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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Losing At Kansas Still a Small Win for Truex, MWR

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You can’t win ‘em all, but that doesn’t make a tough loss any easier. Martin Truex Jr. dominated yesterday’s race at Kansas Speedway, leading 173 of the 267 laps, only to have a bad set of tires cost him the race. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, however. Truex did everything he could in the closing laps to catch and pass Hamlin, almost wrecking himself in the process. It wasn’t to be, and Truex exited the car exhausted and clearly frustrated while Hamlin headed to Victory Lane.

While the disappointment was understandable in terms of the domination, the race was more of a win for Truex and team Michael Waltrip Racing than a loss. For Truex alone, it’s an improvement over last year. After eight races in 2011, Truex had only one top 10 and was sitting 19th in points. Now through eight races this season, Truex has 6 top 10s, three of which were top 5s, and the near win at Kansas Speedway put him up to second in points, just 15 markers out of the top spot.

NASCAR’s “Alternative” Reality: Giving The Point Leader His Due

When it comes to the A-list of NASCAR superstars, Greg Biffle is the sport’s forgotten man. Third on Roush Fenway’s totem pole, he sits behind handpicked royalty Carl Edwards and best friend Matt Kenseth, the only active Ford Sprint Cup champion. Missing the Chase last season, he went winless and quietly slugged his way to 16th in points, not exactly the numeric irony the driver of the No. 16 car was looking for after signing a long-term deal. Biffle’s resume is also devoid of double-dipping: his last Nationwide start came in 2010, and the last time he ran in the Truck Series Joey Logano was busy attending bar mitzvahs, not major NASCAR events.

Don’t Lynch David For Goliath: What Martinsville’s NASCAR Finish Taught Us

As the sun rises over NASCAR’s first “off week,” David Reutimann remains shrouded in darkness after Martinsville. The Tommy Baldwin Racing driver, whose broken steering linkage caused a caution with less than three laps to go, committed the “cardinal sin” of any backmarker: changed the course of a race’s outcome. By stopping on the track, after several attempts to continue racing with a clearly crippled Chevrolet, the insistence to “keep going,” trying to limp to the finish caused major consequences. The yellow flag that followed set up a wild restart which robbed the day’s two dominant cars, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, of the victory while turning the green-white-checkered finish into a short track Demolition Derby.

Two NASCAR Champions, But Only One Great Escape

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If there’s anyone in NASCAR with a bigger smile than Sprint Cup winner Tony Stewart after Fontana, it’s a certain five-time champ who drives the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet. For hometown hero Jimmie Johnson, the past ten days may have been more meaningful than any trip he’ll ever take to Victory Lane this season. Meanwhile, across the way his Hendrick teammate and “car owner” Jeff Gordon was perhaps the only one leaving with a frown after this race was mercifully stopped 71 laps short of its scheduled distance.

It’s two drivers, two different doses of Lady Luck and the type of ending that’s defined the changing of the guard within Hendrick Motorsports.

The Power Of NASCAR Expectations: When A Race Track Isn’t Allowed To Change

Sequels to great movies often leave us with a sour taste. But have you ever watched one before seeing the original? More often than not, you’ll leave the theater with a far better feeling than those who saw both. That’s because expectations are different; your imagination hasn’t run wild. The storyline of what’s supposed to happen with the characters, a plotline climaxing in an A+, “can’t fail” performance hasn’t been set in your head. For once trained, the mind is a difficult thing to change; the success of the original also comes with a curse. How could anything else compare? Your subconscious has already assured it can’t.

I know what you’re thinking; you came here to read a NASCAR article. But more than ever, that type of comparison feels appropriate considering the great repaving Bristol “mistake.” Once the hardest ticket to get in all of sports, there were more empty seats at “Thunder Valley” than people actually in attendance on Sunday. Sure, the “official box score” said 102,000 but a venue that, at capacity could hold 160K looked lucky to have 70,000 butts in the stands. Even if you believe NASCAR’s estimate, that’s still a 36.2 percent decline in just the last three years for a place that’s earned a label as the mecca of national short track racing.

The Dangerous Popularity Of Earnhardt Expectations

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For those who are casual fans of the sport, when pressed there’s probably about five things people remember so far about the 2012 season. They are (in no particular order):

1) Jet Dryer Fire (and a whole lot of Tide to clean it up)
2) Danica. NASCAR. NASDanica. Danicar. Dani…
3) Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500 and did a bangup job on Jay Leno afterwards
4) Did Jimmie Johnson really cheat? NASCAR seems to think so.
5) Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is threatening to win a race.

Is The Hendrick House In Order?

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“I’m not really satisfied,” he quipped after the race, fidgeting around the same types of crew questions Hamlin had to deal with on that fateful day. “I really felt like we had a car to win the race with. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out.”

That’s putting it mildly, the best example of a Hendrick household appearing somewhat untidy two races in. After pacing the field for 55 laps, looking at times like the No. 48 car could enter its own time zone at will a fourth-place finish rang hollow for HMS’ top entry. Mere days after the type of cheating allegations that usually have the Lowe’s Chevrolet responding by whipping the field, crew chief Chad Knaus and company simply whipped themselves with a self-inflicted mistake – one that also gave their once-dangerous title contender Hamlin both closure and confidence.

Mr. Underrated Strikes Again: Will Anyone Appreciate Actual Daytona Winner?

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Matt Kenseth has now won two Daytona 500s: one shortened by rain and one lengthened by fire, where the news revolved around every storyline _but_ the winner himself. Yet as Kenseth flashed his pearly whites, holding up the trophy in Victory Lane approaching 1 AM EST he was once again pushed to the back pages. You had a woman who finished 38th, but her sex alone was enough to put her front and center, the second coming of NASCAR Jesus. There was a mangled jet dryer, from Michigan Speedway whose pilot will endure six months of nightmares after Juan Pablo Montoya plowed into his driver’s door, inciting a fire that led to a two-hour, patience-challenging delay. And there was the wrath of Mother Nature herself, raging downpours forcing a postponement of the race for the first time in its 53-year history. When all was said and done, the Rolex 24 in Grand Am looked like a walk in the park compared to an event that started well over 30 hours past its scheduled start time.

A Double Dose Of Redemption At Daytona

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From the second Ron Hornaday, Jr. was slammed into the concrete, one balmy November night at Texas Kyle Busch has been at the epicenter of debate, both in the grandstands and behind NASCAR’s closed garage doors. At one point, during his one-race parking that followed 55 percent of fans polled, in a national survey that reached tens of thousands, wanted him out at Joe Gibbs Racing. Let’s clarify: they wanted the Donald Trump, _Apprentice_ – style, walk out the infield and never come back kind of fired. As late as January, emails kept trickling in my offseason inbox asking why the younger Busch still had a job.

Who Gets An Early Christmas Gift? Sorting Through Potential Busch Replacements

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For Sprint Cup’s crowded field of free agents, matching the current state of unemployment in this country Christmas will come a little early this year – at least for one. Kurt Busch’s departure from Penske, leaving a seat that was 11th in points last season produces a top-tier job opportunity for 2012 at a time when fully-funded Sprint Cup teams are set to decrease by almost 10 percent. Yes, whoever gets it will likely get a one-year deal regardless of their success in the car: “A” level free drivers like Matt Kenseth or Denny Hamlin could be available next season, with Sam Hornish, Jr. moving up regardless of funding in 2013. But who wouldn’t take a “Kasey Kahne” type of “lame duck” ride, a temp job that could produce both victories and a Chase appearance immediately?

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.”

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

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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.

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