Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sprint Cup 2010: Race 28 -- Move Over for the Monster

Is anyone surprised to see who is sitting on the pole for Sunday’s AAA 500 at Dover International Speedway? It’s the first race officially in autumn, the second race of the chase.

Give up?

Jimmie Johnson, of course, will start from the pole with A.J. Allmendinger occupying the outside pole for Sunday’s race. The Roush drivers in the chase did exactly what they so badly needed to do in qualifying with Greg Biffle in 6th, Carl Edwards in 10th, and Matt Kenseth in 14th. Point’s leader, Denny Hamlin, starts in 4th outside the second row.

Here’s how the chasers start: (Standings noted to right of starter’s name.)
1) Jimmie Johnson (6th)
4) Denny Hamlin (1st)
6) Greg Biffle (8th)
8) Kurt Busch (5th)
10) Carl Edwards (7th)
11) Kyle Busch (3rd)
14) Matt Kenseth (11th)
15) Jeff Gordon (4th)
24) Clint Bowyer (12th)*
25) Tony Stewart (10th)
27) Jeff Burton (9th)
33) Kevin Harvick (2nd)

*Clint Bowyer’s standing reflects 150 point deduction from NASCAR sanction. Case is on appeal.

Looking at these qualifying results, one almost has to question if there is some painful chill blowing through the Richard Childress garage with all three drivers in the bottom third of the starting lineup. The results are especially difficult for Kevin Harvick who starts 33rd just above the creeps and quitters. Consistency has been the key to his success so far in 2010.

Practice results show good results for the Roush camp and some blessed redemption for the #33 team. Cup chasers generally occupied top spots in Practice #1.

The chasers practice spots are:

Carl Edwards, 2nd
Clint Bowyer, 4th
Greg Biffle, 5th
Matt Kenseth, 6th
Kyle Busch, 7th
Jeff Gordon, 10th
Denny Hamlin, 11th
Kurt Busch, 15th
Jimmie Johnson, 19th
Jeff Burton, 24th
Tony Stewart, 26th
Kevin Harvick, 32nd

While much can happen before the green flag drops, surely the Roush boys must be doing something that has eluded them most of the year. Both qualifying and practice times are very strong. If a Ford driver is to win the championship, better preparation is one of the keys to victory. Clearly, they are prepared in Delaware. Clint Bowyer looks to be a man on a mission. Imagine how a driver must feel. If there was any shenanigans going on with the tolerances, would be (or Richard Childress) be in the loop? Nevertheless, it’s the driver’s and owner’s championships on the line who each suffer the 150 points deduction.

Denny Hamlin looked like a total ass sticking it to the RCR team contending that the Childress team has be over the line from some time including the following comment which has been a widely circulated sound byte throughout sports media:

"In the garage, everyone has known it for months -- it's not two weeks old. This is something that's been going on for months. They've [the No. 33 team] been warned for a long time, way before Richmond. They knew it was wrong way before [New Hampshire] and I felt like they wanted to get everything they could. What did they have to lose, really? You almost can't fault them for that."

Hamlin is getting to be quite the finger-pointer all too prone to chastising his fellow race teams for perceived grievances. It’s one thing if a driver has an encounter on the race track. Stuff happens and tempers get hot, but Hamlin is taking on the role of a prima donna as if nothing like this could ever happen at JGR. Should anyone be surprised if other drivers don’t give him a break?

Sunday’s weather should be in the low 70’s, much cooler than qualifying weather, with clouds thickening as the race approaches the checkered flag. Surely, a lot of tweaks and adjustments will be necessary as the race progresses where pit strategy can be all important.

The Dover monster has a nasty way of rising up and destroying race cars whether by its tough demands on equipment or cars not able to avoid wrecks negotiating the high banked concrete curves and straightaways.

Forty six teams entered competition. Two quitters failed to qualify but once again, the #26 team with Air National Guard sponsorship failed to make the race. There are obviously some serious operational problems in that garage given their difficulty gaining starting positions, but how insulting it must be to them and their sponsors to come to the track week after week and then facing the possibility of missing the race for the corrupt moochers who put in a few parade laps and then cash their generous paychecks for doing next to nothing. Last week’s parking lot patrol took home no less than $68,000 per entry for starting the race. Would these funds not be better spent divided up among legitimate competitors or perhaps reducing admission costs for fans? Pity Mark Martin who starts next to last surrounded by these leaches on the sport.

The keys to the race are:
1- How will RCR entries perform in light of this week’s penalties on the #33 car?

2- How can the Roush-Fenway cars demonstrate they are serious championship contenders given their strength in qualifying and practice?

3- Can Tony Stewart overcome an unlucky finish a week ago and a poor qualifying position to improve his position significantly in the standings?

4- Will Jimmie Johnson look destined for his 5th consecutive championship having won the poll for the Dover race?

Expect a major shakeup in the top 12 standings Sunday night after the action in Delaware has concluded. Dover is one of the riskiest tracks in the ten race “chase” sequence.

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