Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 24 -- The Great Saturday Night Brawl

Rain washed out qualifying in Bristol setting the field based on round one practice, one that truly throws the starting lineup into chaos where some of the top contenders are fielded toward the bottom of the pack.

The focus is clearly on the drivers who are in the top ten in points with a chance of falling out; those with one win contending for the last wild card spot, and finally, those, well really Carl Edwards, with no wins and outside of the top ten in points attempting to make the chase.

Kevin Harvick, if faced with a catastrophic accident, particularly early in a race before the “start and park” freeloaders clear the track could fall out of the chase standings with no wins and only a forty-five point hold on his place in “The Chase.”

Carl Edwards is more than a race worth of points from the top ten, sitting in 12th place, he must win to get in.

Kasey Kahne with two wins currently has the first wild card position locked in. The remaining drivers have one win, led by Ryan Newman who currently holds the second wild card position. The following drivers must either win one of the next three races or exceed Newman in points: Kyle Busch, 9 points behind Newman; Jeff Gordon, 30 points behind Newman; Marcos Ambrose, 51 points behind Newman, and Joey Logano, a whopping 80 points behind Newman.

The goal is clear – winning is the ticket to post season, Chase racing, with three races to go, tonight’s short track wham-bam slam in Bristol and then Atlanta and Richmond. Of the drivers in the fight, Kyle Busch perhaps looks best suited to answer the call based on his style of racing and performance at the remaining tracks.

Ironically, the way first round practice took shape, most of these contenders are near the top of the qualifying order starting the race with good track position and having the best pick of pits for tomorrow night’s action. Joey Logano starts 4th; Marcos Ambrose starts 9th; Kyle Busch starts 10th, and Jeff Gordon starts 11th. This puts the pressure on Ryan Newman in 19th while giving Carl Edwards a good spanking in 27th.  Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman line up 12th and 13th.

Of interest is surely the driver who starts dead last, Danica Patrick. She starts her fourth Sprint Cup race, her first since Charlotte, buttressed with a brilliant top 10 finish in her Nationwide performance. Who cannot think that Tony Stewart is some kind of sadist in his schedule for Patrick in the waning stretch of the 2012 season? Clearly, she has one goal for her 2nd race, simply to be on the track at the end. She’ll almost certainly finish well above dead last with the number of “start and park” entries so we’ll count her success in terms of every position above the last “quit and sit” fraudulent entry.

No cars failed to make the field as only 43 cars are entered in tonight's race. Results are on the basis of first round practice.

113Casey MearsFordGEICO
22Brad KeselowskiDodgeMiller Lite
316Greg BiffleFord3M / Bondo
420Joey LoganoToyotaDollar General
543Aric AlmirolaFordGoody's Headache Powders
631Jeff BurtonChevroletCaterpillar
727Paul MenardChevroletMenards / Schrock
811Denny HamlinToyotaFedEx Ground
99Marcos AmbroseFordDEWALT
1018Kyle BuschToyotaM&M's
1124Jeff GordonChevroletFarmVille / Drive to End Hunger
1329Kevin HarvickChevroletRheem
1478Regan SmithChevroletFurniture Row / Farm American
1556Martin Truex Jr.ToyotaNAPA Auto Parts
1688Dale Earnhardt Jr.ChevroletDiet Mountain Dew / National Guard
1717Matt KensethFordValvoline NextGen
1838David GillilandFordTaco Bell
1939Ryan NewmanChevroletOutback Steak House
2051Kurt BuschChevroletPhoenix Construction
2114Tony StewartChevroletMobil 1 / Office Depot
2255Brian VickersToyotaMy Classic Garage
2315Clint BowyerToyota5-hour Energy
2434David RaganFordGlory Foods
2536Dave BlaneyChevroletSealWrap
261Jamie McMurrayChevroletBass Pro Shops / Allstate
2799Carl EdwardsFordFastenal
2842Juan MontoyaChevroletTarget
2922Sam Hornish Jr.DodgeShell / Pennzoil
3098Michael McDowellFordK-Love / Curb Records
3130David StremmeToyotaInception Motorsports
3226Josh Wise*FordMDS Transport
3383Landon CassillToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper
34119Mike BlissToyotaPlinker Tactical
3523Scott RiggsChevroletNorth Texas Pipe
3647Bobby LabonteToyotaBush's Baked Beans
3733Stephen Leicht*ChevroletLittle Joes
3748Jimmie JohnsonChevroletLowe's Dover White
39249Jason LefflerToyotaAmerica Israel Racing
4087Joe NemechekToyotaAM-FM En Wood & Pellet Stoves 
4193Travis KvapilToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper
42195Scott SpeedFordJTS
4232Ken SchraderFordFederated Auto Parts

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 13 -- Winning is Everything for Chase Contenders

Today’s race in Michigan, the Pure Michigan 400,  begins a four race shootout for the final field for the 2012 Chase for the Championship. For all drivers who have not positioned themselves effectively to lock into the Chase, the focus is clear, the agenda specifc, the goal obvious – win races. The field breaks down into five categories – those drivers who are or almost are assured of locking in their place. Next are drivers in the top ten with no victories who could fall out of the chase. The next groups are ones not in the top ten and what their chances are of making the Chase or slipping in as a Wild Card.

The following drivers have three wins: they’re in.
Jimmie Johnson
Brad Keselowski
Tony Stewart

The next group of drivers each have one win with three of them in good points standing to make a top ten standing after the checkered flag drops in Richmond.

Greg Biffle
Matt Kenseth
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Clint Bowyer

Cling Bowyer is in 7th place, 26 points ahead of 10th place. Bowyer is one of two drivers playing a cautious strategy might be prudent. A major catastrophe could throw him in the field on one win drivers outside the top ten.

Denny Hamlin in 10th place has two wins. He leads the 11th place ride by 40 points. He is almost certainly a sure bet for at least a wild card place, but bad finishes could revert him to a wild card.

Martin Truex Jr. has no wins and is in 6th in the standings. His 49 point margin ahead of 10th place. He enjoys more than a one race cushion to maintain a top ten in points. Only the worst of calamity would knock him out, but without a win so far this year, he would be eliminated.

Kevin Harvick is in 9th place, winless in 2012. He is only 17 points above 10th place. Kevin Harvick is sitting in the hot seat on the favorable side of the bubble.

In 11th place with two wins, Kasey Kahne is well-positioned for the wild card. He has 40 point deficit out of 10th place. Moving into the top 10 will require picking up 10 points a race through Richmond, a tough task; however, for him to fall out of the wild card spot, two one win drivers would have to each win two races. That’s not likely to happen.

Ryan Newman in 13th place holds the second wild card position, but his stance as the second wild card winner is not secure given he only has a six point lead over the next winner, Kyle Busch. He is six points below Carl Edwards who’d knock him out with a win and become the leader of the one win drivers with a win in Michigan.
Jeff Gordon, in 15th place is six points behind Kyle Busch, twelve points beneath Ryan Newman absolutely in the running for the second wild card. A Jeff Gordon win would push both Newman and Busch out of his way as the 2nd wild card and seriously put Carl Edwards behind the needing two wins and a points advantage to work into the wild card. Marcos Ambrose in 17th with one win, 44 points behind Newman and Joey Logano in 18th, 57th are not poised to exceed Ryan Newman in points. They must win at least one race while denying the other one win drivers in their three remaining races.

There is only one driver left, Paul Menard, currently winless, needing a win and overcoming a 15 points deficit below Newman to have a shot at the Chase.

Here’s a look at what the Chase field would be if it were determined right now. This is the chart against which drivers must advance to move in.

  1. Jimmie Johnson, 3 wins
  2. Brad Keselowski, 3 wins
  3. Tony Stewart, 3 wins
  4. Denny Hamlin, 2 wins
  5. Greg Biffle, 1 win
  6. Matt Kenseth, 1 win
  7. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 1 win
  8. Clint Bowyer, 1 win
  9. Martin Truex, 0 wins
  10. Kevin Harvick, 0 wins

WC-1.  Kasey Kahne, 2 wins
WC-2.  Ryan Newman, 1 win

Mark Martin sits on the pole in the #55 Aaron’s Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing never to old to be counted out of anything in the backyard of the American Auto Industry, certainly a point not lost on the “Big Three” executives. The Ford contenders needed to step up their qualifying effort and with Carl Edwards, who must step it up tremendously in the next four races on the outside pole, and teammate, Matt Kenseth, behind him in 4th  have answered the call. Part-timer, 2011 Daytona 500 winner, Trevor Bayne starts 6th while last week’s winner, Marcose Ambrose starts 9th while remaining Roush driver, Greg Biffle, checks in at an acceptable 13th.

Of all drivers with chase possibilities, the lowest starters are Kyle Busch in 23rd and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 22nd. Drivers from 19th to 23rd are all hot in the Chase battle and will seek to move through traffic and work on good track position early on. That’s also where early wrecks happen. The heat is on!

With two garbage entries failing to qualify – the #33 Stephen Lecht entry and the #37, J.J. Yeley entry, there are nine trash entries in the field – all likely candidates for a “start and park performance. In other words, quitters are now infecting the top 35 in the standings. That is unacceptable and must be addressed by NASCAR. The top level of a sport is no place for fantasy camp drivers to be shuffling in with the big boys.

Here’s the starting line up:

155Mark MartinToyotaAaron's Dream Machine199.706
299Carl EdwardsFordGeek Squad198.626
348Jimmie JohnsonChevroletLowe's198.44
417Matt KensethFordFifth Third Bank198.183
55Kasey KahneChevroletFarmers Insurance197.878
621Trevor BayneFordMotorcraft / Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center197.781
756Martin Truex Jr.ToyotaNAPA Auto Parts197.65
89Marcos AmbroseFordStanley197.493
983Landon CassillToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper197.433
1027Paul MenardChevroletMenards / Pittsburgh Paints197.163
1124Jeff GordonChevroletDrive to End Hunger / AARP197.115
1215Clint BowyerToyota5-hour Energy197.012
1316Greg BiffleFord3M196.893
1414Tony StewartChevroletMobil 1 / Office Depot196.877
1539Ryan NewmanChevroletWix Filters196.732
1620Joey LoganoToyotaThe Home Depot196.501
1722Parker KligermanDodgeShell / Pennzoil196.249
1878Regan SmithChevroletFurniture Row / Farm American196.217
192Brad KeselowskiDodgeMiller Lite196.18
2029Kevin HarvickChevroletJimmy Johns196.052
2111Denny HamlinToyotaFedEx Office195.956
2288Dale Earnhardt Jr.ChevroletNational Guard / Diet Mountain Dew195.822
2318Kyle BuschToyotaInterstate Batteries193.299
241Jamie McMurrayChevroletBass Pro Shops / Mercury193.268
2542Juan MontoyaChevroletTarget193.138
2651Kurt BuschChevroletHendrickCars.com192.988
27191Reed SorensonFordPlinker Tactical192.709
2847Bobby LabonteToyotaClorox192.596
2913Casey MearsFordGEICO192.56
3093Travis KvapilToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper192.539
3130David StremmeToyotaInception Motorsports192.359
3231Jeff BurtonChevroletWheaties192.282
33119Jason LefflerFordPlinker Tactical192.205
3426Josh Wise*FordMDS Transport192.179
3587Joe NemechekToyotaAM / FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves192.118
3638David GillilandFordTaco Bell191.79
3734David RaganFordLong John Silver's191.724
3823Scott RiggsChevroletNorth Texas Pipe189.943
3910David ReutimannChevroletTMone.com189.036
4032T.J. Bell+FordSouthern Pride Trucking / U.S. Chrome185.118
4143Aric Almirola+FordEckrich-
4236Dave Blaney+ChevroletTommy Baldwin Racing-
4398Mike SkinnerFordPhil Parsons Racing189.939
Did Not Qualify
4433Stephen Leicht*ChevroletLittle Joes Autos189.444

4537J.J. YeleyChevroletMax Q Motorsports188.157