Race Weekend Central

All Done For Denny In 2011?

I’ve never been a great proponent of the old NASCAR (and indeed other sporting) cliché that you need to lose a championship before you can win one. I’ve always thought it was meant more as a salve, soothing the poor unfortunate who missed out rather than becoming a harbinger of what’s to come the following year. It seems, if you will, a little bit like a convenient excuse: a cop out to mask the sour stench of failure.

If you’re reading this article, chances are you don’t need reminding of just how spectacularly Denny Hamlin’s 2010 bid for the championship derailed over the final two weeks of the season – how he genuinely lost a title that was well within his grasp. Even the Hamlin haters would find it hard to deny that the denouement of 2010 was ridiculously tough to take for the Chesterfield, Va. native. It doesn’t matter how close he pushed Double J, a man who has, for all intents and purposes, looked utterly unbeatable this last half-decade come Chase time. The bottom line is Hamlin had it, only to lose it; and that’s tough to take.

Jimmie Johnson’s “Slump:” Why Things Aren’t Exactly As They Appear

If there are three words that have irked me more than any others this season, they have been “Jimmie Johnson” and “slump.” Every season following Johnson’s very first championship back in 2006, a time in the season has come where Johnson and his race team performed at a level less than expected (even though they were still doing just fine) and weren’t considered a huge threat for the championship.

As we all know, anyone who said so over the last five seasons wound up eating crow and Johnson laughed all the way to the bank with the trophy and check in hand. However, I figured after five seasons, Johnson’s detractors would eventually wise up and realize that the driver and his race team just have this system figured out. Using the regular season as a test session at points, they know when it’s time to conserve and when it’s time to race.

Why the Truth About KHI Is In Doubt… And Why It Matters

It seems completely consistent with what’s become a growing trend, the antithesis of another that Kevin Harvick himself kicked into overdrive back in 2006. Back then, Harvick became the first full-time Cup driver to successfully retreat into double-dipping, running full NNS and Cup schedules en route to a dominating Nationwide Series championship campaign that saw Happy win nine races and clinch the series title a month early in Charlotte. It was the second time Harvick had pulled it off, doing the same in the wake of Dale Earnhardt, Sr.’s death that forced him into the Cup level back in 2001. The difference this time? A half-dozen drivers, at the peak of “Buschwhacking” competed with dual schedules along with him.

On Politics and History: Random Rain-Out Rants About NASCAR’s White House “Controversy”

The two greatest passions in my life are racing and politics. Rarely do the two meet, and even in those cases where they do, more often than not readers don’t want to see the two mixed. I can’t say I blame them…who wants their source of escape and enjoyment tainted with the daily horrors of Washington, DC?

That being said, race fans would have to be living with their heads stuck in the sand to have missed the supposed controversy leading into a laborious Atlanta weekend. It revolves around having a number of drivers from last year’s Chase opting not to visit the White House, deciding against an opportunity so many champion athletes across the country are invited to.

The Trouble With Rubber: Bristol Not Alone In Tracks Offering Goodyear Problems

It’s becoming commonplace to hear the “new Bristol” being described as too tame, too radical a departure from the old bullring every time NASCAR returns to tackle Bruton’s highest banks. And, after four years of experience with the track’s newest repaving it’s a debate that, for all intents and purposes has grown tired. Either one enjoys the side-by-side racing that inevitably ensues with three grooves and 43 cars taking to a half-mile circuit – the current format they see today – or they yearn to see the days of 2003, where over 20 cars were involved in crashes over the course of one Saturday evening.

Truth be told, both camps had something to be disappointed in when the checkered flag flew over Brad Keselowski this past weekend. Only six cautions interrupted the 500 laps run, and half of those were thrown for debris, a fourth for a blown motor. Crumpled sheet metal was at a premium. Problem is, so was meaningful side-by-side racing. Sure, the battle between Martin Truex, Jr. and Jeff Gordon for the runner-up slot as the laps wound down was intense. But that doesn’t change the fact that this short-track race was won the way they’re won at Fontana or Michigan: on pit road. Brad Keselowski had a good car all night, but he almost certainly did not have a car that was darn near a straightaway better than anyone else in the field.

The Chase: Who’s In, Who’s Out and Who Might Just Make It

For such a long season, with a massive propensity for drama at each and every weekend, sometimes it’s easy to miss the macro picture. You get so caught up in the minutiae of what is happening at each particular track; who’s qualified well; who looks good in practice and who Kurt Busch is arguing with this time that the overall state of play can be easy to overlook. I’m as guilty of this as anyone so this week I’m rectifying that and I’m going to take a look at the Chase picture and see who’s in, who’s nearly in, who’s on the bubble and who’s out of the picture altogether with just three races to go.

Far From Coming Clean: How Edwards Rang Hollow at Pocono

Listening to Jack Roush and Carl Edwards on Friday at Pocono talk about the most anticipated contract signing in recent NASCAR history, one would think one of two things. First, that the past months of courtship, rumors and that much-ballyhooed decision really weren’t all that dramatic, or second, damn if that didn’t feel rehearsed.

Let’s face the facts. The ultimate result of Silly Season’s most dramatic episode to date was that Carl Edwards re-signed a contract with the only team for which he’s ever driven, a team that’s he leading the points with and on which he is the A driver. The words “no brainer” come to mind here, the type of “no brainer” that doesn’t take the better part of a season to decide on. For crying out loud, the only viable alternative that Edwards had available to his home at Roush was a seat at Joe Gibbs Racing. Sure, the equipment over there is great, and between both Home Depot sponsorship and Toyota factory backing, there was plenty of money available to sign one of the sport’s biggest stars.

The Bookies Never Get It Wrong

After nearly four years of writing a weekly column, there are some weeks when the articles almost write themselves. You have the basic idea, for example: “Why Carl Edwards will be the driver to unseat the champion,” and you find yourself able to riff your way to a thousand words with hopefully some salient and pertinent points that support your case. Of course, if in doubt there’s always Dale Earnhardt Jr. who is an endless source of column topics. Frankly, you could probably write about the correlation between the length of Junior’s scruff (beard) and his race finishes and a ton of people would read it.

Pit Crew Struggles Nothing New For Johnson and No. 48 Team

Last year it was Denny Hamlin. In a storybook tale that would see Hamlin shake off a devastating knee injury to vanquish one of the mightiest teams in NASCAR’s modern era, the Virginian was supposed to bring an end to the reign of Jimmie Johnson and team No. 48.

Johnson didn’t win as many races, talk as big a game, and as good as his cars and crew were through most of 2010, he was not the class of the Cup field when the crown was on the line. Hell, he didn’t even collect the trophy at Homestead with his own pit crew; he borrowed one from Jeff Gordon. Yet, when the Ford 400 was over, Johnson was Sprint Cup Champion for the fifth consecutive time.

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