Saturday, April 28, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 9 - Richmond Racing - NASCAR Competition at its Best

Is there a track on the Sprint Cup circuit that provides a more balanced test of race teams and drivers while also providing a better experience for fans than Richmond? As the only ¾ mile track, the elements of short track racing are evident, but with a long back straightaway, there is likewise a strong speed element where in the course of one lap drivers have two completely different challenges working through the turns versus the long straight all out challenge. All elements come into play – track position, fuel mileage and car conservation, beating and banging, plus all out speed. The shorter diameter also puts fans right on top of the action with short track intimacy. While new tracks have generally settled on the 1 ½ mile format, Rusty Wallace certainly had different ideas in mind building his track in Iowa which is close to Richmond’s design?

While the September Richmond race draws much attention as it is the final race which determines which drivers make the chase, let’s not shortchange the spring race. Tonight’s race begins a stretch of events which truly begin to define the shape of the season’s competition with upcoming events Talladega, Darlington, Charlotte and Dover forthcoming, each of the next five races have unique challenges before the heat of summer sets in in Mid-June.

Mark Martin sits on the pole showing no signs he’s about to give in to his age. Any time Martin does well, the fans relish the feat in joy. While Carl Edwards, whose season has not found its groove, seeks to right things for the long haul on the outside pole. Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick (3rd) and Kyle Busch (5th) seek to get their seasons in gear where a top five finish or win would show that they are forces to contend with for the battle that awaits on this same track in September. Both are among today’s current drivers’ best achievers in this Sweet Virginia arena. Naturally, the buzz gets louder when Rick Hendrick’s operation will triumph with its 200th win having not seen victory lane since Jimmy Johnson won last fall in Kansas. Jeff Gordon’s season has been miserable so far while Hendrick newcomer, Kasey Kahne has fallen far short of expectations. Their top ten starting spots certainly bode well for their chance to advance. Meanwhile, series points leader, Greg Biffle, did himself no favors starting in 28th.

Weather could be a factor tonight. Temperatures will be in the mid 50’s with an intermittent chance of showers. For fans’ and TV viewers’ sake, let’s hope the race does not endure long red flag moisture stoppages.

Another factor which is increasingly becoming obvious is there is far too much clutter in the field of competition. This column ran a year long crusade against the insane practice of allowing “start and park” entries. The same old villains are at it again. However, on top of those embarrassing entries, there are several other teams that simply are not competitive nor appear to be engaged in a growth strategy to become competitive. There is no magic to maintaining a 43 car starting lineup and certainly on a shorter track like Richmond, having the top contenders shuffle through the junk takes away from serious racing with good car-to-car competition.

Here is tonight’s starting lineup:
155Mark MartinToyotaAaron's Dream Machine128.327
299Carl EdwardsFordFord EcoBoost128.290
329Kevin HarvickChevroletJimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches128.041
422AJ AllmendingerDodgeShell / Pennzoil127.962
518Kyle BuschToyotaM&M's Ms. Brown127.956
624Jeff GordonChevroletDuPont127.750
711Denny HamlinToyotaFedEx Freight127.732
856Martin Truex Jr.ToyotaNAPA Brakes127.678
95Kasey KahneChevroletFarmers Insurance127.593
1088Dale Earnhardt Jr.ChevroletNational Guard / Diet Mountain Dew127.545
1143Aric AlmirolaFordSmithfield "Helping Hungry Homes"127.455
1239Ryan NewmanChevroletU.S. Army Reserve127.395
1351Kurt BuschChevroletPhoenix Construction Services127.328
149Marcos AmbroseFordStanley127.280
1578Regan SmithChevroletFurniture Row / Farm American127.209
162Brad KeselowskiDodgeMiller Lite126.993
1736Dave BlaneyChevroletSealWrap126.963
1820Joey LoganoToyotaThe Home Depot126.915
1947Bobby LabonteToyotaBush's Baked Beans126.892
2042Juan MontoyaChevroletTarget126.820
2183Landon CassillToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper126.796
2214Tony StewartChevroletMobil 1 / Office Depot126.749
2315Clint BowyerToyota5-hour Energy126.695
2417Matt KensethFordFord EcoBoost126.683
2598Michael McDowellFordCurb Records126.612
2613Casey MearsFordGEICO126.487
2748Jimmie JohnsonChevroletLowe's126.464
2816Greg BiffleFord3M "Give Kids A Smile"126.428
2993Travis KvapilToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper126.351
3031Jeff BurtonChevroletBB&T126.121
3127Paul MenardChevroletNIBCO / Menards126.121
3226Josh Wise*FordMorristown Driver's Service126.103
3310David ReutimannChevroletTommy Baldwin Racing126.033
3430David StremmeToyotaInception Motorsports125.980
3587Joe 125.886
36195Scott SpeedFordTommy Williams Drywall125.839
371Jamie McMurrayChevroletMcDonald's125.669
3834David RaganFordFront Row Motorsports125.564
39119Mike BlissToyotaHumphrey Smith Racing125.319
4033Stephen LeichtChevroletLittle Joes A125.151 / Link-Belt
4138David GillilandFordLong John Silver's124.481
4232Reed Sorenson+FordVirginia Faith & Freedom Coalition124.395
4374Cole WhittChevroletTurn One Racing124.636
Did Not Qualify
4423Scott RiggsChevroletNorth Texas Pipe123.813
45249J.J. YeleyToyotaAmerica Israel Racing122.560
+ Set by Owner Points

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 12 -- Heating up the Heartland

The 2012 Sprint Cup Tour sets up their traveling ethanol and medicine show in the nation’s heartland for the first of two races in Kansas City, a track that will be repaved with some slight engineering changes to be completed in time for the fall race in the Chase. Examining the starting lineup, where did the Fords go?

The highest starting Ford is point’s leader Greg Biffle buried back in 17th position with his teammate, Matt Kenseth in 18th. Carl Edwards, the 3rd Roush/Fenway entry lines up in 21st while the two Petty Fords, Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose start in 26th and 28th.

Another story line is Rick Hendrick’s pursuit of his 200th win as a winner with his last victory going back to last fall’s chase race that Jimmie Johnson won; however, Johnson starts 15th while Dale Earnhardt Jr., the most consistent Hendrick driver in 2012 holding down the 7th spot.

Our column has restrained our outrage at the insanity of “start and park” racers, an insane fraud allowing teams not equipped to race to qualify for a starting position, run a few laps, then disappear with a mysterious vibration or some other nonsense en route to collecting their share of the purse for the race without having completed pit stops or even fielding a pit crew. This week the fraud is especially ugly as it was to be the debut race for driver, Tim Andrews, son of Paul Andrews, long standing Sprint Cup crew chief, and furthermore, the #33 nominal 4th entry of Richard Childress Racing intending to complete a full race also was blocked out by the usual freeloading scabs the Joe Nemechek bargain special and the Phil Parsons’ garbage heap among others cluttering up the field. Try to explain this phenomenon to sports fans who do not follow NASCAR, and the practice certainly makes NASCAR, a sport with front tier, major sports aspirations, behaving in a most bizarre and amateurish fashion. Does anybody miss the seven fewer entries when the Camping World Trucks Series races?  How about 33 entries in IRL events?

The bottom line is NASCAR is looking like WWE or some reality TV program on its lower end permitting such an incomprehensible fraud on its fans and serious competitors, and aside from some occasional lip service from their apologists: Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip, and Larry McReynolds – it appears NASCAR’s approach is the less said the better; however, in a time when fan dollars are short, gas prices high, and fans having to put forth a big dollar commitment to attend races where attendance is falling off, NASCAR fans have the right to expect that every entry on the track is committed to giving the fans their all out effort. Shame on NASCAR for perpetuating what is some perverted form of auto racing welfare for teams that don’t belong in Sprint Cup or Nationwide competition.

Here’s the starting line-up:

1#22AJ AllmendingerDodgeAAA175.993
2#29Kevin HarvickChevroletRheem175.747
3#20Joey LoganoToyotaThe Home Depot175.724
4#11Denny HamlinToyotaFedEx Ground175.667
5#55Mark MartinToyotaAaron's Dream Machine175.484
6#56Martin Truex Jr.ToyotaNAPA Auto Parts175.444
7#88Dale Earnhardt Jr.ChevroletDiet Mountain Dew / National Guard175.313
8#15Clint BowyerToyota5-hour Energy175.302
9#5Kasey KahneChevroletFarmers Insurance175.092
10#12Sam Hornish Jr.DodgeSKF175.086
11#2Brad KeselowskiDodgeMiller Lite175.063
12#31Jeff BurtonChevroletCaterpillar174.927
13#39Ryan NewmanChevroletHaas Automation174.887
14#51Kurt BuschChevroletPhoenix Construction Services174.876
15#48Jimmie JohnsonChevroletLowe's "Chevrolet Mountain Green"174.803
16#10David ReutimannChevroletAccell Construction174.803
17#16Greg BiffleFord3M Novec 1230174.706
18#17Matt KensethFordFord EcoBoost174.486
19#27Paul MenardChevroletZecol / Menards174.323
20#24Jeff GordonChevroletDrive to End Hunger174.261
21#99Carl EdwardsFordAflac174.244
22#38David GillilandFordFront Row Motorsports174.171
23#14Tony StewartChevroletOffice Depot / Mobil 1174.143
24#30David StremmeToyotaInception Motorsports174.031
25#18Kyle BuschToyotaM&M's174.020
26#43Aric AlmirolaFordSTP174.003
27#34David RaganFordBarrett-Jackson173.947
28#9Marcos AmbroseFordDewalt173.863
29#78Regan SmithChevroletFurniture Row / Farm American173.756
30#47Bobby LabonteToyotaReese Towpower / Highland173.745
31#249J.J. YeleyToyotaJPO Absorbents173.516
32#83Landon CassillToyotaBK Strawberry Banana Smoothie / Dr Pepper173.388
33#36Dave BlaneyChevroletTommy Baldwin Racing173.383
34#23Scott RiggsChevroletNorth Texas Pipe173.249
35#93Travis KvapilToyotaBK Tropical Mango Smoothie / Dr Pepper173.221
36#1Jamie McMurrayChevroletMcDonald's173.182
37#98Michael McDowellFordCurb Records173.155
38#26Josh Wise*FordMorristown Driver's Service172.756
39#42Juan MontoyaChevroletTarget172.507
40#13Casey MearsFordGEICO171.986
41#87Joe / Pellet & Wood Stoves171.625
42#32Reed Sorenson+FordFAS Lane Racing170.057
43#119Mike BlissToyotaHumphrey Smith Racing171.396
Did Not Qualify
44179Tim AndrewsFordBBI Waste Industries / Bestway Disposal170.989
4533Jeff GreenChevroletLittle Joe's Autos169.769
4674Tony RainesChevroletTurn One Racing169.444