The first three races of 2009 have yielded surprising results at the top of the bottom of the points standings. Some drivers, like Mark Martin, are left scratching their head after having fast cars at each race, but no finishes to show for that. Likewise, teams like Michael Waltrip Racing in the top 12 and some of the startup teams near the brink of emergence in the Top 35 are among other early surprises in the points. That being said, here are the best of both this week.
Sunday afternoon during the running of the Shelby 427, Jeff Gordon added yet another amazing statistic to his career resume. Joining only six other drivers in NASCAR history, he has led the field for a total of 20,006 laps in Cup races. While the wonderful commentators on FOX made suitable note of the event, for a moment I wondered where the special paint job, etched bottle of champagne and wave of ecstatic fans were. Then I wondered why I wasn’t jumping up and down on my couch. I am, after all, one of those fans who have followed Mr. Gordon’s career since he was an itty-bitty rookie way back in ’93.
With three races in the books already in 2009, the battle for the Top 35 locked-in spots is heating up, as there are only two races remaining to secure one of those Top-35 guaranteed starting positions. And when you looked at the starting lineup for the Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Speedway, you saw the names Todd Bodine, Brad Keselowski and Max Papis as new names on the grid. This means several full-time teams didn’t make the field this past weekend, thus digging themselves a deep hole. To see which cars and drivers took a big hit in the standings this past weekend, read on in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown…
3 – number of times winner Kyle Busch led the Shelby 427 Sunday.
Sometimes I feel for the FOX Sports people, even if it’s difficult to muster sympathy for them while sitting through infuriatingly bad broadcasts of racing. The artists and animators who created Digger are only trying to entertain, trying to add to the NASCAR broadcast, and some of the backlash has been nothing short of vicious. One of the nicer comments suggested a “Digger as main course” barbecue. But the sentiment is understandable. The cartoon rodent is one more of the countless distractions that flood a typical NASCAR broadcast these days.
Got to thinking about some of the stranger tracks I’ve worked on. First one that comes to mind was a UMRA TQ Midget race in the coliseum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. First indoor race for me. Very small track, and VERY narrow turns 1 and 2. Reason was a big hole inside those turns covered with 2×8 boards – something to do with the ice-making equipment for hockey games.
Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil team’s record-setting streak of 81 races without a DNF ended in Fontana, California last Sunday. It was a tough pill to swallow for Harvick and his Richard Childress Racing crew, who had finished every Sprint Cup event since Dover in September of 2006. After an engine failure got the better of them at the Monster Mile, their streak of running at the finish lasted through the rest of 2006, the entire 2007 and 2008 seasons, and into the second race of the 2009 Cup schedule. That’s an impressive feat that Harvick and his crew should be immensely proud of.
Everyone is talking about how boring the events (well the racing ones, anyway) are at California’s Auto Club Speedway; and quite frankly, I would have to agree. Of all the tracks that the Series races at, ACS is the last place I would ever visit… or even want to. Oh sure, I might go to one – if I were walking down the street in L.A., glanced down and found a free ticket lying on the ground – but that would be the only way. Oddly enough, I will be in L.A. shortly after the Vegas race, and I could see that happening – an unused ticket from a week and a half ago lying on the ground in the middle of the street. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit.
Q: Matt, I was wondering what your thoughts were on Todd Berrier as a crew chief? Although I think he does an admirable job, I’m left to wonder if it is time he and Kevin Harvick part ways. Seems like more often than not the changes on the car he makes throughout the race don’t always help — and sometimes flat out hurt it. They’ve been together a while, and I’m sure that means something — but maybe it’s time for some new blood on that team.
The Sprint Cup Series concludes its two-week, West Coast tour with a stop at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday. It’s the first race of the season on a 1.5-mile oval, the most common distance for a NASCAR track in this division. Since being reconfigured with higher banking in the corners, LVMS has become an entirely different animal, going from “cookie cutter” to highly competitive throughout its 427-mile main event. With its asphalt ever aging, expect the racing to evolve even further this coming weekend. But when push comes to shove, LVMS is another intermediate oval, after all – which means it’s more than likely that come race’s end, the usual suspects from the sport’s biggest teams will be running up front. In 11 total races at this track, a car from Roush or Hendrick has stood in victory lane all but once, when Sterling Marlin pulled the upset for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2002.