Friday, August 21, 2009

Sprint Cup 2009, Race 24: Saturday Night Bristol Madness

Just a few miles south of the far western tip of Virginia off i-81.

And then there were three….

Yes, three races remain before the field for the 2009 Chase for the Championship will be locked in after Richmond’s competition. No contest has the potential to scramble the competition more than the 500 lap mad dash around the high banked, half mile short track at Bristol, Tennessee Saturday night. It seems ironic, then, that some writers for attempt to minimize the significance of this race under the banner of “Fireworks or Fizzle.” We assure our readers that before the fireworks are launched when the winner’s car enters victory lane, some hopes will have fizzled tremendously.

With 43 cars compressed on such a short distance which boosts speeds with carefully engineered banking, quickly the field gets jumbled and leaders have to contend with slower lap traffic. Additionally, did anyone consider this is the first short track race with the double file restart? Oh, won’t that be fun!!!

Smart money suggests the ultimate shootout for the championship is shaping up as a contest between Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, but their dominance during this run of the season takes a big hit when points are reassigned after Richmond. We’ll take as a given that they’ll be atop the standings the moment the checkered flag drops in Richmond, but then what?

That’s exactly why Saturday night at Bristol is so important. Plenty of drivers are on the edge of hanging on to the top twelve while three drivers are knocking on the door trying to get in. The extremes run from Juan Montoya in 7th, 108 points above 13th to David Reutimann in 16th, 118 points below 12th place. Juan Montoya is not disaster proof. Meanwhile, it might be tougher for Reutimann to rise up since he has three drivers ahead of him also outside looking in, but winning solves a lot of deficiencies.

Here’s the contest: Driver, driver’s position, points, and margin

Juan Montoya, 7th, 2887, 108 pts in the chase
Kasey Kahne, 8th, 2884, 105 pts in the chase
Ryan Newman, 9th, 2845, 66 pts in the chase
Greg Biffle, 10th, 2821, 42 points in the chase
Matt Kenseth, 11th, 2811, 32 points in the chase
Mark Martin, 12th, 2791, 12 points in the chase

Brain Vickers, 13th, 2779, 12 points out
Clint Bowyer, 14th, 2633, 58 points out
Kyle Busch, 15th, 2721, 70 points out
David Reutimann, 16th, 2673, 118 points out

The good news is that Kyle Busch has a very tough task ahead of him to make the chase, but here’s a driver who could bang out a couple wins and a top five and need just a little bit of slippage from Martin, Vickers, and Bowyer.

The bad news is Mark Martin in his glorious comeback season with four wins, the most of any driver, could easily be knocked out of the honor of running for the championship. Likewise, the “Blue Oval” boys who want to see Fords in the Chase’s future have to see that Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth cannot give ground if they are to secure their ride for the trophy in Homestead. Likewise, after a rough start, Ryan Newman’s team appeared to be growing into top competitive form but in the summer stretch, they’ve fallen off tremendously.

In recent history, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are the big winners with Busch wining two out of three of the last spring events, but Carl Edwards has won back to back August races. Kurt Busch won four races between 2003 and 2006. Tony Stewart has one victory, but back in 2001. The track also has been good to Matt Kenseth with August wins in 2005 and 2006. Jeff Gordon has multiple wins – his last in 2002. Mark Martin is a two time winner, 1993 and 1998. Jimmie Johnson has never won at Bristol.

Also studying recent history, Roush Ford drivers failed miserably in last March, with Carl Edwards in 15th being the highest finish. Conversely, the team did well one year ago. Brian Vickers, the closest driver to knocking into the chase has never finished in the top ten in ten attempts at Bristol.

Forty seven drivers are currently listed as entered to compete in the Sharpie 500. Included in the field are the usual “start and park” entries who will sure have to head for the exits in a hurry given how fast the field intermixes with lap traffic in the tiny Tennessee bull ring for auto sports. Somehow, the “start and park” scenario seems especially onerous at a track like Bristol where noncompetitive rides create a greater distraction in such a crowded field. Sadly, looking at the “go or go home” slate, entries 36th or lower in owner points, few rides have anything at stake to prove even factoring those who might be shooting for a spot in the top 35. Scott Speed is racing for rookie of the year but trails Joey Logano by a huge margin. That team is also shooting for the owner’s points berth. No other team looks like a true threat to break into the 35 secured spots. Of this field, Terry Labonte has a past champion’s provisional available to make the field racing the 08 Toyota for owner John Carter. Scott Wimmer races a #4 Chevy for Jerry McClure. Aric Almirola joins the Finch team’s tag team in the #09 Dodge. The balance of the field looks like the drivers who make it will be all ones who will park it.

Perhaps we could call the Bristol spectacle “Driver Darwinism” as the species best prone to adaption that can evolve while avoiding predators will be still standing as only the strong survive in Thunder Valley. Given with what ease a good ride can be trashed, we’re not going to offer an opinion on a favorite to win. We can offer who we’re cheering for. First and foremost, it would be horrible for Mark Martin not to make the Chase, so we’ll cheer for Mark. We also like Fords so we hope Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth excel.

Let the fun begin.

No comments: