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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Atlanta Emory Healthcare 500 Preview: By the Numbers...and Beyond

Atlanta Motor Speedway, located just south of Atlanta Georgia, is a 1.54 mile quad-oval that Sprint Cup drivers will make their way around 325 times on Sunday afternoon. 2010 is the first year the race has been sponsored by Emory Healthcare; previously the Labor Day Cup race has been the Pep Boys 500, the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500, the Napa 500 and others. Until 2001 this race was the last race on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar. This weekend 47 drivers will attempt to qualify for the field of 43 that will start the Emory Healthcare 500.

Previous winners that appear in the entry list are Mark Martin, Bill Elliott, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, and Kasey Kahne. Kurt Busch won the 2010 Spring race at Atlanta this year, as well as the Spring 2009 Kobalt Tools 500 and could use a win at this point in the season. Kurt has been sliding backward through the Sprint Cup Points standings, losing six spots since the halfway mark in the season. He hasn't seen a win since back-to-back victories at the All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 in May. After a top ten finish at Bristol two weeks ago Kurt needs to have another solid performance in Atlanta to avoid losing more spots in the points.

Jimmie Johnson is one to watch this weekend. Johnson claims two previous wins at this race, in 2004 and 2007. Johnson also won the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2007. With three wins at this track, Jimmie has proven he can be a front-runner. Jimmie is now in fourth place in Cup Series Points after a disappointing 35th place finish caused him to drop four places in the standings. The Lowe's Team has proven that they can bring the competition in the later part of the season over the past four years; I expect that "up-the-performance" show to start from Knaus and Johnson about now.

Carl Edwards is another repeat winner at Atlanta. Carl took home wins from the fall race in 2005 and 2008 and also won the spring race in 2005. Carl's 12th place finish two weekends ago at Thunder Valley did not hurt his season; he moved up two places in the points. With his place in the Chase to the Championship secure Carl will have no problem going out this weekend and taking some chances to get himself to the front of the pack by the end of the race. Watch for Carl to drive aggressively on his way to the front.

Bobby Labonte is not a name we have recently seen in many top ten pick lists but I'm going to include him in mine this weekend. Bobby is a four-time winner of the fall race in Atlanta; he has wins in 1996, 1997, 1999, and 2001. Labonte has had a rough season with uncertainties regarding sponsorship for this and next season. Now that his ride for 2011 is secure with JTG/Daugherty Racing and he is racing the rest of this season in the number 71 TRG Racing Chevrolet, I think he will settle into a more comfortable zone. He has been very good at this track at times, this is the week to watch Labonte for a comeback high-place finish.

Kevin Harvick won this race in 2001, his only win at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Cup Series racing. Sitting comfortably atop the leader board in the Points, Harvick has nothing to lost in this race. His 14th place finish at Bristol only lost Kevin 14 points off his lead on second place in the standings. With a 279 point lead, Kevin should be feeling confident; when Kevin feels confident he generally performs well. Harvick could very well have a top three showing this weekend.

Jeff Gordon is still chasing that elusive win. Finishing 11th at Bristol, he stayed in second place in Series Points. Jeff is driving a paint scheme designed by his daughter Ella, in conjunction with the legendary Sam Bass, this weekend. A win at this race would mean not only an end to his 53 race winless streak but would also be more special with him in a car of his young daughter's design. Jeff posted wins at this race in 1998 and 2003. He also has wins from the spring Atlanta race in 1995 and 1999. Can Jeff make this the week he stands in victory lane?

Kyle Busch has been on fire the last few weeks. With a Sweep at Bristol and a Truck Series win last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway Kyle has some serious momentum. Another driver who is a threat when he is feeling confident, Kyle can claim no wins at the fall race at Atlanta but does have one mark in the win column at Atlanta from the spring race in 2008. Kyle moved up five places in the Points Standings after winning the Bristol Night Race; Kyle Busch will be out on Sunday trying to overtake the 72 point lead that Jeff Gordon has on him the the Cup Series Standings.

Mark Martin is still chasing that 12th spot in the Chase. 102 points back from Clint Bowyer, Mark needs to post a strong finish to continue to hope to make the Chase just two weekends away. Martin earned five bonus points for leading a lap at Bristol but finished a dismal 23rd. If there's one thing that Mark does not lack, however, it is the desire to win. His team is shocked by the 2010 season thus far and have not given up on that 12th spot yet. Mark has had two wins at Atlanta and 14 top five finishes. He needs to make this a 15th top five finish if he is to keep his Chase for the Championship hopes alive.

Clint Bowyer is not going to give that 12th Chase spot up easily. Bowyer has had his ups and downs this season but with a fourth place finish at Bristol he now has a 101 point lead over 13th. Bowyer has been consistent this year and his current place in the Chase shows it. Clint cannot relax yet though; with two races to go til the cutoff and three drivers within 125 points Bowyer will have to post better than his 16.4 average finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway. We should see Clint in the top ten again by the end of Sunday's 325 laps.

Jamie McMurray is hanging onto the 13th spot in Cup Points by the skin of his teeth. Just one point in front of Mark Martin, Jamie Mac has moved up six spots since the Summer Daytona race and moved up two spots after his third place finish two weekends ago. Jamie has proven this season that he can win the high-stakes races. McMurray posted wins at the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400; this race could determine whether he will go into Richmond with a chance of making the Chase or not. Could it get any more high-pressure? Watch for Jamie to be a strong contender on Sunday.

My top ten picks include Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, and Jamie McMurray. My pick for the win is Jeff Gordon, with Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top three. I am going to go with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to finish just outside the top ten, and the battle for the 12th spot in the Race to the Chase to go down to the wire at Richmond with less than 75 points separating 12th from 14th after this weekend's race at Atlanta.

Don't forget to tune into SPEED Channel on Saturday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. for NASCAR Cup Series Practice from Atlanta Motor Speedway. Qualifications will air on SPEED Saturday at 4:30 p.m. The Emory Healthcare 500 will be on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. for Sunday night Labor Day weekend Racing. Watch to see how it all unfolds then check back for a weekend wrap-up Monday night!

Photo Credits
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Saturday, August 28, 2010

In the Rear View Mirror: The Last 7 Days in NASCAR

It's an off week for Cup Racing in NASCARland so major news has been fairly slow. There are always a few things to talk about, however. Kyle had a good run at Bristol and continued that run into this weekend at Chicago, although his foray into off-road racing fell a bit short. Regan Smith signed a two year contract and Dave Blaney has a ride for Atlanta. Nationwide Racing goes international this weekend with racing from Montreal.

Kyle Busch and The Bristol Sweep
The major news story of the last week has been Kyle Busch's Sweep at Bristol. Kyle brought home wins in all three major touring series - Trucks, Nationwide, and Cup. No one had accomplished this feat before in NASCAR history.

Much debate has been had among fans and media discussing whether the wins were 'earned' or 'taken'. Busch managed to wreck Brad Keseloski for the win in Trucks racing, David Reutimann in Nationwide; many were not happy with Kyle for the wrecks or his lack of apology regarding either incident. Kyle mocked fans after his Camping World Truck Series Win when they booed him en mass and he pretended to cry with one foot perched upon the top of his truck.

The bottom line to Kyle's historic Sweep is this - he goes down in history as being the first. It doesn't matter if fans think he raced dirty to get it. It doesn't matter if he stood in Victory Lane and admitted that he wrecked his competitors to get there. He's not the first to wreck someone and he's certainly not the last. Kyle earned another place in the history books and he deserves respect as a driver for his accomplishment.

Regan Smith & Furniture Row Motorsports
On Thursday a press release came out announcing that driver Regan Smith is contracted through the 2012 season with Furniture Row Racing. Regan will continue to be in the number 78 Chevrolet for at least the next two seasons. Smith has raced in 83 races in his four-year Cup career, and has a mediocre season in 2010. Through 24 races, Regan has not seen a top ten finish and his best finish has been 14th early in the season.

Dave Blaney & Front Row Motorsports
Wednesday brought us news that driver Dave Blaney will be in the Front Row Motorsports number 38 Ford Fusion for the Atlanta race next weekend. The team must make the race on speed, as they are not guaranteed a spot in the race based on owner's points. The number 38 car has been driven by Tony Raines in the recent past; no indication that Raines has left the team exists. He should be back in the Front Row Morotsports number 38 entry in the near future.

Camping World Truck Series Racing
The Truck Series ran the 225 at Chicagoland Speedway Friday night under the lights. Kyle Busch took his 20th Truck Series win and fourth consecutive major touring series win by holding off Points Lead Todd Bodine. Busch led an impressive 121 laps on his way to victory lane. Ron Hornaday, Johnny Sauter, and Rookie Justin Lofton rounded out the top five.

Busch made a four-tire stop on lap 126 when most others took two tires; Kyle reclaimed the lead on lap 131 after restarting four laps before in 7th position. Busch never again relinquished the lead in the remainder of the race that included a green-white-checker finish four laps beyond the scheduled 150 laps after Timothy Peters lost an engine. Todd Bodine remains atop the Points Standing in the Truck Series, 236 points in front of Aric Almirola, who finished sixth in the Friday night event.

Nationwide Series Racing
The Nationwide Series is racing in Canada this weekend. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a 2.71 mile road course located in Montreal. After the first practice Saturday morning the Leaderboard showed Carl Edwards, Jacques Villeneuve, and Boris Said the fastest. The second practice found the top five fastest to be Max Papis, Jacques Villeneuve, Marcos Ambrose, Jason Leffler, and Patrick Carpentier. Qualifications will be on ESPN2 later this afternoon, beginning at 5 p.m. EST.

Photo Credits
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Photo 2: AP Photo/Wade Payne
Photo 3: Autostock

Friday, August 27, 2010

Race Preview: Nationwide Series from Montreal

We don't have Cup racing this week but do have Nationwide Series racing from Canada. A road course in Montreal, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a 2.71 mile round trip that includes 15 turns along the way. The race in Montreal has been part of the Nationwide Schedule since 2007. The NAPA Auto Parts 200 presented by Dodge will include 74 laps around the road course on Sunday.

So-called road course ringer Marcos Ambrose hopes to run well over the weekend, as Montreal has been particularly tough for Ambrose. In his three starts he was driving the fastest car, led the most laps, but did not come home a winner from any appearance. In 2007 Marcos led 37 laps before getting into trouble with Robby Gordon and finishing seventh on lap 75 after a green-white-checker finish. 2008 found Ambrose leading 25 of a rain-shortened 48 lap event but lost the lead after speeding on pit road and serving a penalty.

2009 found Ambrose the closest to a win, but after leading 60 laps, he made a mistake in the Chicane which gave Carl Edwards the opening he needed to take the lead away from Marcos. Edwards ultimately won the 2009 race, whereas Ambrose finished in the runner-up spot. Other than Carl, previous winners of the Napa Auto Parts 200 have been Ron Fellows in 2008 and Kevin Harvick in 2007. Out of the three former winners, Edwards and Fellows are both included on the Napa Auto Parts 200 Entry List for this weekend, Harvick is not.

Jacques Villeneuve and Brad Keselowski are another pair to watch this weekend for strong performances. The pair finished fourth and fifth, respectively in 2009. Villeneuve has much experience in road course racing in multiple racing series. Keselowski is coming into the weekend as Points Leaders, 313 ahead of who else but Carl Edwards. After a win two weeks ago at Michigan and getting dumped by Kyle Busch in last week's Nationwide race at Bristol, Brad would love to come out and post another win to increase his points lead.

Max Papis will be in the number 33 for this week's race and hopes to finish better than his 2009 finish of 20th. Papis has also been referred to as a road course ringer but has largely failed to live up to that term in NASCAR racing. This is the first Nationwide race that Papis has taken part in this year. In his six NASCAR Cup Series Road Course starts, Max has posted just one top ten finish. This weekend at Montreal could be a chance for Papis to regain his road course glory.

Another driver who posted strong finishes in road course racing at Watkins Glen earlier in the Nationwide Series is Joey Logano. Joey took home a second place finish a few weeks ago at The Glen but has not posted good finishes previously at Montreal. Logano did not race in last year's Napa Auto Parts 200, was taken out of competition in 2008 by an accident, and did not participate in the 2007 running at Montreal. With little experience at this track, that could hurt Logano's chances to move up from his 11th place spot in the Nationwide Points Standings.

What it comes down to is that this could be anyones race, and it should be a good one among competitors. Edwards and Keselowski are both contenders, but with both still on probation for their run-ins earlier in the season it is unlikely that the two will be the cause of any fireworks on Sunday afternoon. I expect a clean race from both drivers.

Ambrose is driven to get a win in Montreal as it would be his first Canadian win. He may race a little too hard and find himself spinning in a turn late in the race, however. Justin Allgaier and Paul Menard are in the top five in the Points but neither made it inside the top ten at this track last year. I pick Carl Edwards for the win, Joey Logano for the runner-up spot, and Brad Keselowski to come in third. Villeneuve and Papis round out my top five.

Although racing in the rain is allowed at Montreal, there is little chance of rain in the area forecast for the weekend. With a 20% chance of rain Saturday and Sunday and temperatures expected to be in the mid-80s weather should not play a factor in the weekend event. Catch Nationwide practice Saturday at 11:30 a.m., Qualifications at 5 p.m. Saturday, and the race on Sunday at 2 p.m. All coverage of this weekend's NASCAR Nationwide Series Napa Auto Parts 200 presented by Dodge from Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal will be aired on ESPN2. There will also be an untelevised Practice Session Saturday morning beginning at 9 a.m. that can be followed on

Photo Credits
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Photo 2: Kent Holloway
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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Focus on Camping World Truck Series

There's no Cup Series racing action this week. The Camping World Truck Series will be racing at Chicagoland Speedway in the 225. Trucks will go 225 miles, 150 laps around the D-shaped. Many NASCAR fans don't follow the Trucks Series; I didn't really get into it until a couple years ago. Once I caught a Trucks race on TV, though I realized how much action occurs during the races.

Have you ever driven a Chevy S-10 or Ford Ranger on an icy road, went around a curve and had the back end fishtail? Truck Series drivers handle that on almost every curve. It's fun to watch and many Cup and Nationwide driver pull double duty at least some weekends. There are many familiar faces among the CWTS drivers...and many to get to know.

Kevin Harvick is a team owner in the CWTS. Kevin Harvick, Inc. has the number 2 truck, co-driven in 2010 by Harvick, Elliott Sadler, Shelby Howard, and Ken Schrader and the number 33 truck driven by Ron Hornday. Between the two trucks KHI has five wins in the CWTS for 2010. Hornaday won at Indianapolis in the number 33, holding off Kyle Busch at the end of the race at O'Reilly Raceway Park. Sadler has posted one win in the number 2 truck, winning at Pocono. Harvick claims the other three wins for the team this season, with wins at Atlanta, Martinsville, and most recently Gateway.

At the top of the CWTS Points board is Todd Bodine. Bodine leads second ranked Aric Almirola by 211 points with just nine races left in the 2010 season. Another 39 points back we find Timothy Peters, and in 288 points behind the leader in 4th is Johnny Sauter. Hornaday is currently ranked 5th in the CWTS Points, 323 points out of the lead. Finishing the top ten are Matt Crafton, Austin Dillon, Mike Skinner David Starr, and Ricky Carmichael.

Racing at Chicagoland is fairly new for Truck Series drivers; this is only the second race at the facility. Kyle Busch won the 2009 250 after leading 79 of the 150 laps. Current Points leader Todd Bodine finished just over half a second behind Kyle for second place in last years race. If Almirola wants to close the gap between himself and Bodine in the Points, Aric will have to post better than last years 8th place finish, as Bodine will most likely run near the front throughout the race.

At least two of the top ten in Points have had on and off track disagreements in the past. Rivalling some of the biggest fights in NASCAR, Todd Bodine and David Starr had it out after the 2008 New Hampshire race. The problems started when Starr bumped and turned Bodine, causing Todd's truck to end up against the wall. After the race Todd bumped David to show his displeasure and then followed Starr into the pits.

On pit road, Bodine's Team got involved and ultimately drug Starr out of his truck. Punches were thrown and NASCAR Officials came in and diffused the situation...they thought. Just a couple minutes later the fights broke out again, with most of the Bodine Team going after David Starr and his Team Members. Other Teams got involved, as Bodine was just one of four trucks that Starr had turned around during the race.

Mike Hillman, Sr, of Bodine's Germain Racing Team was a main player in both rounds of this melee, at one point climibing onto the top of Bodine's truck to reach Starr and his team. Ultimately, local Sheriff Department Officers came into the hauler area to speak with Hillman and other CWTS Team Members. NASCAR handed down suspensions to Hillman and William Divel, crew member for David Starr's team for two races, and various probations and fines to no less than seven other crew member among three teams. No one can claim that the CWTS doesn't see as much action as the Cup Series.

During this off-week for Sprint Cup Racing tune into the Camping World Truck Series race from Chicagoland Speedway. It is a track we all know, take a look at how the trucks handle, watch what unfolds. With Almirola needing to close on Points Leader Todd Bodine, and Ron Hornaday hanging fifth in Points things could get interesting. Qualifying will air on SPEED Friday at 4:30 p.m. EST; the 250 will also air on SPEED, Friday night at 8:30 p.m. under the lights at Chicagoland Speedway.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Love Him or Hate Him: Kyle Busch

Twitter has been all aflutter with people loudly voicing opinions on if the love Kyle Busch or hate him. To the Busch lovers he has achieved the greatest feat known to mankind - the Bristol Sweep. To the haters, he cheats and can't drive worth a damn. What happened to respecting a driver for his skill? You don't win three races in four days without being able to drive the car.

Personally I do not like Kyle as a person from what I have seen at the track and on-camera. He tends to blame others before having all the facts, he conveys a sense of entitlement that he hasn't earned, and he disrespects the fans. I do not argue that Kyle has skills as a driver, however. No driver makes it to the Cup Series without  in some way earning the right to be there.

For me, it's not the way Kyle drives aggressively. I am a big fan of aggressive racing. When NASCAR announced the "Have at it, Boys" policy I was thrilled. It's that Kyle's attitude is crap. He mostly acts like a spoiled, condescending brat.

During driver introductions at Bristol Saturday night he was booed; Busch said into the microphone something about the love he felt from the crowd...with a sneer on his face. After the race, from the Winner's Circle he again took a jab at the booing masses in the crowd. Race fans pay for Kyle's paycheck. It seems to me he would at least show them the respect they deserve for spending their time off work and money on traveling, lodging, and race tickets.

So, does having fans hate you with a passion hurt you as a driver? Not if you listen to what has been said before about getting more booing from the crowd than cheering at times of introduction. Dale Earnhardt, Sr. said "Whether they boo or cheer, as long as they're making noise you are doing something right." NASCAR fans definitely make noise for Kyle.

On his way to the Friday night Nationwide win he took out Brad Keselowski. Granted, he owned up to it in post-race interviews but standing there saying that he "dumped" Brad intentionally takes another couple notches off my personal opinion of Kyle. If Kyle had not wrecked Brad we would have seen more good racing before the night's end. Would Kyle have still won the race? No one can know, but there would be a lot fewer angry fans around.

The facts of the weekend are that Kyle earned the pole position but started from the back after engine repairs and won the Wednesday night Truck Series Race. He started third in Friday night's Nationwide race and crossed the finish line first at the end of the night. He qualified 19th for the Irwin Tools Night Race and at the end, he was in front. He is the only driver to take wins in all three National touring series in the same weekend. These facts earn Kyle Busch - as a driver - my respect. So Kudos to Kyle Busch for taking the Sweep at Bristol....but I still don't like you.

Photo Credits
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Saturday, August 21, 2010

In the Rearview Mirror: The Last 7 Days in NASCAR

2011 Schedule
The NASCAR 2011 Schedule was released on Wednesday. Many of the major changes had previously been announced – that of Kentucky Speedway gaining Cup dates, Atlanta and Infineon Raceway losing a date each, Chicago to the Chase, etc. One item that had been a matter of speculation was whether NASCAR would move the season finale away from Homestead Miami Speedway.

The schedule shows that Homestead did, indeed keep the final race of the 2011 Season. The 1.5 mile track is considered to be one of the most beautiful tracks in the NASCAR Circuit with palm trees lining the edges and interior of the facility. With the last race of the season being in late November there is a limit to which track can hold that final race from a weather point of view.

Vegas was discussed in circles of both media and fans to bring the season finale and the awards banquet to the same city. Although in theory this would seem to be a way to bring more fans to Vegas for the awards banquet, in reality a two-week Las Vegas event would be more of a strain on most family budgets than would two individual weekend events on opposite sides of the country.

Driver Contract and Sponsor Deals
Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress Racing announced this week, officially, that Budweiser is coming on board to Sponsor Harvick in 2011. Announced Tuesday, this is a three-year deal for 20 points and two non-points races each season. RCR also announced last week that Paul Menard and family sponsor Menard's will join the team in 2011.

Marcos Ambrose signed with Richard Petty Motorsports on Tuesday. Ambrose said that driving for RPM is an incredible honor and a dream opportunity. After announcing that he was parting ways with JTG/Daugherty Racing he almost immediately began talks with Richard Petty Motorsports regarding a 2011 in the number nine car. Stanley Tools will be the main sponsor of Ambrose's ride.

Aric Almirola and JR Motorsports announced during a Bristol press conference on Friday that Almirola will be driving in the number 88 car full-time in 2011. Aric was smiling throughout the press conference, and for good reason. After the Earnhardt-Ganassi number eight funding dried up early in the season Almirola moved to the Trucks Series and currently sits in the second place spot in the Camping World Trucks Series Points. Further, he stepped in for David Reutimann during Sprint Cup practice after David fell ill to suspected food poisoning. Almirola had a good week.

Bristol Week
Fans began arriving around Bristol Motor Speedway at the beginning of the week. The Camping World Truck Series Race ran on Wednesday night. Due to pre-race engine repairs Pole-sitter Kyle Busch was relegated to the back of the field to start the O'Reilly 200. Busch ran his way through the field and took the lead on lap 91.

On his way to his win, Busch spun Jennifer Jo Cobb on lap 85 when she got loose and checked up in front of Kyle. Busch was in the process of lapping Cobb when the incident occurred. The spin caused Cobb to come down on the number 31 of James Buescher and caused major damage to both trucks.

Busch only took one pit stop, on lap 30; fuel conservation was in full play by the end of the race. When a late race caution came out for a crash involving Ken Schraeder and David Starr, Busch and his team were concerned whether they had enough fuel to go for the green-white-checker finish. In the end, Kyle prevailed and bowed to the crowd from the start finish line.

Friday night's Nationwide Series Food City 250 saw Kyle Busch starting from the third position, after racing Brad Keselowski for several laps Kyle's car got loose and moved up the track in front of Brad. Kyle admittedly thought he was clear; he was not. Brad got into the back of Busch which Kyle thought was an intentional act. From the fan view on replays, it was not. Kyle came back in the next turn on lap 219 and dumped Brad.

Kyle continued to hold off contenders Jason Leffler and Elliot Sadler to take home his second win of the weekend. Busch starts 19th in the Irwin Tools 500 Cup Race on Saturday night and will be going for a win to complete the sweep. He will not go unchallenged, however.

Three drivers are going into the Saturday night main event having already run twice this week at Thunder Valley. Whereas running both the Nationwide Race and Cup Race on the same weekend is fairly commonplace among NASCAR drivers, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Ryan Newman will pull triple duty. Busch and Keselowski raced in both the Trucks Series and Nationwide races; Newman raced in the Modified race earlier in the week and the Nationwide race.

Eleven other drivers are pulling double duty at Bristol this weekend. Todd Bodine and Max Papis are running both the Cup Series race on Saturday night and raced the Trucks Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 200. Drivers participating in the Cup Race after having competed in Friday night's Nationwide Race are Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick, Elliott Sadler, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Reed Sorenson, and Paul Menard.

Beyond those drivers starting two or more races Kyle will also have to get past Jimmie Johnson on Busch's way to a possible sweep. Johnson is starting from the Pole on Saturday night and posted a win in the Spring race at Thunder Valley. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was strong in the Nationwide Race and said that his Cup car is very similar; could we see Earnhardt get winners points this week?

Will the double and triple duty drivers' efforts to get Bristol Motor Speedway figured out pay off? Will Kyle take the Bristol Sweep? Will Jimmie be able to repeat? NASCAR Nation will find out by the end of the night. ABC coverage of the Irwin Tools Night Race starts at 7:30 p.m. From Thunder Valley.
Photo Credits
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Photo 5: Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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2011 NASCAR Schedule: Reactions

With the release of the 2011 NASCAR Schedule on Wednesday August 18th there has been much discussion over if the new schedule is better or worse than the last ten years has been. I think it depends on whose point of view one is looking from on whether the 2011 schedule is an improvement over 2010 or just something new.

Two weeks before the official release of the schedule NASCAR dropped the major changes on the fans in bits and pieces. Atlanta lost the spring race, Fontana lost the spring race, Kentucky and Kansas were joining the Cup Schedule, Chicago gained a race and became the first race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Viewpoints from fans were mixed; some were disappointed over the loss of Atlanta whereas many were ecstatic that Kansas was picking up a second Cup race. The reaction from fans and media regarding Kentucky has been mixed, as has the reaction to the loss of the first Fontana date and the realigning of the Texas date.

One person who voiced his opinion about Kentucky Speedway joining the Cup Series during his Thursday night Live Online Chat is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Earnhardt said that he knows there are a lot of NASCAR fans in that part of the country. He also said that he went to Kentucky Speedway before the official announcement was made to do some unofficial testing and the track was a lot of fun to run.

In regard to Texas getting a night race, NASCAR fan Michelle says “I love it! Texas is my home track and we get a night race!!” Another fan gives the opinion that he is concerned regarding the temperatures during a November night race in Fort Worth. A valid concern, it seems, since the average high on November 6 at Texas Motor Speedway is 70 degrees and the average low is 44 degrees. This means that by the end of the race, temperatures could be hovering in the mid-fifties. On the upside, Texas Motor Speedway can expect sales of sweatshirts and jackets to improve.

Chicago appears to be another source of disagreement among fans. One fan from Michigan says she is glad that Chicago made the Chase. Jim, a NASCAR fan from northern Indiana says that he thinks NASCAR will have difficulty to get the desired level of media coverage in Chicago for the September 18, 2011 Cup race if the NFL's Chicago Bears are also playing that day.

On the corresponding date during this 2010 NFL season Chicago plays at Dallas. If the 2011 NFL Schedule doesn't change it looks like the first September race at Chicago will be taking place the same day as a home Chicago Bears game. Having a NASCAR race in Chicago on the same day as a NFL football games seems risky, at best. Lodging will be hard to come by, traffic could be horrendous, and getting media coverage for the event may be tough.

Local attendance to the NASCAR race when there is a home Chicago Bears game the same day is going to be tough to get. Chicago residents tend to be very supportive of their NFL team. The Chicago Bears, on average drew 62,650 fans to each home game. For the record, that is almost a sold out crowd at every home game. Chicagoland holds 75,000...whether Chicago is NASCAR's second largest market or not, NASCAR organizational leaders may soon remember why Chicago has not had a fall race.

One definite positive was mentioned by Steve O'Donnell of NASCAR during an on-camera interview. O'Donnell said that the three opening races of the season are all unique. Opening the season with Daytona, Phoenix, and Las Vegas take drivers from a 2.5 mile Super Speedway to the short-track racing style on the one mile tri-oval at Phoenix followed by a fast 1.5 mile D-oval at Las Vegas. I agree that the opening three races in 2011 are going to be fun to watch.

One thing that Tiffany, a NASCAR fan from Michigan was disappointed with is that there is no road course in the Chase to the Sprint Cup. Several others have echoed that sentiment and wish for the addition of a road course to the last ten races of the season. I am not a big fan of road courses but understand that it would be good for the Chase to have at least one example of every type of course included in the circuit. Having a Super Speedway, a Mid-Length Track, a Short Track, and a Road Course would result in a Champion at the end of the season who is good on each variety of track.

One much talked about item during the final wait for the 2011 NASCAR Schedule release was whether the final race of the season would remain at Homestead. There was much speculation that the finale would move to Las Vegas to make it easier for teams, media, and fans to attend the Awards Banquet following the last race of the season.

When the schedule came out on Wednesday Homestead was indeed still the season finale. While I cannot imagine the season finale not being at Homestead, other fans do not agree. Don from Missouri says he would like a “bigger” venue for the final race of the Chase; He suggests Daytona or Las Vegas. As long as Homestead is owned by ISC and Las Vegas is owned by SMI, the general consensus is that there is no way Las Vegas will get the season finale. ISC has 19 of 36 races in the 2010 season. ISC is unlikely to part with the final race of the season.
Photo Credits
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Noteworthy in NASCAR

Jack Roush

Last Friday Jack Roush returned to the track at Michigan. Jack was, as we all know, involved in a plane crash when landing at an air show in Wisconsin on July 27th. Jack went from a local hospital to the Mayo Clinic where it was only said that he was being treated for "facial injuries".

Jack did an interview on Friday shortly after arriving at the track and wearing large dark sunglasses said that he is in a back brace due to a compression fracture in his back, suffered a broken left jaw, has packing still in his nose, and lost his left eye as a result of the accident.

Jack arrived on race day as well; there were many pats on the back and “Glad you're back” comments from many teams, fans, and media as Jack made his way through the Pits. It was business as usual for Jack though as he found himself his usual spot on top of a Pit Box.

Jack's return to the top of the Pit Box seemed to be a boost for his Roush Fenway drivers on Sunday; Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth finished third, fourth, and fifth respectively.

Moving on Up

Carl Edwards has put on quite a show over the last seven races with finishes of 6th, 2th, 7th, 3th, 5th, 3th, and 8th respectively. This is quite the improvement over his five finishes prior to the June race at Louden. Those five races found him finishing in 16th, 12th, 12th, 29th, and 25th.

The last seven races Carl's average finish has been 4.85. The five races before that show a 18.8 finish. Edwards is definitely a man on the move. He sits in 5th place in the Points; Carl gained three spots with his 6th place finish in the Carfax 400.

If Carl can continue to run like this every week for the rest of the season it may come down to Edwards giving Harvick and Johnson a run for their money in the Chase to the Championship.

Chase Game Over?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. lost another spot in the Cup Series Points Standings on Sunday. His 19th place finish caused him to fall back into the 17th spot in the standings. Going into Michigan Dale was just 12 points in front of Kasey Kahne in the Points.

Kahne finished the Carfax 400 five spots in front of Dale and gained 19 points – more than he needed to claim the 16th place in the Points. Over the last three races Kahne has been able to gain 44 points on Earnhardt. Dale is simply being out-performed.

Opinions on why Earnhardt is falling out of any chance to get into the Chase range widely. I have seen opinions that the team isn't working well together, Dale doesn't fit in well at Hendrick Motorsports, and that Earnhardt has lost confidence either in himself or in his team. Another possibility is that Dale is spending too much time with his JR Motorsports racing team and not enough time at the Hendrick shops.

Dale is 129 points out of the Bubble spot in the Race for the Chase with just three races before the cutoff. No one has been able to make up 129 points in the last three races before the Chase to the Sprint Cup in more than 10 years. Bill Elliot came closest in 2001 – he made up 112 points in those three races and went from 15th to 13th place.

While it is not numerically impossible for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to make the Chase the chances that Dale will break into the top twelve in the next three races are extremely small.

Photo Credits
Photo 1: Getty Images/Todd Warshaw
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Photo 3: Getty Images/Calos Osorio

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Irwin Tools Night Race: By the Numbers...and Beyond

Bristol. Thunder Valley. Short-track racing at it's best in many NASCAR fans' minds. I know it's my favorite. Bristol had long since been on my bucket list; I finally made it to the Spring race this year. I loved being able to see action on the track from my seats no matter which turn or side of the track. Which driver will come out of Saturday night with the fondest memories that include a win at Thunder Valley?

Jimmie Johnson won in the Spring and has had both successes and struggles at Bristol. 2009 was a good year for Johnson, who finished eighth in the August race and third in the Spring. Prior to 2009 Jimmie had struggled at Bristol with finishes of 33rd and 18th in 2008 and 21st and 16th in 2007. Maybe Johnson got this half mile track figured out and can end up on top on Saturday night. He should at least secure a solid top ten finish. Johnson has brought in four top five finishes and nine top tens at Bristol.

Kurt Busch is a driver who has seen many a good time at Bristol. The spring race got Kurt 10 bonus points for leading the most laps when he finished third. Out of Kurt Busch's seven short track Cup Series wins five have come at Bristol Motor Speedway. Kurt has also finished in the top ten 11 times at Thunder Valley. Coming off a DNF at Michigan for engine failure, he needs to finish strong to improve his now 10th place standings in the points. Chances are Kurt will be near the front again as the laps wind down under the lights this weekend.

How about Kyle Busch? Last week at Michigan Kyle scraped the wall late in the race and finished 18th in the number 18 car after starting 18th....interesting. He swept Bristol Cup Series Racing in 2009 and finished in ninth position in the Spring of this season. Kyle Busch also won the first race at Bristol in the Car of Tomorrow, in 2007. Kyle sits in the eighth position in Cup Points and needs to perform well this weekend to further secure his spot in the Chase. His brother Kurt proved last week how easy it is to lose six spots in the standings in just one race.

Carl Edwards is another driver I will be watching this weekend to perform strongly. After racing through the field to finish third in last weekend's Carfax 400 at Michigan, Carl said he is happy where they stand in Series Points. The third place finish moved Edwards up three spots in the standings, 266 in front of 13th. Edwards has won two of the last three Fall races at Thunder Valley and finished 6th in this year's Spring race. Carl has two previous wins and five top tens at Bristol in Cup Series Racing; can he win again on Saturday night?

Tony Stewart is up for discussion next; Tony is coming back to Bristol after finishing in the runner-up position in the Food City 500 in March. Tony is hanging tough in 4th spot in the standings, and coming off of a 6th place finish last week at Michigan is ready to further solidify his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. 300 points ahead of 13th place in the standings, Stewart can go for broke in Thunder Valley and race for the win. He might just get it at the end of the night.

Jeff Gordon can claim five wins at Bristol Motor Speedway, and an additional 15 top tens. Jeff finished a disappointing 14th in the Spring race and is coming off of a 27th place finish at Michigan. Gordon is second in the points standings right now and has enough of a cushion that you can bet he will be coming in looking to break his winless streak and share season spilt honors at Bristol with teammate Jimmie Johnson.

Neither Clint Bowyer nor Mark Martin did well at Bristol in the Spring but have everything riding on the Irwin Tools Night Race. Mark finished 35th to Clint's 40th in March and is sitting 45 points behind Bowyer in the 13th spot in the Series Points Standings. Clint has better momentum coming into this race however; Mark finished 28th last week to Bowyer's 13th place run.

Bowyer has never won at Thunder Valley and has just one short track win. Mark has two previous wins at Bristol and 23 top tens; his average finish shows to be 12.7. With 13 top ten finishes at short tracks in Bowyer's Cup Career there is a good chance that desire to stay in the top twelve will help Clint gain another top ten to add to his stats. Martin needs to have a top ten finish to stay within reach of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. With just three races to go it's do-or-die time for the number five driver.

Denny Hamlin was a big mover last week, gaining three positions in the Race to the Chase. He now resides in the third spot in the Points and has no desire to give up that position. With five top tens at Bristol and an overall average finish of 9.2 on short-track racing it may be time for Denny to get his first win in Thunder Valley. Coming off of a second place finish at Michigan he may have been close enough to victory last week to want it the most on Saturday night.

Kevin Harvick cannot be forgotten as we go into Bristol. The Points leader by 293 points, Harvick has guaranteed himself a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He has won at Bristol before and coming off of a win at Michigan, anything is possible. An average finish at Bristol of 12.2, and an average of 14.1 on short-track racing shows that it won't be a cake walk for Harvick to come in and post a top ten under the light this weekend but I fully expect to see Kevin in the top five by night's end.

Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick. Top three prediction is Denny Hamlin with the win followed by Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson. Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards will round out the top five. I also expect Greg Biffle to be just outside the top ten, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to continue his late season fade, and will predict a wreck involving Juan Pablo Montoya late in the race. Maybe we will see Ryan Newman and Joey Logano continue what was started at Michigan? Short-track racing does tend to bring out the tempers.

Don't miss the always great racing from Thunder Valley this weekend. NASCAR fans can watch practice on SPEED at Noon and 2:30 p.m. EST on Friday, Qualifications on ESPN Friday at 5:30 p.m. EST, and the Saturday Night Bristol Motor Speedway Irwin Tools Night Race on ABC Saturday at 7:00 p.m.

Photo Credits
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Monday, August 16, 2010

Joey Logano, the Peacemaker?

Joey Logano was dubbed “sliced bread” by Randy LaJoie and came onto the NASCAR Cup Series scene in 2008. Since his Cup debut he has had one pole, one win and 13 top ten finishes...and has been a party in no less than three feuds with veteran drivers.

During the fall of 2009 Greg Biffle and Logano had a few run-ins that left Biffle wondering at the lack of respect that Logano showed to veteran drivers. Logano had gotten into Biffle during a Nationwide race at Kansas; Biffle said Logano had driven him up into the wall, smashed in Biffle's fender, and knocked Biffle on the car to his inside. The following week at Auto Club Speedway Biffle transmitted to Logano before the race that he “better be ready to race hard”. Greg ultimately said that maybe he should not have squeezed Logano quite as much on the backstretch and given “the kid” more room to race. The battle continued when Joey's father, Tom Logano gave Biffle a one-fingered salute after the race. The senior Logano's hard card was pulled after that incident for his display of a lack of respect for others.

Kevin Harvick caught Logano this year at Pocono in June and as Joey saw it “The 29 let me go down the straightaway then dumped me in the next corner.” The incident escalated after the race when Joey, after finishing 13th, drove up to the 29 car of Harvick in the post-race inspection line. Joey's father, Tom Logano could be seen urging his son to stand up for himself and was seen on camera shoving a member of Harvick's Richard Childress Racing Team. In post-race interviews, Joey went on to take the issue to a personal level by suggesting Kevin's wife DeLana “wears the fire suit in the family.” DeLana Harvick had t-shirts made up within 12 hours of the fire suit comment and has turned a nice profit from the incident.

During the Michigan Speedway Carfax 400 Logano and Ryan Newman were racing for position when Logano got loose and into Newman's back left corner. Newman spun and in a cloud of tire smoke managed to save the car. Newman saw the incident as intentional; video showed it was more likely that Logano simply got loose while racing for position and Logano agreed. After the race, Newman and Logano were seen having a discussion regarding the incident. Newman seemed to be the agressor whereas Logano seemed to be trying to make peace. The two were separated after Newman shoved Logano's chest and NASCAR Officials stepped in. In post-incident interviews Joey said that with 70 laps to go he felt Newman was racing him too hard. He went on to say “I tried to talk to him but didn't get anywhere...I guess he needs to calm down first.”

The difference between this incident and the previous incidents seems to be the absence of Tom Logano. The first two issues with Biffle and Harvick, Joey had his father was by his side. Tom Logano basically urges his son to fight or the elder Logano makes other gestures and remarks to escalate the event. Without his father at his side at Michigan Speedway Joey seemed to have an attitude that conveyed “let's just talk about it.” Without Tom Logano track side it seems that Joey has a lot more tolerance for drivers who are angry with him and more likely to try to find a peaceable solution to disagreements. Joey Logano is not a teenager racing on dirt tracks anymore; Tom Logano needs to realize that Joey is fine – better off even – at the track without parental supervision.
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Photo 2: Associated Press

Battle for the Bubble: Bowyer Vs. Martin

Going into Michigan Speedway's Carfax 400 Mark Martin held a 10 point lead over Clint Bowyer for the coveted 12th spot in the Series Points Race. Bowyer began the race in the third spot after a solid qualifying run on Friday while Martin earned the 12th starting position. The number 5 Hendrick Chevrolet found itself scraping the wall while racing for position early and Mark fell back rapidly through the pack

Kurt Busch's Blue Deuce blew up early and caused the first caution to come out on lap 31. Almost everyone headed to the pits for fuel, tires, and adjustments. Martin came into the pits showing in 34st position. Bowyer had stayed near the front of the field through the beginning of the race but lost two position in the pits and restarted in seventh place on lap 39 while Mark restarted in 33rd position.

After 50 laps in the Carfax 400 Mark had improved little and was watching his Chase hopes slide backwards. Clint was running in seventh place to Mark's 31st. At 59 laps complete a second caution came out for sprinkles at Michigan Speedway. Lap 60 saw the lead lap cars again coming into the pits. Mark offered the complaint that the car was “tight, tight, tight” and took an air pressure adjustment, added wedge, and took out rubber along with four fresh tires and fuel. Bowyer had no complaints regarding his car and took a full tank of fuel and four fresh tires. Bowyer came out of the second pit stop showing still in 7th place. Martin found himself back in the pits two more times for repairs to the front end of the car stemming from his earlier scrape with the wall before the green flag dropped and Mark restarted 34th on lap 67.

Things remained much the same through lap 150 between the pair fighting for the bubble spot. Pit stops began again for lead lap cars on lap 149. Martin and Bowyer both made slight adjustments, took four tires, and filled up with fuel. The pair came back out for green flag racing on lap 152 in familiar territory with Bowyer in 6th and Martin in 30th. Bowyer's car started tightening up on him and he began to slide backwards through the pack. By race end Martin had gained one place to finish 29th and Bowyer found himself in the 13th finishing spot.

Post-race Clint Bowyer holds a 35 point lead over Mark Martin for the 12th spot in the Chase for the Championship. 158 points separates Bowyer from 11th place Greg Biffle. The 12th spot battle will likely remain between Bowyer and Martin, with the possibility of Ryan Newman or Jamie McMurray gaining ground from another 68 and 70 points back, respectively.

Bowyer has been the stronger performer between he and Martin for most of the season. Clint Bowyer has an average finish in 2010 of 15.82 after the Carfax 400 whereas Mark Martin posts an average finish of 16.22. Going into Bristol next weekend Martin may have the edge; Mark's average finish at Bristol is a 12.93 while Clint's average finish is over five spots behind at an 18.00. Will the duo switch again after Bristol to find Mark Martin back in the Bubble spot or will Clint hold him off and finish ahead of Mark at Thunder Valley? One thing is for sure, with only three races left before the beginning of the Chase to the Championship neither Mark Martin or Clint Bowyer will give up easily.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

In the Rearview Mirror: The Last 7 Days of NASCAR

More scheduling announcements for 2011, driver moves and contract signings, Jeff Gordon and wife have a baby, and Jack returns. As always, it's been an interesting week in the world of NASCAR. Let's take a few minutes to revisit the week and get caught up on all the NASCAR news.

Chicagoland announced on Monday that it would be hosting the opening race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase to the Championship. Chicago is a fast track and will be the only new venue during the 2011 Chase. The Chicago race, historically held in July will open the Chase on September 18, 2011. This move by NASCAR regarding Chicagoland vacates the July date for Kentucky Speedway's foray into Cup Racing next year. The 400-mile night race on July 9, 2011 will be the second part of a double header weekend in Sparta, Kentucky after Nationwide racing on Friday night. In preparation of it's NASCAR Cup Series debut SMI's Bruton Smith has promised to expand seating in the Speedway from it's current 66,000 to 116,000. Looks like it will be a very busy off-season at Kentucky Speedway for construction.

Phoenix International Speedway announced on Thursday that it will again be host to two Cup Series events in 2011. The spring race at PIR will now be held in late February as the second race of the season. High daily temperatures in the area that time of the year hang around 70; this will be a boon to late winter local tourism and is a schedule change that makes sense due to weather limitations at other tracks. This February 27 racing date will have a Sunday afternoon 1 pm start. In addition to the February date, Phoenix also has their regular next-to-last season date in November. Moving Phoenix up in the schedule came at the expense of Fontana. Auto Club Speedway will be hosting just one race in 2011, held the last weekend in March. Fontana has never been one of my favorite tracks so I, for one am not unhappy about this particular schedule change. 

Other later season changes include Martinsville races being pushed back a week. This gives Martinsville the Halloween weekend. Talladega has the Halloween weekend in 2010. Talladega has their spring Cup date listed as April 17, 2011 but no final release has been made on when a fall race will run at Talladega. I am assuming this will be a simple swap between Martinsville and 'Dega meaning the AMP Energy 500 would the afternoon of October 23, 2011. With Chicago taking the first race in the Cup Chase Louden New Hampshire moves a week earlier to the September 25, 2001 date. Louden's June race will be moving to July 17.

The new schedule will improve many aspects of the 2011 season. Schedule changes have brought a new track for the first time since 2003 when Kansas and Chicagoland were added. Adding dates in the middle part of the country will enable more race fans to travel to venues outside of their home states. Changes also will make it easier on teams, media, and fans to travel without having to travel cross-country each week. Grouping some dates in the same part of the country like Phoenix and Las Vegas or Martinsville and Talladega will cut down on gas prices for teams regarding the car haulers. As teams struggle with finances in this economically trying time any improvement from the zig-zag travel patterns will be welcome.

In driver news, Richard Childress racing announced that they will be adding a fourth car to the stable in 2011. RCR tried this in 2009 and it didn't work out so well. After the 2009 season the owner's points and rights for the 07 car were sold to Front Row Motorsports. RCR driver Jeff Burton said this week that "We learned by having 4 teams (in 2009) how not to do it. We did it wrong (in 2009)." RCR has signed driver Paul Menard to drive the fourth car in 2011. Menard has had a average year, currently 23rd in the Points standings in his fourth full year of Cup Series driving and sixth place in his eighth year in the Nationwide Series. RCR said that Menard will be a good fit with the other RCR drivers and that this move is seen as a way to advance both Menard and RCR racing in the Series.

In the much discussed matter of where Kahne and Martin will be for the 2011 season we finally got some answers this week. Kasey Kahne will be driving for Red Bull in 2011. This gives Kasey four manufacturers in four years; Kahne drove a Dodge in 2009, he's in a Ford this year. Next year Kasey will be behind the wheel of a Toyota and then settle into a Chevrolet with Hendrick Motorsports in 2012. Kahne being with Red Bull Racing on a one year contract allows Mark Martin to finish out his Hendrick contract in the number five car for 2011. Brian Vickers' return is still uncertain, he won't know until November if he can get back behind the wheel of a race car in the near future. Scott Speed, currently 27th in Series Points Standings, is not performing as well as Red Bull Racing would like. Due to this uncertainty between the current Red Bull drivers the Red Bull Racing Team is waiting until later in the year before announcing the final 2011 driver lineup.

In another driver change, Kevin Conway has been replaced by Tony Raines in the number 34 Front Row Motorsports entry effective immediately. ExtenZe is quoted as saying they are "100% committed to Kevin Conway" and has removed sponsorship from the car. Tony Raines and the 34 car will be racing without a sponsor this weekend. Conway has been the recipient of the Rookie of the Race Award in all 21 of his Cup Series starts for 2010. This alone makes me wonder what friction between Conway, ExtenZe, and FRM exists to cause this driver change. Conway and ExtenZe are evaluating options for the remainder of the 2010 season.

Jeff Gordon and wife, Ingrid, welcomed their second child on Monday. Baby boy Leo Benjamin joins Jeff and Ingrid's three year-old daughter, Ella Sophia. NASCAR drivers have been quite proliferate this year; Gordon joins Jimmie Johnson, Elliot Sadler, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Carl Edwards on the new dad list. Ryan Newman announced earlier this summer that his wife Krissie is also expecting.

In my opinion, the best news of the week came on Friday when Jack Roush returned to the track at Michigan. Jack was, as we all know, involved in a plane crash when landing at an air show in Wisconsin on July 27th. Jack went from a local hospital to the Mayo Clinic where it was only said that he was being treated for "facial injuries". The seriousness of Jack's injuries came out yesterday when Jack revealed that he was in a back brace due to a fracture in his back, suffered a broken left jaw, had packing still in his nose, and lost his left eye as a result of the accident. Jack is optimistic about his future with one eye, saying that he expects to fly again once his recovery is complete. He also stated that his corrected vision had been 20/15 before the crash and since his right eye is dominant he feels he will still see better than he should. Jack wore large, dark sunglasses at Michigan Speedway but it can be seen that both eyes are blackened and the left is still swollen shut. One thing we can be sure of is that Jack's return to the track gives us all a reason to be thankful. Welcome back, Jack - we missed you!

Qualifying on Friday afternoon showed that maybe Red Bull DOES give you wings - After announcing the 2011 Red Bull deal, Kasey Kahne brought home the pole for the Michigan Carfax 400 on Sunday. Kahne won the pole by just 2 hundredths of a second over second place starter Jimmie Johnson. Clint Bowyer, who had been posting respectable but not great practice times found speed in Qualifications and will start third on Sunday. Tony Stewart will start fourth and Juan Pablo Montoya fifth. Greg Biffle, who had the fastest practice speeds earlier in the day will start sixth. Staring seventh will be Matt Kenseth followed by Kevin Harvick in the eighth starting position. Rounding out the top ten for Sunday's grid are Martin Truex, Jr. and Paul Menard. The top ten starters are separated by less than three tenths of a second in their qualification lap times.

Sunday's Michigan Carfax 400 will be televised on ESPN, starting at 1 pm EST. MRN Radio will also broadcast beginning at Noon EST. Jeff Burton was on top of the leaderboard for practice number one Friday. Saturday's first practice found Greg Biffle on top with the fastest car on the two mile tri-oval. Final practice shows Jimmie Johnson fastest, followed by David Ragan, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, and Greg Biffle finishing out the top five. Who can bring the speed tomorrow in the 200 lap race? Tune in to see who wins, who wrecks, and what feuds may be revisited or born.

Photo Credits
Photo 1: Getty/Nascar Images
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Michigan Carfax 400: By the Numbers...and Beyond

On this, the second weekend of August we head to Michigan for the Carfax 400 for 200 laps around the two mile D-shaped oval. Michigan Speedway is located just to the south of Brooklyn, Michigan and is about an hour and a half from Detroit. Practice will be televised on SPEED Friday at Noon and Saturday at both 9:00am and Noon. Qualifications are on SPEED Friday at 3:30pm and the race will air on ESPN at 1:00pm. MRN will begin radio race day broadcasts on Sunday at Noon (All times Eastern). The current race day forecast is intermittent clouds and a high of 79 degrees.

Mark Martin won the June 2009 race and has the most wins of any active driver in the August race with three, but hasn't seen a win at Michigan in August since 1997. With the news now out that Mark will remain in the number five Hendricks car in 2011 he can focus on driving this weekend and should be near the front of the field when the checkers fly. This is a big race for Martin in the Chase to the Championship as he sits in the precarious 12th spot after last week's 19th place finish.

Ryan Newman hasn't seen a lot of success this season but does hold the Sprint Cup Qualifying Record with a speed of 194.232. Newman had a 15th place finish last year in this race and a disappointing 32nd place finish in the June race at Michigan. His 12th place finish last week at Watkins Glen says the team is doing something right, however, and I think we will see Ryan finish well on Sunday. If Ryan wants a chance at the Championship he will have to finish strong. With just four more races to go until the final twelve are locked in, Ryan is in 14th place, 84 points out of the twelfth spot.

Denny Hamlin won the June race here, has had a mostly strong season and sits in sixth place in the current Points standings. His 37th place finish last week after being involved in the big pile-up at Watkins Glen lost him three spots in Chase points so I'm sure we will see Denny aggressively moving to the front of the field throughout Sunday's Carfax 400. Speaking of the Chase, points leader Kevin Harvick keeps bringing solid performances on the way to the Championship. Kevin finished 11th last week at the Glen and brought home just a 19th place finish at the June race at Michigan. Harvick will be coming into Sunday's race wanting to show he can do better on this track. Kevin is definitely a top-five contender this weekend.

Second place in the Chase, 185 points back is Jeff Gordon. Jeff has a win from 1998 under his belt for this race, is coming off a tenth place finish at the Glen last week, and placed fourth in the June race at Michigan as well. Jeff wants to close that gap as the end of the Chase grows near. He'll want to lead on Sunday, and he'll want to lead the most laps. Most importantly, he will be looking to lead the last lap and end his now 52 race winless streak. Speaking of former winners at Michigan, Carl Edwards won this race in 2008. Carl finished 12th here in June, and fifth last week. Still under probation, Carl will need to keep his temper in check as he fights through traffic to get to the front of the pack. Carl is currently ninth in the points and gained a spot after last week's Pocono race.

Greg Biffle will be another driver to keep an eye on this weekend. Greg won this race in 2004, had a big win two weeks ago, and finished ninth in the newly renamed Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan in June. Biffle sits in 11th place in current points, with Mark Martin breathing down his neck. To be more secure in the Chase to the Championship, Greg will need to find himself in the top ten at the end of the day at Michigan Speedway. Clint Bowyer is only ten points out of that 12th spot in the Points Standings. Clint had several strong finishes but has lacked some element in the past two races that his team is trying their best to rediscover. He held the twelfth spot in Points after the Brickyard 400 but since then has had a 15th place finish at Pocono and 32nd at the Glen last week. Clint wants to be a contender for the Championship but knows he has to come out strong this week to get back into the top twelve.

Tony Stewart is eighth in the Chase and should bring home a solid finish at this two mile track. Tony finished fifth here in June and is coming off a seventh place finish at Watkins Glen last Sunday. Tony has had a solid season and can prove his racing talent on any length or shape of track. I expect to not only see Smoke finish strong on Sunday but to also be a contender for the pole on Friday afternoon. Jimmie Johnson has no wins at the Michigan Speedway, but posted a sixth place finish in June. Another track that Jimmie hasn't won at is dangerous for the rest of the field a we know that Johnson wants to add a Michigan Speedway win to his resume. Jimmie resides in fifth place in the current Points Standings and provided that the rest of his season doesn't implode should be able to go out Sunday and do his job with little pressure. A solid top ten will keep his Championship dreams alive.

My top ten picks for the week are Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, and Jimmie Johnson. Since Ford has the most wins at this race with 16, leading Chevy by 9 wins, I'm going with Carl Edwards for the win and will call for Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin to complete the top three. Dale Earnhardt,Jr. will effectively be out of the points race after this week with another mid-20's finish and I'm going out a limb to say that a multi-car wreck will occur just past halfway involving Matt Kenseth and Juan Pablo Montoya. Don't forget to keep an eye on SPEED on Friday and Saturday for practice and tune into ESPN on Sunday at 1:00pm for the Carfax 400 from Michigan Speedway.

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