Friday, March 18, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 4 -- The Bristol Stomp

The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol
When they do the Bristol Stomp
Really somethin when they join in jumpin
When they do the Bristol Stomp

Sunday afternoon, one driver will do the stomping while the other forty two get stomped upon as the 2011 Sprint Cup Season celebrates round one of its short track competition in Thunder Valley, Bristol, Tennessee, a half-mile, concrete, high-banked oval unlike any track on the arena. The Sprint Cup field almost appears competing in a large stadium not on a race track and the results are pure fun.

Before NASCAR drivers can put on their dancing shoes Sunday, Goodyear has a serious tire problem to address. The right side tires were made too soft resulting in tires wearing down to their cords far short of expectations but also the rubber wears off more like a soft dust not "rubbering" the race track. Sounding sadly familiar to the famous Brickyard 400 debacle, Goodyear is responding quickly bringing the same tire used last year for both Sprint Cup and Nationwide cars. The Cup teams will be able to change their cars toorrow, but it will be trickier for the Nationwide teams who will start the race with bad rubber, take a mandatory competition yelllow at lapt #25 and then install the proper tire. Obviously, this creates additional confusion as cars were setup and tuned based on the performance of the previous tire. Pit  crews will have to be extra responsible to get their cars dialed in. NASCAR simply cannot afford a compromised race where a technical issue impacts competition as faulty tires would.

Going into this race, the world looks good for Carl Edwards, a short track specialist who is on a roll for the start of the season. Coming off of winning the final two races of last year, Edwards has one win and a top five in his first three races and sits on the pole for Sunday's 500 lap smackdown mechanical roller derby. Tony Stewart leads the points feeling poor pit performance cost him a win in Las Vegas. Kurt Busch is red hot and brother Kyle would be right at the top were it not for a blown engine. Oh, guess who's starting to make himself quite apparent -- yeah that guy, Jimmie Johnson, who starts 6th.
Let's look at whose starting off atop the field.

1-  Carl Edwards, #99, Ford
2-  Greg Biffle,#16, Ford
3-  Regan Smith, #78, Chevrolet
4-  Paul Menard, #27, Chevrolet
5-  David Ragan, #6, Ford
6-  Jimmie Johnson, #48, Chevrolet
7-  Jeff Gordon, #24, Chevrolet
8-  Martin Truex, Jr., #46, Toyota
9-  Mark Martin, #5, Chevrolet
10- Kasey Kahne, #4, Toyota
11- Matt Kenseth, #17, Ford
12- Kyle Busch, #18, Toyota
13- Tony Stewart, #14, Chevrolet
14- Marcos Ambrose, #9, Ford
15- Kevin Harvick, #29, Chevrolet

Ken Schrader failed to quality for the field driving the #32 Ford while the usual crew of field parasiteshave made the field. Especially given the short track and limited pit space, the sport would be well-served if these embarassments to the integrity of American sports would stay home and watch March Madness. NASCAR appears to experience its own kind of madness sanctioning such foolishness.

The field will be set after next week's race for which teams automatically are assured starting positions in future races. With representatives from major treams struggling, good performances this week and next are essential. Joey Logono driving the #20 Toyota for Joe Gibbes racing is in 32nd place. Greg Biffle stands in 33rd place for Jack Roush, but benefits tremendously from sitting on the outside poll. Then veteran, Jeff Burton, a model of consistency languishes in 34th for  his #31 Chevrolet for Richard Childress. The bubble is between the #13 Bob Germain entry driven by Casey Mears in 35th and the #71 JTG Chevrolet drive by Andy Lally. This is further  made substantial since the number of part time entries early in the year has elevated an embarassing start and park entry, Tommy Baldwin's #36 car in 38th place. NASCAR's integrity would take a sure embarassing hit if teams with no intention to compete could cross the 35th place threshold.

In the Nationwide series, eyes will be on the #7 Jr Motorsports "Go Daddy" Chevrolet as Danica Patrick races her first race at a NASCAR short track before her move to compete in her accustomed spot in IRL competition. She's now showing a true flare for competition, but she's never faced anything like a Nationwide race car in an environment like Bristol. A top 20 or better finish would surely create a true sense she is capable of competing at a major NASCAR level of competition and tat her breakthrough finish at Las Vegas was no fluke.

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