Different year, Rain again

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comFor the 2nd consecutive year at Bristol Motor Speedway’s spring race, I have spent most of a whole day at a track, to watch only a few hours of actual racing. This year, along with last year, endured a very long rain delay on the Sunday, prior to the Sprint Cup drivers actually being able to run. However, it was a pretty fun day. Most of the fun comes from seeing some of the characters waiting around for the race to start. Let me put it this way…..You will be entertained, at any place where you can bring your own cooler, with no restrictions on what types of beverages are in the cooler.

Matt Kenseth broke an over a year winless streak by outlasting everyone else at this marathon. The pole sitter for this race was fast, ran well, and took care of the car during Sunday’s race. There were plenty of on track incidents collecting other drivers, though. Roughly 22 laps into the race, Teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano got tangled up. This would knock both of those drivers out of contention for the win. Dale Earnhardt, Jr cut a tire against the machine of Kasey Kahne and had to make an unscheduled pit stop. After going down 2 laps from this pit stop, there was a loose wheel on the 88. He had to make another pit stop, this time putting him 4 laps down. Junior would eventually get 2 of them back, but still finished 2 laps down.

Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, the 2 fastest cars all weekend, were both caught up in accidents on the track. Nonetheless, there were a lot of cars that were luckier than the aforementioned ones. First, Jimmie Johnson. He didn’t qualify well, but was 3rd fastest in Saturday’s final cup practice session. It seemed like he hit everything on the track, except for the pace car Sunday evening, and still came away with a 2nd place finish. The biggest surprises of the night, were top 10 finishes from Tony Stewart, Justin Allgaier, and Danica Patrick. They put in a great performance Sunday evening, after some struggles earlier this year. After sitting it out the past 2 years and a couple of pairs of wet socks, I pray it never rains again.

Jimmie Johnson: At it Again in Texas

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comWell, our good buddy Jimmie Johnson was once again on fire in the great state of Texas last weekend.

Johnson battled it out with Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr, in the Duck Commander 500, to claim his 2nd NSCS win of the 2015 season last Saturday night.

Johnson and Harvick dominated the race under the lights on the 1.5 mile tri-oval in the Lone Star State.  They combined to lead 224 of the 334 laps run.  Harvick was charging at the end of the race, battling the 88 of Dale Earnhardt, Jr, but just couldn’t get to the 48.

Once Jimmie Johnson gets out in front, more than likely, he won’t be caught.  He is one of the best drivers of all time and doesn’t do things that hurt himself or the team on the track.  Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have a knack for setting up a car, dialing a car in, getting up front, staying up front, and taking care of the racing equipment.

The Lowe’s 48 team isn’t good.  As Tony the Tiger would say, They’re Great!

While most of the talk and focus has been on Kevin Harvick’s performance this season, don’t count Johnson out.  He will win multiple more times this season and will definitely be a factor in the Chase.  Johnson joins Harvick as the only 2 time winner, thus far, this 2015 season.

As with any race in Texas, there was a little bit of a temper flaring.  Harvick was accusing the #22 of Joey Logano of blocking, so he nudged Logano out of the way, late in the race.  Logano wound up finishing fourth on Saturday night.  Let me get this straight……You must move over to let someone just pass you, instead of trying to win the race?  Come on.  Has Harvick ever blocked anyone?  Of course he has.  Blocking is all a part of racing.

Logano did admit that he was blocking.  But again, my point is, it is a part of racing.  Anyone who says they haven’t done it is telling a big one.  Off to the Tennessee hills this weekend.  Look for a lot of good short track racing and tempers flaring this weekend, as the drivers tackle the World’s Fastest Half Mile, known as Bristol Motor Speedway.  As always, it should be fun.

Gambling Sometimes Pays Off

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comBrad Keselowski and his #2 Penske Ford led the only lap that mattered last week at Auto Club Speedway in California, the last one.

He and crew chief Paul Wolfe came up with a pit strategy after a late debris caution, which left the other leaders racing for 2nd place.  While most of the leaders came in to the pits to get 2 fresh tires, Keselowski took 4 new ones.

It paid off, as there was another caution, setting up a Green-White checkered finish and giving Keselowski the time he needed to get up front and take over the lead from Kurt Busch, who had been leading a good part of the race.  Busch, who was out at the first of the year serving a NASCAR mandated suspension, finished 3rd .

Kevin Harvick is on some kind of run!  He drove his #4 car to a 2nd place finish at the Speedway in California.   This finish means that he has finished either first or second in each of the last 8 Sprint Cup Series races.  He’ll have some work to do to get that car to a 9th straight top 2 finish this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, in Virginia.  It is a half mile track where things can get dicey and rough for drivers on the track resembling a paper clip.  The winner of this track wins a grandfather clock as the trophy.  I’m picking Jimmie Johnson to bring home the clock this weekend.

The surprise of the year continues to be the driving of Martin Truex, Jr.  Truex, in his 2nd year driving for Furniture Row , has now finished in the top 10 of all Sprint Cup races this 2015 season.  Like I’ve stated before, it appears Truex and his team has figured something out in this 2nd season.  Another driver who has rebounded nicely since the opening race at Daytona is Ryan Newman.  Since posting a 38th place finish at the Great American Race, Newman has posted 4 consecutive top 10 finishes.  The top 10 at California was Keselowski, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Joey Logano, Martin Truex, Jr, Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon.

This is Getting a Little Ridiculous

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comFor the 2nd time in 2015, your 2014 Sprint Cup Champion, Kevin Harvick, has visited Victory Lane.

On the current West Coast swing, he is 2 for 2 in Sunday Sprint Cup races.  He won at Vegas, then at Phoenix.  This week, he tries for the Tri-fecta…..Winning at California.  Harvick has finished no worse that 2nd place in each of his last 7 Sprint Cup races.  That is the model of consistency that every driver would love to have.  That is why he is the defending Champion.  That is why he is leading the points race this year.  That is why he has won 2 of the 4 races, thus far, this year.

Unless every other driver steps it up significantly, Harvick and his #4 car will run away with this 2015 Sprint Cup Championship.

One nice surprise this season, though, has been the driving of Martin Truex, Jr, in the #78 Furniture Row Racing car.  This one car team has finished in the top 10 in all four Sprint Cup Series races this year.  Mark this down…..the 78 car will win a race this year and make the Chase.

I liked him during Speedweeks at Daytona and he has not let me down, so far.  He has had a racy car every week at all tracks.  My prediction to win at California this week……6 Time Champion, Jimmie Johnson.

Kevin Harvick: Freaky Fast… Again

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comYour 2014 Sprint Cup Series Champion was at his old ways again last week in Las Vegas…..Winning.  Last year’s champion won the race dominated the race in Sin City this past Sunday.  In the past, we have seen a lot of drivers win this race by gambling, either on tires or fuel mileage.  Not this time.

From the get go, Kevin Harvick drove up front and never looked back.  He was pushed early by 6-time Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson, but when Johnson had a problem with a tire, then blew a front right tire that sent him into the wall, Harvick’s biggest competition for the race was out.

It was smooth sailing from there.

Now, with a win under his belt, Harvick is all but assured a spot in this year’s version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  He now goes to a track where he has won 6 times……6 of his all time 29 victories have come at this track, Phoenix Raceway.  In fact, Harvick has won his last 3 Phoenix races and 4 of the last 5 at this one mile track.  I believe I wouldn’t bet against him this week, either.

Gordon’s bad luck

In Jeff Gordon’s final season in the Sprint Cup Series, he has been involved in crashes in all 3 of the races this young 2015 season.

He got caught up in a wreck on the last lap at Daytona, another one in Atlanta, and ran into Jeb Burton last week at Vegas, when teammate Jimmie Johnson’s machine got into the wall.  Gordon was behind Johnson and slid into Burton’s car.

His weekend started off a little crazy, though.  Friday, Gordon was the pole winner in the qualifying session.  Then, in practice, he and Danica Patrick traded paint on the track and he had to start the race from the rear of the field, due to going to a backup car, per NASCAR rules.  The best thing he can do at this point is to not get mired in traffic.  Run up front.  The bad things happen in the rear of the field.   Bad things, man……..

Atlanta Race Recap: Here We Go Again

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comIn only the 2nd race of the season, ol’ Jimmie Johnson is already back at his old ways….winning.

Considering the season, the 6 time Sprint Cup Series champion missed the final segment of the 2014 Championship at Homestead and didn’t pick up his first win until he won the Coca Cola 600 in May of last year.

That is scary for the rest of the drivers on the circuit.  Just honestly, the dude is that good.  Expect him to win more, and more, and more, this year.  Now he can just roll the dice and take chances out on the track, since he already has a spot in the Chase for the Championship locked up with the win.

The win was super impressive, considering Johnson had to start at the rear of the pack, due to not being able to qualify, because he couldn’t get through inspection quick enough to turn a qualifying lap.  This same issue plagued many drivers, including Johnson, Matt  Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, and a few others.

All is not good in the Hendrick Motorsports stable, though. Jeff Gordon, in his final year in the Sprint Cup Series, is 2 for 2.  Not 2 wins, not 2 top 10 finishes, but 2 wrecks.  First, on the last lap at Daytona 2 weeks ago, then last week at Atlanta.

Expect him to get it turned around, though.  This won’t last long.  I will say this about last week’s race, though.  It was one of the more entertaining races at Atlanta that I have seen recently.  There was lots of action, interesting restarts, and some twisted metal on the track.

Your top 3 from Atlanta….Johnson, Kevin Harvick (who started dead last), and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Now let’s go roll the dice in Vegas.  This week the drivers will take their left turn talents to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where I fully predict 3 time Vegas champ will hit the jackpot and come away with another.

The Daytona 500: How Anti-climatic!

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comHave you ever watched a great fireworks display, and have no huge ending?

That summed up the 2015 version of The Great American Race, also known as the Daytona 500.  Although it was a fun race to watch, my stomach turned when there was a wreck on the backstretch of the 2.5 mile Superspeedway on the last lap. Instead of letting the top 4 drivers battle it out on the last lap, NASCAR decided to throw the yellow caution flag, ending any chance for the drivers behind Joey Logano to win the race.

The wreck was over a mile away and the drivers fighting for the lead would not have continued to run and run into the wreck.  I thought it was a chicken move, based solely on some of the previous day’s revelations.

On Saturday, Kyle Busch, who is one of NASCAR’s best drivers, found himself with a compound fracture in one of his legs and a fractured foot.  NASCAR did not have “soft” walls, also known as “SAFER Barriers” installed on a particular part of the track.  There was a big wreck, and Busch found himself running through the grass on the frontstretch and slamming head on into the concrete wall at an estimated 90 plus miles an hour.

It was unfortunate, and NASCAR was being criticized from every angle for not having these “soft” walls everywhere on the track.  With all this being said, it was a race that I really thought one of 4 drivers could win.  Those were Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Jimmie Johnson.

Earnhardt, Jr., really liked his car all week and you could tell why.  His car was fast.  The aforementioned 4 drivers were the ones who led the most laps in the race.  Logano won the race and Gordon caused the wreck on the backstretch to bring out the last caution flag.  Earnhardt, Jr., finished 3rd and Jimmie Johnson finished 5th.

It was a fun race to watch, but NASCAR needs to let the drivers decide the outcome, not a flag.  Next week: Atlanta.

From Challengers to Contenders

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comWell, Hendrick Motorsports did it again.  Jeff Gordon won for the 5th time in his illustrious career at Dover International Speedway, also known as the Monster Mile.

Gordon led 94 of the 400 laps at the Delaware track this past Sunday.  Kevin Harvick led the most laps of the race, leading 223 of the 400, but had an issue with the front drivers side tire going down, due to a bad valve stem, causing him to finish 13th.  Since his win at Darlington earlier this year, Harvick has led the most laps on 5 different occasions, not winning any of those races.

This was a typical Dover race.  Not many cautions, lots of green flag racing, and many naps being taken by folks at home.  There were 5 caution flags thrown during the race; 3 for debris on the track and 2 for accidents.  Finishing behind Gordon were Brad Keselowski in 2nd, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex, Jr, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, and Kyle Busch rounding out the top 10.

On a side note, Joey Logano has an average finish of 3 in the first 3 races of the Sprint Cup Chase, the Challenger round. Now, on to round 2 of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the Contender round.

Of the 16 original drivers in the Chase, 12 are advancing.  Those drivers will all have 3000 points and they are Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, and Kasey Kahne.

They will race the next 3 weeks to see which 8 will advance to the next round.  This should be some fun racing to watch with the Kansas race kicking things off this weekend, then in 2 more weeks, we have Talladega.  The great equalizer.  What a way to finish up a segment of the chase with a 43 car pack running at speeds of close to 200 miles per hour!

Since my predictions of winners this year has been so bad, I think I will just keep my thoughts to myself this week, to save myself the embarrassment.

Two for two for Penske

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comWell, I am writing this while recovering from a vacation to the most Magical Place on Earth.  You got it….The Walt Disney World Resort.  After traveling to the beach and going to the parks at Disney with my 22 month old daughter, it was time to come home to get some much needed rest, because it sure didn’t happen down there. It was all fun, though.

Now, let’s get back to racin’.  For the second consecutive week, a Team Penske driver has punched his ticket to the next round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  First, 2 weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway, Brad Keselowski won.  Not to be outdone, though, this past weekend, Joey Logano took his Penkse Ford to Victory Lane at New Hampshire.  It was a survival of the fittest, and Logano was the survivor.  There were a total of 15 cautions during this race, with several contenders taking a big hit in the 2nd race of the Chase.

Remember, the bottom 4 drivers out of the top 16 will be eliminated after this week at Dover.  Kevin Harvick made things interesting leading 104 laps, before losing the lead with 27 laps to go to Logano.  Logano wound up leading a total of 73 laps, but led the one that meant the most.  Following Logano were Kyle Larson, Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Jimmie Johnson, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, and Brian Vickers rounding out the top 10 at New Hampshire.

What’s Next?

A trip to the Monster Mile.  Dover.  AKA the track that Jimmie Johnson absolutely dominates.  If I were a betting man, I would lay the house that Johnson wins this upcoming week.

Put it this way, Johnson wins one time out of every three times he races at Dover.  Out of his 25 races there, he has won 9 times.  Absolutely unbelievable.  There are a lot of drivers that have some ground to make up if they want to advance and move on this week.

Some of those are Greg Biffle, Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, and Kurt Busch.  Those are the drivers at the bottom of the standings, so look for 4 of those guys to get knocked out of contention for the Championship this week.  Even if Johsnon dominates this week, as I’m sure he will, I’m still looking forward to checking out the race at Dover, this Sunday afternoon.

 

Total Domination at Richmond

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comI had to stop and think about a few things last Saturday while watching the Cup race at Richmond.

What I thought sounded like a broken record was actually the #2 of Brad Keselowski owning the rest of the field at the last race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins this week.  Out of 400 laps, Keselowski led 383.  Folks, that is pretty darn good.

Kevin Harvick led the other 17.  So, on this short track, with spots in the Chase field on the line, there were 2 lap leaders.  Unbelievable.  I thought this race would be the NASCAR of old……Drivers bumping, wrecking, and shoving each other out of the way to get the elusive victory and secure a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs.  Unfortunately, though, it was a dud.

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This was Brad’s fourth win of the season, clinching the top spot in the Chase field.  Followed by Keselowski in the Chase seedings are Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, and Ryan Newman.  Only Kenseth, Biffle, and Newman have yet to reach Victory Lane this season.  The first driver to not make the Chase was Clint Bowyer, despite a 3rd place finish at Richmond.

So, What’s Next?

In an effort to be more interesting, NASCAR revamped their Chase format this year.  The bottom four Chase drivers are eliminated from contention after the 3rd race, and then points for the remaining 12 still in are reset to 3,000.

After 3 more races, four more are eliminated from contention.  The points will then reset to 4,000 for the remaining 8 drivers.  After the Phoenix race, drivers in positions 5-8 will be eliminated, while the remaining four have their points totals reset to 5,000.

The remaining 4 drivers will duke it out at Miami-Homestead for the right to call himself the 2014 Sprint Cup Champion.

Clear as mud?  I thought so.  Really freakin’ confusing.  So, the first race of the Chase is at Chicagoland Speedway.  How fitting that a sport that is more Southern than Sweet Tea starts It’s playoffs in Illinois.

Got me shakin’ my head for sure.

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