It’s big. It’s bad. It’s fast. It’s Talladega. That’s where the traveling road show that is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is headed this week, and just like any other time the series heads to the behemoth, 2.66-mile facility there is plenty to talk about heading into the race. Richmond continued the dramatic, feud-filled theme that has run rampant throughout the 2013 season, and the race even brought us a few surprises along the way, namely the resurgence of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and the ongoing downward spiral of Tony Stewart. In other news, Denny Hamlin is making a (partial) return this week, while his JGR team continues to rebound from the levy of penalties placed on them after Kansas. However, the main focus of this weekend of course (like any other time we visit a plate track) will be on how the cars will compete on Sunday. Will the racing be improved from the last plate race in Daytona? That is a seriously burning question that will undoubtedly be the center of discussion as we edge closer to Sunday’s Aaron’s 499.
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Here’s some quick facts to get you ready for Sunday’s 188-lap showdown in Alabama. NASCAR’s largest track on the circuit, it’ll be the second of four plate races on the schedule for 2013.
– Some say *Dale Earnhardt, Jr.,* who was second in this year’s Daytona 500 is “overdue” for a plate race win. Not so fast.
The technical inspection process in short track racing can be as extensive as a complete autopsy or as casual as a wink and a wave. One thing is for certain: the more the purse money goes up, the more thorough the inspection process. In the world of dirt racing, most of the tech inspections involve …
_Jeff Gordon has not exactly set the series on fire this year, but believe it or not, the four-time champ is actually having a better start than 2012. A year ago, he was 17th in points after Richmond in the Spring, while this year he’s 14th, boasting one top five and four top 11s to his credit. When the Gen-6 car came out, many people felt that it would be a better fit for Gordon than the Car of Tomorrow, and it has proven to be so far although he’s a step behind teammates Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Kasey Kahne in the Hendrick stable._
Gordon’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson has been turning the screws and making the calls from the pit box as always, trying to mold this No. 24 team back into championship form. As he works on guiding Gordon onward and upward, what’s the key to bringing back the dominant driver of old? Gustafson took some time to speak with Frontstretch bringing back the swagger to his team, the past week of gains at Richmond and the trials ahead for all teams at Talladega._
When it comes to making fantasy picks for restrictor plate tracks, you might think those two simple words of advice are all that you need. And for sure, there is some luck involved, but also for sure, there are some guys who seem to have a knack for restrictor plate racing.
That doesn’t mean they like it, as most drivers pretty much aren’t comfortable running about 200mph, while being surrounded by other cars, just foot, or less, away. Or being pushed by somebody when you’re already going that fast and trusting they’ll know when not to push.
There is something to be said about brand identity in NASCAR. After all, there are Jeff Gordon fans who still refuse to drink Coke because of his association with Pepsi, and those who hate Jimmie Johnson will shop at Home Depot before stepping foot in a Lowe’s. Similarly, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans have somehow developed a sweet tooth for AMP while Carl Edwards fans now use UPS for all their shipping needs.
However, there is always the rather unfortunate sponsor that generates attention simply because of what it represents. Bordreaux’s Butt Paste has sponsored several underfunded teams in the past, and the driver of that car usually received more publicity in the span of one weekend than they would in their whole career. ExtenZe made 2010 one of the funniest Rookie of the Year battles in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history, even though it was rather uneventful in terms of participants.
Just four races into the 2013 season, ThorSport Racing has visited Victory Lane in three of four events, while drivers Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter sit one-two in the Camping World Truck Series championship standings. Despite a lackluster year last season, both Crafton and Sauter have finished in the top 10 in points for six and four consecutive year, respectively, making their organization the closest thing to “dynasty” you can get in one of NASCAR’s lower divisions. So what is the key to their success and longevity in the sport? I sat down with Crafton at Kansas Speedway almost two weeks ago, after the Truck Series’ final practice session, to talk a little about just that.
*Shocker! (sarcasm) A NASCAR-appointed appeals board has unanimously upheld the penalties against Penske Racing from pre-race inspection at Texas Motor Speedway. As a result, Penske Racing will appeal to Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook on May 7th. Did NASCAR get one this right… or is Penske right to continue fighting?*
Summer: I think the penalties were too severe, so yes, I think they should keep fighting. That doesn’t mean I think it will do a damn bit of good.
Phil: I’d argue that the point penalties might not be worth appealing further at this point. I don’t even think Penske cares about them. It’s those suspensions that get you. That’s why he’s still going on, because I don’t think they needed to suspend that many people.
So Brad Keselowski ended Kyle Busch’s streak and Kevin Harvick stole one. That sums up the action from Richmond this past weekend, right? Whatever. That’s like saying that _The Sound and the Fury_ was a book about a family in the South. Here’s a look at something other than the winners from this past weekend.
*Happiness Is…Carl Edwards*
Edwards joined the broadcast team of ESPN in covering the Nationwide race this past Friday. In seasons past, he had come across as stilted and offered little in the way of commentary that was insightful or impactful. It had seemed that he was playing up to some kind of construct of what he thought an announcer should be, rather than being himself. Of course, who knows what the producer might be babbling in his ear during a race as well, but wooden and laconic are typically not attributes one aspires to in sports broadcasting.