NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Is Smith’s Darlington Victory The Greatest Upset In Recent Memory?

Part of what has made this season great so far has been the unexpected victories from underdogs Trevor Bayne and Regan Smith. In a time when multi-car organizations and having the most money translate into success, some of the flavor of stock car racing actually being stock has been taken away. Bayne and Smith’s recent triumphs have helped to bring some of the past back, making us realize that the underequipped teams can still win while bringing up memories of past feel good stories. Here are the five greatest upsets from the past 20 years of NASCAR racing…

The Curious Case of Brad Keselowski

A little over two years ago, the NASCAR world was anticipating the arrival of a young rookie loaded with potential. Joey Logano was labeled by many as the next big thing. Towards the end of the 2009 season, however, it was another rookie that had everyone’s attention; Brad Keselowski. That year, Keselowski stunned the world by winning in just his fifth career start, sending Carl Edwards into the catchfence at Talladega. For the casual fan, Keselowski was little known at the time, but everyone knew who he was after this.

His victory also triggered the start of one of the more interesting rivalries we have seen over the past few years, but more on that later. In addition to his upset ‘Dega win, Keselowski racked up a few more top 10s in a limited schedule, most of which came with James Finch’s underfunded No. 09 organization.

Four Preseason Favorites Have Obstacles To Overcome

What do Jamie McMurray, Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, and Tony Stewart all have in common? Yes, they all were pre-season favorites to make the Chase, but they also have fewer top-5 finishes in 2011 than Paul Menard. Combined. Sure, Menard is having a career year so far, but these four drivers haven’t even totaled two top 5’s after eight races. Ouch. For these guys, the off week could not have come at a better time.

Can McMurray’s season be called a disappointment so far, or is it more like back to reality for last year’s Daytona 500 winner? After being reunited with Chip Ganassi during the 2009-2010 offseason, the car owner he enjoyed his most success with from 2002 to 2005, McMurray had a banner year last season that included wins at the Brickyard and Charlotte along with his stunning 500 win.

Toyota Has Been the Victim of Ford’s Revival

It’s safe to say that Ford Racing is back. Trevor Bayne, Carl Edwards, and most recently Matt Kenseth, each have made a trip to victory lane just seven races into the year. That is three times that Ford has won already, which, believe it or not, is just one victory short of their entire total from last year. Whether a fan of the Blue Oval or not, it is a feel good story to see one of NASCAR’s longtime manufacturers back in contention.

As is usually the case when a driver, or team in this instance, rebounds from tough times, it is at another driver or team’s expense.

Better, But Not Back: Way Too Early to Say Earnhardt Has Returned

NASCAR was on its way to being saved last Sunday. All was about to be right again in the world. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had bumped the sport’s villain Kyle Busch (Note to Sus…I mean readers: I having nothing against Kyle Busch and think it’s great he plays the bad guy) out of the way for the lead and was on his way to his first win in almost three years. That is until Kevin Harvick – the man who replaced Earnhardt’s father behind wheel of the No. 3 (now the No. 29) car – came out of nowhere yet again and passed him for the victory.

While he wasn’t able to seal the deal, Earnhardt’s second place finish at Martinsville has many thinking that 2011 is the year that Junior Nation can rejoice.

Stenhouse, Not Bayne, Should Be Roush’s Next Cup Star

Five races into the year, David Ragan is outside the top 20 in points for the third consecutive time. He didn’t end the season well in the previous two years either; he hasn’t finished inside the top 20 since 2008, in what is more and more appearing to be a fluke season. Point is, while he still has a ride, Ragan already has two strikes, and the next pitch is a 100 mile per hour fastball. I noted last month that with Trevor Bayne’s stunning victory in the Daytona 500, Ragan would need to have an amazing year to avoid getting replaced by Bayne. The 20-year-old Bayne was already rumored to be Ragan’s replacement in the near future, and that was before winning the sport’s biggest race.

What a difference a month makes.

Jeff Gordon Grants Wish at Bristol

As the camera panned across the field throughout the Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol last weekend, it was easy to see how pathetic the crowd in the grandstands was at a track that used to have a years-long waiting list for a single race ticket. But perhaps the more noteworthy story is the one of how Jeff Gordon helped to make an impact on a young child’s life.

Over the weekend, the four-time champion granted the wish of a young brain cancer patient by the name of Johnathon Ousley. The 14-year-old Kentucky native said his dream weekend would combine a camping trip, fishing trip and a race weekend with his favorite driver, Jeff Gordon.

Dream Scenario: The Perfect 36-Race Schedule

As I was watching the Truck Series race this past weekend, something unusual happened. I was daydreaming, completely oblivious to Kasey Kahne opening a can of whoop on the field. Instead of feeling guilty about it though, I was pretty happy with my ADD episode. Even though I couldn’t have told you who was running second through last, my mind was still on NASCAR. More specifically, my thoughts were on The Lady In Black, and how great it is that it has two race weekends during the season again. The track of old, where tire durability was a part of the race, looked to be slowly coming back. Wouldn’t it be great if the Southern 500 came back?

Like most fans, I am a bit nostalgic and miss certain aspects of the sport that are no longer around. I am also a realist who understands tracks such as Darlington and Atlanta are more likely to lose another race before they would gain one back.

Truck Series Gets the Spotlight in Darlington

How are you going to get by with no Sprint Cup racing this weekend? Do some laundry? Watch the Criami Heat lose another game? Maybe plant some flowers? Terrible, I know.

It’s okay though, because at least there will be a truck race going on. While it’s asinine that the Cup and Nationwide series are off just four weeks into the season, the Camping World Truck Series greatly benefits from this. Usually taking a back seat to the top two series, the trucks will be the only focus this weekend as they do battle Saturday night during the Too Tough To Tame 200 (Best race name ever? The alliteration and name are awesome, but 500 on the end would make it perfect). Once the checkered flag flies, it will give both the fans and media a few days to focus on nothing but the trucks. It should also give us an idea who the championship favorites are, even if it is only three races into the year.

Can Busch Brothers Maintain Early Season Success?

The 2011 season isn’t even two weeks in, yet some historic records have already been broken. There were a record number of lead changes in the Daytona 500, Trevor Bayne won in just his second career Cup attempt, and in doing so became the youngest 500 winner ever. Even Phoenix, a venue known for little passing up front, had a track record for lead changes last Sunday. There was more history, as ESPN loves to say, made this week when the point standings were released.

Much has already been made about how the Busch brothers are the first family members to sit atop the standings since the Daytona 500 in 1988 when Bobby and Davey Allison were at the top. Did you know this is the first time brothers have been sitting 1-2 since the position based points system started in 1975? Sure, it is just two races in, but we are talking about a former Cup champion in Kurt Busch and one of the most talented drivers in Kyle Busch. It’s no fluke. The question now is whether the brotherly duo can keep up their early season success. For Kurt and Kyle, they must overcome different matters to achieve the same goal – win the title.

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