Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sprint Cup Chase: Dover's Down - the Monster's Reward

The field contending for the 2012 Sprint Cup championship took a beating after today’s action at Dover’s “Monster Mile” after completing the AAA 400. Brad Keselowski saved fuel and won as other drivers struggled to reach the checkered flag to give the young driver a five point lead over the five time champ, Jimmie Johnson.

Meanwhile, some drivers are either out of the chase or face an unprecedented uphill climb to be  factor in this year’s championship chase.

Matt Kenseth’s 35th place finish just above the garbage heap ended his run for the championship, looking at a 72 point deficit, the #17 car will not be celebrating at Homestead in November.

Greg Biffle (-51), Jeff Gordon (-48), Kevin Harvick (-46), and Martin Truex Jr. (-42) have more than a full race to make up with seven races left. It’s absolutely over for them too.

Current Chase Standings:

1 1 Brad Keselowski 2142 Leader
2 -1 Jimmie Johnson 2137 -5
3 -- Denny Hamlin 2126 -16
4 2 Clint Bowyer 2117 -25
5 -1 Tony Stewart 2110 -32
6 -1 Kasey Kahne 2110 -32
7 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2103 -39
8 2 Martin Truex Jr. 2100 -42
9 -1 Kevin Harvick 2096 -46
10 2 Jeff Gordon 2094 -48
11 -2 Greg Biffle 2091 -51
12 -1 Matt Kenseth 2070 -72

Now looking at where the Chase contenders finished today, the results underscore just what a tough challenge lies head.

1 10 2 Brad Keselowski Dodge 47/1
2 7 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 43/1
4 11 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 41/1
6 3 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 38/0
8 1 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota 37/1
9 2 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota 36/1
11 25 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 33/0
13 13 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 31/0
15 9 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet 29/0
16 6 16 Greg Biffle Ford 28/0
20 24 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet 24/0
35 12 17 Matt Kenseth Ford 9/0

Right now, it’s a three car shootout for championship honors with Brad Keselowski leading Jimmie Johnson then Denny Hamlin within clear striking distance to take the lead. Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne almost must win their way into the picture having 32 points between them and the top.

It’s too soon to stick the fork in Dale Earnhardt Jr. but at 39 points out of the top spot, he’ll need to pick up more than 5 ½ points a race with no setbacks to gain his first crown. It’s not just how well each driver does but which drivers he must over come to get to the promised land. Aside from Tony Stewart who does have three wins for the season, the remainder of the teams not yet out of the chase will have to show levels of performance not shown consistently to be a factor.

Talladega beckons next week as the 2 2/3’s mile long restrictor plate track will add its own brand of torture to endure in quest of championship glory. Keselowski is a proven Talladega winner. All is well with Team Penske for now.

Unsung Hero: The Missing Link from the O's of Old to Today

The Missing Link

The day after honoring Brooks Robinson, the fellow who personified the beginning of winning baseball in Baltimore the team on the verge of its first post season play since 1997, it’s hard to find much connection between the winning Orioles of old: the big six: Brooks, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken. With supporting players and great pitchers from Boog Powell, Paul Blair, and Dave McNally through a cast of many including Mike Cuellar, Davey Johnson, Bobby Grich, Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor, Ken Singleton, Mike Mussina, B.J. Surhoff, and Raphael Palmeiro, one great’s career transitioned to another’s rise.

Only one player connects the O’s of old to today’s team, probably the loneliest fellow to be assigned an Orioles jersey in 2012 --- Brian Roberts.  He started his reign with the Orioles in 2001, Cal Ripken’s retirement year and labored through 17 games this season only connecting for 12 base hits making it three consecutive seasons unable to answer the call for most of the season – the fellow who was supposed to be the first piece in the team rebuilding into a contender once again.

It’s not all over for Brian Roberts. He could heal up and return to Spring Training in 2013 and finish his career with the Orioles as a winning team. It would only seem just. However, the sport makes no promises and after years of being a rare bright spot in a sea of frustration, he’s the fellow who took throws from both Cal Ripken and Matt Weiters (perhaps a future member of the statue club in Legend’s Park.)

The irony only runs deeper considering his close friend and teammate, Nick Markakis, one who answered the call during darkest hour in 2006 also sits on the sidelines, the victim of a C.C. Sabathia pitch in early September hoping the suddenly hot Orioles remain deep into the off season, so he can join the celebration contributing on the field.

In the team’s finest hour in 15 years, it’s time for a quiet thank you to Brian Roberts with high hopes for Nick Markakis as the Orioles team of today reaches out for its place among the Orioles teams that brought so much winning to Baltimore starting with a friendly third baseman who quickly became a city’s pride and joy. Time's getting short for Brian Roberts, a fellow who in better days might have found his place among the Orioles elite -- who could ever anticipate the burden of carrying the torch from the glory days of old to what could be a bright future ahead could be such a touch labor.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 29 -- Dueling with the Monster

The qualifying order looks bright for the Toyotas in the chase for tomorrow’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway with Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. taking the first three starting positions to lead the field. Greg Biffle in the #16 Ford in 6th, Jeff Gordon in the #24 Chevy in 7th are the next chasers in the lineup. Second round practice tells a much different tale with teammates Jeff Gordon in 1st and Jimmie Johnson in 3rd for the best practice results. Brad Keselowski in 6th is the only other chase driver in the top 10 and no additional chasers check in until Kasey Kahne check in driving the #5 Chevy in 13th and Greg Biffle in 14th while pole sitter, Denny Hamlin’s practice results were only 17th best.

Dover is one of the trickiest tracks on the circuit, but recent history certainly likes Jimmie Johnson who won the June race in Delaware. Johnson’s seven wins, 10 top 5’s and 15 top 10’s while posting an average 8.9 finish clearly show the five time champ’s affinity for the Monster Mile, a good stepping stone toward a possible 6th championship.

Yen chase drivers start in the top 13 on a track where position is most important for good results with Kevin Harvick at the bottom of that pack. The burden is much tougher for Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. who lineup in 24th and 25th.

There is no way to put it politely, there is way too much garbage cluttering up the field that has no business running in the top series in NASCAR.  While having 48 cars entered to qualify for 43 starting positions, not a single of the five cars failing to make the field are ones that would not start and park. On top of that, far too many junk entries did make the field with the rolling free loaders starting as high as 23rd for the#25 Ford drive by Josh Wise. Up to eight cars could be long gone when the checkered flag drops and at a track where accidents happen early, it would be disgraceful if a team racing for the championship could be buried beneath an entry with no intention to complete the race at all.

Trial by fire, Danica Patrick starts 38th in one of her limited Sprint Cup starts for 2012. This will be a tough initiation into the big league world that awaits her. Having completed the entire 200 laps in Nationwide competition is only a hint of what a full day of cup racing has to offer. Another driver getting ready for full-time action, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. starts 17th in the #6 Ford. 

Starting Lineup: (Chase drivers shown in CAPS)
1 11 DENNY HAMLIN Toyota FedEx Office 159.299
2 15 CLINT BOWYER Toyota 5-hour Energy 159.264
3 56 MARTIN TRUEX JR. Toyota NAPA Auto Parts 159.201
4 22 Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge Shell / Pennzoil 158.758
5 18 Kyle Busch Toyota Interstate Batteries 158.667
6 16 GREG BIFFLE Ford Scotch-Brite 158.541
7 24 JEFF GORDON Chevrolet Drive to End Hunger 158.444
8 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet U.S. Army 158.297
9 5 KASEY KAHNE Chevrolet Farmers Insurance 158.256
10 2 BRAD KESELOWSKI Dodge Miller Lite 158.151
11 48 JIMMIE JOHNSON Chevrolet Lowe's / Kobalt Tools 158.089
12 17 MATT KENSETH Ford Ford EcoBoost 157.992
13 29 KEVIN HARVICK Chevrolet Budweiser 157.971
14 20 Joey Logano Toyota The Home Depot 157.971
15 99 Carl Edwards Ford Fastenal 157.95
16 47 Bobby Labonte Toyota Kingsford 157.819
17 6 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Ford Cargill 157.784
18 78 Regan Smith Chevrolet Furniture Row / Farm American 157.653
19 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Menards / CertainTeed 157.604
20 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet McDonald's 156.958
21 43 Aric Almirola Ford Super 8 156.924
22 83 Landon Cassill Toyota Burger King / Dr Pepper 156.829
23 26 Josh Wise* Ford MDS Transport 156.631
24 14 TONY STEWART Chevrolet Office Depot / Mobil 1 156.597
25 88 DALE EARNHARDT JR. Chevrolet National Guard / Diet Mountain Dew 156.542
26 55 Mark Martin Toyota Aaron's 2000th Store / Bronx, NY 156.488
27 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford Dewalt 156.298
28 51 Kurt Busch Chevrolet Phoenix Construction 156.23
29 91 Reed Sorenson Chevrolet Plinker Tactical 156.223
30 13 Casey Mears Ford GEICO 156.182
31 34 David Ragan Ford Long John Silver's 156.02
32 98 Michael McDowell Ford Phil Parsons Racing 155.885
33 93 Travis Kvapil Toyota Burger King / Dr Pepper 155.709
34 95 Scott Speed Ford Jordan Truck Sales 155.44
35 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Target 155.38
36 23 Scott Riggs Chevrolet North Texas Pipe 155.253
37 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota AM / FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves 155.059
38 10 Danica Patrick Chevrolet 155.025
39 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar 154.646
40 36 J.J. Yeley+ Chevrolet Drive Sober, Drive Alive DE 154.553
41 32 T.J. Bell+ Ford Greensmoke 154.182
42 38 David Gilliland+ Ford Taco Bell 153.689
43 37 Dave Blaney Chevrolet MaxQworkforce 155.025
Did Not Qualify
44 30 David Stremme Toyota Inception Motorsports 154.759
45 19 Mike Bliss Toyota Plinker Tactical 154.639
46 49 Jason Leffler Toyota Robinson-Blakeney Racing 154.467
47 33 Cole Whitt Chevrolet Little Joes Autos 153.741
48 79 Kelly Bires Ford Bestway Disposal 153.682

Thursday, September 27, 2012

NFL 2012: Week 4 -- No More Horsing Around: The Zebras Return

Thank god the real zebras are back tonight in Baltimore’s game hosting Cleveland tonight. The spray painted jack-asses proved to be an insufferable embarrassment for the whole nation to see in the botched call costing Green Bay the win they earned but in Baltimore, fans also saw a touchdown voided that would have them at 3-0 were it not for incompetent officiating. The number of calls overturned by replays told the story of total incompetence.  Thus ends a huge sham in the history of the NFL – not as bad as replacement players – but equally as misguided.

Cleveland @ Baltimore (-13)
The Baltimore Ravens will have to put in one heck of a good showing to beat the point spread on tonight’s game having had so little time to turn around from Sunday night’s dramatic showing. The Browns are still a terrible team, but no team can ever be taken for granted.

Carolina @ Atlanta (-7 ½)
Could this be the breakthrough season Atlanta QB, Matt Ryan has been looking for? Atlanta is the obvious favorite as Cam Newton needs to shake off some signs of the sophomore jinx.

New England (-3 ½) @ Buffalo
New England must be frisky as hell looking for a win giving they are 1-2 and though the camera showed they lost on a last second field goal, they dominated the Ravens and still lost after their embarrassing loss in week 2. New England SHOULD win this one, but Buffalo is often strong early in the season and cannot be ignored.

Minnesota @ Detroit (-5)
Only one Vegas odds maker weighed in on this contest. We should think Detroit should be the clear favorite; however, there’s something wobbly about Detroit’s performance so far. They are subject to a long history of failure which only winning can put in the past.

San Diego @ Kansas City (-1)
Norv Turner teams are notorious underachievers and that trait will likely do them in on an away field in this contest.

Seattle (-2 ½) @ St. Louis
St. Louis’s young talent hasn’t gelled yet. Seattle’s feeling “groovy” after being given a gift by the inept replacement officials.

San Francisco (-4) @ NY Jets
The 49ers haven’t gotten into top gear yet. Facing a sloppy and injured Jets team should be the right remedy for setting the tone for the rest of the season.

Tennessee @ Houston (-12)
This is the year Houston should show all they have arrived as one of the AFC’s current top teams. To do so, they must obliterate weak division rival, Tennessee.

Miami @ Arizona (-6 ½)
Arizona is one of the surprise teams so far this year and the hapless Dolphins are unlikely to stop them.

Cincinnati (-2) @ Jacksonville
Cincinnati gains an exhibition tune-up to secure an easy win and stay at the Ravens throats for now.

Oakland @ Denver (-6)
Is this the week the real Peyton Manning shows up?  Denver wins regardless.

New Orleans @ Green Bay (-7 ½)
Who wouldn’t hate to face Green Bay this week after being robbed at the last second for all the nation to see on Monday Night Football. It’s hard to believe in week four there could be a must win game for any team, but for the Cheese Disease, this is.

Washington @ Tampa Bay (-3)
The RGIII era hasn’t gotten rolling yet in DC. Tampa’s got the slight edge this weekend.

NY Giants @ Philadelphia (-2 ½)
This is a game that will have a direct bearing on the future in January. As a division rivalry game, the Giants, defending champs off to a mediocre start, will not want to see the Eagles put much more distance between them. Still, the Eagles, as sloppy as they can be appear to have the brute strength to win this one.

Chicago @ Dallas (-3 ½)
Every time Dallas wins, and they’ll win this one, the ESPN crew cranks up the band playing love songs to “America’s team” as if they are truly one of the sport’s top teams. What does the Tony Roma era Cowboys have to show for themselves? If they make the playoffs, they never go deep and that’s what can be expected this year.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 28 -- The Chase, Race 2, New Hampshire

Who didn't count Jeff Gordon out after his dreadful performance with a mechanically unsound car last week?  To help stomp on that, guess whose on the pole, Jeff Gordon, side-by-side the fellow he edged out to make the chase.  Isn't this FUN? Tony Stewart, attempting to find some of last year's magic starts 3rd ready to strike with Brian Vickers making an infrequent appearance for Michael Waltrip's 3rd team in the 55 car.

Race two of the "Chase" cranks it up a little tigher. There's no room for failure as they line up for their 28th race of the season.

1 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Drive to End Hunger 134.911
2 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's 134.753
3 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Mobil 1 / Office Depot 134.568
4 55 Brian Vickers Toyota Freightliner / Jet Edge 134.482
5 99 Carl Edwards Ford Aflac 134.354
6 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet Farmers Insurance 134.179
7 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Sylvania / Menards 134.098
8 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet Aspen Dental 133.934
9 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota NAPA Auto Parts 133.872
10 22 Dave Blaney Dodge Shell / Pennzoil 133.863
11 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Wheaties 133.854
12 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota 5-hour Energy 133.825
13 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M / GE Appliances 133.647
14 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet AMP Energy / Diet Mtn. Dew / National Guard 133.637
15 2 Brad Keselowski Dodge Miller Lite 133.614
16 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Budweiser 133.600
17 47 Bobby Labonte Toyota Bush's Baked Beans 133.567
18 20 Joey Logano Toyota The Home Depot 133.544
19 43 Aric Almirola Ford Trim Fit 133.301
20 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's 133.128
21 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford Stanley 133.110
22 78 Regan Smith Chevrolet Furniture Row / Farm American 133.021
23 51 Kurt Busch Chevrolet Phoenix Construction 132.966
24 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Energizer 132.850
25 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Zest 132.799
26 34 David Ragan Ford Shriner's Hospital for Children 132.720
27 95 Scott Speed Ford Jordan Truck Sales 132.595
28 83 Landon Cassill Toyota Burger King / Dr Pepper 132.558
29 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet LiftMaster 132.356
30 13 Casey Mears Ford GEICO 132.195
31 98 Michael McDowell Ford Phil Parsons Racing 131.929
32 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Freight 131.633
33 93 Travis Kvapil Toyota Burger King / Dr Pepper 131.442
34 10 David Reutimann Chevrolet Tommy Baldwin Racing 131.180
35 191 Reed Sorenson Chevrolet Plinker Tactical 130.963
36 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota AM / FM Energy  130.837
37 38 David Gilliland Ford Taco Bell 130.792
38 79 Kelly Bires Ford BBI / Bestway 130.640
39 33 Stephen Leicht* Chevrolet Little Joes 130.367
40 37 J.J. Yeley Chevrolet MaxQworkforce,com 130.229
41 36 Tony Raines+ Chevrolet Tommy Baldwin Racing 128.359
42 32 Mike Olsen+ Ford North Country Ford 126.153
43 30 David Stremme Toyota Inception Motorsports 129.882
Did Not Qualify
44 23 Scott Riggs Chevrolet North Texas Pipe 129.714
45 49 Jason Leffler Toyota Robinson-Blak- 129.701
46 19 Jeff Green Toyota Plinker Tactical 129.248
47 26 Josh Wise* Ford MDS Transport 131.306