Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 12: The Coke 600 "The Long Run"

How 2012 is shaping up so far and a look at the Coke 600

With the All-Star Race completed, the Sprint Cup long drive is now underway leading to September’s showdown in Richmond that will determine the field for the chase. This provides a great opportunity to assess the season so far and perhaps make a feeble attempt at projecting who the real championship and chase contenders are.

For all the foibles at the start of the season, Jimmie Johnson sure looks poised to gain his sixth after missing the mark last year. Tony Stewart has had his ups and downs but has the reputation of being a late season spectacular, so that he has two wins already sure makes him look good. Roush has Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle in hot contention occupying the top of the standings while last year’s almost champ, Carl Edwards has struggled so far, but it’s hard to count him out. Denny Hamlin has two wins and is back in form while teammate, Kyle Busch is just beginning to get cranked up. Martin Truex Jr. can’t finish races but has consistently run well. He could be Michael Waltrip Racing’s first legit contender. Kevin Harvick still hasn’t really caught fire yet with two top 5’s and five top 10’s, he’s in the top ten in rather unspectacular fashion. Beyond that, the most spectacular of the rides outside the top ten has to be Brad Keselowski, who apart from some bad finishes, would surely be strongly in the top ten. His two wins could be enough to get him in a wild card spot. The only other driver outside the top ten with a win is Ryan Newman in 14th. Somehow, his car seems to be a magnet for crashes this year. Clint Bowyer in 11th has not looked nearly as aggressive as in past years. A driver to watch is Kasey Kahne in 15th. His season could not have started off much worse, but in recent weeks, his team has come on strong and is bound to break into victory lane soon.  We neglected to mention, NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. who’s in 3rd place looking more consistent than he has in years. He’s come so close so often, a win can’t be far away.

The year’s greatest disappointment has to be Jeff Gordon, buried in 24th place far from the top ten, the #24 team must first get into the top 20 and then chalk up some wins or it will be a major black mark for one of the most famous careers in the sport.

Joey Logano is fighting to keep his spot in Joe Gibbs Racing. His season is so far looking far more promising standing in 15th position. He’ll need to continue to improve to assure his spot in the #20 Toyota next year.

Here’s how the current top ten and winning teams place noting teams that could also be in contention.

  1. Greg Biffle #19
  2. Matt Kenseth #17 (-2)
  3. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. #3 (-14)
  4. Denny Hamlin #11 (-17)
  5. Jimmie Johnson #48 (-39)
  6. Martin Truex, Jr. #56 (-39)
  7. Tony Stewart #14 (-42)
  8. Kevin Harvick #29 (-50)
  9. Kyle Busch #18 (-62)
  10. Carl Edwards (#99) (-74)
  11. Clint Bowyer (#15) (-76)
  12. Brad Keselowski (#2) (-83) WILDCARD
  13. Paul Menard #27 (-103)
  14. Ryan Newman #39 (-104)

So how bad is it for Jeff Gordon? Go down the standings ten places to 24th, -170 pts. Jeff Gordon would need to win at least two of the next fifteen races to make The Chase as a wildcard.

Tonight, Richard Petty has the top two cars on the pole with Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose on the front row. Gunning for them in row two are perhaps the hottest two drivers of the year right now, Jimmie Johnson (all-star and Darlington winner) and Greg Biffle (points leader). Strong competitors fill out the top 17 entries. As always, the Coke 600 is an endurance contest. Looking at previous 1 ½ mile events so far this year is not a good barometer of the likely winner. It’s hard not to look to a Rich Hendricks or Jack Roush entry to take the checkered flag.

Coke 600 Starting Line Up:
143Aric AlmirolaFordU.S. Air Force192.940
29Marcos AmbroseFordDEWALT191.598
348Jimmie JohnsonChevroletLowe's Patriotic191.374
416Greg BiffleFordFastenal191.259
515Clint BowyerToyota5-hour Energy191.198
655Mark MartinToyotaAaron's Armed Forces Foundation191.171
75Kasey KahneChevroletQuaker State191.130
811Denny HamlinToyotaFedEx Ground190.887
927Paul MenardChevroletMenards / Serta190.597
1078Regan SmithChevroletFurniture Row Racing190.456
1122AJ AllmendingerDodgeShell / Pennzoil190.329
1288Dale Earnhardt Jr.ChevroletNational Guard 'An American Salute' 190.302
1321Trevor BayneFordMotorcraft / Quick Lane Auto Center190.268
1429Kevin HarvickChevroletBudweiser Folds of Honor190.201
1556Martin Truex Jr.ToyotaNAPA Auto Parts190.194
1639Ryan NewmanChevroletU.S. Army190.054
1718Kyle BuschToyotaM&M's Red, White & Blue190.034
1883Landon CassillToyotaBurger King Real Fruit Smoothies189.987
1920Joey LoganoToyotaDollar General189.707
2017Matt KensethFordFastenal189.607
2114Tony StewartChevroletOffice Depot / Mobil 1189.574
2231Jeff BurtonChevroletWheaties189.520
2324Jeff GordonChevroletDrive to End Hunger189.076
242Brad KeselowskiDodgeMiller Lite188.871
2513Casey MearsFordGEICO188.363
2647Bobby LabonteToyotaKingsford188.344
2774Cole WhittChevroletTurn One Racing188.324
2899Carl EdwardsFordFastenal188.206
2942Juan MontoyaChevroletTarget187.924
3034David RaganFordAl's Liners / Scorpion Coatings187.656
311Jamie McMurrayChevroletBass Pro Shops / Arctic Cat187.526
3298Michael McDowellFordPresbyterian Healthcare System187.487
3326Josh Wise*FordMDS Transport187.259
3433Stephen Leicht*ChevroletLittle Joe's Autos / Precon187.169
3530David StremmeToyotaInception Motorsports186.143
3636Dave BlaneyChevroletSealWrap186.111
3793Travis KvapilToyotaDr Pepper186.085
38195Scott SpeedFordJordan's Truck Sales185.976
3938David GillilandFordModSpace185.810
4132T.J. Bell+FordGreen Smoke-
4251Kurt Busch+ChevroletPhoenix Construction Services-
4387Joe NemechekToyotaGlobal Barter Corp185.784
Did Not Qualify
-249J.J. YeleyToyotaAmerica Israel Racing / JPO Absorbents-
-119Mike BlissToyotaHumphrey Smith Racing-
-173David ReutimannToyotaBurger King-
-23Scott RiggsChevroletNorth Texas Pipe-

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 11 -- DARLINGTON!!!!

Darlington is one tough place to play. NASCAR's oldest track being an asymmetrical oval and narrow in the curves makes it truly as the slogan says, "too tough to tame."  Some body's favorite driver will be exiting a heap of twisted metal before the race is close to a conclusion. The big media story is that this will be Danica Patrick's second Sprint Cup race having started with the Daytona 500, talk about hazing a rookie. She did well finishing 12th in Nationwide competition, but now it's life with the big boys. Amother big story is the Hendricks' team's quest for win 200, while Jeff Gordon is buried deep in the standings having a miserable season, 70 points out of the top ten with the summer stretch ahead. Who'd think that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be the team's most consistent, highest performing driver.

Greg Biffle sits on the pole but two Hendricks' cars are in 2nd and 3rd ready to make a statement, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne. Anxious to show his remarkable win last year was no fluke, Regan Smith starts in the top 10, 9th, to seek a 2nd trophy for the Furniture Row team. One can't look at tonight's starting line up from 29th down to 43rd without seeing how much pure garbage is on the track with marginal and fraudelent teams that simply do not belong in the sport's most elite series. We'll consider the BK racing and Front Row teams as legit, but beyond them, how many of these teams have any prospect of ever being competitive teams? Tonight's race could set the record for "start and park" entries if they don't HOPEFULLY wreck first. If bounty were ever desirable in a sport, it would be wrecking start and park cars before they can sneak off the track. This has to be the absolute dumbest practice in any major sport except perhaps the tolerance for fighting in the NHL.

Here's the link to tonight's starting lineup. 
Darlington Lineup

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 10 -- Talledega's Hot Plate Special

Talladega provides the most unusual of challenges where NASCAR looks for challenging ways to slow cars down ever since Bill Elliot’s 212 mph lap and Bobby Allison’s car launching like a rocket into the stands in the late 1980’s ushering in the restrictor plate era for the sport’s two longest tracks. Meanwhile, no matter what limitations are thrown at the competition, the teams always search for ways to out pace their competitors finding more speed up against the limits, the latest is the pop-off valve – a sneaky little innovation that is designed to punish excellence – as in two cars paring up together to blow away the field.

The big story as the Sprint Cup tour descends upon Talladega, Alabama for the Aaron’s 499 is one that will become increasingly louder until the feat is accomplished, car owner, Rick Hendrick’s, 200th win with the subtext of when two of his all-star drivers, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will break their long winless streaks mindful that their last win was in Kansas, last October, with Jimmy Johnson. To that end, Jeff Gordon, one of Talladega’s most successful drivers sits on the pole for tomorrow’s contest. Kasey Kahne also has a top ten starting spot lining up in 5th while Earnhardt in 18th and Jimmy Johnson in 19th will have to work through the field to put themselves in a position to win.

A.J. Allmendinger, surely the series’ best driver never to win a race, starts second in the Penske #22 Dodge while the rest of the top ten looks like a Ford feast with only Tony Stewart added to the top starters in the #14 Chevrolet in 8th. Meanwhile, the “Blue Ovals” are dominating the top spots with Richard Petty’s drivers Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola in 3rd and 4th then the Roush in 6th and 7th, Biffle and Edwards. 10th and 11th are Fords too, Matt Kenseth and part-time Daytona 500 winner, Trevor Bayne. Michael Waltrip running one of his limited scheduled races gives Mark Martin the weekend off starting in 9th as the top Toyota.

Another observation is that with 44 entries for 43 spots, how many entries are pure garbage that really don’t belong in the field – between the customary “start and park” rip-offs and some other extremely marginal teams, once again NASCAR shows a crying need to reduce the starting field to a more competitive number of entries. Certainly anywhere from five to ten reductions would make for a much more dynamic starting lineup with all teams either contenders or hard at work to sneak in a win. Considering the surge of the 1990’s and early 2000’s and that the 43 car starting line-up was not mandatory at all tracks until 1988, it is realistic that the sport dial back to what should assure the highest quality racing at the top level and even more so for the Nationwide Series which aside from moonlighting Sprint Cup rides, has only a handful of genuinely talented regulars, a field littered with “has been’s” and pathetic “wanna-be’s.”

Teams will be running with the cooling system pop-off valves designed to make cars overheat if they race in two car tandems just like what was done for the Daytona 500; however, much hotter weather could make this even more of an issue. Look for the big packs fans have come to expect at the great Indian burial ground.

Tomorrow’s entries line up as follows:

124Jeff GordonChevroletDuPont 20 Years191.624
222AJ AllmendingerDodgeShell / Pennzoil-AAA191.111
39Marcos AmbroseFordStanley191.039
443Aric AlmirolaFordVerifone Sail190.981
55Kasey KahneChevroletFarmers Insurance190.772
616Greg BiffleFord3M / O'Reilly Auto Parts190.586
799Carl EdwardsFordFastenal190.586
814Tony StewartChevroletOffice Depot / Mobil 1190.476
955Michael WaltripToyotaAaron's "Color your way to Talladega"190.245
1017Matt KensethFordBest Buy190.200
1121Trevor BayneFordMotorcraft / Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center190.170
1242Juan MontoyaChevroletTarget / Kraft190.140
132Brad KeselowskiDodgeMiller Lite190.072
1439Ryan NewmanChevroletBass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats190.064
1556Martin Truex Jr.ToyotaNAPA Auto Parts189.958
1626Josh Wise*FordMorristown Driver's Service189.958
1727Paul MenardChevroletTurtle Wax / Menards189.906
1888Dale Earnhardt Jr.ChevroletNational Guard / Diet Mountain Dew189.864
1948Jimmie JohnsonChevroletLowe's189.797
2029Kevin HarvickChevroletRheem189.785
2118Kyle BuschToyotaM&M's189.691
2211Denny HamlinToyotaFedEx Express189.680
231Jamie McMurrayChevroletBass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats189.601
2415Clint BowyerToyotaAaron's / Alabama National Champions189.556
2513Casey MearsFordGEICO189.477
2638David GillilandFordTaco Bell189.354
2730David StremmeToyotaStock Car Steel and Aluminum189.331
2832Terry LabonteFordC&J Energy189.182
2931Jeff BurtonChevroletCaterpillar189.100
3020Joey LoganoToyotaDollar General189.073
3178Regan SmithChevroletFurniture Row / Farm American189.051
3234David RaganFordFront Row Motorsports189.021
3351Kurt BuschChevroletPhoenix Construction Services188.984
3410David ReutimannChevroletTommy Baldwin Racing188.902
3598Michael McDowellFordCurb Records188.630
3697Bill ElliottToyotaNEMCO Motorsports188.171
3787Joe / Pellet & Wood Stoves188.012
3836Dave BlaneyChevroletGolden Corral187.625
3923Robert Richardson Jr.ToyotaNorth Texas Pipe186.710
4083Landon CassillToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper186.293
4193Travis KvapilToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper186.206
4247Bobby LabonteToyotaBush's Baked Beans185.790
4333Tony RainesChevroletLittle Joe's Autos186.529

J.J. Yeley, car #49 failed to qualify.