Nascar At Talladega After Chatter: The Aaron’s 499 Had Something For Everyone

Rusty NormanNascar moved up on nearly everyone’s appreciation list with the race in Talladega this last weekend. Just about every Nascar fan had something they liked about it, (that is unless their driver either didn’t win or got taken out by an accident.) Overall, the general consensus appeared to be one of all fan’s seeing a race they really enjoyed and, in most people’s minds, it was an exciting race with lots of action. There were a record number of lead changes and also a record number of different leaders probably making this Aaron’s 499 a focal point in the record books for some time to come.

As expected, the two car draft (or, “the two car tango”, as Fox Sport’s Mike Joy liked to call it) was very prevalent throughout the day and looks to be a restrictor plate expectation and advantage for the future, (as long as they don’t make too many changes to the rules they now have in place.)

I had one of my questions answered by the race in Alabama this weekend and that was whether or not we could have more than one of the two car drafts going on in the main pack of cars. At one time, I counted at least three within several car lengths of each other (and that’s being conservative.) It appeared to this fan that many of the drivers were trying to take advantage of the ability to go an extra 8-10 mile and hour faster.

Now, although the advantage was there for all to use, not all knew how to use it to improve their position. In fact, it was obvious that some knew it was there and used it, but didn’t know how to really make it work for them and caused themselves and others difficulties by their inexperience.

One thing is certain… Kevin Harvick knew how to use it and RCR came up with the best place to take advantage of it during the practices on Friday afternoon. Their discoveries proved to be the advantage that took the No.29 RCR car to Victory Lane at the end of the Aaron’s 499.

Whether you agree or disagree with this next statement doesn’t really matter all that much, but, many fans were ecstatic when a failed late race maneuver put points leader Jimmie Johnson against the inside wall, causing him to finishing a disappointing 31st . (Now remember, when I say disappointing, I’m talking about him and his team being disappointed, not those fans (and drivers) that are weary of seeing the #48 finish at, or near, the top of the finishing order every week.)

While we’re talking about the #48 Hendrick team, I guess now would be a good time to mention the continuing on-track struggles between the #24 and #48. It seems that no matter how the racing goes, the two just can’t get out of each other’s way. For the second week in a row, Jeff Gordon was “disappointed” with his teammate’s actions. Although I think the word “disappointed” is putting it mildly, it does appear Jeff could have had better finishes, in particular over the last two weeks, had it not been for Jimmie Johnson. I do think, had it not been for Jimmie Johnson and some other late race happenings, the #24 team would have at least three victories this year, (and possibly four.) Although I do understand that a lot of the activity between the two Hendrick teams can be attributed to “just racing” it definitely hasn’t worked out in a positive way for the #24 Hendrick team at all. (And let’s not forget Jeff’s run-in with Matt Kenseth in the #17 Roush Ford back at Martinsville and how that went down.)

Another side note about Jeff Gordon is his obvious determination and aggressiveness this year. He has definitely been one of the hard chargers this season and, for many fans, it has been good to see “the old Jeff Gordon.” I really don’t think anyone can deny he has been in contention for the win at the end of almost every race so far this season. He may not have had the best car, but he and crew chief, Steve Letarte, have definitely put themselves in position to win almost every week.

Wow, what else can we say (that hasn’t already been said) about this race in Talladega?

Let’s see, we had Kevin Harvick finally breaking his 115 race absence from Sprint Cup Victory Lane; EGR finishing second and third, with Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya; Denny Hamlin still showing a lot of momentum since his knee surgery for JGR finishing fourth and Mark Martin for the Hendrick camp finishing fifth. We also had two car drafting because of the relaxed bump-drafting rules all the way around the track and cars able to move up or down in the scoring almost at will all afternoon. For the fans that merely show up to see the multi-car pile-ups that are part of restrictor plate racing, there was some of that, too, along with fan pleasing tight, bumper to bumper, door to door racing that always makes for an interesting show if nothing else.

With all of that, it makes a fan wonder what Richmond will be like this coming weekend. With way the races at Texas and Talladega have been, I wonder if it will be a little bit of a let down or just more of the same great racing we’ve seen all season so far this year? I reckon the only way to find out is to show up on race day and see what happens…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© April 27, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

(All audio productions by and

Nascar at Talladega: Bump Drafting Rule Changes and Some Unknowns Could Add A New Dimension to the Usual Talladega Excitement

Rusty NormanA few unknowns, the relaxing of the bump drafting rules and bad weather on Saturday at Talladega will definitely figure into the mix of the Aaron’s 499 this weekend. If you listen to the drivers, even they expect this to be one of the most exciting Talladega races in a while, (in fact, some even said it could get pretty wild out there.)

Whether or not they are talking about several multiple car crashes or a couple of “big ones”, I’m not sure, but one thing is certain, it will prove to be an interesting race especially since qualifying was called off because of bad weather possibilities.

One of the unknowns this weekend is how the spoiler will figure into the racing on Sunday afternoon. It does appear that Nascar has done their preparation well in the way they’ve re-instituted the spoiler over the wing to these cars. It also appears that it won’t be the drastic difference some feared it would be, but it may well be something that will be talked about more in the coming weeks after the Talladega race depending on what happens as this race drags on.

From listening to all the chatter surrounding using the spoiler last weekend in Texas and the little bit of practice the teams got with it on Friday, the drivers seem to like it but do admit it does make the car feel at least slightly different. I do think the jury is still out on extended runs in two and three wide racing configurations and what may happen when someone decides to block.

One of the unknowns that will probably prove to be the most significant will be the relaxing of the bump-drafting rules, at least in this fan’s opinion. When two cars hook up it is a known fact from recent racing, they can make large gains on, and even pull away from, those that are in packs of three or more cars. Yes, it is true, they can only stay nose-to-tail for a limited time simply because the car that is the pusher begins to overheat, but, what will be interesting to see is how many two car drafts we will see and how separated they will be from each other around the track. This raises a question I haven’t really seen on the track yet, but, can there be several two car drafts going on in the same pack of cars? I guess we will find out on Sunday when I am sure it will be tried.

Another of the unknowns could prove to be the one that causes some minor skirmishes or major pile-ups as the day wears on. That unknown is how the two car drafts and the closing rates of the cars with a run on the others can handle drivers blocking to keep their positions. From my observations, this is the one thing that appears to cause most problems if for no other reason than the speeds they are running. If it is like normal, reaction time can make the difference between someone just getting a little out of shape or a “big one” taking out a bunch of contenders like the one late in the race at Texas.

Since qualifying was called because of weather problems, the lineup will be according to points and that doesn’t necessarily bode well for everyone nearer the top of the points over the rest of the field. I don’t think there will a lot of racers trying to get a jump at the very beginning and, therefore, I don’t expect too much to happen early on in the race. It is very possible there will be times (perhaps even extended times), of single file, follow the leader laps until nearer the end. Does that mean I think the whole race is going to be “boring?” No, of course not, this is restrictor plate racing, but I do know there will be many drivers that are very familiar with the old saying, “To finish first, you have to first finish.”

Now, I could be wrong, but I do believe the last fifty miles of the race will prove to be the best part of the race. That is just a product of restrictor plate racing and it depends on whether or not one or more “big one” has occurred before they get that far. Of course, that also depends on whether or not those accidents have taken out some of the more popular and competitive teams.

When it comes right down to it, I do expect the Hendrick teams will be right there in the hunt at the end along with Penske, Roush, Childers, Waltrip and Gibbs. H-m-m-m… now that I think about it, that means just about everybody.

Yep… that’s exactly what it means…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© April 24, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

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Nascar at Texas AfterChatter: Hamlin Takes The Trip to Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway

Once again in 2010, the one who led the most laps didn’t win the race, except this time, a 10 car accident changed the outcome instead of a late race caution with the double file restart.

It’s not new news, but it is a fact that Jeff Gordon had the dominating car at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday’s rain-delayed running of the Samsung Mobile 500 and didn’t take the victory. For the fourth time in the 2010 Nascar Sprint Cup season, the No. 24 team had a chance to make a trip to Victory Lane and take home a trophy but failed to do so. This time, no one can blame Steve Letarte for a bad call in the pits (although we all know some will try) and they really can’t blame the driver either, because neither of them had much to do with where they finished on the day. A racing accident left them and many strong competitors in the garage area for the final 17 laps of the race.

Denny Hamlin in the JGR No. 11 FedEx Toyota did take the checkered flag and everything that goes with it for winning this weekend. If you listen to him talk, you would almost think they planned it the way it happened. In actuality, they won because of the exploding motor of David Reutimann’s  No. 00 MWR Toyota with less than thirty laps to go and the 10 car accident that eliminated the No. 24 along with others. From this fan’s view, it was just a matter of that thing lovingly referred to by many as “racing luck.”

I don’t want to go into a long discussion of how the race went, but once again, Nascar fan’s were treated to some “mighty fine” racing in spite of the race being moved to Monday because of rain most of the day on Sunday. I don’t think it’s just me that thinks the racing is better this year. It has been good all year I would argue that point with anyone. It is this fan’s opinion , all of the changes NASCAR has made over the last couple of years have improved the racing for the fans (and some of the race teams catching up competition-wise to those that dominated them in the recent past hasn’t hurt at all either.)

I still can’t get over how much Tony Stewart has changed in the last couple of years. I still say that his buying Eldora Speedway and becoming a team owner in NASCAR definitely agrees with him. He has become a different person than he used to be. He is still opinionated and isn’t afraid to speak his mind when he thinks it is necessary, but he is a much calmer person now. He handles things much better now than he used to. (You know; those things that used to make him fly off the handle at the seeming drop of a hat.) I have to say, I’ve always been a Tony Stewart fan, but I really do like what he has now become much better.

And just as a side note, I’m kinda getting tired of hearing how unbelievably surprised everyone is that Denny Hamlin has toughed it out and stayed in the car for the last two races even after his surgery on his knee. Look, I know it hurts, but I also know he could have gotten out of the car at anytime, especially at Phoenix and let Casey Mears take over. It could very well be he could have been healing that much faster and could come back stronger sooner (and without having to endure so much pain). If, as he says, he is looking long term toward the Chase and wants to be strong for that time in the season, what happens right now doesn’t really matter all that much; (or does it?)

I know I’ll take some heat on this next statement, but, could it be that he is concerned that Casey Mears may perform just as well as he is in his equipment and he might have to look for work somewhere else?? Oh, well… playing hurt is tough, but sometimes getting hurt playing can turn out to be even tougher on you…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© April 20, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

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Nascar At Texas: Stewart Takes The Pole But Who Will Take Home The Trophy?

Rusty NormanI’m sure you’ve heard that Tony Stewart did something this weekend that he hasn’t done in Nascar Cup racing since 2005 and that was qualify on pole (and this only his eleventh pole since he started in NSCS.) Whether his winning the pole translates into strong performance and victory remains to be seen, but it does show Stewart/Haas Racing is ready to continue flexing their muscle like they did in 2009 with strong performances from both the No. 14 and No. 39 teams.

A couple of things stand out to this fan and need to be considered for the race this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. First, I’m not so sure that qualifying on pole means too much of anything except a good pit selection and second, (as has been the case more than once this year,) even leading the most laps doesn’t prove anything either. Just looking back at last week shows us three people that led over one hundred laps and still didn’t win, in fact, one of the strongest cars on the day, finished eighth.

I don’t think we can overlook the fact that this weekend is the first race using the spoiler on the C.O.T. on a mile and half track.  This is the one track that everyone has been looking toward to see if there is a big difference in the way the cars handle in packs as opposed to previous testing and recent racing and practicing. The big question is whether we return to the aero push problem of old or whether racing will be similar to the more recent wing days now that NASCAR is returning to the spoiler on the rear deck of the cars. That’s not to say that there weren’t problems associated with running the wings, (like how being out in clean air seemed to be an advantage and that it was harder to work through traffic further back in the pack.) Without a doubt, the next two weeks should tell us all whole lot more about the change to the spoiler from the wing and how the cars will react in packs and whether or not passing will be difficult on the mile and a half and above tracks.

From this fans view, Texas is one of those tracks that no one has mastered on a regular basis.  Oh sure, there have been some strong performances but no one team has dominated the rest of the field like at some other tracks, especially on regular basis.

I find this weekend very interesting and I do think that just about anyone in the top thirty five can win.  Watching the practices and the qualifying shows that all the cars, especially those in the top thirty five, are consistently running lap times that are very close together.  That means the race on Sunday could either be a runaway or a very dramatic finish at the end depending on if there is a caution or two in the last twenty or thirty laps or multiple green-white-checkered finishes.

If the history at Texas Motor Speedway tells us anything, it is very obvious that it generally doesn’t matter who leads the most laps, or who is leading before the last caution because it is a place that anyone can win at; that means that anyone on any team, from the worst to the best, could end up in victory lane.

So, am I avoiding picking a winner this weekend?  No, of course not (and I’ll get to that shortly.) I’m just saying that judging from what I’ve observed so far in practices this weekend, it all depends on who gets, or makes, the break at the end of the race.  It could be an old veteran or a relative newcomer; it doesn’t really matter about much else.  What does matter is who is out front when the checkered flag falls and that could be a great call from a crew chief or a slick move on the part of a driver; it just remains to be seen how it all pans out.

Although the Roush teams are looking stronger all the time, I’m not so sure this will be their weekend to shine. Even the RCR teams are running strong, but failing to finish in the top spots and I have my doubts about them taking the trip to victory lane. I am more inclined to think Joe Gibbs or Michael Waltrip teams over those two, at least for this weekend, but when it comes right down to it, it is awfully hard to argue against the strength of the Hendrick or Hendrick associated teams.

It is my opinion, if it isn’t someone totally unexpected, the winner will come from either Stewart/Haas Racing or one of the main Hendrick teams.

Even though they hardly ever run good at Texas, I just think Jeff Gordon and Steve Letarte are due to take a win or two in the very near future and I think this weekend could be first of several on the year. They may not be the fastest, but they have been right there ready win at the end lately and could have had three victories on the year if a couple of things have gone more their way. I’m picking Jeff Gordon to win this weekend and I see all of the Hendrick teams finishing strong and in the top 12-15…

(Shoot, Dale Jr could surprise us all this weekend, but, that would be a whole other story, wouldn’t it…)

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© April 17, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

Nascar At Phoenix AfterChatter: Ryan Newman IS the Spoiler at P I R

Once again in the 2010 NASCAR season it didn’t matter who led the most laps, it only mattered who was leading when the checkered flag fell. This weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, it was an ecstatic and emotional Ryan Newman that entered into to Victory Lane after a long dry spell of seventy-seven races of no wins. It was the first for the No. 39 and the first for the No. 39 team, Ryan Newman and crew chief, Tony Gibson with Stewart/Haas Racing.

I know you’ve heard it many times already since the end of the race, but, three drivers led over 100 laps and the best that any of those three did was finish third. Jimmie Johnson, Juan Montoya and Kyle Bush were the three drivers and at least two of the three were very disappointed with where they finished, (although with the luck Montoya has been having lately, fifth may have almost felt like a win.)

One thing that was changed by NASCAR last year has done more to change the finishing order when there is a caution flag near the end of the race and an additional rule change this year has altered how the crew chiefs look at their options for a late race pit stop.  The possibility of up to three green-white-checkered restarts at the end of a race has made the decision of how many tires to take much more important than it was in the past. To take two tires or four tires; that is the question and the decision has become even more critical than it used to be in the past. So far, the best choice in that decision changes from week to week.

Let’s take a look at the three most important changes NASCAR has made in the last two seasons that has totally changed the strategy for pit stops throughout the race and especially at the end. Double-file restarts have completely changed the way strategies play out be it from the viewpoint of the driver or the crew chief.  I think this is one thing that has improved the racing (or, at least has increased the excitement) more than anything else (especially from a fans point of view.) I also agree, it is one of the best decisions NASCAR is made in a while.  Add to that the way the line-ups are done during cautions and it generally means that those that are leading are running against those that are chasing them.  That has made for great racing also.  The green-white-checkered rule change of more than one try, has added a completely new dimension to already intense strategy plays for the end of the race.  From this fans view, these three things have changed the face of the race for the better.

It is very obvious that whoever these three rules affect in a positive way love it.  Those that it affects in a negative way tend to question it (that’s a nice way of saying, “don’t like it.”) One thing is certain, it has added more drama and excitement to the race, especially at the end.

I know it will, but I don’t mean it to sound as though I’m bragging, but, if we look at the finishing order, it looks like I did call it right in the Phoenix pre-race article.  I said the Hendrick teams would be in contention at the end of the race and it looks like I was correct.  The finishing order shows Ryan Newman (Hendrick equipment), Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin (three of the Hendrick teams) taking the top four places. Yes, I know I picked Jeff Gordon to win, but second place wasn’t so bad for the second week in a row. He could have just as easily had three victories this year instead of none so far.

Personally, I think the two Roush teams of Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards finishing sixth and seventh was the next biggest surprise to me. Of the four Roush teams, I really expected Greg Biffle to finish much better than he did and ahead of Matt and Carl. I know his twenty-second finishing position was a great disappointment to him and the No. 16 team.

This fan thinks this was one of the best races at Phoenix International Raceway in a while. Kyle Bush was all but handed the trophy up to the last caution flag and ended up eighth. Jimmie Johnson could have pulled off the victory with his four tire change and possibly another restart, but finished third. Juan Montoya led a lot of laps but had to be happy with his fifth place finish considering how the other six races have gone for him this year.

When all was said and done and the smoke had cleared from the victory burn-out, the No. 39 and its driver, Ryan Newman, were in Victory Lane. He was the “spoiler” of the weekend and, as it turned out, the spoiler on the back of the car was not; not that Ryan shouldn’t have won, but that no one expected him to win.

This victory put the No. 39 car in victory lane for the first time in Nascar and also for the first time in the young history of the Stewart/Haas camp, no small feat for a two car team that is only two years old and performing much better than anyone expected…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© April 13, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

Nascar At Phoenix: Will The Spoiler Be The Spoiler or Someone Else?

Rusty NormanTwo interesting things make this year’s spring race at Phoenix International Raceway different.  The first is probably the most obvious and most visible.  That would be the return of the spoiler, which made its first appearance at Martinsville almost two weeks ago and it remains to be seen what kind of an effect it will have on the way the cars handle as we get to these larger tracks.

The second change is not quite as visible but will make a difference all the same.  That would be the additional 63 laps that they’re running this year as opposed to the last time and they were there.

History says a few perform better than others at the Phoenix International Raceway, but reality says anyone could win this year. Why do I say that’s important? Because it is a well known fact in the recent past, some drivers and teams have performed quite well at the track. Although it appears that everyone loves to go to Phoenix and race, most all of the teams seem to like the track but not everyone can do what it takes to win there.

The fact of the matter it is that it takes a certain amount of special talent to perform well at the one mile oval in the desert. The drivers with great car control along with a lot of finesse through the turns generally perform better at P I R and it is another one of those tracks that has a bit of difference between the way cars handle in turns one and two, and then three and four. (Did I mention the back straight is slightly elevated adding another dimension to the entry of turn three?)

Now, we know that the drivers in NASCAR are supposed to be the best in the world and I don’t disagree with that statement, but even in NASCAR, some are better than others which is pretty obvious by the way that some dominate the others and have done so for years.

It appears to this fan, that the ones that perform well at Phoenix International Raceway hit their marks more consistently on the track and that allows them to gain an advantage on their competitors. When the track conditions change, they find another line that gives them the advantage once again, allowing them to pull away from the others.

One thing I will say about the 2010 season so far is that the competition is much tighter than it was last year.  That’s not to say that there wasn’t competition, but it does appear that the R C R teams, the Roush teams and the Roger Penske Racing folks have all picked it up.  No longer is it a given that the Hendrick teams will always finish up front and I’m sure that makes many people in NASCAR very happy.  Of course, the Hendrick teams are still running quite well and do have to be considered contenders every week.

I believe the race on the Saturday night is going to be filled with action and drama. Add to the mix the altercation between Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon from last week at Martinsville and there could be some unexpected excitement should one or the other decide it is their turn to show a little muscle, (some call it paback.)  Yes, we all know they’ve talked about the incident from last week and both say they’re ready to move on even though neither one of them is going to rule out the effect that adrenaline can have on either of them.  Both Matt and Jeff are strong competitors and it seems, for some reason on these shorter tracks, they manage to find each other.  Who knows, some day they may actually become “close” friends.  As it stands for now, it appears that their competitiveness stands in the way of that actually happening for at least while.

The race at Phoenix is always a hard one for me to pick a winner at.  The track is tight and fast, mostly only one groove wide and the pits are long and narrow. So much depends on what happens in the pits and how they line up in the double file restarts that I do think track position is going to play a great part in who actually takes the checkered flag. I also think the ones that can run consistently faster times on older tires are going to be the ones running up front at the end. (Gee, has anyone talked much about this being a fuel mileage race?)

So, who will it be?  As I said before, Phoenix is a hard place to pick a winner, (at least for this fan.) I do think the Hendrick teams must be considered when it comes down to those running at the front at the end of the race. All of the Ford teams showed they’re beginning to catch up competition-wise, especially Greg Biffle.  From my observations, I haven’t seen anyone recently that is more determined to consistently finish ahead of the No. 48 team than Greg Biffle and the No. 16 team.  Of course, the No. 2 team of Kurt Bush should be considered in that mix also.  It’s just an observation, but, I think a great addition to the No. 2 team has been crew chief Steve Addington. I’m not saying they’ve arrived yet, but you can definitely see where he has made a difference.

Unfortunately, this can also be the week that someone totally unexpected, (at least  from my view) could break into the win column.  Names like Marcos Ambrose and Martin Truex Jr., along with AJ Almendinger and Kasey Kahne immediately jump to the top of my list. And of course, we can’t leave out names like Jeff Burton or Kevin Harvick. Even Carl Edwards deserves some mention here because, if anyone is due to show up in victory lane, it would be him.

Like every other week so far this year, I just don’t have a clear picture in my mind as to who I think will win.  I know I have a couple of favorites and I know a couple of dark horses that could end up taking home the trophy.  Heck, I haven’t even mentioned Denny Hamlin yet.  Judging from the way he ran in the practice sessions, he could be making it his second in a row much to everyone’s surprise since his knee surgery a week and a half ago.

OK, I’ll stick my neck out just a little bit and make a prediction.  All things considered, I still think it will come down to one of the Hendrick teams finishing up front.  Now whether that will be Dale Jr, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson I just don’t know.  I can’t rule out Tony Stewart or Ryan Newman either. I believe the night time handling capabilities of the cars is what’s going to make the biggest difference this weekend.  Although they’re running more laps during the daylight hours than they did last year, I still think the coolness of the night air is when some cars are really going to come to life.  That’s why I’m picking Hendrick team that just happens to carry the number 24 on it.

H-m-m-m, I guess that means I’m picking Jeff Gordon…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© April 10, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

Nascar At Martinsville A/C: Once Again Martinsville Shows All of the Reasons Why Short Track Racing Is So Good

There are a lot of reasons why many NASCAR fans love short track racing and Martinsville once again proved to us all why short track racing is so popular.  Everything at short tracks seems to be a little more on the edge throughout the whole race.  Whether we look at emotions, intensity or just downright hard, door handle to door handle, wheel to wheel pushing and shoving, there’s hardly a moment in short track racing that something isn’t going on somewhere in the field.

The race this last weekend in Martinsville, was full of excitement, emotion and intensity which qualifies it in my book for one of the best races of the year so far.  There were some hurt feelings, some strained tempers and lots of emotion at the end of the race and hardly anyone, especially those at the front of the field, was exempt from any of it.  I know this is not news to anyone who watched the race but the drama went right down to the very last lap in the green white checkered finish.  In fact, according to those I talked to and listened to in various interviews around the spectrum of racing coverage, it appears, even the fans came away with high emotions and good feelings about the race they saw.

Many fans seemed to be very happy about the fact that there was no # 48 team in Victory Lane, but were somewhat disappointed by the fact that Jimmie Johnson took over the points lead in the race to the Chase.  I realize where they’re coming from but also recognize they can’t argue with success and Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the whole No. 48 team are very successful which they’ve proven over the last 4 years, (and are continuing to prove once again this year.)

Denny Hamlin won the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville even though it looked as though they had thrown the race away that the final caution. (One has to wonder if Kevin Harvick’s golden horseshoe comment about the No. 48 team would hold true this week if applied to the No. 11 team of Denny Hamlin.)  Even though I know Denny raced his heart out to win the race the final result was not necessarily the result of all his efforts.  I say this not meaning to take anything away from the No. 11 team but sometimes, as we used to say in the local short track days, “you just get lucky.” It is true that Denny drove his way to the checkered flag, but it is also true, that a lot things had to go his way for him to come away with the victory, (just as in past weeks, things had to go right for the #48 Team.)

No one can say that Jeff Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte didn’t give it their all to try and win and no matter how high the emotions were at the end, no one can say that Matt Kenseth didn’t either. (For some reason, Gordon and Kenseth seem to rub each other the wrong way.)  Even though those involved in the incidents of the final laps at track level didn’t necessarily see it the same way, I did see Matt Kenseth get into the bumper of the No. 24, pushing him up the track and into the door of the No. 39 of Ryan Newman which allowed the No. 17 Roush car an opportunity to pull alongside of Jeff Gordon. After that, it was pretty evident that, neither Matt or Jeff, was going to win or give each other a break while they leaned on each other down the straight and for a few moments, it was questionable whether either one of them would finish. That opened the door for Denny Hamlin to make his move to the front and Joey Logano followed him taking second and the rest is “history” as the old saying goes.

It is true Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team had a strong car all day.  It is also true that the decision they made at the last caution could have cost them the victory or at least could have caused them to finish much further back in the field. The way things turned out, they had a great day and I know they won’t disagree with that statement (and they won’t have to answer any questions as to why they threw the race away with their decision to pit on that last caution… )

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© March 31, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

Nascar At Martinsville: Qualifying Rainout Means Points Decide the Lineup for Sunday’s Goody’s 500

Rusty NormanThis weekend at Martinsville, could prove to be a totally different race than the expectations would have been should there have been qualifying. With the teams lining up for the race according to points, there’s no way of knowing how that is going to affect the outcome of the race.  The teams starting on the front row (Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth) didn’t necessarily exhibit that they had a good grip on performance for the Martinsville track.  In fact, Kevin Harvick made the statement that this could be the slowest qualifying front row for the race ever and I’m inclined to, at least, partially agree.

A quick look at the lineup reveals teams that have been performing well so far this year but don’t necessarily run that well at Martinsville. From this fans view, what is interesting about starting order is that it makes a big difference because of the way the pit stalls are handed out.  Even though the teams starting up front may not be running that good during the race, it is possible that their pit locations could actually keep some of the competitors closer to the front during the race than they would be if there would’ve been qualifying.

Even though Jimmy Johnson, who has been highly favored to win this weekend, will be starting third and will have the No. 3 pit stall, his performance in practice didn’t leave him with a comfortable feeling about how his car is going to handle during the race.  Now, that doesn’t mean he won’t perform well during the race, but it could mean that he could struggle all day and finish far back in the pack at a track he has been somewhat dominate at in the recent past.

Jeff Gordon is another favorite at this track and although he was running fairly fast during the practice times, he never appeared to be really happy with this car.  Sometimes that means Jeff is going to perform better than he expects and sometimes, it just means that his car is only good on the short run and although he may work his way towards the front, we may see him fall back through the pack throughout the day.

Probably the most consistent performer this weekend has been Jeff Burton.  This could also be another weekend where Richard Childress Racing shines in 2010, especially the number 31 team. No, I’m not saying he’s going to win, but there is a high possibility that Jeff Burton is going to perform well this weekend.  It may just depend on how the breaks fall during the race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin also looked good during the practice times.  From this fans view, either one of them could win this weekend. If it happens that Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins, Junior Nation will be ecstatic.  Should Mark Martin win, Junior Nation may not rejoice but many people will be quite happy that Mark did win, (including Mark Martin himself.)

Another factor that needs to be considered this weekend is the possibility of the race being shortened due to weather. Rain is expected sometime during the afternoon hours, so it is very possible that the race could be called and have to be continued on Monday or just make it past the halfway point and whoever is leading at that point will be declared the winner.  That is not something that NASCAR wants to see happen and I know that the fans don’t want that either but, every once in a while it does happen.

Personally, I would rather they complete the race rather than have to call it because of weather just beyond the halfway point.  So I guess that means I would rather it be rained out completely for Sunday and have to be run on Monday rather than get started, make it to just over halfway and be called.

No matter what happens this weekend, come rain or come shine, Martinsville is one of the toughest tracks on the NASCAR circuit even though it is only a half mile track and is always a place where the cream generally rises to the top.  I don’t think there’ll be many surprises this weekend when it comes to who wins and finishes in the top 5 but I do think it will be an emotional race and some people may go away from the track with their emotions high and their feelings hurt.

This could be the race that Juan Pablo Montoya steps into Victory Lane for the first time at an oval track in NASCAR. It could also be another victory at the track and a possible turning point in the year for Denny Hamlin. I don’t really expect it, but it could also be a weekend where someone totally unexpected walks away with the victory and the trophy.

I do believe it is going to be a very interesting race and I do hope that it makes it to the end and doesn’t have to be called or rescheduled for the next day.  I reckon the only way we’re going to know for sure, is to watch the race on Sunday and see what happens…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© March 27, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

Nascar At Bristol A/C: Kurt Bush Dominates at Bristol, But Late Race Caution Changes the Outcome

Is it just me, or are the rest of you beginning to notice a pattern forming here? Let’s see, Jeff Gordon dominated the race at Las Vegas and Jimmie Johnson won. Kurt Bush dominated the race at Bristol and…  Jimmie Johnson again makes the trip to Victory Lane.

I don’t know about you, but it appears that leading the most laps and just generally outperforming the rest of the teams on any given day doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go home the victor. In fact, as long as Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team are still on the track and within striking distance there is no guarantee that you won’t be racing them to the checkers.

Yes, it’s true, once again, Jimmie Johnson is being blamed for the lack of interest in the viewing audiences of NASCAR.  I have to say that it is beginning to get tiring to listen to all the complaints about a team and driver that is performing so much further ahead and above the rest.  Yes, I have my own favorite driver and team and, yes, I would like to see them win; but until they can beat Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the rest of the 48 team, I just can’t expect them to be in victory lane.

I find it interesting that we are only five races into the new season and many people are already saying the season is over and the race for the Chase is for second place. In fact, I have already heard people saying, “Go ahead an award Jimmie Johnson The Cup for 2010. He’s already got the season locked up anyway.”

I find that to be premature and for lack of better words, it’s just plain stupid.  I still say that Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the No. 48 team are forcing the issue and causing the rest of the team’s to work all the harder to put them in the rearview mirror.  They have set the bar very high and until the other teams can consistently outperform them, we are just going have to sit by and wait for those other teams to catch up and begin outperforming them on a regular basis.

In all honesty, some teams are getting very close to doing that.  It is pretty obvious that Kurt Bush, along with crew chief, Steve Addington and the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge are showing strength everywhere they go.  Add to that the Richard Childress teams of Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton and it looks like the competition will begin to heat up even more in the coming weeks.

So, what was the racing like at Bristol?  Actually, it was a very interesting race and full of unknowns.  Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski managed to stay away from each other’s bumpers and quarter panels and, I have to be honest once again, it appears that Brad Keselowski learned something from the incident in Atlanta.  Now this is just this fans observation, but even though he was still driving aggressively, he wasn’t knocking people out of the way even in the Nationwide race on Saturday.  Actually, if my observation is true, then he can begin to show us what he is really made of as far as driving ability and talent. Now I know there will be those that disagree with me and say that this was just short track racing and the opportunity wasn’t there to lay the bumper to those he was trying to pass.  I say, and this is just my observation, Brad was driving differently around everyone than in past weeks.  There was just a different look to his racing to me.  He was still able to pass people and move aggressively forward through the field without all the rough stuff that people have been upset with him about in the recent past.  Frankly, I am glad to see that.  We already knew he had talent in now it appears he is gaining some maturity, especially since the “flying” incident at Atlanta.

Taking a final look at the outcome of last weekend’s race at Bristol, there was no one more disappointed than Kurt Bush and Steve Addington.  They dominated all day long, led the most laps and Kurt led the most laps he’s led in a single Sprint Cup race.  Unfortunately, because of the race in Bristol, it appears he has already conceded the race in Martinsville this weekend to the No. 48 team.  Maybe he’s just trying to keep from getting his hopes too high until they unload off the truck on Friday, or maybe he just doesn’t have a lot of confidence in his ability to do well at Martinsville.  It is true that Jimmie Johnson has won five out of the last seven races at Martinsville so it goes without saying, that his chances are pretty good.

At any rate, this weekend in Martinsville will be the first weekend of the return of the spoiler to the Cup cars.  I am anxious to see what difference that may make in the competition of those that used to run good with the old car as opposed to the COT.  Who knows, it is entirely possible in the weeks ahead that we could see some of the ones that were running strong before they went to the winged COT’s, return to running in front of the pack instead of in the middle or the back…  (or, maybe not. It could just be business as usual…)

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© March 23, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

NASCAR at Bristol: Even More Excitement Could Be Brewing at Nascar’s First Short Track for 2010

Rusty NormanYou already know the old adage of, “The more things change, the more things stay the same,” and I’m sure you’ve heard it many times.  Well, this week at Bristol Motor Speedway will prove the adage to be just as true as it ever was, if not more. With the new changes made to the track (lengthening the SAFER barrier on the straights) and the tire that Goodyear brought for this weekend, the race this weekend at Thunder Valley could prove to be one of the most exciting short track races in a long time.

All the usual complaints have already surfaced whether it be from the driver’s or the crew chiefs and others. Numbered amongst those complaints would be things like how slippery the track is and how much the tire has changed the feel of the track from previous years.  Add to that the continuing saga of Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards and the “probation” that Carl Edwards is on and suddenly the drama is increased in many ways.

It is no secret that drivers have already expressed their intentions toward Carl Edwards and his being on probation. Some have openly said they will probably press him more than they normally would were he not on probation simply because they know that he has to watch how he reacts to whatever they do.  Now, I’m of the opinion that NASCAR will be watching them just as closely as they are watching Carl Edwards.  Does that mean that it’s no holds barred for all the competitors except Carl Edwards, or, does it mean that NASCAR will be looking also at their intentions in trying to give him to do the wrong thing at the right time? I think those are both good questions.

There are two ways to look at the situation between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski. First, I think they are able to put this situation behind them for now but it seems to be very difficult for the media to put the situation behind them. I do believe Carl Edwards has made his point and will move on. How Brad handles the situation from here on will show whether or not Carl’s actions made an impact or not, no matter what Brad says in public.

It is possible that there could be an obvious difference in how Keselowski runs in the other series as well.  It is also possible that he may be even more aggressive which is going to aggravate the competitors in those series even more and I believe, NASCAR will be keeping a keen eye on him also. Secondly, Carl being on probation does put him in a predicament of sorts with his other competitors.  It remains to be seen how he handles the extra pressure from them and how he maintains his competitiveness over the next three races.  No matter how we look at it, only time will tell what the results will be.

Well, we could sit and talk about the incident from two weeks ago for a long period of time just as it is been discussed since it happened two weekends ago. But in actuality, there are other things to talk about for this weekend.

After observing the practices and the qualifying for Sprint Cup, it is obvious that the competition this weekend is going to be exciting and full of the unexpected.  There seems to be plenty of strength being shown from several teams in the garage area.  There’s no doubt that Kurt Bush and his crew chief, Steve Addington, are flexing some muscle and carrying momentum in the Dodge camp.

Richard Childress teams are still showing what they’ve learned and accomplished since late in season last year. They are making a strong showing on the track and in the standings so far.

The Hendrick teams are still strong even though they haven’t yet shown they are as dominant as they were last year.  It seems to me that it is still the ones that finished 1-2-3 at the end of the season year last year that are carrying the banner for the Hendrick teams. Of course, we’re talking about the teams of Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon. Dale Jr’s performance is still in need of improvement but it appears he is doing slightly better.

So, what will happen this weekend is very much up in the air.  Will it be the weekend that the Joe Gibbs Toyota teams begin to shine even as Joey Logano has over the last four race weekends and by his taking the poll position for the Sprint Cup race this weekend?  It is true that Logano is leading the Gibbs teams this year instead of the expected Denny Hamlin and Kyle Bush teams.

It is just this fans view, but this is one of those weekends that is going to be easier to watch than to predict what will happen and, in all honesty, I am looking forward to the race this weekend.  Not only because of the drama that may show up from previous racing a couple of weeks ago but because I know this is short track racing which means short tempers and highly emotional racing from beginning to end.  In the end, it remains to be seen just what kind of thunder will be coming from Thunder Valley when this weekend is over…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© March 20, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and