Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Hardly a Week Off with all That's at Stake

When the green flag drops in Indianapolis…..
            ……no more time off
                        ……no more excuses
                                    …’s now or never!!!!!

Though the second half of the season is two weeks in progress with the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona marking the actual half way point, the break between New Hampshire and Indianapolis provides a chance to evaluate the season so far and look to the future. The season will have a new look and feel when the field takes the green flag in Indianapolis. ESPN/ABC coverage begins so the sport won’t even look the same with new personalities, different emphasis and production values.

The big news coming out of New Hampshire is the crew chief change for the #99 team. After being seconds away from a possible championship in 2011, tying the champ, Tony Stewart in points, Carl Edwards’ season has been a huge disappointment this year seldom being in the picture as races approach the checkered flag. Hanging in 11th place not making the top 10 in points and with no wins and four drivers having succeeded in bumping Edwards for the two wild card spots, the next seven weeks are crucial for this year’s success. Bob Edwards is out transitioning into a management roll in Roush/Fenway while Chad Norris is reputed as a tough competitor having supported the organization’s Nationwide teams and heading the Roush/Fenway R&D operations. Clearly the goal is winning, winning races and Carl doing back flips heading to victory lane. However, Kasey Kahne is well positioned for the Chase with two wins and could further squeeze the top ten field should he move into the top 10 in points also an almost certainty given his recent performance. Kahne is 20 points behind Edwards poised to move into 11th place further complicating Edwards’ chase prospects.

The bottom of the chase field just happens to have the driver who would top the field after points are set based on victories when the Chase field is established. Brad Keselowski, leading the series with three wins, would get that honor. His strong position makes the points bumble a little more interesting with Edwards on the outside looking in with a formidable wall to overcome to make the field without winning. Though Edwards is 46 points out of 10th place, 10th is held by Keselowski and 9th place driver is Clint Bowyer one point ahead and with one victory. That would put Martin Truex Jr. on the bubble in 8th place four points Kieslowski’s superior, but 50 points ahead of Edwards. Kevin Harvick in 6th is five points ahead of Truex.

The big fight right now is for the wild card spots. Kahne is sitting pretty with two wins for now and likely could ascend into the top ten but several drivers are competing with one win.  Here are the contenders:

Kyle Busch, 1 win, 13th place, 545 points
Ryan Newman, 1 win, 14th place, 536 points
Joey Logano, 1 win, 16th place, 533 points

Tony Stewart is no lock for the chase on points at all but would be hard to beat as a wild card. He’s only five points above Keselowski. A couple bad finishes and he’s out of the top ten. Three wins keeps him in the Chase and at the top of the field with Keselowski with both in the top ten.

Indianapolis would normally mark the beginning of silly season and the musical chairs of who is going where. It will be big news when Matt Kenneth’s destination is announced; for most it’s a forgone conclusion that place will be Joe Gibbs racing. Talk continues about Michael Andretti coming to NASCAR as the successor to Penske with the future of Dodge in his hands. Who will drive Dodge next year?  Of course all eyes turn to Richard Petty Racing with his long association with Mopar, but let’s not forget, it’s only been a couple years since Petty’s switch to Ford. That move was due in part to margining with Robert Yates operation, but was it also for greener pastures and being able to run with dependable Roush engineering? Clearly, Hendricks, Stewart Haas, and Richard Childress will stay with Chevy. Gibbs and Michael Waltrip appear locked in with Toyota. Roush/Fenway is thoroughly locked in with Ford and Penske’s return speaks volumes of Ford’s potential. The silence around Chip Ganassi’s operation, nominally still bearing the Earnhardt name might be a candidate but the Earnhardt name associated with Dodge? Theresa Earnhardt has increasingly been an invisible partner in that organization so anything is possible. Jaime McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya have almost nothing to show for this year. Between the two of them only five top tens and no top tens. That’s not acceptable for a front line team. Something will be shaken up there before 2013.

Of the unproven teams, certainly Burger King racing, Travis Kvapil and Landon Cassill are showing the most promise. While the Front Row racing operation only has David Ragan’s one top ten for bragging rights. Despite a win at Darlington and some strong races, Furniture Row’s team with Casey Mears has been almost invisible on the track short of wrecks in 2012.

One last point of conversation, Jeff Gordon, stick a fork in the #24 car it’s done. If any of the one win drivers scores another win, he’s completely finished. Realistically, the only hope for Gordon would be three wins in seven races. It’s not impossible, but highly unlikely. That not withstanding, with Gordon’s expertise, and the other three Hendricks’ drivers poised for a championship run, perhaps his function will be as the organization’s R&D operation to prepare for next year.

Is there any strong argument for one driver over another to be the champ at the end of the year?  Based on five consecutive championships and much that resembles that championship year so far in 2012, it’s hard not to like Jimmie Johnson, regardless of who is a ahead of him. The top three drivers have one win. The next two have two. Three drivers have nine top tens, two have eight. They range between ten to fourteen top tens. Is that parody or coincidence?

Concluding our thoughts on Stewart, three wins is a huge plus while being -87 in points is bad news until judgment day after Richmond. Kevin Harvick is simply not living up to expectations this year. Martin Truex and Clint Bowyer simply don’t look like championship material. If there’s a dark horse in the race, it’s Brad Keselowski, but when he has a bad day, it’s a really bad day. This is a driver who is maturing rapidly and has shown the talent to dominate a race.

1Matt Kenseth707019119134,701,260
2Dale Earnhardt Jr.691-1619018143,506,160
3Greg Biffle667-4019218113,502,040
4Jimmie Johnson656-5119129144,745,550
5Denny Hamlin628-7919129103,907,640
6Kevin Harvick622-851900393,275,110
7Tony Stewart618-891903893,999,420
8Martin Truex Jr.617-901910492,968,530
9Clint Bowyer614-9319014102,932,990
10Brad Keselowski613-941903693,263,660
11Carl Edwards567-1401910293,045,860
12Kasey Kahne547-16019225102,716,200
13Kyle Busch545-1621911583,582,860
14Ryan Newman536-1711901352,971,930
15Paul Menard534-1731900042,295,760
16Joey Logano533-1741911272,356,530
17Jeff Gordon524-1831910273,000,440
18Marcos Ambrose495-2121920042,611,600
19Jeff Burton493-2141900243,010,780
20Jamie McMurray486-2211900032,568,650
21Juan Montoya452-2551900022,499,940
22Aric Almirola447-2601910022,642,800
23Bobby Labonte408-2991900012,319,300
24AJ Allmendinger400-3071710132,577,390
25Kurt Busch386-3211800122,278,360
26Regan Smith377-3301900002,281,680
27Casey Mears358-3491900002,042,830
28Mark Martin341-3661230251,594,100
29David Ragan322-3851900012,005,430
30David Gilliland311-3961900001,950,890
31Travis Kvapil298-4091800001,811,460
32Landon Cassill273-4341900002,284,220
33David Reutimann263-4441600001,602,830
34Dave Blaney255-4521900001,715,110
35Brian Vickers135-57240022393,145
36David Stremme125-5821500001,411,520
37J.J. Yeley122-5851400001,134,340
38Michael McDowell94-6131700001,501,740
39Ken Schrader86-62170000608,845
40Josh Wise*80-6271700001,316,120
41Michael Waltrip75-63230001316,687
42Terry Labonte66-64130000492,560
43Tony Raines61-64650000651,975
44Stephen Leicht*54-65380000690,940
45Brendan Gaughan50-65740000354,559
46Scott Speed36-67170000562,325
47Scott Riggs31-676110000794,672
48Boris Said15-6921000088,455
49Bill Elliott14-69320000196,098
50Hermie Sadler13-6941000080,610
51Robby Gordon11-69630000405,300
52Tomy Drissi6-7011000076,242
53Stacy Compton5-7021000064,225
54David Mayhew4-7031000072,625
55Chris Cook2-7051000072,355
56Kelly Bires2-7051000069,400
57Trevor Bayne0-70770002938,477
58Sam Hornish Jr.0-70730000330,625
59Ricky Stenhouse Jr.0-70710000304,275
60Mike Bliss0-70790000690,998
61Austin Dillon0-7071000088,285
62Robert Richardson Jr.0-70710000110,318
63Elliott Sadler0-70710000305,788
64Reed Sorenson0-70790000742,463
65Joe Nemechek0-7071700001,497,590
66Danica Patrick0-70730000451,575
67T.J. Bell0-7071000096,730
68Cole Whitt0-70730000225,807
69Mike Skinner0-7071000071,875
70Timmy Hill0-7071000079,780

Take note of the money the qualify and quit, start and park, drivers have earned so far. The money absorbed by teams having no intention to race, but this is the era of play the system and to some, what value is achievement?

Tell that to the fellows who lay everything on the line to win, to move up the ladder, to constantly improve. Fellows like Phil Parsons and his drivers, Joe Nemechek and about another half dozen teams are gaming the system and nothing more. What a slap in the  face to fans who put in a full day's work for a full day's pay.

Bring it on! The heat of the season is on.

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