Friday, June 29, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 17 -- Hot Kentucky

Jimmie Johnson has five championships – only two drivers in the history of NASCAR have more, and while not having won last year, this year as the summer drive heats up, no driver on the circuit appears better poised to lead this season to a champ’s cup in November. Reinforcing that perception, look whose on the pole for tomorrow night’s Quaker State 400 – the #48 Lowes Chevrolet. It would be no surprise then that last year’s winner and the driver who has dominated the track in the Nationwide Series, Kyle Busch, joins Johnson on the front row. The second row consists of two drivers badly in need of a good boost for the 2012 season, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, still winless. Two drivers needing a better outcome buried deep in the field are the two who completed to the last lap to decide last year’s championship: Tony Stewart in 22nd and Carl Edwards, winless and one position outside the top ten in 25th.

This is only the second Sprint Cup race at Kentucky which from a driver’s standpoint does not handle like other conventional 1 ½ mile tracks. Tomorrow night’s race will still be largely a learning experience. There is nothing to be learned by up to eight entries that almost certainly will pull off the track, suck in their earnings, and clutter up the field as NASCAR refuses to either reduce its starting field or set minimum requirements for team resources entering a race. In an impound race where teams have to severely compromise their qualifying setup, race track scabs like Joe Nemechek, a retired drive for all practical purposes except being there when the green flag drops, starts right in the thick of the action at 27th. While we hope the consequences won’t pull out any true competitors, that the #87 would be involved in a blazing crash would only be just as would any other of the so called “start and park” fraudulent entries. We’re waiting for this trend to extent to small market teams in baseball that will pull two outfielders and a shortstop before going once through the batting order. Yes, start and park is that stupid.

Starting Lineup: ("DNQ" indicates "did not qualify)

Pos Car#DriverManufactuerMPH
148Jimmie JohnsonLowe's Dover White Chevy181.818
218Kyle BuschM&M's Red-White-Blue Toyota181.421
311Denny HamlinFedEx Express Toyota181.147
429Kevin HarvickBudweiser Folds of Honor Chevy180.367
539Ryan NewmanTornados Chevy180.337
615Clint Bowyer5-hour Energy Toyota180.228
788Dale Earnhardt Jr.Diet Mnt.Dew/National Guard Chevy180.222
82Brad KeselowskiMiller Lite Dodge180.204
924Jeff GordonDrive to End Hunger Chevy180.036
1056Martin Truex Jr.NAPA Auto Parts Toyota179.964
1116Greg BiffleAmerican Red Cross Ford179.754
129Marcos AmbroseMac Tools Ford179.509
1343Aric AlmirolaEckrich Ford179.336
1451Kurt BuschPhoenix Construction Services, Inc. Chevy179.206
1527Paul MenardMenards/Sylvania Chevy179.075
1622AJ AllmendingerShell Pennzoil Dodge179.045
171Jamie McMurrayMcDonald's Chevy178.992
1820Joey LoganoDollar General Toyota178.867
195Kasey KahneQuaker State Chevy178.737
2017Matt KensethFifth Third Bank Ford178.230
2113Casey MearsValvoline NextGen Ford177.825
2214Tony StewartOffice Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy177.801
2383Landon CassillBurger King Toyota177.020
2495Scott SpeedLeavine Family Racing Ford176.505
2599Carl EdwardsUPS Ford176.217
2678Regan SmithFurniture Row Chevy175.970
2787Joe NemechekAM/FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves Toyota175.730
2847Bobby LabonteScott Products Toyota175.615
2931Jeff BurtonCaterpillar Chevy175.211
3026Josh Wise #MDS Transport Ford175.080
3142Juan Pablo MontoyaTarget Chevy175.063
3230David StremmeInception Motorsports Toyota174.757
3334David RaganFront Row Motorsports Ford174.695
3493Travis KvapilBurger King Toyota174.402
3598Michael McDowellPresbyterian Health Care Ford174.402
3623Scott RiggsNorth TX Pipe Chevy174.345
3719Mike Bliss(i)Humphrey Smith Racing, LLC Toyota174.272
3810David ReutimannOutsourcing in the USA@TMone Chevy173.511
3955Michael WaltripAaron's Dream Machine Toyota172.199
4038David GillilandTaco Bell Ford170.573
4132Ken SchraderFederated Auto Parts Ford168.534
4236Dave BlaneySealWrap Chevy0.000
4333Stephen Leicht Chevy173.132
DNQ49J.J. YeleyJPO Absorbents Toyota172.612
DNQ52Mike Toyota171.876

Evaluating the Field: The Last Race of the First Half Sets the Field for Ten Races to the Chase

Here it is – the last race of the first half of the 2012 Sprint Cup season, in what can be called the race that sets the field for the ten race chase to reach “The Chase.” So let’s take a look at who’s in and who’s out, and perhaps some insights what we’ll be seeing through the summer before the “hand of fate” picks twelve drivers to compete for the 2012 championship.

With two wins each, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, and Brad Keselowski would almost certainly look like sure bets to at worst gain a wild card entrie, though Johnson in 4th and Stewart in 5th are the front runners to top the leader board once the chase formula is applied.

Greg Biffle in 2nd place and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 3rd place with one win each need to continue consistent finishes and they’re locked in. Matt Kenseth sits a top the standings but has no wins, consistent strong finishes will keep him in the field but one has to wonder how much a distraction his leaving Roush/Fenway will pressure the team. With one win each and their accumulated points, Kyle Busch (12th in points) and Ryan Newman (13th in points) currently hold the Wild Card. All that changes for the better if they can move into the top ten in points or if other drivers with a win move to over take them.  Two more drivers remain in the top ten without winning a race, Kevin Harvick in 6th place (3 top 5’s, 8 top 10’s) and Martin Truex in 9th place (4 top 5’s, 8 top 10’s). Carl Edwards, winless, with two top 5’s and eight top 10’s sits in 11th place, no doubt an underachiever so far this season.

Let’s be realistic. Right now, the final twelve chasers will come from the drivers mentioned above every one of them in the top 13. Perhaps the most promising driver to leap into contention would be Joey Logano with one win in 15th place. He’ll need to overcome a 49 point deficit to move in on points. What about Paul Menard in 14th? Given the car #27 has zero top 5’s or top 10’s so far this season, the lack of quality finishes makes him a long shot. Kasey Kahne has one win, a second win changes everything but he’s 69 points out to make the top ten. So what about Jeff Gordon? Can anyone say something good about his situation without loads of “could’s?” In 18th place 182 points out of the top ten, he will not make the chase on points – so winning is the only option and his car has run well before every imaginable form of misfortune has struck borne out with one top five and five top tens. Can Gordon win at least two out of the next eleven races? Possibly… However, the discussion is mute until he bags the first one and that hasn’t happened yet. Right now, it looks like Truex versus Edwards to secure the points advantage while Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman are looking over their shoulder to see how Joey Logano advances.

The only certainty is that winning changes everything.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 16 - On the Road Again...

As the long summer stretch to the Chase gets into high gear, race #16 provides a diversion – a trip to the pastoral setting of California’s Sonoma wine country where debates over one’s preference for Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon are hotter than ones of “Bow Ties” and “Blue Ovals,” with its track like no other on the Sprint Cup series, the 1.99 Sonoma Raceway, a road course, one of only two on the 2012 calendar. All will be put to test with tomorrow’ Toyota/Save Mart 350.

Road racing is, truthfully put, a diversion. Some fans are die-hard road racing fans wanting to see more events including a race in the chase while others would just assume see the series devoted exclusively to a variety of ovals. Regardless of fan preference, the skill set is different from regular series events giving some drivers the reputation of “road race specialists” while some of the lesser teams employ road race “ringers” to attempt to gain higher positions than their regular pilots could accomplish. Still, who are some of the current most successful road race drivers?  Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, and Jimmy Johnson; however, two drivers including tomorrow’s pole sitter, the Tasmanian Devil himself, Marcos Ambrose and former Indy Car driver, Juan Pablo Montoya having only won on road courses are in the “specialist” category at least until they win on ovals, a feat looking closer all the time for the #9 car.

Despite the inclusion of some “ringers,” tomorrow’s starting lineup shows mostly well-established veterans at the top of the lineup. Jeff Gordon, a driver desperately in need of some good momentum lines up second on the front row beside Ambrose with teammate, Jimmie Johnson, lurking right behind with points leader, Greg Biffle, to his side. Dale Earnhardt Jr., yet to prove himself on road courses wanting to build momentum after last week’s big win, starts a mediocre 19th while the master of almost anything with wheels whose season has cooled off after a hot start defending his championship, Tony Stewart starts a lowly 23rd.

Complete lineup:
19Marcos AmbroseFordStanley95.262
224Jeff GordonChevroletDrive to End Hunger95.067
348Jimmie JohnsonChevroletLowe's94.795
416Greg BiffleFord3M / US Stationary94.722
556Martin Truex Jr.ToyotaNAPA Auto Parts94.686
615Clint BowyerToyota5-hour Energy94.679
718Kyle BuschToyotaM&M's94.632
851Kurt BuschChevroletPhoenix Construction Services94.557
917Matt KensethFordFord EcoBoost94.524
1039Ryan NewmanChevroletQuicken Loans/Childrens Tumor Foundation94.509
1199Carl EdwardsFordAflac94.503
1242Juan MontoyaChevroletTarget94.319
132Brad KeselowskiDodgeMiller Lite94.269
1420Joey LoganoToyotaThe Home Depot94.209
155Kasey KahneChevroletFarmers Insurance94.206
1611Denny HamlinToyotaFedEx Ground94.199
1722AJ AllmendingerDodgeShell / Pennzoil94.184
1847Bobby LabonteToyotaClorox94.103
1988Dale Earnhardt Jr.ChevroletDiet Mountain Dew/National Guard/7-Eleven94.026
2013Casey MearsFordGEICO93.991
2155Brian VickersToyotaRKMotors Charlotte.com93.949
2295Scott SpeedFordLeavine Family Racing93.913
2327Paul MenardChevroletMenards / Moen93.840
2414Tony StewartChevroletOffice Depot / Mobil 193.824
251Jamie McMurrayChevroletMcDonald's93.732
2629Kevin HarvickChevroletRheem93.728
2738David GillilandFord1-800LoanMart93.524
2832Boris SaidFordHendrickCars.com93.268
2934David RaganFordGreen 1 High Performance Green93.166
3043Aric AlmirolaFordMedallion Financial93.153
3178Regan SmithChevroletFurniture Row / Farm American93.064
3236Dave BlaneyChevroletTommy Baldwin Racing92.964
3398David MayhewFordPhil Parsons Racing92.833
347Robby GordonDodgeMAPEI / SaveMart Supermarkets92.563
3531Jeff BurtonChevroletWheaties92.459
3687Joe NemechekToyotaAM/FM Energy Wood/Pellet Stoves92.140
3719Chris CookToyotaHumphrey Smith Racing92.076
3849J.J. YeleyToyotaAmerica Israel Racing / JPO Absorbents91.927
3993Travis KvapilToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper91.836
4026Josh Wise*FordMDS Transport91.729
4110Tomy Drissi+ChevroletIce Age Continental Drift90.579
4283Landon Cassill+ToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper89.341
4333Stephen Leicht*ChevroletLittle Joes Autos.com91.686
4430Brian SimoToyotaInception Motorsports91.078