Sonoma from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams take on the Road Course at Sonoma this weekend. There will be some different faces (though at least one of them will be familiar, Boris Said) and a whole lot of right turns to go along with a few left ones. Why does this matter? Well… I’ll give you my opinion of that but just maybe it is because this race at Sonoma will be very different than those in the past.

Although there are several things that come to mind that will be different, one in particular is there are some new faces taking to the track with the rest of those “seasoned veterans” and some of them have never been on this track in a cup car. That may or may not make a difference but it is interesting to watch them learn the nuances of Sonoma.

There always seems to be some media hype about the addition of the stages and their addition to this road race at Sonoma just might make for a more interesting race over all. (Well, that is this fan’s opinion anyway.) Since the track is long, a little over 2.5 miles, the race is short lap-wise and is probably as physically demanding as it is mentally and does tend to elicit strong emotions at times.

I don’t know why the media folks talk so much about the stages since we are so far along in the season. From this fan’s view it definitely has already been shown the stages have added drama and intensity to the races this season. I wasn’t one that really cared one way or the other about the addition of the stages when they were first introduced to us at the beginning of the 2017 season but I have noticed the change they have made.

In most every race, the stages have been a force in driving the interest in the races even through the middle and latter parts of the races before the end press to the checkered flag. It appears the drivers want to take all the possible playoff points to the playoffs as they can. So far, Martin Truex Jr. has the most and he is a good enough road racer that he could take a few more this weekend and maybe even the win.

But before I start talking about more of the possible winners for this event, let’s talk about another thing that is different for this one over the last one at Sonoma.

One of the most noticeable changes to the cars this season, at least in this fan’s opinion, is the much reduced spoiler on the rear. Along with that change there is the change in the front splitter and between the two, there has been a noticeable reduction in down-force. That reduction has been noticeable in several ways at many of the tracks but the most important is the way it has affected the braking of the cars. Since there is reduced down-force and drag the speeds have been faster, especially on the straights, and that has resulted in many having to change the way they brake going into the turns.

At some tracks this has resulted in brake failures along with torn up race cars and early exits from those races. In any of those circumstances, some of the wrecks haven’t been pretty and the drivers have often emerged from their cars stunned or with the breath knocked out of them. No matter how you look at it, the reduced down-force is going to be something the drivers are going to have to deal with. At Sonoma this weekend, this fan expects there will be some problems caused by the reduced down force and it has already been shown during the practice sessions that wheel hop is going to be a very real problem for some, if not all of the competitors at some point in the race and could be a deciding factor in who wins.

Sonoma is a track that requires finesse and smooth transitions at just about every turn of the track. It isn’t a track that can be attacked with reckless abandon and it will require patience and perseverance for the entire race. There will be no room for mistakes on pit road and mistakes on the track can lead to disaster for any of the drivers. Speeding on pit road is going to prove very costly for anyone that doesn’t keep it within the timing limits and it could also make a difference in winning and losing this one.

There are a lot of really good road course racers in the cup series right now and there are some we just don’t know how they will do. The Bush brothers, Kyle and Kurt, are both excellent road coursers and either of them could win. Clint Bowyer is another and, with his performance so far this season, he is about due for a win this season. Besides, he has won here before and it wouldn’t surprise this fan if he does it again on Sunday.

Some others that deserve mention are Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick along with a host of others. In fact, there are many that could win this one but I am just not sure which one has the best chance.

Of course we all know this is Dale Jr.’s last race at Sonoma since he is retiring from competition at the end of this year. He is also a good choice for a possible winner on Sunday afternoon and, judging from his practices and performance over the last few years, he has as good a chance of winning as any in the field. Personally, I’d like to see it but he isn’t one of my top choices even though I do like surprises…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© June 24, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions
All music TwoBuckThemes from Mike Stewart unless otherwise stated

Michigan High Banks And High Speed from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman

After last week’s high speed, low down force venture into braking mayhem at Pocono, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams are probably looking forward to a little less of those type problems at the Michigan International Speedway Sunday afternoon. With the lower down force the speed on the straights at Pocono were faster so the brakes were used more and that was a big problem for some, especially when it came to the Hendrick Chevys.

Dale Jr. missed a shift twice on the weekend and blew two motors which added up to an expensive and poor finish. Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne both had brake failures and hit the wall also making for an expensive and poor finish for each of them. Of the two, Jimmie Johnson’s was the worst and his impact with the wall was hard and made another true test of the safer barriers that have been mandated by NASCAR in recent years. It totally destroyed his car and, though he exited his car he definitely had to sit down on the track and catch his breath. The crash looked extremely bad but as the oft used phrase goes, “It could have been much worse.”

Kevin Harvick also missed a shift but his Ford engine didn’t blow like Jr.’s and he finished second and almost took the win away from Ryan Blaney. Not only was it amazing that his engine didn’t blow but it was amazing to him and his crew chief that the engine didn’t lose any noticeable performance. Ryan Blaney simply outdrove him in the final laps or he would have likely won, even after over-revving the engine to over 12,000 rpm.

So what will be the difference between the high speeds at Pocono and those we will see at MIS? Well for one, the turns have higher banking along with a little banking on the straights. Even with the lower down force package, there should be less demand on the brakes even though the entry speeds will be high, especially the entry into turn one. Besides, the race last fall had this same package so the teams know a little bit more of what to expect. Michigan also has lots of racing room and being three or more wide in the turns won’t be unusual. That doesn’t mean nothing will happen but it does mean they have a bit more control over the situations when they do go several wide.

One thing to keep in mind as this race progresses is how close, speed-wise, a bunch of the teams are. There isn’t that much separation in speed and that usually means it will be hard to pass even though there is a lot of racing room. To this fan that can only mean a couple things and that is it could be a race that doesn’t have that much action and possibly a lot of single file laps.

Of course it could also lead to some interesting moments as drivers press the envelope of the car either next to them or in front of them. Judging from the practice sessions, it appears most of the drivers are spending most of their time in only one of the racing grooves. Venturing out of that groove has led some to lose control and some into the wall. That may or may not be a good thing as the race progresses and the only thing that might keep them from doing a lot of follow the leader could be the Stages.

From this fan’s view the addition of the Stages has definitely added some intensity to the first and middle parts of the race and it appears they no longer “cruise” for the first 60% to 75% of the race, waiting to begin pushing it until the last 50 miles or so. Now there is more of a reason to try and run up front, or at least close to it, for more than just the final checkered flag.

Many of the cars are entering turn one at, or in excess of, 215 mph. That’s fast at any track and let’s not forget at this two mile oval they don’t run restrictor plates. It does make one wonder what these guys would be running at Daytona and Talladega with no restrictor plates. Michigan has always been fast and it is no different this year than in the past.

As far as this fan is concerned there are a bunch of possible winners for this one. I’m not going to get into that here but I do have to say this could be a complete surprise when it comes to who celebrates in Victory Lane when it is over. What do you think? Will it be a JGR Toyota or a Penske Ford? Don’t know, do you? Neither do I but one thing I do know is the winner and his team are going to have work for it and they will have to win it not only on the track but in the pits and with their strategy calls…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© June 17, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions
All music TwoBuckThemes from Mike Stewart unless otherwise stated

The Tricky Triangle Challenges The Cup Teams from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race for this weekend is definitely a challenge for all the Cup teams and, if things go as usual, it will definitely be a test for the drivers and teams as one of them tries to make the trip to Victory Lane. The Tricky Triangle at Pocono is fast, tough and unique. One thing it isn’t is predictable and that is just one of the things that makes it one of the tougher tracks on the NASCAR Cup circuit. It has three turns, two long straights and one that isn’t quite as long. The drivers will shift at least one to three times every lap and hope their drive trains last the full 400 miles.

The track may be different this week but the front row looks the same as it did last weekend. Kyle Bush won the pole and Martin Truex Jr. joins him there on the front row just as he did last week. Of course we all know that Kyle had some difficulties and lost more than the lead last week but Martin had a decent run for the win even though he finished third.

One of the big questions every week lately is, “When are the Joe Gibbs Racing teams going to get their first win for this season?’ Well, it could be this weekend (much as it could have been last weekend) but at least one of teams that would likely have stopped them last week, Kyle Larson, looks very strong again this weekend. (Well that is before Jimmie Johnson pulled out the win from both Larson and Truex.) There is no denying Kyle Bush has had strong cars lately but has not been able to show that strength when it comes down to the final checkered flag.

Another interesting fact, at least from this fan’s view, is two of the JGR teams are starting this one in the top three and Truex, a JGR associated team, is starting second. That puts three JGR or associated teams in the top three for starters and could mean this really is the week for a JGR trip to Victory Lane. By now I’m sure you all know I don’t put much stock in qualifying other than for possibly getting a good pit stall. When it comes down to the race, especially a 400 mile race on a Tricky Triangle that challenges every driver and team, it usually has very little to do with the way the race actually goes.

I guess now is as good a time as any to ask the question I usually do when it comes to the Tricky Triangle at Pocono. Why is it that at most any other track they visit they number the entries and exits to and from the turns. You know what I mean, don’t you? Yeah, they enter into turn one and exit from turn two. After the straight they enter into turn three and exit from turn four. Why isn’t it like that at the Tricky Triangle at Pocono? It seems to me they should still enter into turn one and exit from turn two, hit the straight and enter into turn three and exit from turn four. At Pocono, then they would enter into turn five and exit from turn six but that’s not the way it is. Seems like it could, or maybe should, be but they choose to just use three turns to describe the track. I get it but I don’t really understand their reasoning (but then again I don’t think they or anyone else cares what I think about it. I just thought I would bring it up just to see if someone wanted to straighten me (or them) out…)

Oh well… back to the matters at hand…
As of the practice and qualifying on Friday, I still have questions about the strength of the Hendrick teams. Taking a look at where they qualified, they really didn’t impress but then again I have to resort back to my thinking on the importance of qualifying – it really only matters for pit selection. Although that is important and can make a difference on how they finish on Sunday afternoon, it really doesn’t say much about how they will perform during the race.

Jimmie Johnson qualified 19th for this one but last week started last and ended up the winner. Kasey Kahne has had moments where he looked like he was going somewhere only to have something happen.

Chase Elliott is due for a win and has also looked like he was going to take his first victory in Cup only to miss out when it counted. Dale Jr. just hasn’t had that zing when it comes to finishing first. He has just had a lot of bad luck and some miscues but overall, he and his team are going to have to step it up if they want to make the playoffs.

The Penske teams also have struggled a bit and Brad in particular has just been in the wrong place at the right time to change his whole day. Yeah, this fan knows he has a couple of wins but lately, he just hasn’t been there for one reason or another.

In this fan’s opinion, it is really good to see Michael McDowell being talked about when it comes to his and his team’s performance this season. I have always liked Michael and it is really good to see him getting some recognition these days.

When it comes to Bubba Wallace, well it is just great to see him get this chance with Richard Petty Motorsports. This chance couldn’t have come at a better time since his Xfinity #6 team is being closed down after this weekend not because of his performance but because they just haven’t been able to gain needed sponsorship to keep going. It is a shame when any team has to close down for lack of funds but it is one of the realities of competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series. At the time of this writing, this fan thinks it would be great if he wins the Xfinity race on Saturday and makes a great showing on Sunday. Winning may not be in the mix… yet… but I know I and many others look forward to seeing how he does in his first Cup outing…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© June 10, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions
All music TwoBuckThemes from Mike Stewart unless otherwise stated

Taking It To The Monster Mile from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman

This weekend the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams take it to the Monster Mile at Dover. There is no mistaking this is one of the driver favorites and there is no mistaking it is a monster of a challenge when it comes to the toll it takes on the drivers as they navigate the concrete surface of the one mile oval.

Go ahead, ask the drivers what they think about the Monster Mile and they will tell you two things in particular. First, it is a track they love to race on (probably because it is such a challenge to their abilities.) Second, it is a track that they “feel” all of the physical stresses it puts on them with its speed and the 24 degree banking in the turns and the 9 degree banking on the straights. Of course there are also those expansion joints and a few bumps they have to contend with along with those speeds they are traveling.

One thing is certain, the JGR Toyotas showed up ready to take it to the rest of the field. Well, that is if the first practice and qualifying says anything at all about how things might go on Sunday afternoon. Considering Kyle Bush is starting on the pole and Martin Truex Jr. is right next to him on the front row with Daniel Suarez and Matt Kenseth starting right behind them. Denny Hamlin starts tenth, Eric Jones seventh and both were looking pretty stout along with the other JGR and associated teams. It could definitely be a Toyota day “IF” (and notice I stress the word “if”) they continue as they have so far this weekend.

As has been the case most of the season, Kyle Larson once again showed up with a very fast Ganassi Chevy. In fact, he and Austin Dillon were the only Chevys in the top ten and, from this fan’s view, Kyle could be the one to challenge the Toyotas’ seeming readiness for the weekend. Larson has been strong all season, well at least so far, and is almost weekly considered as the one to beat if someone wants to take a win. Of course, things do happen and it is only approaching mid season but, he is definitely looking like he will be a strong contender in the playoffs at the end of the season.

Martin Truex Jr. is another that has been impressive this season and this fan thinks will continue to perform well as the season progresses. Since I’ve been talking about the JGR Toyotas and he is an associated team, I have to mention he has actually been one of the stronger performers of the group almost every week. I expect he will definitely be one making a bid for the win on Sunday afternoon. After all, he was only beaten out for the pole by Kyle Bush by about a thousandth of a second. That also might mean something when it comes down to the checkers at the end of the day.

Although not many want to get their hopes up, Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified eleventh and actually showed some speed in the first practice and in qualifying. Of course it remains to be seen how he will do in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism race on Sunday afternoon. As fans, we all want to see him do well and possibly even win since this is his final season in Cup racing competitively. A win would also mean he could compete for the Championship at the end of the season and much to the delight his fans, could depart full time competition in NASCAR Cup with a chance at becoming the 2017 Cup champ. (Wouldn’t that be something…?) I guess in some ways, we all would like to see that happen even though we might be fans of some other driver.

Of all the ones running in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism race, Jimmie Johnson is the one with the most victories at the Monster Mile. From this fan’s view, he hasn’t really shown that much in the first practice or in qualifying – he qualified 14th – but considering past performances he can’t be ruled out as one to be there when it all comes down to taking the checkered flag. It wouldn’t be the first time he showed up as winner on race day when it seemed he was going to be an “also ran.”

He already has a couple of wins so he is already in the playoffs for the Championship so we never really know what he and Chad are working on. It’s not like he “has to” win or to make an impression and his past performance at this track shows he is quite capable of ending up in Victory Lane no matter where he starts. I guess it just remains to be seen how he does on Sunday; well, at least from this fan’s view.

Once again, the stage racing instituted this season has made things very interesting and I expect this Sunday’s race will be no different. They have definitely added to the intensity and drama of the races and, though I wasn’t so sure about them to begin with, I am definitely a supporter of them now. Every race on the Monster Mile is intense and filled with emotion and I don’t expect this one to be any different. I will say this though… This is one of the only shorter tracks in NASCAR Cup racing where we even think about the “Big One” and how it can change the entire outcome of the race, but it can… and quite likely will…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© June 3, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions
All music TwoBuckThemes from Mike Stewart unless otherwise stated

Cup Teams Take On Their Longest Race from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams take on stock car racing’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600, on one of the racing world’s longest days at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Of course all racing fans know the three I’m talking about are The Grand Prix of Monaco, The Indy 500 and The Coca-Cola 600 and it definitely makes for a full day with three different types of racing. Some call it a racing enthusiast’s dream day while others just shrug their shoulders, smile and say they’ll be watching one of them or at least checking in on all three during the day.

This weekend we also celebrate Memorial Day weekend and, of the three racing types and venues, it is this fan’s opinion NASCAR is the best at honoring our Troops. Also in my opinion, they do a fine job of recognizing the importance of those that serve in the Armed Services and those that gave their lives protecting our country and preserving the freedom we all enjoy and often take for granted. Not only do they support our troops and honor those that gave the supreme sacrifice serving and protecting our country and freedoms but also recognizing and supporting their families and the loss and sorrows they have experienced. My thanks go to those that were willing to make that supreme sacrifice for all of us and particularly for my family. God bless them and the USA.

The Coca-Cola 600 is always an interesting race. NASCAR has made this one a little more interesting by adding another stage to it (there will be four of 100 laps each) and more points to be gained by those that do well in the stages. So let’s see… there were already more laps in this race, more miles and more hours in the seat for the drivers and now there are more stages and more points. Naturally the extra points won’t matter until the playoffs but that hasn’t been something that has held any of them back. It appears all of them are pushing harder to qualify better, run better and get some of those stage points and wins to apply when they get to the playoffs.

Fortunately (or some may say, unfortunately) it appears at least one of the JGR teams showed up ready to make a statement and take home a 600 win. (Of course this fan is sure you know I’m talking about Kyle Bush.) Since he already took home a million dollars, it just stands to reason that he could be one to consider for taking the trip to Victory Lane when this one is over on Sunday night. A closer look at the lineup shows there are three JGR teams starting in the top ten and if you want to consider an associated team too, Martin Truex Jr. is right there also. Daniel Suarez starts from the twentieth position so I’ll let you draw your own conclusion of what kind of overall statement the JGR teams have made. They do look strong and that’s a pretty obvious fact.

So… we have Kyle Bush starting on the front row with pole winner, Kevin Harvick. Does that say even more about which teams to watch for the win when the checkered flag drops on the Coca-Cola 600? But wait a minute; isn’t that Chase Elliott with HMS starting third right behind them? Both the JGR and SHR teams are due for a win and either one of them could make the trip to Victory Lane but there is a whole lot more to it than that. Running strong in the practices and qualifying at, or near the front could always mean something good for a team but not necessarily for the whole 600 miles.

Chase Elliott is definitely due for a win when it comes down to it and he is another one this fan thinks could end up as the winner when all is said and done. Ryan Blaney and Eric Jones also enter into the conversation and it is good to see these young guns being talked about so often as ones to watch and possible winners. After all, these guys are definitely the future of the sport and they represent themselves and their families well.

The Coca-Cola 600 is a long race and goes from evening into the night. This fan has to admit that in the past, it usually didn’t really get interesting until the final 100 miles or even less and if someone has a night like Martin Truex Jr. had in last year’s, well, it can seem relatively uneventful. In fact, some have even gone so far as to call it boring; something this fan doesn’t necessarily agree with but does understand what they mean. It is the hope the addition of the Stages to the mix will add what they have added to the racing so far this season.

With the addition of the Stages the racing has been a bit more intense and it does break up the monotony of 600 miles with only one checkered flag and a long waiting game. The drivers have much more incentive to push a little harder and can gain points toward the playoffs for finishing near the front or winning one or all of the Stages. In the end, it still comes down to winning that final stage and that is usually when the cream rises to the top. It could be one of the young guns or one of the seasoned veterans. It could be someone completely unexpected or it could be, well… you know…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© May 27, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions
All music TwoBuckThemes from Mike Stewart unless otherwise stated

Cup All Stars Racing For A Million from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman

There is absolutely nothing on the line for the drivers and teams taking to the Charlotte Motor Speedway for the NASCAR All Star race Saturday night. Well, that is unless you consider the winner will walk away with a cool million dollars. Since there are no points to gain and not much else offered for the nights work, I guess racing to possibly win a million dollars IS incentive enough to do what it takes to end up as the winner. I know it would be for me and I’m guessing it would be for you too. I do have admit, there is something awfully enticing and motivating to do something you really love and possibly make a million dollars in the process.

Because it is mostly about the money and not much else other than bragging rights likely explains why it is such a wide open race. If past All Star races tell us anything as fans, this one will probably not be any different and it should prove to be a very interesting night of competition. Some of them have ended quite dramatically in the past, with cars, car parts and some with varying forms of damage strewn all along the path to the flag stand and beyond. It never ceases to amaze this fan what some of the drivers will try or do to win that million dollar prize. (Sometimes I think they even surprise themselves.)

So what does it take for a driver to make it into the Monster Energy All Star race? Well that is a very interesting question and though many of you may know the answer, I will answer for those that may not be familiar with the process or, at least, are new to NASCAR or just a casual fan. It may sound a bit complicated but trust me, it really isn’t. So here we go…

For a driver to qualify for being in the All Star race several factors are considered. First of all, they have to be an active driver in the Cup series and, at the time of this writing, there are sixteen drivers locked in. They either have to be past winners from the 2016/2017 season or past All Star winners or series champions. If they are none of the above, they will compete in the Open which will consist of three stages. Two of those stages will be 20 laps in length and the final stage is 10 laps. The winner of each of the three stages qualifies to be in the All Star race. After that, there is one final driver that will qualify to be in the All Star race and that will be the one voted in by the fans.

That’s what makes the Open so intense. If a driver doesn’t win one of the three stages, he (or she) won’t make the big one and will miss a chance to win the Million dollars. Another thing about this late afternoon and evening of racing is that a fan does have a chance at winning a million dollars and that is if Kevin Harvick wins the cool million for the Monster Energy All Star race. Gee… that doesn’t sound like it puts any extra pressure on Harvick, does it? Oh well, that’s just another thing about this race – it is all about the fans (and of course, the money…)

There are a few things about this race that make it interesting and one of those is that they all practice in the heat of the day and the All Star race takes place in the cooler temperatures of the evening into the night. That means the crew chief and engineers have to make decisions about setup and if they miss it, well, their driver may not have much of a chance at winning, especially if they miss it big. On the other hand, if they miss it, take big swings at it and make their driver happy, they put themselves back in the hunt for that million dollar payoff. Now that really doesn’t sound all that complicated, does it? Well don’t forget to throw in the three twenty lap stages and the ten lap final stage along with that different tire with the green lettering. Even the rules for using that will make it very interesting from this fan’s view.

There is no doubt in my mind that this could be one of the most intense and dramatic All Star races that we as fans have witnessed in while. The addition of the stages has definitely added something to the racing so far this season and I expect it will be the same tonight when they take the green flag to get started. One thing about the All Star race is it has always been flat out once the green drops and, with the stages set the way they are, they all know it will be twenty laps to make it to the front in all of them except the last one. Remember… this is all about the money they are racing for. That million dollar prize is all this is about. There are no points – just money – and it only goes to the winner and his team.

When it comes down to those last ten laps for the million dollars, it could prove to be very exciting and emotional. In the past, there have been some very interesting things tried to try and be the one taking the checkered flag and the million dollars. Sometimes it gets pretty rough and sometimes it gets messy but it is always exciting and it is one time it is never over until it is over. That means, at least from this fans view, there could be a big one at the finish or an unexpected winner – it is hard to tell. All I know is it is always worth watching to the very end. Well… that is except when one of the drivers runs away from the rest in those final few laps. Then it is actually over before it ends and that isn’t what this fan is hoping for the way this one ends…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© May 20, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions
All music TwoBuckThemes from Mike Stewart unless otherwise stated

Saturday Night Under The Lights At Kansas Speedway from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman

Ah… There’s just nothing like the feeling of returning to the roots of Saturday Night under the lights. That’s when many of us local racers did our track time and it was always something we looked forward to, whether to race or to watch. It is always an interesting event when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams take to the track under the lights and just like at the local tracks, everything looks different. The cars look different, the track looks different and just about everythin g about it has a different feel.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Sunday afternoon racing but Saturday night is what I grew up with along with many of you and there is always something special about it. (Well, at least it is special to me and a lot of friends and fellow racers I know.) Once you’ve been there – especially as a driver or a fan – it seems there is a magnetism that continuously draws you back; whether it was before I was old enough to drive or after, I looked forward to those Saturday nights under the lights.

So… is there anything different about the Kansas Speedway that may affect the way the drivers attack the race Saturday night? Well, yes and no. The track is another year older so the surface is that much more aged but I don’t think that will have that great of an effect on them. This year’s lower down force package should have some effect but most of the teams seem to be adapting to it quite nicely as the season progresses so, from this fan’s view, I don’t think that will be that big a deal to them either.

Now the fact that Goodyear brought a different tire for this race may be one of the things that has a greater effect than most of the other things just mentioned. I don’t think the tire will be problem but it does mean they have to adjust to it and that could make a bigger difference than if it was one they used before at Kansas. Even when it is a tire they have tested at the track, there can be things about it that unexpectedly show up as the race progresses towards the finish. From my view, I don’t think it will be a problem at all but it could be simply because of the unknowns.

Another thing that might be a little bit of a challenge for the drivers and teams is that their practices were in the daytime and the race is in the evening into the night. That generally means different track temps and higher speeds which generally translates into different tire pressures which possibly affects the ride heights. That might have the greatest effect after pit stops and the first couple of laps after a restart. If it turns out to make a difference, be expecting some spins and possible wall banging; if nothing else something like that could have a greater effect on who wins and who doesn’t.

Although many think this might be the week the JGR teams make an entry into the win column, this fan isn’t so sure. It’s not that they’ve been performing all that badly but they definitely haven’t found the speed and balance combination that led to their more dominate performances last season. They’re still looking for some speed and lack of mistakes by the drivers and pit crews which could lead to a victory. Since the season is hitting several 1½ mile tracks and those have been their strongest point in the past, it is possible they could take a win or two soon but I don’t think it will be here at Kansas. (Hey… that’s just this fan’s opinion. You may feel differently but, well, you’re not writing this… heh, heh!)

One of the biggest reasons this fan thinks it won’t be a JGR Toyota that shows up in Victory Lane Saturday night is because of how strong the Fords have looked. I mean, look who’s sitting on the pole for the Go Bowling 400, Ryan Blaney. It is his first pole in Cup and he was fast even off the truck. Add to that there are five Fords starting in the top ten along with three Toyotas and only two Chevys. To say the Fords don’t have a good shot at taking another win just doesn’t make sense but stranger things have happened recently.

Martin Truex Jr. could be the Toyota that makes me wrong and he has had pretty strong performances all season so far. Since he and his team are associated with JGR, I guess it could mean a Toyota could end up in Victory Lane but that’s just not the way it looks from this fan’s view. I may end up being totally wrong about it being a Ford taking the win and it turn out to be someone like a Hendrick or Ganassi Chevy which wouldn’t surprise me at all. Names like Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson or even Chase Elliott do come to mind but I’m just not ready to give it to them yet.

Now, everything I just mentioned can and probably will change when all forty of the cars take to the track and the “stage” racing takes over with its intensity and drama. When it’s all over, it could be a relative unknown or it could be a repeat winner celebrating in Victory Lane. I’m just not sure which it will be but one thing is certain; the one that wins is going to have to work for it…

(And by the way, what’s up with all of those cars that couldn’t get through inspection in time to make qualifying? Man, talk about adding unknowns into the mix for the Go Bowling 400…)

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© May 12, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions
All music TwoBuckThemes from Mike Stewart unless otherwise stated

Talladega from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman

Talladega is big. Talladega is wide. Talladega is fast; so fast in fact, it is the biggest reason NASCAR has restrictor plates. As has been mentioned by just about everyone over the past week leading up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Geico 500, this Super Speedway is the place back in 1987 where the fastest field in NASCAR history took to the track. That year, the whole field qualified at over 200 mph and Bill Elliott set the record qualifying time of over 212 mph.

It was also the year that Bobby Allison’s car blew a tire on the front straight and took flight into the fence near the flag stand and had it not been for the fence his car would have flown into the spectators sitting in the stands. It was then that NASCAR determined they needed to look at the speeds the cars were traveling and what could happen when they were turned in a direction other than the direction they should be facing. So… on the Super Speedways of Daytona and Talladega they made restrictor plates mandatory.

The way this fan remembers the transition to when restrictor plates came into the mix of racing at the Super Speedways, it opened a whole new world of racing to the field and fans of Stock Car Racing called NASCAR. It was no longer just about speed but being able to use drafting and strategy along with, but more than just the speed of the race cars. It also became more of racing with someone that could assist in staying with the draft like teammates or others that wanted to move in, around or through the field to the front. Of course it made pit strategy and performance of the pit crews all the more important and sometimes these alone could change the face of the outcome of the races.

Now NASCAR has added stage racing to the mix and, once again in this fan’s opinion, it has changed the way the drivers race during the race. Stages have added an unexpected intensity and drama to the races at all tracks so far but has made the restrictor plate races more interesting and dramatic also. This fan finds it interesting how adding the ability to gain a few points for what is now called the playoffs has caused the drivers to race more aggressively to gain those points and has made even 500 mile restrictor plate races all the more interesting.

If you’ve been following this NASCAR fan’s view for any time at all, you already know I like restrictor plate racing and like the fact that it makes for much closer and intense racing. Although the drivers still do sometimes fall into racing single file for a number of laps during the race, it doesn’t happen as often as it used to.

In some ways, it reminds me of my own racing days at our local short tracks and how much fun it was to run door handle to door handle and bumper to bumper for laps at a time. I even remember some races we ran (usually in the heat races) that the pack of cars never changed positions; we ran exactly the way we lined up and finished that way too. (I also remember how some of us faster cars helped some of the drivers go faster than they had ever gone as we pushed them to their limits trying to get an opening to pass them and move out front. For some of them it was a completely new experience and, because we were all tightly packed together, they could run that fast without losing control. It was great for all of us, including the fans.) Ah well… so much for reminiscing of my old racing days…

As far as the plate racing at Talladega this weekend, pretty much everything is the same as it was the last time the teams competed here. The tires are the same and the cars are the same so the only real change from last time is the addition of the Stages. If this one goes anything like the first Super Speedway race this season with stages at Daytona, it should add a bit of a new dimension and feel as the laps click off. For one, there will be two stages the entire field will be trying to win other than the final one. Because of the nature of plate racing that means any one of the cars in the field could win one or both and you can bet they will all be running hard to try and do so. The intensity won’t let up in the final stage either because all of them will going for the win in that one too. (Or course it pays much better than the other two.)

Unfortunately, another well known fact of plate racing is the possibility of one or more “Big Ones” happening during the course of any of the three Stages. Because restrictor plates cause the field to generally stay in tighter packs (or even one big one) for long periods of time during the event, there is always the possibility of something happening to cause one or more cars to get together and be taken out. All it takes is one wrong move or one blown tire to cause a great deal of mayhem that can ruin one or many driver’s day. When it comes down to the final laps of any of the stages, the aggression and intensity to finish first seems to always cause a dramatic several laps and sometimes, unfortunately, the Big One happens.

There are several favorites talked about for taking the trophy home when this one is over. Of course it seems the Penske teams of Keselowski and Logano are at or near the top of that list along with a long list of names like Johnson, Bowyer, Hamlin, Harvick and Kenseth from other teams. This is a race that even some unknown (or not often mentioned) driver can end up with the win and may be their first win in cup. (It wouldn’t be the first time that happened…)

Probably everyone’s favorite to win would be Dale Jr. and I have to admit, it would be good to see him win. I’m not saying he or any of the ones I did mention will win but, like all plate races in the past, this one could be won by anyone in the field and that includes Dale Jr…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© May 7, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions
All music TwoBuckThemes from Mike Stewart unless otherwise stated

Richmond, Dale Jr. and NASCAR Cup from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman

The big news this week wasn’t about the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams taking on their next challenge at Richmond International Raceway and it was hardly even mentioned how Jimmie Johnson won his second race in a row. It wasn’t about how many penalties were handed down in different ways since the races at Texas and Martinsville or how many different crew chiefs there are for this weekend. No, the big news (just in case you’ve been completely out of touch or had your head in the sand since last Monday’s race) is that Dale Jr. is going to retire at the end of the 2017 season…

Yeah, I know that’s not new news to you if you’re a real NASCAR fan but it is true. Dale Jr. announced his plan for retirement on Tuesday and the news has been received and reacted to in diverse ways. It has been spoken of as the “end of NASCAR” and some have even threatened to stop following NASCAR all together since there will no longer be a well known Earnhardt competing in the Cup series. (Well… even that’s not quite true since Jeffrey Earnhardt does compete at the present time even though not all that well known other than by name at the present time.

So… here are my thoughts on NASCAR’s most popular driver for the last 14 years and his retirement. First of all let me say something that won’t mean a great deal to many younger fans but I’ve been a NASCAR fan for longer than Junior has been alive. That’s a long time (just in case you’re wondering) and I’ve had a number of favorite drivers and not all of them have been NASCAR champs but all have been champions in my opinion. I won’t go into a long dissertation about any of them at this point but there have been many.

I have to admit when Dale Jr. came into Cup I wasn’t really a fan but I did follow his progress, maturity and growth. Even though I felt he was rough around the edges and didn’t really have grip on who he really was when he was younger, I have watched him become more and more of a driver and person that I like. I like the fact that he is real these days (what you see is what you get) and he has a lot of common sense. I guess I could go into a long monologue of what I like about him now as compared to 20 years ago. I can’t say there haven’t been others I wasn’t particularly fond of when they came in to Cup but my opinion of them did change as they changed.

I felt that way about Jeff Gordon when he left his Busch team to join Hendrick Motorsports. I wasn’t that much of a fan of his for about a year or so. Much of my thinking about his move was based on very little information about him. I thought he kind of left his team in a lurch and with very little warning and I thought it was unfair to them and I just didn’t like it. My perception was based on my opinion of him at the time but I was still very impressed by him and his abilities as he drove. But even at that time it didn’t take all that long for me to become a Jeff Gordon fan. I was a Jeff Gordon until he retired and I am still a fan of Jeff Gordon and what he accomplished in his career as a driver and since his retirement.

Maybe that’s why I have watched Dale Jr’s. career with a lot of interest and why I have come to appreciate him more and more over the years, especially since his dad died in that terrible racing accident at Daytona and how he has grown from that time. Besides, he’s not leaving NASCAR completely, he’s just moving away from visibility as a driver and I expect we will see and hear a lot from him in the years ahead.

Richmond International Raceway is a tough ¾ mile track and is fast and a test of a driver’s ability. One of the nice things about it is that it isn’t just a one groove race track. They’ll be able to run the low groove, the middle and the high, even right up next to the wall. Even when they miss their marks, they have a little bit of room to catch it without taking out the person next to them or the ones they’re trying to pass. One of the interesting things about this race is this year’s lower down force package. It has made for new challenges and interesting communications between drivers and crew chiefs and the one thing the drivers have asked for most is more grip. They want more of it just about everywhere on the track. They’re not necessarily going to be getting it but it hasn’t stopped them asking for it so far.

So… will this be the weekend the JGR Toyotas finally make the trip to Victory Lane? Well, Matt Kenseth did win the pole and it is a place where Denny Hamlin performs well at. I’m not so sure that’s making a statement and I’m not so sure it will translate into a trip to Victory Lane when the checkered flag drops at the end of the day. It is food for thought though. But then so is the fact that Kyle Larson has been on a roll and was fast during practices, especially the last one on Saturday.

I wonder if Dale Jr. might take home the trophy when this one is over. He has to have lot less pressure on him now that he’s made his announcement but I think he wants to win more now than ever. It does remain to be seen how the Hendrick teams will fare and there is no way this fan is going to rule out the possibility of Jimmie Johnson making it three in a row. Well… maybe that is expecting a bit too much… BUT… it can definitely happen…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© April 29, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions
All music TwoBuckThemes from Mike Stewart unless otherwise stated

“It’s Bristol Baby!!” from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman

Well, it’s back to racing for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams and there’s not a better place for them to return to work than Bristol. It should prove to be interesting to see how the drivers respond to their return after a week off to “rest and relax.” Some say the tensions will be high simply because “It’s Bristol, Baby!!” and it’s known for high banks, high speed and high emotions. Personally, I can’t disagree – the racing at Bristol does get intense at times.

One of the things that makes Bristol one of the more intense races is that it is basically a short track – only a little over a half mile oval – which carries with it that short track racing attitude. Emotions run high because it is extremely fast and very hard to pass. It doesn’t matter whether they run the middle, high or low groove, it’s just a hard place to pass if a driver has just a little bit of a better car than the one in front of him (or her). That just adds to the heightened emotions and frustrations of trying to gain positions as they work their way to the checkers. Plus – being a “short track” – the mentality of the drivers is a little different and bumping and banging or moving someone out of the way isn’t outside the realm of their thinking. In fact, it happens a lot more on short tracks and particularly at tracks like Martinsville and Bristol.

Taking just a little bit of a detour right now, I guess it’s about time I make my view of stage racing public even though I have mentioned it a little off and on so far this season. When push comes to shove, I wasn’t sure I would like it all that much. I mean I understood the idea of it but I wasn’t so sure it would work out the way NASCAR and the drivers thought it would. I have to admit, it has added quite a bit of intensity to the races and it doesn’t matter whether it is short track, mid size or super speedway. All of them have seen the intensity and added pressure for the drivers to perform at all times during the race. Of course adding the ability to gain additional points for the new playoff format at the end of the season doesn’t hurt either.

All of the things I’ve mentioned so far just add to the usual intensity of a short track race and with the drivers being fresh off of a weekend off just means some possible thoughts of payback and a little more adrenaline for all kinds of short track actions. You never know how one of them is going to respond to a little nudge or a bump if it is someone they might have had a little run in with earlier in the season. (Hey, I’m just sayin’…)

With the way things have gone so far this season, it does appear the younger drivers like Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney have adapted to the new stage racing format a little better than some of the rest. In fact, there are a lot of people that have shown up in the conversation more with the stage racing than they did last season. Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Ricky Stenhouse and others are names we just didn’t hear that much during a race without the stages. Now, it seems everyone presses to at least get some points via the stages and it does make things more interesting.

There are a couple of extra stories going on with the teams coming to Bristol. One obvious one is where the Gibbs racing teams really are. They just haven’t shown up as competitively so far this season as they did much of last season. We all know all of the teams, especially the bigger teams, go through a little slump now and again and it is still early in the season. It is surprising that we just haven’t heard that much from the JGR teams like Kyle Bush, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth yet. I do think we will soon though and it could just be they haven’t hit their stride yet this season with the new down force package and other items all of the teams have been contending with so far.

Jimmie Johnson put to rest the rumors they had lost their edge after he won Texas a couple of weekends ago. He came from the back and put a hurtin’ on the rest of the field even though he didn’t run away with it. Between Chase Elliott and him things don’t look all that dark for Hendrick but it does leave Dale Jr. and Kasey Kahne looking for better performances and this fan does wonder why they are struggling as much as they are. I guess they’re just adjusting to the new down force package too. (Well, at least I’m giving them a good excuse for their lack of performance so far…)

It is hard for me as a fan to pick one over another as a winner this weekend. Many have stated their choices but I just don’t have a real grasp on how this one is going to turn out. It could be another first time winner or it could be one that we just haven’t heard that much from yet this season. I guess that’s why I will be watching this one and wait to see who comes out on top. After all… It IS Bristol, Baby!!!

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© April 21, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions
All music TwoBuckThemes from Mike Stewart unless otherwise stated