Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 5 -- Harvick Home State Hero

How does a finish get much better than the three car shootout in the Auto Club 400 at Fontana, California between Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and racer winner, Kevin Harvick?

All three cars were locked in tight competition pushing as close as cars can get without wrecking each other or brushing the wall. Kyle Busch had just a slight lapse allowing Harvick to blow by him and then it was time to take on the champ. In the final two laps, Kevin Harvick had several openings before finally taking control coming out of turn four headed for the finish line.

Racing competition was close and tight right from the green flag forward, but amazingly, there were consequential wrecks. Of the few cautions, perhaps the most disturbing was Kevin Hamlin’s engine letting go burying him in 39th place, 95 laps off the pace. Going into competition in 17th place, his engine failure drops him four positions in the standings. The frequency of engine failures must be of tremendous concern for Joe Gibbs Racing going back to last year’s chase drive and beyond.

Top 15 Finishers:
1 – Kevin Harvick, #29, Chevrolet
2 – Jimmie Johnson, #48, Chevrolet
3 – Kyle Busch, #18, Toyota
4 – Matt Kenseth, #17, Ford
5 – Ryan Newman, #39, Chevrolet
6 – Carl Edwards, #99, Ford
7 – Clint Bowyer, #33, Chevrolet
8 – Brian Vickers, #83, Toyota
9 – Kasey Kahne, #4, Toyota
10 – Juan Montoya, #42, Chevrolet
11 – Greg Biffle, #16, Ford
12 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr., #88, Chevrolet
13 – Tony Stewart, #14, Chevrolet
14 – A.J. Allmendinger, #43, Ford
15 – Jeff Burton, #31, Chevrolet

Today’s finishing order was particularly important to Brian Vickers, who entered completion in 32nd position. He boosted 7 points positions. Likewise, while far from positioning himself as a chase contender, Jeff Burton’s 15th finish pulled him out of 30th gaining four positions. Both drivers now have some breathing room rather than fearing falling out of the top 35.

The “Chase for the Chase” takes on a different character in 2011 since only the top 10 are locked in on points while the last two places will be selected on the basis of wins. For those teams lagging in the point standings and that deficiency will soon be quite apparent, the pressure will be on to rack up the wins. Joey Logano and the #20 must be starting to twitch as they only gained one spot today.

Carl Edwards was not a factor for winning the race today but his consistency yielded him the points lead while Ryan Newman moved up too. Of course, to the victor goes a great reward. Kevin Harvick’s win boosted him five positions in the standings tied for 9th place.

Standings – Top 15:
1 – Carl Edwards, #99, Ford (187 pts.)
2 – Ryan Newman, #39, Chevrolet (178 pts.) (-9)
3 – Kurt Busch, Dodge (177 pts.) (-10)
4 – Kyle Busch, Toyota (176 pts.) (-11)
5 – Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet (173 pts.) (-14)
6 – Tony Stewart, Chevrolet (160 pts.) (-17)
7 – Paul Menard, Chevrolet (164 pts.) (-23)
8 – Juan Montoya, Chevrolet (161 pts.) (-26)
9 – Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet (157 pts.) (-30)
10 – Matt Kenseth, Ford (157 pts.) (-30)
11 – Kasey Kahne, Toyota (157 pts.) (-30)
12 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (156 pts.) (-31)
13 – Martin Truex, Jr. (147 pts.) (-40)
14 – Mark Martin (147 pts.) (-40)
15 – A.J. Allmendinger (137 pts.) (-50)

Fox Sports made no mention of the drivers who just snuck off the track wanting to call no attention to start and park entries. This is unfortunate because especially in light of Jennifer Jo Cobb’s protest in the Nationwide Series a week ago and the possibility that such an entry could lock into the top 35, the pressure is on. Problems don’t go away by sweeping them under the rug. Scandals only get worse when they’re covered up.

Today’s offenders are two Humphrey Parsons entries, Todd Bodine in car #60 the 4th driver to park and Michael McDonald in car #66 the first driver to quit. Joe Nemechek #87 was the second car to quit. J.J. Yeley in car #46 scamming for owner Tommy McMillan pulled off third.

Surely, Todd Bodine, last year’s Camping World Truck Series champ deserves some serious sanctions for participating in degrading the top series of NASCAR. If no one else in the official media will call him out for this disgrace, we will.

The scab entry that could be the most ominous is the Tommy Baldwin #36 entry. Driver Dave Blaney was allowed to race to attempt to lock in a top 35 position. Blaney stands in 35th in drivers’ points after today’s activity. Owners’ points will be published tomorrow. Likewise, while not parking yet this year, the #13 Bob Germain entry is likewise one to scrutinize having entered today 35th. Casey Mears finished 33rd today.

With four drivers not even putting up the slightest pretense of competing essentially flaunting any sense of honor in sportsmanship, the possibility of scab owners locking into the top 35 being guaranteed participation, and having drivers Denny Hamlin and Bobby Labonte possibly losing points being behind potential parking teams increasing their points deficit despite being fully funded and sponsored, the travesty of allowing freeloaders to continue couldn’t be clearer IF NASCAR PRESS COVERS IT.

43 might be a magic number in NASCAR immortality when associated with the King of the sport, Richard Petty, but for the starting lineup, it’s just a number. With at least well over $320,000 being divided among non-racing participants, except perhaps for the biggest events like the Daytona 500, Coke 600, and Brickyard 400, dropping back to 37 starters which would allow for a possible past champion’s provisional though that would really only be applicable if Bill Elliot or Terry Labonte chose to race since all the regular contenders are locked in. Given the few number of truly competitive – fully staffed, ready to complete teams having two open positions might be just the right formula unless NASCAR chose to reduce the number of locked-in team entries.

The argument frequently posed in defense of “start and park” is that it doesn’t hurt anyone. Perhaps in September if Denny Hamlin or Bobby Labonte were just short of making the chase, they’d surely feel hurt. $320,000 plus dollars that could be used to real benefit whether rebated in ticket prices, more purse for real competitors, track improvements, or NASCAR research. Multiply that times 36 race, the amount of money flushed down the toilet is significant. Next week, the tour races at Martinsville, Virginia where quickly lesser cars can go a lap down. Should these slugs get in the way of legitimate contenders? We would applaud a legitimate entry that could slam a parker in the wall if he could do so without harming his own ride. A little “boys have at it” spirit might be part of the solution.

American fans have a real sense of fairness and sportsmanship. It’s also darned un-American to see people who learn how to scam the system. We play the game to win and believe a day’s wages for a day’s work. What kind of powerful argument can the France dynasty come up with to the contrary?

The Sprint Cup Tour moves back to the east coast to race on one of its most historic tracks at Martinsville, Virginia. Though like Bristol, it’s only ½ mile, the character of racing is radically different between the two. Like Bristol, the competition serves to jumble up the standings now that the all-important top 35 threshold has been met.

Jimmie Johnson is coming on strong. Denny Hamlin needs help. Since 2007, they’ve been alternating wins at the “Paperclip… Johnson, Hamlin, Johnson, Hamlin. This would suggest Johnson’s due. For the fall race, Johnson won from 2004 to 2008. Hamlin won 2009 and 2010. Jimmie Johnson also holds the record for the best average finish at the track at 5.4. This should mean, move on up Denny and make fans start seeing #6’s floating around Johnson’s car. So we ask, what do those guys do with all those grandfather clocks?


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