Race Weekend Central

Kyle Busch: Another Chase Calamity?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Kyle Busch walks into the Chase, and the car instantly falls apart like Jake and Elwood’s ’74 Dodge Monaco in _The Blues Brothers_.

The trend continued Monday afternoon as Kyle Busch saw an eighth-place finish magically turn into a 22nd-place momentum-killer at Chicagoland Speedway. Busch, who came in tied for first currently finds himself 19 points behind leader and “best friend” Kevin Harvick, a drop of eight positions in the standings. The alternative finish – courtesy of the easy-to-calculate new points system – would have had Busch within five points of the lead heading into New Hampshire, but instead highlights the same struggles the No. 18 has experienced since Busch guided the team to an eight-win season in 2008.

Regular season: Awesome. Chase Races: Everybody forgets how to do everything at exactly the same time. A quick look back at Busch’s Chase resume will find some dents.

From The Back To The Front: Will Longshot Chasers Make Their Move?

With the field for the Chase for The Sprint Cup finally decided, you are likely going to be inundated this week with article upon article with who will win, why, the rankings, and what it’s going to take to win the title. This one will be a bit different, as I am going to be looking at things from a different angle: who will not be in contention for the crown and why. It may hurt some feelings or ruffle some feathers – but in ten weeks we will know whether or not I am stupid. Or at least confirm it. So with that, here we go…

Going To Extremes: NASCAR Ups And Downs That Have Defined 2011 To Date

The world of racing is a metaphor for life, full of its own ups and downs. For instance, after working for 12 hours today, I returned to my vehicle only to the find the keys were in the ignition – and, naturally, the doors locked. Thankfully, I left the window cracked and was able to jimmy a broken branch off a pine tree, trip the power lock switch and wind up driving home minutes later. I’d like to credit time spent working in law enforcement and gaining an insight to the criminal mind… OK, perhaps I’ve said too much. But now that I’m back at home, Firebase Beckwith, I can provide for you my latest creation: the Ups and Downs of NASCAR 2011.

*Up: First-Time Winners*

For those who pine for “The Good Ol’ Days,” 2011 has seen its fair share of it. For the first time in ages, we’ve seen the ability for teams not named Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway, Richard Childress, or Joe Gibbs Racing to end up in Victory Lane. The Daytona 500 saw the Wood Brothers’ triumphant return to the winner’s circle after a nine-year absence, while Regan Smith won the Southern 500 for Furniture Row Racing in May, his flat black, single-car Chevrolet No. 78 taming the track deemed The Lady In Black.

Spencer For Hire: Busch and Johnson Feud Honors Greatness

Not since Chris Economacki announced that the rookie from Berwick, PA was going to use his Daytona 500 winnings to acquire a new hairpiece, has the name of Jimmy Spencer been invoked as it has the past two weeks. To what do we owe this renaissance of the best driver not named Andretti to hail from The Keystone State?

While Brad Keselowski showed Spence what was up by winning in his backyard two weeks ago at Pocono, it was the feud that followed between Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson. Both driver referenced Spencer in their respective press conferences at The Glen. Johnson is currently third in the championship points standings, while Busch sits sixth.

Dodge and Keselowski: Brad-isfaction, Guaranteed

Brad Keselowski is in a very unique position in his young career. He has a Nationwide Championship, three Sprint Cup wins, and is quickly becoming the name driver for a marquee manufacturer. With his most recent win at Pocono this past Sunday, you could say Keselowski’s chances of qualifying for the Cup championship comes with a Brad-isfaction guarantee.

The only problem is, the numbers are as confusing as they are convincing.

Time’s Up: NASCAR Drivers Nearing The End of The Line

There are few things as inspiring as the athlete who refuses to give up and keeps fighting under the most overwhelming of odds and circumstances. Willis Reed trotting out on a broken leg during the NBA Finals, Curt Schilling pitching through a bum ankle and bloody sock in the World Series, or Ronnie Lott choosing to cut off part of his finger to get back into a game against the Dallas Cowboys. You can stamp Man’s Game on all of the above.

Then there is the case of those who maybe stick around too long, or should step aside and give somebody else a crack at it. NASCAR is no exception; there are a few drivers who are tied in and have immunized themselves from outside competition, or are able to land rides by being able to provide sponsorship.

What I Really Wish We Would See at The Brickyard 400…

This weekend brings us the 18th running of The Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. What once was always seen as just a rung below the Daytona 500, the most prestigious race in the series, the name and image of the 2.5-mile Rectoval situated in the middle of a neighborhood in Speedway, Indiana has become a bit blemished in recent years. From crowds spread as thin as the cords on a fried Goodyear tire, to competition that is less than Talladegaesque, Indy needs a few prayers and intentions sent its way. With that, I have put together my own wish list for this weekend’s action from Indianapolis.

Crew Chief Revolving Doors: Could The No. 48’s Pit Crew Be Next?

Take heart, 4-ha8ters! After another festival of failures on pit road, the cracks are starting to show in the Five-Time champions. The sky is falling, Jimmie’s bawling, and Chad is crawling back to start, trying to figure out a way to salvage the season before the Chase starts.

Since 2002, what had been the hallmark of the Lowe’s racing franchise was the competency of the pit crew, and their obsessive-compulsive pursuit for precision and perfection has devolved into a weekly comedy of errors and horrors whenever Johnson comes to get tires and fuel.

2011: The Year of the (Lame) Duck?

I have a favorite sarcastic saying I like to use whenever somebody starts with the litany of how hard something is, bemoaning their struggle and lot in life.

“It’s too hard. You should probably just give up and quit.”

That saying came to mind this week when I was tasked with detailing the plight of the newest NASCAR phenomenon: The Lame Duck Driver.

Many times in politics, you will hear this term used, often in the second half of a President’s term if not up for re-election, or before midterm elections in Congress (a sad commentary in and of itself for elected officials who are squandering our precious resources). But these ugly words, too could be said for drivers who are in the final year of a contract with a team, particularly if it is one they are less than fond of. When you’re faced with a job coming to a close, it’s sometimes natural for people, along with those around them to relax, lose focus, and give less than 100 percent. But is that phenomenon happening within the wave of NASCAR’s group of “lame ducks?”

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