Race Weekend Central

The Winner Might Just Take It All… Even With A Mediocre Regular Season

One of the biggest knocks on both the old — and now especially the new — points system is that winning is not rewarded enough. Relentless consistency trumps momentary flashes of brilliance, or so they say; it’s better to finish relatively well each week than it is to take the “Ricky Bobby” style win or bust approach. In a sport like auto racing, that just seems like a real shame. How can winning not take pole position, if you’ll pardon the mixed sporting reference?

The simple truth is that it’s an issue that has plagued NASCAR for some time. Most commentators and fans would agree that the Chase format was only dreamt up because of the way the original robot man, Matt Kenseth, ground his way to the 2003 Championship with just a solitary win and remarkably consistent 25 top-10 runs in 36 attempts. The much ballyhooed “Chase for the Cup” was meant to be the antidote to this issue, but a certain Jimmie Johnson has made that a laughable concept in many ways.

Love It or Hate It, Plate Racing Showcases NASCAR to New Fan Base

Sharing a passion is never easy: for starters, there is far too much room for ridicule. And with a sport like NASCAR, it’s arguably even more the case based on the loose (and frankly often inaccurate) stereotypes people will have if they’ve never watched the sport in any great detail. But, as is natural in life, your true friends become interested — or at the very least curious — in what makes you tick and what you derive pleasure from.

So, last November when I sat down to watch the Texas Chase race with a great friend of mine I fully briefed her on all the negative possibilities of strung out cookie-cutter races and the likelihood of processional type (frankly, boring) racing. In work terms, I suppose what I did was some good old fashioned CYA (cover your ass). Of course, I wanted her to love it; I wanted her to understand why it’s a huge priority of mine to watch 3-4 hours of racing every weekend for the best part of ten months. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much but as ever, I lived in hope that she might at least vaguely understand why it was I love NASCAR so much.

800 Starts, One Sprint Cup Title? Martin’s Push For Last Run At The Chase

“Beyond the stat itself or the records or whatever, it’s the experiences of it all that are the most important to me.” Mark Martin

When I started working in NASCAR back in September 2005 on Sprint’s title sponsorship of the Cup Series, my very first project was a retirement print ad campaign focused on the two storied drivers hanging up their helmets at the end of the season. The first was Rusty Wallace; the second was Mark Martin. While Wallace, the 1989 series champion and winner of 55 races did indeed retire and move into a role in the broadcasting booth, as well as ownership of a Nationwide team, Martin carried on. And on. And on. And on.

Ailing Hamlin In Need of Some Martinsville Medicine

Prior to the final race of the 2010 season Denny Hamlin was a voracious tweeter on a wide variety of topics and issues. Since that fateful day, the six-year veteran has been unusually reticent, tweeting infrequently, if at all over the off season and early stages of the 2011 calendar.

Headed into race day at Thunder Valley he tweeted: “Feel pretty good about our chances today. We will see”. Then came a wreck – not of his making – and a 12-lap down, 33rd place finish. That same evening Hamlin took to Twitter again: “Good news is next race is just a week away…I’m gonna call it ‘revenge weekend’.”

Growing Up Is Hard To Do: But If Kyle Busch Does It, Will It Make Him A Champ?

If you follow the NASCAR media bandwagon with any sort of regularity, I can guarantee you that this week you’ll see a preponderance of “Kyle Busch can be the 2011 Sprint Cup Champ” articles following his sweep of the weekend in Thunder Valley. Now let me be clear, right from the outset of this column, I’m not saying he can’t, or indeed won’t, be the one to unseat the relentless five-time champion when all’s said and done and the checkered flag flies at Homestead-Miami Speedway. What I am saying, however, is that it’s still way too early to be making such bold proclamations about the new, calmer version of Kyle Busch we’ve seen of late.

I’ll start, if I may, with the weekend’s proceedings, because there is something just so entirely appropriate about Kyle Busch’s dominance at Bristol over the past two race weekends there.

Third Time’s The Charm: Stewart-Haas Racing’s Strong Start Brings Hope For ’11

As a proud Brit, albeit one who’s lived in Manhattan for the best part of a decade, I always like to slip in references within my columns to the motherland and this week I have the perfect opportunity. There’s an old English expression — “start as you mean to go on” – and as we look ahead to the ear-splitting din and unfettered bumpin’ and bangin’ at Thunder Valley this weekend, it’s a phrase that springs to mind when you consider the fast start Stewart Haas Racing has made to their third year of operation.

We’ll start with the standings. Tony Stewart sits in second place, level on points with Kurt Busch who sits at the head of the class by dint of his three straight top 10s. Ryan Newman isn’t far behind in fifth place some ten points back from his boss following two fifth place efforts in the second and third races of the season: So far so good, then, for the veteran driver duo.

Ten Observations and Questions On The Season So Far

*Horrible Timing for an Off Week:*
Since he’s in the news this week, having signed a two-year extension as lead “analyst” (I’m using that term lightly) for FOX Sports, I’ll start with the inveterate tweeter himself, good old DW. Here’s what the three-time champ said on Sunday: “Home from Vegas, love a tail wind, I never thought I’d say this but glad to get a week off, Daytona and 2 west coast trips, need some rest!” I’d have to say I completely disagree. If anything it’s horrible timing for an off week so soon into such a grueling schedule. At least we have Thunder Valley to look forward to on the 21st.

Vickers Returns To Cup Racing With A Crash, Bang, And A Wallop

A few days of down time before heading to Vegas for a Red Bull appearance. Really hope we can turn it around there.
(Brian Vickers Tweet, the Monday after Phoenix)

2009 was a career year for Brian Vickers: Not only did he pick up his second victory (at Michigan, where he started from the pole); he also set personal bests for top-10’s (13), poles (6), average start (14.8) and average finish (17.3) as well as making the Chase for the first time in what was his sixth full season running Sprint Cup. Sure, he finished dead last (12th) in the Chase, but he’d made the big dance and what’s more he’d beaten out Kyle Busch to take that final spot. Let’s not forget, either, that in Red Bull Racing’s first year, Vickers failed to qualify for 13 races – a whopping third of the schedule so after such a positive year, filled with so many promising signs, the established wisdom was that it was only going to get better for Vickers.

Crime Scene Investigation: Denny Hamlin Looking To Bury Phoenix Hatchet

This Sunday afternoon, after all the hoopla and ballyhoo of the Great American Race and the heartwarming win for 20-year-old Trevor Bayne, the Sprint Cup circuit will return to the more prosaic grind of regular weekly racing. Next up is Phoenix International Raceway, a mile-long flat track home to the penultimate race in the Chase this year.

For one driver in particular, though, it might just feel like the return to the scene of a crime.

What Happens After Daytona Is Much More Important For Junior

For the first time in twelve attempts at the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s eight-time Most Popular Driver will start on pole in the marquee season-opening race: a fitting tribute to his father who passed away in a turn four wreck ten years ago to the day this Friday. This time last year, Junior started in second place and nearly parlayed his solid starting spot into a drive to Victory Lane with a thrilling last-lap slalom through the field. In the end, though, it wasn’t enough to unseat Jamie McMurray, who recorded an unexpected, morale-boosting victory in the Great American Race. Back then, that confidence was supposed to carry over to first runner-up, or so it seemed the moment Junior burst into the media center that night like a kid in a candy store, knowing how close he came to pulling off a shocker and reestablishing himself on the NASCAR circuit as a contender.

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