NASCAR Chase Race 7 at Martinsville

Published October 26, 2014 in Sprint Cup Articles - 0 Comments
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Rusty Norman

Martinsville… Challenging is probably an understatement, especially since it is only a half mile track, narrow and basically flat. Sure… the speeds won’t be over 200 miles per hour but the emotions will run about that high, in particular if the top eight still in the Chase need to move forward or get moved out of the way. For two thirds of the field it is all about winning and for most of the rest well, let’s just say it’s more about staying out of the way while still getting what you can and move on to next week.

Martinsville has always been a track that runs high with emotion. In fact this fan knows the emotions will be much higher than the speeds (as I mentioned above) but because there are three races for the eight remaining Chasers looking to qualify for the final four at Homestead, this Martinsville race means more than any in the past. So far in this year’s Chase it’s been shown that we as fans need to expect the unexpected. The intensity in every race has been at an extreme high and even at places where we didn’t expect to see really high emotions we have seen them.

I have to admit, I have been surprised at how much more interesting the end to this season has been compared to past years with this new Chase format. It has completely changed how the Chase is approached by the teams and how it is viewed and considered by the fans. By now in previous years, we pretty much knew which of the drivers would be the real contenders when it came down to the final race in Homestead. This being Chase race #7 (once again in past years) would mean the matchup for the finale would already have a few drivers that had accumulated more points than the others and the Championship would be out of reach for others.

This year it is different. This year momentum has shifted from those that had it for most of the season to the teams that possibly weren’t even expected to make as far as they have. Take for example the Joe Gibbs teams compared to the Hendrick teams. While we’re at it, we might as well include Joey Logano compared to Jimmie Johnson. To this fan, those are probably the two biggest surprises and, at this point, I have already had to adjust my personal predictions of the drivers I thought would be in the finale at Homestead.

Before it all began, I had picked Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson to be shooting it out the Championship round in Homestead. Joey Logano wasn’t even on my radar and I really did expect Jimmie Johnson to grow stronger as the Chase progressed. Instead, Joey Logano has performed the best so far and Jimmie Johnson has had a relatively lack luster Chase and has been eliminated from contending for the Championship. Brad Keselowski has had and up and down time throughout the two previous segments and pulled a win out of the hat last weekend to make it into this elimination round of the Chase. I’m not even sure Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon will end up in the top four when it comes down to the Championship round and they were two of my strongest choices early on in the Chase.

The dark horses, at least from my view, are Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. Something has happened at the Joe Gibbs camp and their Toyotas are faster than they have been all year. That’s a fact that I am sure has the others at least concerned. Of course you and I both know that Carl Edwards drives a Roush Ford and hasn’t had what could be called stellar performances this year but he did win two races. I guess I should mention here that he will be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing next season.

This fan thinks this race at Martinsville will be a typical Martinsville race. As I mentioned earlier, emotions will likely run high, especially if some of the eight remaining Chasers run into situations with their fellow competitors that costs them points or a win. The problem with this round of three races is that four of the eight will be eliminated and the best way to guarantee a spot in the Homestead four is to win. That puts extra pressure on the eight in this round to win and that could mean quite a bit more drama and, of course, the big “I” for intensity. It does seem, at least to this fan, that this could actually be one of the most interesting Martinsville races ever. Everyone already knows there is a lot riding on this one and, if someone other than a Chaser wins it, look out for next week. It could be even more interesting than this one…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© October25, 2014 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

In This Fan’s Opinion, It’s All About Racing Luck

Published October 22, 2014 in Sprint Cup Articles - 0 Comments
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Rusty Norman

Well, when it comes right down to it, this fan thinks that some people have missed the point so far this season and in this Chase. When it comes to the Penske teams compared to the other teams that are in the Chase, it appears that their luck has been just a bit better than all the rest. I’ve heard many people and commentators talk about how well Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have performed so far and I can’t deny that they have done well but, I also have to say that there’s been quite a bit of racing luck that has gone their way, too. In fact, in this fan’s opinion, it’s been more about racing luck rather than just the strength of the teams.

Let’s compare a few things…

In one of the first races in this Chase Joey Logano had an engine blowup coming to the checkered flag and still finished fourth rather than further back. It could have happened sooner and completely changed where he is in this Chase.

Last week, Brad Keselowski was involved in an accident at Talladega and yet it didn’t affect the outcome of his performance that much simply because (in this fan’s opinion) he had a bit of good luck along with the hard work of his team. In that same race at Talladega, Joey Logano was also involved in spinning through the infield but because of “racing luck” his front splitter wasn’t ripped off as it has been for others this year when he went plowing nose-first through the grass. Some might say (and myself included) that was a bit of racing luck too. (I mean, what else could we attribute it to.)

On the other hand, let’s look at Kyle Bush and what happened to him at Talladega. He came into Talladega in the best points position of the non-winners in the contender round and really expected to be able to just have a decent finish and still move on to the elimination round. Unfortunately, he was slowing down to avoid an accident and gets hit from behind and because those racing luck “gods” as some call them, he ends up against the inside wall after hitting it hard and ends up done for the 2014 Chase no matter how hard they tried to fix his severely damaged car and quickly get it back on the track.

Dale Earnhardt Junior had a chance to win the race – if things went right for him – even though he was not performing as well at the end of the race as he was earlier in it. He got caught up in an incident with Greg Biffle, slammed into the wall and, because of not being able to win or finish up front, he is also done for the 2014 Chase.

Now, Jimmie Johnson had a relatively good race going at Talladega but hadn’t always benefited from “good racing luck” in races leading up to Talladega. Because of all that bad luck, (and just generally not performing like everyone expected), he was eliminated from continuing any further in the Chase, mostly because of the circumstances at the end of the race that kept him from winning even though he led the most laps for the day. (In this fan’s opinion, if that’s not bad racing luck, I really don’t know what is.)

So, what am I trying to say here? Well, I’ve heard a lot of people say how well the Penske teams have performed and I do have to agree but, I also have to say that the ugly beast called “racing luck” I’ve been talking about could turn on them at any time. It may be at a very unfortunate time, in particular during the elimination round, or worse yet, when and if they make it into the top four and the beast turns on them at Homestead. (Heaven forbid if they just happen to be leading the race with only a few laps to go and the ugly beast attacks, completely ruining their day.)

Just like the beast attacked Kyle Busch at Talladega, any one of the eight in the elimination round could see the beast of racing luck turn against them and eliminate them from the final four. It is also possible that it could affect anyone of them after they get into the final four in that final race at Homestead in the middle of November going for the 2014 Sprint Cup Championship.

We’ve all heard it said, “when it’s your year, it’s your year,” but from this fan’s view, this year in particular it seems as though the Penske teams have benefited much more from good racing luck than they have from bad racing luck. Now I’m not saying that they haven’t tasted the wrath of that beast called “racing luck” but I am saying that they have fared far better than many of the others have so far throughout these first 30 races in 2014.

Will it make any difference as we progress through this elimination round into the final four? Well, from this fan’s view that beast can raise its ugly head at any time against anyone and all of them are just hoping that it’s not them. Well, at least not them being in the right place at the wrong time when the beast attacks…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© October 22, 2014 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

It’s NASCAR Chase Race #6 at Talladega

Published October 18, 2014 in Sprint Cup Articles - 0 Comments
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Rusty Norman

Ok… picture this… just a nice, relaxing and pleasant drive on a Sunday afternoon in the fall in Alabama. Ok… now picture this… all of the above at around 200 mph. That’s what Chase Race #6 will be like Sunday afternoon, right… ???

NOT!!!

Well, at least for all but two of the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers it won’t be like that at all. This will probably be the least stressful race at Talladega Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick have ever had. The reason is they could finish in the 43rd and 42nd positions and it won’t affect their standings and advancement into the next segment of the 2014 Chase at all since they both have wins and advance automatically into the Elimination round. For the other ten still looking to make it in to the next segment of eight with only six open slots… well… let’s just say this race at Talladega “ain’t gonna be no relaxing and pleasant drive” on a this Sunday afternoon…

For ten of the drivers still contending for a spot in the Chase to continue a bid for the 2014 Cup Championship, this will be the most intense and dramatic race they have probably ever faced. You can hear it in their interviews and you can see it in their faces and on the faces of their crew chiefs and crews. This one is for all of the available marbles and, for four of them, there won’t be a next week as far as the Chase for the Championship is concerned.

I think, as a fan, I did kind of underestimate just how intensely dramatic and exciting this Chase was going to be this year. I didn’t really think about it that much during the first twenty-six races other than the fact is was going to be different – completely different. This Chase has completely changed the scenarios each week for the ones that will advance to the next segment and this could be a year when someone that only had a marginal year up to the Chase could win it all simply because they had a stellar performance in the last ten races of the season. (Well, at least compared to the ones they’ve out-performed in those weeks, anyway.)

So far, of the top five performers for this season, one of them is on the verge of not making the cut to the Elimination round and that would be Brad Keselowski. He absolutely has to finish at the front on Sunday afternoon or he is done. Of course we all know he can win at Talladega because he has before but he cannot afford to have any “situations” take him out of contention for this one or he will have to wait at least until next year to make his next try for his second Cup Championship.

Anyone that has been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the Chase so far knows he’s not alone in what he has to do. Six time Champ, Jimmie Johnson, really needs to win this one or he is likely done for this year, too. His teammate, Dale Jr, has to win to guarantee his passage into the next segment or his stellar year for 2014 won’t go down as his first Cup Championship year. He will be just another also-ran and for his fans (which are many) it will be another disappointing year.

Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne are separated by one point which basically means the difference of one spot. If everything else stays the same as it is right now when the race is over, either one of them could be on the outside looking in. From this fan’s view, neither of them has had what could be called a Championship year and for one, or both, of them to advance to the next segment would be a surprise, at least to this fan. I expect to see Brad Keselowski advance more than I do them but, with the way things have gone so far in this Chase, anything can still happen (like Dale Jr winning again at Talladega and moving back into contention for the Championship.)

This fan finds it interesting that the Joe Gibbs teams seemed to struggle for most of the season and now there is the likelihood of all three of them making it at least to the Elimination segment of the 2014 Chase. Kyle Bush, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth have all been performing much better in the latter part of the season than they did in the middle months especially. It seems the fortunes of the Gibbs and Hendrick teams have swapped, in particular since the Chase has started. At one time, this fan didn’t think any of the Gibbs teams would be left by the Elimination round and it would be the Penske and Hendrick teams along with Kevin Harvick moving on to the next segment in preparation for the finale at Homestead. At this point, it just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen that way. (Oh well, so much for being a NASCAR prophet… but, I don’t think I’m alone in that either.)

Once again this weekend, this race is going to be all about intensity and drama mixed with pulling out all the stops when it comes to strategy. All of the ones that want to advance into round three of the Chase are going to have to finish at or near the front and that will be a challenge. After all… this is Talladega and there is always the possibility of getting caught up in someone else’s problem and being eliminated simply because of being in the right place at the wrong time.

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© October 18, 2014 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

The Chasers Face An Intense Night Race At Charlotte

Published October 11, 2014 in Sprint Cup Articles - 0 Comments
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Rusty Norman

If anyone thought last week’s race at Kansas Speedway was intense and filled with a lot of drama well – (to coin an old phrase) – “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” Tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway will, in this fan’s opinion, be twice as intense and there will be no shortage of drama. The only one that won’t be feeling any extra pressure to perform will be Joey Logano even though this fan thinks he will try as hard as he can to win and keep any of the other Chasers from gaining any ground on him.

As it stands at the time of this writing, there are three of the twelve in the Contender Segment that will absolutely be feeling more heat to finish at or near the front simply because of the problems they had at Kansas last week. Two of them are former Cup Champions, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski and the other one is NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Jr.

One of the most repeated statements this fan has heard in recent weeks from the drivers is, “Well, you can’t win the Chase by winning one race in the first three segments but you sure can lose it by having a bad race.” So far, these three are feeling the effects of one bad race at an inopportune time and in one of the more intense segments of the new Chase format. It is one thing to have a bad race in the first race of a segment but it is quite another to have that bad race in a segment that includes as one of its races, Talladega. That almost makes the chances of having two bad races in one segment an absolute possibility.

Not all that long ago, NASCAR fans were treated to one of the most exciting and dramatic finishes to a Chase for the Championship between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. After the race at Homestead that year, the Championship ended in a tie and Tony Stewart won the Championship with the tie-breaker. As exciting as that year was right down to the wire of the last race of the year, this new format has taken sixteen drivers, pitted them against each other and can eliminate even the year’s strongest contenders in one of three segments leading up to the final at Homestead. Any team having a lack-luster or weak ten race end to their season can completely wipe out twenty six races of dominant performances and quickly eliminate them from winning the Championship. Looking at this year, that has a great possibility happening.

Of those that have had very strong seasons this year, some that were at the top of the list for much of this year are now on the bubble of being eliminated. Of those, the most mentioned name is Jimmie Johnson and it is somewhat of a surprise that the six time Cup champ is in danger of being eliminated from another run for the Championship. Brad Keselowski is another Cup champ that is in the same boat even though he has had strong year with a few ups and downs along the way. As much as many hate to even think about it, Dale Jr isn’t in much better shape to advance to the next segment even though he has had an outstanding year.

Jeff Gordon was the points leader for much of this year and now sits on the bubble of being eliminated if he has a bad finish tonight. Any of these four I just mentioned were on just about everyone’s list of being one of the four in the Championship race at Homestead. At this point, and from this fan’s view, all of these four need to win or finish in the top five tonight if they expect to have any great hope for advancing into the next segment which is correctly named the elimination segment. Of course, any one of them can have a bad night tonight and win at Talladega next weekend and still move on into the next round but, in this fan’s opinion, none of them seriously wants to go into Talladega needing to win to stay in contention.

I find it interesting that the drivers being talked about now are the ones hardly being mentioned as possible contenders for the Championship round at Homestead and I attribute much of that to the new elimination format for the Chase. It has definitely altered my thinking of how this year’s Chase might turn out and which one of the contenders will end up raising the Sprint Cup Championship trophy over their heads at Homestead.

Tonight’s race will be about track position, and keeping up with the track as it changes throughout the night. Considering the speeds they are running again this weekend I don’t rule out the possibility of tire failures altering the outcome of the race any more than last weekend at Kansas. Personally, although I do expect the cream to rise to the top, I just don’t know who might win this one. It could be a non-Chaser or it could be Joey Logano. This could even be the night that Kyle Larson wins his first Cup race or someone totally unexpected like, well… you pick one.

The Cup teams are now entering into the fifth race of the 2014 Chase and, unlike past years, the new format has completely changed the way the Chase for the Cup Championship is approached and can turn out. In years past even the teams that were at the top of the list in points could afford one really bad race, maybe even one or two “not so great” finishes and still come out on top. This year all of that has changed and a bad finish in one or two races in a row can knock out even the year’s strongest contenders. That’s just one reason this fifth Chase race at Charlotte Motor Speedway tonight is going to be absolutely filled with drama, intensity and high emotions… And then… next week is Talladega…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© October 11, 2014 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

It’s About Intensity At Kansas and Chase Race #4

Published October 4, 2014 in Sprint Cup Articles - 0 Comments
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Rusty Norman

No matter how hard you try, you will be hard pressed to find someone that just wants to run around in circles on this Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway. No matter what they say, they want to win. It will certainly be a lot more possible for some than for others but winning is on everyone’s mind for Chase Race #4. That goes double for those just eliminated from the Chase after Dover and probably triple for the remaining 12 still in contention. For the ones just eliminated, well, they have something to prove to the others, themselves and their fans.

Of course we all know winning is important every week no matter where people race but, at Kansas this weekend, a win for one of the twelve in the contender round of the Chase means the pressure is temporarily off – they automatically move on to the next round. Two reasons quickly come to mind about winning at Kansas for them; one would be breathing room for them for the next two weeks and the other would be one word – Talladega.

The format for the Chase for 2014 has been widely accepted as a great move by NASCAR and this fan has to agree. It has done exactly what they wanted it to do and that would be add intensity to the competition on the track every week which makes it appealing to NASCAR fans both old and new. This fan thinks they have done a great job in all aspects in coming up with the “elimination format” and have added much more excitement and drama to the full ten race schedule of the Chase.

It’s almost like every week is as intense as the last week of being able to qualify for the Chase presently held at Richmond. One big difference it has made is that there is no longer an accumulation of points going on for nine weeks and possibly going into Homestead without the one to be crowned as champ having to finish very high in the finishing order at all. That’s not to say that it’s always happened that way but the possibility was always there which would and could have made the final Championship race of the season a rather humdrum experience.

Kevin Harvick won the pole again this weekend and will start from the number one position for the eigth time this season. He and his team have been facing the dreaded monster of Racing Luck and mostly coming out on the short end. Anyone familiar with the beast of racing luck knows that eventually that luck has to turn around but Harvick put it best when he said he just hopes it happens before the end of this season. From this fan’s view that could be a possibility but, if memory serves, Kyle Bush has had to fight the same beast during the Chase in past years and hasn’t faired all that well. The #4 Stewart/Haas team definitely doesn’t want to repeat that type of performance, especially with the way they’re performing this season. I guess it just depends on who you’re favorite driver is whether or not you really want to see his luck turn around before this season ends or after the next one starts.

One of the more interesting things about the NASCAR Chase and other sports championship formats for crowning the Champs is that every week all of those still competing for the Championship still have to race 42 others each and every race even though they may only be competing against 16, 12, 8 or 4 others for the actual championship depending on which segment of the Chase they are in. I know I’ve mentioned this recently but, in some ways, that really could seem to complicate things. In reality, I guess it’s just another race weekend for the racers. It does however add to the stress of the drivers involved in the Chase if for no other reason than the trouble some of the other less competitive teams could cause for one or more of them. One bad pit stop or unexpected problem can put the contenders in a situation amongst those “others” that could cost them a chance at winning the Championship.

One question that seems to come every weekend during the Chase is, “What if someone other than one of the Chasers wins the race?” From this fan’s view, that is a very interesting question and has more than one answer.

First of all, it can happen any weekend and just makes the Chase more interesting if and when it does, at least from this fan’s view. Second, with Talladega coming up as the last race in this three race segment, a non-chaser winning at Kansas means 12 Chase drivers going for a win at Charlotte to cement a spot in the next segment before having to go to Talladega where there is a high percentage possibility of either not finishing or finishing poorly. Like I said, Kansas is all about intensity in Chase race #4 and depending on who might win this one makes next week all the more intense…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© October 4, 2014 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

Teams Feel the Pressure To Tame The Monster For Chase Race #3

Published September 28, 2014 in Sprint Cup Articles - 0 Comments
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Rusty Norman

You’ve heard about the “need for speed”… well… this weekend is about the “need to tame”… the Monster. Of course you know I’m talking about the Monster Mile at Dover, Delaware and there are a minimum of four teams that need to tame it over the other twelve in this, the last race of the first elimination segment in the Chase. If they don’t, they will be the first four eliminated from advancing any further toward the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.

One thing that can be said for the Monster Mile is that there is plenty of speed but the one biggest complaint heard from just about every driver is, “I have no grip.” Apparently that is going to be the main problem for the main event on Sunday afternoon. Whether it be because of the tire Goodyear brought or because of the racing surface and the temperature, I’m not really sure. It is obvious that the drivers are looking to their crews to find that grip but it is also obvious they’re just not finding enough to make the drivers happy.

For those that are on the outside looking in (well, at least outside the top sixteen in points) it is all about winning and not just finishing the AAA 400. For those that are 13th to 16th in points it is first about winning and, if one of them doesn’t win, it is how close to the front they end up. After that, it is a matter of which, if any, of the top eight or nine might have major setbacks and really shake up the order. At this point, at least from this fan’s view, no one of the top 16 is completely out of being able to advance to the next segment. It is just how the problems and points fall when the AAA 400 at the Monster is over.

One driver that was looking very good (at least through the final practice) would be Kevin Harvick. If this fan was to pick a driver that looks good to end up in Victory Lane Sunday afternoon it would be Kevin Harvick. He has been fast all weekend, won the pole and has shown a lot of strength in all of the practice sessions. He would probably be the obvious choice considering his performance so far this weekend but 400 miles at the Monster is a long way and a lot can happen. Simply looking strong and then finishing out front are two different things. This track came by its name honestly and it is a tough track to tame. (Wow, that almost sounded like Darlington, didn’t it?)

As a fan, I have to admit the changes made to the Chase format have made a difference, well at least so far. They’ve only finished two races but the pressure, drama and suspense has been greatly increased compared to previous years. Much of that is attributed to the elimination rounds of the format and the fact that a bad finish may not come at a time when it can be made up.

Four drivers are looking at elimination after this weekend’s race and it may not be the ones that presently sit in the 13th to 16th positions going into this race. If this race is anything at all like the first two of the Chase, it is just about guaranteed there will be some surprises before the AAA 400 is over, (kind of like Jeff Gordon cutting a right front tire down while running in sixth place near the end of the race last week.) As I said earlier, anything can (and probably will) happen.

Of course, any of the four that aren’t in the top 12 before the race could win and completely eliminate someone that was pretty confident of moving on to the next round. At this point for all involved in the Chase, it is definitely about getting as many points as possible or taking the checkered flag for those presently in the top 16 in points but not in the top twelve.

From this fan’s view, the pressure is definitely on the drivers and crews that are on the edge and that could mean a greater possibility for errors to be made by both. One thing is definitely certain about running at the Monster and that is that there is no room for mistakes if they expect to win or move on to the next round.

Even though he isn’t at the top of the list to win as far as many are concerned this weekend, Jimmie Johnson does have the best win statistics at this track with nine wins and he did win the last time the Cup teams visited this track back in June. If anyone has a chance to clinch his way into the next round with a win, it is Johnson even though Kevin Harvick has been strong all weekend.

Once again this week I have to ask some of the same questions I did last week. Will this be the race that someone outside the Chase will win and if it is, which one will it be? Could it be this is this when someone just outside of the top twelve turns the corner on their bad luck and takes the win, takes us all by surprise and vaults into the next round of the Chase?

Hmmm… here’s a provoking thought. This just may be the week where everything happens just like the practice and qualifying sessions suggest it should and there are no surprises?

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© September 27, 2014 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

Looking For Magic at the Magic Mile In Chase Race #2

Published September 20, 2014 in Sprint Cup Articles - 0 Comments
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Rusty Norman

Many drivers will be looking for magic at the Magic Mile at Loudon. Brad Keselowski is still enjoying his momentum from the last two races and walked away with a new track record and the pole for the Sylvania 300 on Sunday afternoon. Much of the talk centers around how unbeatable he appears to be. Some are even saying he is a shew in for the Cup Championship when the NASCAR Cup teams hit Homestead in November.

Well… All of that may be true but, from this fan’s view, there is a whole lot of racing left before we get there and one can only hope someone (or several someones) will step up to the plate and make a competition of it.

There is hope, however. It’s true that Brad Keselowski has won two consecutive poles and two consecutive races, at both Richmond and Chicago. It is also true that Jeff Gordon has finished second in both of those races. Could it be that the #24 Hendrick team is just running a little more conservative than the #2 Penske team is or are they both showing all they have? I don’t really have a good answer for that but it is possible that neither one is showing their full hand at this point. In fact, it is possible that there is more to the story than first meets the eye.

Of the two teams I just mentioned, both of them have been running very good at most every racetrack they’ve competed on and both have had their problems off and on as the season has progressed. If things continue as they have, there may be four teams that run head to head for the Championship at Homestead but the two to beat just might be Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon.

Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not a statement but it is a thought to ponder during the weeks leading up to Homestead. Since this is only the second race of the Chase, it may be a just a little early to be speculating in that way but it is a definite possibility.

Of course I do have to face the possibility that my speculation could be proven completely wrong over the next several weeks. That is the nice thing about a fan’s speculation, though. If I am wrong, I can always re-evaluate and it won’t affect those teams in any way. If the crew chief or engineers speculate and they are proven wrong, well… we don’t even need to go there because you know what I’m saying.

What makes the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase so interesting and so hard to speculate on is the way it works. In most (if not all) other sports, as the competition is eliminated the remaining teams only compete against themselves and there are no others on the field. In NASCAR however, there are still 43 teams on the field and any one of them can win a race or cause problems for any of the ones left in the actual competition for the Championship.

True, the actual competitors for the Championship only compete points-wise against those still able to win the Championship but, they all still have to contend with the whole field on raceday. That is at least one of the things that makes this elimination format so interesting compared to other sports. We just won’t really know who wins until the checkered flag drops at the end of the race at Homestead in November.

Since this is automobile racing, others being on the track during the competition isn’t the only potential problem any of the contending teams have to face. There are possible mechanical failures in any number of areas of the car’s parts that can potentially ruin anyone’s chances for competing all the way to the final race in Homestead. Whether it be tire failures, engine failures or anything in between, these are things usually out of the control of the drivers and the crews and can’t be foreseen.

So far this weekend there have been a few surprises but race day could hold any number of them for all of us. Brad Keselowski starts on the pole and Jamie McMurray starts out side pole. Could it be that this is a weekend where someone other than one of the 16 Chasers wins? Could it be when one of the ones struggling to get enough points to move on to the next segment wins and removes any doubt as to whether or not they make to segment 2? Will one of the major contenders have problems and put themselves in trouble for moving on to the next segment? It starts to get a little complicated and from this fan’s view it is hard to say what the standings will look like after the Magic Mile is done.

The Sylvania 300 is a short race on basically a one mile oval flat track and it’s a place that several have shined in the past. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Bush come to mind as possible winners along with Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Dale Jr. Since it is relatively a short race, it doesn’t leave much room for errors from the drivers or the crews. This fan wonders if there might be tire problems as have happened in the recent past and whether or not the crew chiefs will head the advice of Goodyear and run the suggested minimum tire pressures or press the envelope and hope for the best.

Whatever happens on this Sunday afternoon, for some it could be disaster and for others absolute magic. I reckon it just depends on which ones find the magic and which ones experience the disaster…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© September 20, 2014 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by PodCastNorm Productions

The Chase Begins At Chicago…

Published September 13, 2014 in Sprint Cup Articles - 0 Comments
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Rusty Norman

And so the Chase begins… except it’s different this year. Now it is the Elimination Chase. For those that aren’t quite up to speed on the new Chase format yet, four cars are eliminated every three races, leaving four cars to compete, head-to-head, at the final race at Homestead. So, it’s not really ten races for all 16 competitors all the way to the end at Homestead but it is three races to win or gain better points to advance to the next segment of three races. In the end it’s supposed to make for a much more exciting and dramatic end to the year and the final race that will declare the Cup champion.

In this fan’s opinion, I think it will do that but I still think the cream will rise to the top and it won’t be that big of a surprise which ones end up going for the trophy on the final weekend at Homestead. Of course there are more than 16 strong cars in the mix even though all of them didn’t qualify for the Chase. All of those in the Chase will have to compete against all of the Chase qualifiers as well as all the rest of the 43 car field every week. For some that could spell trouble and for others, well… it could mean the difference between advancing or not.

Even this weekend will be a little different because of qualifying being rained out. With that happening the pit selections won’t be according to the usual fashion but according to the first practice session. I really hate to state the obvious but, when it comes to maintaining track position during the race, pit stall location can make a world of difference. Even a better car may not be able to beat those with better spots out of the pits when the faster car has a less than desirable pit selection. When it comes down to the end of the race, a lot can be decided in the pits and unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which team it might benefit) the race can be won or lost on the final pit stop.

So let’s talk a little about what’s going on at the Chicago track for the Cup teams this weekend. First off, it will be a bit cooler this weekend than it was last weekend at Richmond. Fall is definitely in the air and, even though it won’t be cold for the race, it has been different for all three practice session if compared to what is expected for Sunday afternoon.

Add to that the fact Goodyear brought a different tire for the teams to use this weekend and, although it may not amount to much in the end, it has brought a little more challenge to the crew chiefs for the weekend. The drivers have a little different feel for the track and it has required them to adjust to something that may not feel as good to them as they would like.

Another thing several have mentioned as challenges for this weekend are the rough areas of the track. It has been an interesting to watch them try to adjust to the different tire combination and the rough spots on the track. No doubt it has been a struggle for some but then that is why we as fans know that’s why they get paid the big bucks.

Just as a side note, it has also become relatively obvious that this is the first weekend some of the sixteen have felt pressure to perform in a while. If you listen to some, they’ve almost admitted that once they had the one win to make it into the Chase, they haven’t been as stressed week in and week out.

Now don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying they haven’t been working hard or haven’t been trying to win. They just haven’t felt the stress they would have normally have felt if it wasn’t for the “win and you’re in” part. If they won early, they were in the Chase and didn’t have to worry that much about performance. Now that the Chase has begun, the pressure is once again on to perform week-to-week just so they can advance to the next segment of three races. From this fan’s view, that adds a whole new dimension to the racing for at least the next nine races simply because of the new Chase format.

Okay, I’m going to do something this week I don’t particularly like to make a habit of doing. In fact, I don’t really do it very often at all anymore. I’d like to make a statement right now before the first race of the Chase begins and make my, uh, “suggestion” as to which of the 16 drivers will be the four that square off head-to-head at Homestead in November.

Let me say right up front, I have no idea how things will turn out but I do have an opinion, at least here at the beginning of the Chase, of the drivers I think will do what they’ve been doing all year. “What would that be,” you ask? Winning, of course and I expect them to continue doing that and consistently finishing in at least the top ten.

Okay, are you ready? (Understand I will quite likely have to re-evaluate, but at least I’m willing to put it down right here, right now at this moment. Also understand there are a few toss ups in my mind but I’m only choosing four for now.) I think the final four at Homestead will be Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon.

Well, that’s it for now…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© September 13, 2014 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

It’s One and Done At Richmond

Published September 6, 2014 in Sprint Cup Articles - 0 Comments
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Rusty Norman

Two things are certain for tonight’s race at Richmond. There won’t be anybody holding back that has a chance to make it into the Chase with a win and there won’t be anyone that’s already in holding back either – they’ve got nothing to lose. Those that are already in by wins will be looking to gain the bonus points and improve their starting spot for the Chase. For those that aren’t in? Well… let’s just say they’ve got nothing to lose either and, if they do win, they’re in! It will definitely be one and done at Richmond for them…

A lot is riding on the race tonight, particularly for those that don’t have a chance unless they win. Three spots remain and, if there isn’t a first time winner for the 2014 season tonight, those three spots will be decided by points. That means those that are already in by points can’t afford to have a bad race, like say, Clint Bowyer did last weekend. Few thought his 31 point cushion would be depleted so quickly but Atlanta quickly eroded his almost sure spot in the Chase to an almost have to win to get in at Richmond.

Once again this weekend tires have been an issue. Not because of tire failures but because Goodyear brought a different tire than was used earlier in the season. Many teams have found it a challenge to get a handle on this one and it has made for an interesting time in preparing cars for the race tonight. That doesn’t mean they haven’t figured them out but it does mean there are some unknowns for tonight’s race. I don’t think anyone will really know what they have until the sun goes down.

Another thing that has been happening lately is the amount of trouble some of the teams have had making it through the tech inspection before qualifying and race time. The biggest problem this week was the amount of rear caster allowed by NASCAR and an apparent difference between the way the teams measure it and the way the machine sees it at inspection time. It may mean nothing but it has been a problem at more than one track lately. Those that had trouble meeting the proper tolerance may struggle a bit tonight or… maybe not.

Brad Keselowski won another pole and the two Penske teams have been on the front row a lot this season. That doesn’t always translate into a good race performance but it does say they have an advantage when it comes to qualifying. In this fan’s view, qualifying doesn’t say much about how the race will go but it usually means a better choice in pit locations which usually gives certain advantages to the better qualifiers. Whether or not that means anything for Keselowski in tonight’s race remains to be seen but it very well could.

Kevin Harvick was the fastest in practice when it came to running consistent multiple lap times. Since he is starting in the fourth position, it could mean he could have another dominating performance such as the one in Atlanta (even though he didn’t win.) Whatever the case for Harvick, he looks like he and his team are well prepared for moving into the new Chase elimination scenario. This fan expects he will one of the ones to beat for the Championship when it comes to Homestead.

From this fan’s view, it is likely that the cream will once again rise to the top and those that have struggled will continue to struggle. That could mean that a previous winner will take the trip to Victory Lane tonight and some that had hopes of making the Chase will find those hopes dashed by the end of the Federated Auto Parts 400.

Whatever happens tonight, once again NASCAR has proved they know what they are doing when it comes to making the sport we all love more interesting and exciting for us fans. There were times this year that this fan wondered about that but, once again, The sanctioning body has proven they do have the best interests of the fans and the sport in mind when they make changes. I have to admit, when they changed the qualifying format to what it is now, I was skeptical.

NASCAR was not opposed to making tweaks to make it work even better and, as it stands right now, I think it is one of the best moves they could’ve made. Qualifying is more exciting than ever and with the emphasis on winning they instituted this year, the racing is as intense as it has ever been. As a long time fan and former racer, I applaud NASCAR for the job they do and have done.

When it comes to this final race before the Chase, there are a lot of unknowns. This could prove to be one of the most dramatic and competitive races we’ve seen in a while. There is a lot riding on performance and who will the last three to make it into the Chase. I expect there will be a lot of different strategies and some of them are probably going to be questioned at the time they happen. What will be interesting (at least to this fan) is to see how those strategies play out throughout the night. Frankly, I would want to be a crew chief tonight…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© September 6, 2014 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

It’s Atlanta And Two To Go To Make the Chase

Published August 31, 2014 in Sprint Cup Articles - 0 Comments
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Rusty Norman

Anyone that doesn’t have enough points but wants to make it into the Chase only has two chances left. Atlanta and Richmond are the only two places left for non winners to take a win and make it into the Chase. Of course, there are still four spots left but two of them will make it in with points. That means Atlanta will definitely be a place where some will take more risks to try and steal a spot in the Chase and that has the potential to make this weekend even more dramatic and competitive that it would be normally.

Another thing that makes this weekend noticeably more dramatic is that Tony Stewart is returning to the #14 Stewart/Haas Chevy this weekend. For some, that is something they did not want to see (for whatever their reasons were) but for the rest of us, it is a good thing. He needs to be back in his car and competing in the NASCAR Cup Series. After the terrible accident several weeks ago that took the life of a fellow competitor, this fan thinks this is the best thing for him to help him heal both mentally and spiritually. As he said in his public appearance and statement Friday, it was something that has changed his life forever and will always be with him.

This weekend in Atlanta is one of only two more chances he has to make it into the 2014 Chase. Without a win he will not make it in because he does not have enough points otherwise. That makes the next two races even more important for him and his #14 team and he will be looking to win one or both of them (which he is more than capable of doing.) Whatever happens in the next two weeks, this fan wants nothing but the best for all concerned.

Atlanta is an old track even though it was reconfigured years ago and it remains as one of the most challenging tracks on the Cup circuit. It is fast and is tough on equipment and tires and two things stand out to this fan as possible “challenges” for the competitors this weekend. The first is just how fast the speeds fall off with the tires and the other is the possibility of engine failure.

Along with the speeds falling off because of tire wear, this fan is at least a little concerned about possible tire failures. With the speeds they are running and the down force being generated by the cars this year, it is possible the ugly beast of tire failures could rear its ugly head again this weekend. Even though it hasn’t happened yet this weekend, it is probably still in the back of the drivers and crew chiefs minds. Fortunately, at least from this fan’s view, they are running at night and that could make all the difference.

This won’t be new news to anyone but this weekend marks another milestone in the career of Jeff Gordon. Atlanta will be his 750th start in a row and is where he started his first Cup race 20 years ago. Considering he is a four time Cup Champion and having a great run at his fifth, there is no doubt he is having, and has had, a great career and many expect it to continue for a while yet. This fan is one of those.

Is it possible Jeff Gordon can get win #92 this weekend and carry even more momentum into the Chase? Without a doubt he is one among several that can win not only Atlanta but Richmond and beyond. Barring the unforeseen (like last weekend at Bristol) and things happening to him that are out of his control, I like his chances for finishing in the top five at Atlanta and possibly taking the win and solidifying his #1 spot in the Chase. Judging from the way he has been running this year, it may a bit of a stretch but not unimaginable he could finish the season this year with his fifth Cup Championship and 95 wins, maybe more.

When it comes to Labor Day weekend and the Sprint Cup race at Atlanta, there are many things to consider. Take for example, Matt Kenseth and his #20 Toyota. It does appear the Toyotas have shown up with some speed this weekend and Matt Kenseth did have one of the fastest trips around the little over 1.5 mile oval. It could mean he might get his first win for the 2014 season and lock himself into the Chase with the win. Unless complete disaster strikes over the next two weeks, he is locked in by points. I suppose total disaster could strike just looking at how things have gone for his teammate Kyle Bush but it’s not likely. What is more likely is him taking a trip to Victory Lane at least once over the next two weeks.

The Fords have once again shown up with speed and one of them could end up in Victory Lane when the checkered flag drops at the end of the 500 miles tonight. Both Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have shown their Fords can get around the track with enough speed to get there and so did Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. From this fan’s view, it will take more than a fast lap or two to make that trip to Victory Lane a reality tonight. It will take consistently traversing the 1.5 mile oval at Atlanta with the best lap times. Unfortunately for the Fords and Toyotas, (at least in this fan’s opinion), the ones that displayed that were the Hendrick powered machines of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon and this fan thinks one of them will end up taking home the trophy tonight… The question is, which one…

See ya next time…

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© August 30, 2014 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com

All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

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