Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sprint Cup: The Chase - Race 7: Georgia On My Mind

Hot ‘Lanta
RACE: Pep Boys Auto 500
PLACE: Atlanta Motor Speedway
DATE: Sunday, October 26, 2008
TIME: 1:00 PM
WEATHER: 67F, Sunny
It could be a "Rainy Night in Georgia" as the field of 45 entrants attempt to qualify for Sunday's Pep Boys Auto 500 yielding the possibility of yet another race where starting position will be determined by points in which case the #02 Joe Gibbs ride for Joey Legano and the #40 Chip Gannasi car for Bryan Clauson would be eliminated. Conditions look fan friendly for Sunday's race with at least a truck race to cure the track.

Is there really much left to say? While Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle still have the numbers to capture the championship, they need to finish atop the leader board and hope for a little bad luck for the #48 ride to have a realistic chance to win with just four races to go. All of the remaining tracks are good ones for Jimmie Johnson regardless of how well the other contenders have performed at those locations. Johnson can aim for top five finishes and pretty much rest assured the championship is his. He’s a smart driver who knows how to stay out of trouble and one three mile and a half tracks and one one mile track, it’s a lot easier than short tracks or where cars wind up in big drafting packs like Talladega. Of course, things were looking bright for Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards whose first taste of misfortune was mechanical failure from Gibbs and Roush racing not prone to equipment failure. Hendricks equipment is pretty much rock solid but how many times has Jeff Gordon had trouble this year?

So there’s still hope for someone else to break through and take the cup, but it’s not a good bet. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the pack, little has changed as far as which rides are locking into the top 35 for next season.

Can you believe this? It’s hard to believe some teams still think they can fiddle with the car setup specifications with the “car of tomorrow” and get away with it. Yet another team has been severely sanctioned for messing with the setup using lighter, thinner sheet metal than mandated. The #83 Red Bull team driven by Brian Vickers has been docked 150 drivers’ and owners points while Kevin Hamlin, and the car chief, Craig Smokstad, have been suspended indefinitely. Additionally, Hamlin has been issued a $150,000 fine. While many may argue NASCAR has taken away way too much wiggle room for teams’ technical operations to explore for the best competitive setup, they have clearly stated the rules and indicated the consequences for those who fail to comply. Still, every few races another story arises where teams have clearly pushed their luck with illegal setup issues. How would Dale Inman and Richard Petty have fared in today’s world?

Mike Waltrip joins Richard Petty as the only driver with 1000 starts in NASCAR competition. This includes “Mikey’s” Nationwide/Busch/Grand National and Craftsman Truck races in addition to “Cup” races. Still, aside from winning the Winston for the Wood Brothers, the only points events Waltrip has won are four restrictor plate races for DEI, two Daytona 500’s, one Pepsi 400, and a race at Talladega. As pathetic as his operation looked last year, year two with Toyota looks much more solid including top 10 finishes.
One final note, Bill Elliot will fire up the #21 (legendary) Wood Brothers Ford for what could be his last race at his home track. In an interview on ESPN this week, Elliot all but indicated this is his final season in any regular roll. What a wonderful fellow to have dominated the "most popular" driver's rating for years having won the Championship in 1988, setting the record speed ever in a NASCAR racer at 212 MPH, and winning the Winston Million. Who could forget his roll in the famous 1992 race ending the season at Atlanta. Elliot won the race. Alan Kulwicki won the championship in his famous "Underbird." It was Richard Petty's final race and Jeff Gordon's first. God speed, Awesome Bill from Dawsonville!

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