Race Weekend Central

NASCAR’s Real “Monster” Lies In The David vs. Goliath Chase Battle Ahead

Monster. What monster? Unless you’re talking Halloween, for Jimmie Johnson Dover’s mythical one-“Miles” oval serves as his killer assistant to help slay Sprint Cup Chase competition. The numbers tell a tale of terror, not for him but everyone else; leading 2,318 career laps on the concrete, more than at any other facility success is not only expected but routine. Adding a fourth-place finish Sunday, his ninth top-10 result in NASCAR’s last ten trips out to Delaware I’d say fear is the last adjective that crosses his mind while driving.

So why did Mr. Five-Time, of all people leave Dover with the descriptors “afraid” and “apprehensive” instead of a typical A+? Three races in to a 2012 postseason quickly coming into focus, that answer is simple: Brad Keselowski equals J.J. Chase kryptonite.

Elimination Station: Whittling Down Title Contenders After Week 1

You can’t win a championship in the first quarter, the first round, or the first pitch. But you can certainly lose it, with a mental error or physical deficit making a comeback so impossible even _Rudy_ would step off the field and surrender. For the best athletes, their curse in learning to beat the best is knowing exactly when the best is about to beat them. When the white flag nears, they project the strength of “never surrender” but the light of the camera sometimes shows a broken spirit with nasty words they cannot speak.

Or in this case… it was a nasty ‘stache.

No Normal Day at the NASCAR Office

Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth: two racing horses of clearly different colors. One loves Indiana and everything in it; the other is obsessed with the Green Bay Packers. “Smoke” will take his temper to your mouth, then buy you a beer; the “quiet champ” of 2003 has the most sarcastic sense of humor nobody ever hears about. One is a self-described bachelor, winning a title on the heels of dumping his girlfriend last September; Kenseth, in contrast, has had two children within the last three years.

Until now, they’ve been tied together by nothing more than a helmet throw, an angry Smoke retaliating for some ill-advised contact that knocked both drivers from a chance of winning Bristol in August. In a few days, perhaps an announcement will leave them loosely connected; Kenseth is poised to take over Stewart’s former No. 20 car, the Home Depot Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing starting in 2013. But as Atlanta’s competition failed to break the “bad news” cycle, these men dominate the NASCAR headlines for another reason no one wants to talk about.

The Bristol Hot Potato

You can say what you want about the competition at Bristol. But Saturday night, a repaved Thunder Valley was a throwback to the great races of years past: unpredictable. From the second the green flag flew, for a pole sitter whose team has start-and-parked in several races (Casey Mears), you had as much of a chance of pegging the winner as predicting the right number on a roulette wheel. Only when the ball landed in Denny Hamlin’s court, tying a Sprint Cup season high with his third 2012 victory, did the race assume some semblance of normalcy down the stretch.

Seizing A NASCAR Window Of Opportunity

Greg Biffle and Rodney Dangerfield have about as much in common as Lindsay Lohan and Barack Obama. One races cars for a living; the other was an actor/comedian. The driver would kill for any type of fan following; Dangerfield spent his career leaving legions of fans laughing. And though Dangerfield died a few years back, Biffle is very much alive and remains in the midst of his NASCAR career.

However, the two men remain tied together, if only through one simple phrase…

“I don’t get no respect.”

Tragedy Overshadows All For NASCAR At Pocono

Lifetime fans of racing are no strangers to tragedy. Safety advancements can only go so far when the goal is to hit a turn at 200 miles an hour; even superstars, driving towards athletic immortality, can only be one broken part from seeing it all stripped away. Dan Wheldon, Dale Earnhardt, Adam Petty… their deaths serve as glass-breaking moments, sobering reminders about how fragile life is for all of us. When fans sit in the stands, they have some faint acceptance that something horrible could happen on-track. The invocation, done every race day, serves as a subconscious reminder that the risk, however slight these days, is always there.

Best NASCAR Driver Of The Modern Era? Building A Case, Brick By Brick(yard)

They say he’s too politically correct. They say his team has more money and, therefore, better equipment than anyone else inside the 43-car field. They say his crew chief is a cheater, someone who should have been suspended from NASCAR as recently as this February’s Daytona 500. Heck, this man’s mere presence behind the wheel is blamed for the self-destruction of stock car racing’s popularity.

But as Sunday wrapped up, as a group of grown men in Lowe’s firesuits were getting busy kissing bricks on pillows (we’ll skip that for now), it was hard for the critics to argue this point: Jimmie Johnson has prepped a resume that will make him the best driver of NASCAR’s modern era. After putting up the latest bullet point, a fourth Brickyard 400 victory in his last seven starts at Indianapolis, even rivals could do nothing but stand up in awe.

Life After Loudon: A Sunday That Revealed NASCAR’s Playoff Parity To Come?

Denny Hamlin gave 110 percent and, on an otherwise snooze-inducing Sunday, NASCAR took notice. In the end, the day’s dominant driver at Loudon came up short, but with 150 laps led, the driver of the Joe Gibbs Toyota made his presence felt amidst a sea of Hendrick Chevrolets attempting to seize control. Second place, in this case, may have been the first loser – Hamlin came up five car lengths short to Kasey Kahne after poor pit strategy left him back in the pack – yet the effort showcased excellence from a driver fully recovered post-2011 Chase hangover. With this year’s playoff looming less than two months away, the second track on the postseason schedule will now have Hamlin listed as a heavy favorite this Fall.

Drugs, Disaster, and How Racing Dreams Die: AJ’s 2012 NASCAR Nightmare

The name was called – AJ Allmendinger – and in an instant, one life was gifted a dream. No, that winning lotto ticket didn’t come with millions but the man who presented it, Roger Penske, had the perfect consolation prize for a career that seemed to have stalled out forever between “satisfactory” and “should have been.” Every open-wheeler’s childhood idol, an aging owner in desperation mode had turned towards an outgoing Californian to save face, the perfect compromise in the face of a public relations nightmare that gave a pink slip to former Cup Series champion Kurt Busch.

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