble teams looking to gain some ground on the competition. From Boris Said in Phoenix Racing’s No. 51 to Andy Pilgrim in Whitney Motorsports’ No. 46, these “road course ringers” took a stab in the dark to try and produce an unlikely victory for the underdogs… and a little extra breathing room when it came to qualifying at one of the sport’s crown jewels, Daytona, next week._

_Which drivers were able to make the most of their moonlighting? Find out in the latest edition of our Bubble Breakdown, tracking the teams towards the back end of the top 35 in owner points._

This Week’s Special Guests: A Look At Infineon’s Road Course Ringers

It’s that time of year again, NASCAR fans, where the Sprint Cup Series travels to wine country for the first of two road course races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. And, yes, that means there are the presence of road-course “ringers”, which have become just as much a part of the NASCAR landscape as Martinsville Chili Dogs. This year, there are six “ringers” being brought in solely for this race, in order to give their respective owners a solid points day. These drivers are Tony Ave, Tomy Drissi, P.J. Jones, Andy Pilgrim, Boris Said, and Brian Simo. This does not include NASCAR regulars such as Juan Pablo Montoya, A.J. Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, and others who have been full-time in the Sprint Cup Series for many years now. In today’s “Shakedown Session”, we will analyze these six drivers and provide some background on their vast road-racing experience.

Full Throttle – Youthful Enthusiasm Gets it Done

There are pieces of legislation that have been buried or squashed in state and federal governments for years with all sorts of political muscle behind them. Tuesday, June 21st saw a piece of legislation signed into law by Governor Bev Perdue at Charlotte Motor Speedway that designated Stock Car Racing as the official sport of …

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“Red” Alert: The Death Of NASCAR’s Middle Class

Behind closed doors, one can only imagine what Jay Frye must be feeling. The Vice President / General Manager of Red Bull Racing has spent over a dozen years as the benchmark of NASCAR’s middle class; building winning organizations from scratch, he’s living proof of how to succeed with half the resources and double the challenges. Riding the crest of a wave that peaked a few years back, his former team, Ginn Racing, once shocked the world by leading the points four races into the 2007 season with driver Mark Martin; in the process, they led the Daytona 500 until the final turn. No doubt, he’s capable of building a team that challenges for Victory Lane.

It’s just a matter of if he’ll have anything left to build.

Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in NASCAR: Michigan-Sonoma Edition

So we finally saw a finish that was not determined by fuel mileage, though it would have been had Dale Earnhardt, Jr. not smacked the wall with less than 10 laps to go. My question is, why was the caution called for Earnhardt’s brush with the wall when Kevin Harvick had done the same thing just a few laps earlier and the race stayed green?

These inconsistent calls have been getting under the skin of fans for a while now, and specifically when it comes to Earnhardt. Now, I’m no conspiracy theorist, but even I have begun paying attention to what generates a call to the flagman to wave the yellow and what doesn’t. The bottom line seems to come down to the fact that the final call is NASCAR’s, and if they don’t see a need for a yellow, they won’t throw it. I’d just love to know what exactly that “need” is.

Bubble Breakdown: Big-Time Engine Deals Pay Off For Cassill, Others In Motor City

_Playing in the backyard of NASCAR’s auto manufacturers, the name of the game at the Michigan International Speedway is horsepower horsepower horsepower, with decent gas mileage to boot. This weekend was a mixed back for the bubble crowd. Those with a solid engine program proved to prosper, while those who have been underpowered all year were just that again on Sunday. Though Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers Racing team made their return to the Cup stage this weekend, the top 35 remains the same heading into Sonoma._

*LOCKED INTO THE FIELD FOR MICHIGAN*

*No. 51 – Landon Cassill (Phoenix Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+51 points ahead of 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 12th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+55 points ahead of 35th, gained 4 points)

Trevor Bayne may have been making his return to Cup racing at Michigan, but it was a Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year from years past that stole the show at Michigan. Landon Cassill came out of nowhere to score a 12th place finish, his first career top-15 result at the Cup level and by far a career-best finish. It was also the best result for Phoenix Racing’s Cup team since the season-opening Daytona 500 (Bill Elliott finished 12th in that race).

Shakedown Session: Racing For A Good Cause

NASCAR drivers like to fashion themselves as something resembling humanitarians, racing for fashionable causes. Most notably, there is the “Prelude To The Dream” at Eldora Speedway, pitting 28 of the world’s best drivers against each other on a high-banked half-mile holy grail of dirt track racing. There have also been drivers using charitable causes as …

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