Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Gut Check During Week Off Before Brickyard 400


Here’s our attempt to get everything updated briefly not covering Loudon or giving Kentucky’s inaugural race their just due with the Brickyard spectacle coming up next week.

The Kentucky race certainly proved that region is a great location for a Sprint Cup race at the cost of one race at Atlanta, a track notorious for lackluster support. Sadly, the traffic logistics were not effectively thought out in advance. Something seems a little weird about bringing a new track on line with bumpy pavement. Okay, some call it character, but an inaugural race at a track should have something brand-spanking-new about it unless some venerable venue with huge racing history (that would be the Brickyard when NASCAR went there) adds a date. That an inaugural race would have SEVEN freeloading start and park entries who serve only to cheapen the sport is unacceptable.

This problem was further pushed to absurdity at New Hampshire with six for certain quitters now making it apparent that the #13 GEICO Toyota or any of the “Front Row” Fords might pull off, makes the situation all the more a black eye for a sport whose attempt to gain full major league sports status has certainly fallen off its quest in the last three years while at the highest level, competitive racing is superb.

When will the brass at NASCAR get it through their thick skulls that if Sprint Cup racing is supposed to represent the highest level of auto racing in the United States, only the highest level competitors should be on the track? If NASCAR needs to reduce the starting field to a more realistic number of entries, so be it. That “start and park” has gone from an oddity to a full-fledged integral part of Sprint Cup and Nationwide racing that the broadcasters so carefully avoid calling any attention to shows what a sham the whole situation represents. In baseball, nine men (or ten in the AL) play nine innings with 25 team members in the stadium for each game. Football and Basketball teams don’t walk off the court after the first quarter. HOW BLIND CAN ANYONE WATCHING NASCAR BE NOT TO SEE WHAT SHODDY BULLSHIT ALLOWING RETREADS LIKE MIKE SKINNER AND JOE NEMECHEK JUST SHOW UP FOR A FEW LAPS.

We’ll run the numbers again after the Brickyard, but millions of purse dollars are being wasted to support fraudulent participants who have no intention other than hit the garage after running a few laps.

NASCAR has several levels of competition from the regional series up to Trucks, Nationwide, and ultimately Sprint Cup, to sort out the crème-de-la-crème. There are plenty of drivers who bust their ass every weekend in the lesser series with no hopes of moving up to higher levels who might not have close to a top ten budget who fight with all they’ve got while Phil Parsons and partner can enter in lackeys to run a few laps and suck in the dollars.

Maybe we as fans should watch twenty laps of each race and then flip to baseball or NFL football which is just around the corner. We’ll catch the highlights on SPEEDTV later on. Yeah, that sounds harsh from a fan, but if we treat the sport the way the sport treats us, the logic is sound.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the scale, the season is full of excitement. How long were Stewart-Haas going to go before winning? To see Ryan Newman followed by Tony Stewart finish one-two at New Hampshire surely heats up the competition for the ten spots awarded on points and the two wild cards for wins. Yes, the obvious is for certain, now standing in second place, Jimmie Johnson is well on his way to defending his title where the rest of the field will have to find a lot of new tricks to deny the #48 its sixth consecutive championship. It might be hard to think, but Jimmie Johnson already earns talk in the same breath as Earnhardt and Petty, the only drivers with more championships, but to win them consecutively as Johnson has so far puts him in a class by himself. What’s more, Jimmie Johnson is probably not close to the half way point in his career yet.

Meanwhile, Carl Edwards has been the most consistent driver in 2011 while Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch both share three wins while Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth have two trips to victory lane. How much does the #88 car have in store? It seems like NASCAR’s fortunes float on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s success who went from disaster last year to so many “almost’s” in 2011.

Seven races remain before the final “chase” field is set. With a sequence of vastly different tracks ahead, this is the stretch that establishes which teams are for real. The Brickyard 400 looms as yet another key milestone before a champ is decided in November.


Quiet July for Rightminded Fellow

The humble commentator behind RMF has been stricken with a cranky gall-bladder able to witness the wonders of mondern health care as strained through Medicare over the past couple of weeks with more surgery in the near future. More insights into health care in America will surely come from this. The bottom line is, thankfully, so far, it appears necessary and appropriate treatment is being rendered professionally.

There's so much to talk about from our regular NASCAR dialog, the NFL "Lockout" and current topics not the least of which the insanity and self-destructive impulses of our national leaders far more obsessed with political advantage over their opponents than guarding the nation's financial health. These issues will be discussed as strength returns.

Thank you to all readers regular and occasional who have taken the thoughts presented here for consideration. In a world of insane big government and mass media saturation, EVERY VOICE COUNTS. This is mine. I'm proud to speak up to help generate results and not the same old garbage we're supposed to passively accept.

We Grieve for Norway: The Eternal Questions of Terrorism

I would caution anyone to draw sweeping conclusions at this stage to this unspeakable horror in Norway. We know the culprit is about as Aryan-looking as they come -- not the currently-held stereotype of terrorist. We know he was involved in apparently right-wing politics. Most is subject to conjecture at this point aside from the body count.

There is NO form of idealogy that at its extreme can't find human life that does not conform to the "philosophy's" or "religion's" creed expendible. The world reaks of anarchists, bizarre nationalists, right and left-wing extremists, bizarre cults and of course the big one, radicalized Islam.

Before folks over-generalize and see this demon perhaps stated some affiliation with Christianity, to make any association that Christian fundementalism breeds terrorism or conservative political beliefs do likewise, we need to face up to a reality check. Fundementalist Christians are not prone to violence. From an intellectual standpoint, their embrace of certain social values and what the intellectual community would see as naive or antiquated views of the nature of the universe (such as embracing the literal Biblical account of creation) does not make them murders. Likewise, mainstream and maybe even more doctinaire conservatives are not prone to obliterating their oppostion though there can be no denying fellows like Glenn Beck (going, going, gone!!!!) and Alex Jones are fear mongers who induce mad paranoia in their faithful. We can see, sadly, that their kind of thinking can clearly pave the way for more radical pursuits.

In the 1960's and 70's, it was the radical left whose behavior more consistently led to violence, and western history has always been prone to anarchists. Who knows what kind of strange nilhism drives those who turn out to ransack cities everytime a G-8 meeting is held somewhere.

Conspiracy theories will emerge from this. Sweeping blame will be assigned. This is as inevitable, sadly, as the grief society feels after such an attrocity. Are we really ready to accept that one rotten human could alone be responsible for such calamity.

All this being said, we must come to terms that no matter what we think of Islam, there is a very real threat that is intent on destroying Western Culture in a perverted acceptance of a bastardized form of Islam. We can see the active roll of the theocracy in Iran and the lackies who condone such madness in Pakistan. All the while, potential "lone wolves" can be copy-cat or solo proponents of such wickedness.

Terror wears many faces. How do we deal with it on a grand scale where many people feel groped or abused simply boarding an airliner. Is such scrutiny just? Does the Norway episode change our perception of justifying such? The answers are complex.

Freedom is the most precious target beyond human life that lies in the gunsights here. We can start by looking at the great budget deficit debate how representatives of supposedly highly civilized people can get more hell-bent on destroying their opponent, than accepting responsibility for the financial stability of our country. If this is how we behave, is it any wonder the world is rich with far more wicked impulses that do get acted upon as we've seen in Oklahoma City and Norway.

There is no comfort that we have yet to see some 82 year old grandmother blow up a building. Can we justify that as a possibility too?


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Orioles Baseball at the All-Star Break: Huh?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Baltimore Orioles are a dreadful team. They were a dreadful team last year, the year before, the year before and keep going back to 1998 the beginning of the tailspin when they were only slightly below .500, but then came the plunge to the rock bottom. At 36 wins and 52 losses they’ll wind up at 66 and 96, worse than last year.

Can we really stand to see more articles like this one from The Baltimore Sun?,0,36730.story

Last year, they played historically bad baseball under Dave Trembley. He got the boot and some minor improvement was noted with Juan Samuel. Brian Roberts got healthy and Buck Showalter took control and they looked very good down the stretch. In the off-season they brought in J.J. Hardy, Derrick Lee, Mark Reynolds, and Vladmir Guerrero. With Matt Wieters and Adam Jones maturing, the line-up was supposed to be potent. Brian Roberts hasn’t played since sustaining a concussion in April, and without him, the offense has been miserable. However, teams generally don’t succeed when they’re down a few runs in the first inning.

The young crop of pitchers was supposed to show growth. They shrunk. Jeremy Guthrie plays the way he always does – lots of good stuff that’s consistently good enough to lose. These days, a 4.18 ERA should be good enough to win, but his record is 3-12, by far the worst losing percentage on the team. Jake Arrieta is the only starter among the young guns still in the rotation. Chris Tillman, Zack Britton, and Brian Matusz are back in the minors. At times the bullpen has been beyond disastrous

The team’s leadership is in the hands of Andy McPhail. Only a very small number of players still in the system are not his doing. The fellow built a championship team in Minnesota and developed a winning team in Chicago despite a dysfunctional ownership group. He appears to have had free reign in Baltimore – the results are terrible. Buck Showalter builds winners – while it’s still too soon to be too harsh on him this year – the best he can get out of the 2011 Orioles is the same kind of crap he was brought in to arrest.

Playing .500 baseball or perhaps a winning record looked in reach in April, now the challenge will be not to lose 90 games again. With the players added and Buck Showalter’s leadership “winning” was supposed to replace, “well, we tried.” How can Baltimore fans not believe losing has become hardwired into the DNA of this team’s makeup.

It’s bad baseball in Baltimore, and fans aren’t upset, because baseball fans are becoming a rare species in Crab Town. Fans can only take so much frustration and vent so much anger before they move on to other things. If the NFL lock out ends, soon sports fans will be focused on the Ravens and the IRL race coming to Baltimore Labor Day weekend.

Baltimore can still be an incredible baseball city. Orioles Park is still as appealing as any stadium in all of baseball. The city has a great history with names like Brooks, Frank, Boog, Jim, Eddie, and Cal not to mention the skipper, the Earl of Baltimore. How old does a boy have to be to remember cheering for a winning team in Baltimore?

It’s been fourteen years, so it’s safe to say, unless you graduated from high school, winning baseball is ancient history. It’s time to put that past behind us, but how much can the 2011 team improve on the miserable place where they stand now?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 18, Kentucky Thunder

The Sprint Cup tour races at Kentucky Motor Speedway for the first time after years of truck and Nationwide series competition. Unlike some track openings, there is no perceivable downside to this addition to the schedule. The date was freed up by cancelling the early Atlanta race. Atlanta attendance has not been strong for many years, so perhaps the move will benefit both areas. Northern Kentucky is racing country, drawing from Louisville, Cincinnati, and southern Indiana, it’s a region where the southern good old boys cross paths with the Midwestern speedsters meaning the locals are racing crazy. The track is a mile and a half, little rounder than existing tracks but it’s a pretty generic track by today’s standards. Since the race is after dark, it’s even harder to discern what makes the track unique, but the competition has been good and there are no conspicuous shortcomings. That being the case, if what’s good for the fans is the premium concern, we should applaud the Kentucky joining in.

Starting positions are based on practice time since qualifying is rained out. Four out of the five cars to miss the show are cars that would have started and parked anyway so maybe we need to get some Indians to show up at tracks on qualifying day and do the ancient rain dance to get results like this. The sad note is Michael Waltrip was prepared to race and had a good qualifying time posted before the showers set in. Since the track in the driver’s home state, his participation would have been a good highlight.

Here’s how the top drivers start….
1. Kyle Busch, #18, Toyota
2. Juan Montoya, #42, Chevrolet
3. Kurt Busch, #22, Dodge
4. Kasey Kahne, #4, Toyota
5. Jimmie Johnson, #48, Chevrolet
6. Brad Keselowski, #2, Dodge
7. Carl Edwards, #99, Ford
8. David Ragan, #6, Ford
9. Tony Stewart, #14, Chevrolet
10. Paul Menard, #27, Cherolet
11. Marcos Ambrose, #9, Ford
12. Regan Smith, #78, Chevrolet
13. Matt Kenseth, #17, Ford
14. Jeff Gordon, #24, Chevrolet
15. Joey Logano, #20, Toyota

It’s heavy duty horsepower in horse country tonight. At least ladies won’t be wearing stupid hats like at Kentucky’s other big race.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 17 -- Daytona - the 2nd Time Around

The starting lineup for tonight’s Coke Zero 400 starts of with something old and something new on the front row as the Sprint Cup Tour begins the second half of the season as the road to Richmond becomes ever clearer. Cagey old veteran, Mark Martin sits on the pole while Trevor Bayne, the surprise winner of the Daytona 500 returns to the site of his triumph placing the “legendary” Wood Brothers #21 Ford on the outside pole. The top of the field overwhelmingly features Fords and Chevrolets down to #13 where Kasey Kahne starts the #4 Red Bull Toyota.

Top Starters:
1- Mark Martin (#6), Chevrolet
2- Trevor Bayne (#21), Ford
3- Clint Bowyer (#33), Chevrolet
4- Jeff Gordon (#24), Chevrolet
5- David Ragan (#6), Ford
6- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (#88), Chevrolet
7- Andy Lally (#71), Ford
8- Jimmie Johnson (#48), Chevrolet
9- A.J. Allmendinger (#43), Ford
10- Paul Menard (#27), Chevrolet
11- Ryan Newman (#39), Chevrolet
12- Jeff Burton (#31), Chevrolet
13- Kasey Kahne (#4), Toyota
14- Carl Edwards (#99), Ford
15- Marcos Ambrose (#9), Ford

Our predictions for the race, ARE YOU KIDDING? Sure there are drivers with a reputation for success at restrictor plate tracks but the summer Daytona race has a funny way of finding new winners. Just check with Jimmy Spencer and John Andretti. For those hoping for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to break his long draught, this could be the night or how about Mark Martin winning his first after a long career at Daytona?

The contentious slugs are well represented with Joe Nemechek, king of the slugs, adding a second ride for Kevin Conway, who will start 22nd but one wonders if he’ll still be on the track by lap 22. The dog’s master, Nemechek himself, starts dead last. While once again, the #37 Ford driven by Tony Raines, a sponsored ride intending to complete the race is sent home along with J.J. Yeley, a notorious quitter, also goes home but one wonders why such a trash heap would have shown up in the first place other than the easy money for making the field for doing nothing. Other likely quitters include the legendary blame someone else driver, Mike Skinner in 29th, Michael McDonald, the kid who cheated death qualifying at Texas a few years ago whose career is dead and his presence on the track is cheating the notion of sportsmanship in 33rd. What is Geoff Bodine doing coming out of retirement to star car 35 35th? He’ll probably drive off into the night when he should be working on his bob sleds. When the #7 shows up without owner Robby Gordon in the driver’s seat, tonight, Mike Bliss, that means a trip to the parking lot. The travesty of this is that the #7 car bumps Tony Raines on the basis of owner’s points. This is where it really starts to hurt. Naturally, we’ll be cheering for a nice big metal twisting wreck for these guys before they can slink off into the night and not even be mentioned for doing so by the play-by-play booth.

The weather for tonight’s race should be favorable, partly cloudy with temperatures in the low 70’s.