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.

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.

Different Paint Scheme, Same Result

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comBrad Keselowski, driver of the Miller Lite Ford, took his Redd’s Apple Ale #2 car to victory lane this past weekend in Loudon, NH at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

It was a dominating effort, as he led 138 of the 301 scheduled laps.  It was not without drama, though, as he had to win the restart after a late caution sent the race into a Green-White checkered flag situation.  Keselowski was able to win the late restart, ahead of Kyle Busch and cruise to his 3rd victory for Penske Racing this season.

Not too exciting of a race, but hey, it beats watching soccer.  The biggest storyline of the week, was when Joey Logano, who was running 2nd at the time, was taken out of the race when he made contact with Morgan Shepherd, who was multiple laps down at the time, and was the slowest car on the track.  Morgan, who is in his 70’s, has been a staple on the circuit for years and NASCAR has no problems with him running races, since he has passed his mandatory physical.

Early Troubles

Six-time champion Jimmie Johsnon made an early exit from the race, as he crashed his car after having issues with the left rear tire from the get-go.  He would wind up finishing 42nd on the day.   Two chase contenders, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon, both ran out  of fuel  on the last caution and last lap.  They finished 30th and 26th, respectively.

No race this week

The boys and girl will be taking this week off, as they prepare to run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next Sunday.  We’ll be back in a couple of weeks.  Until then, keep em’ clean.

Team Hendrick: Head and Shoulders Above

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comFor the fifth consecutive points race, Rick Hendrick had one of his cars go to victory lane. This time, it was the 6-time Sprint Cup Series Champion, Jimmie Johnson.

Whoever wrote this guy off earlier this year, well, that crow tastes pretty good, I bet. When summer heats up, so does JJ. I wrote a few weeks ago that all the other drivers had to be sweating it after the #48 picked up his first victory of the season at Charlotte, then the next week at Dover.

Fans of drivers other than Jimmie Johnson, it could be another long year. He has won three of the last four races and has even more tracks that he runs well at coming up soon. Let’s just face it folks, the guy is a pretty remarkable driver. At least the best of this era.

As far as the past five weeks go, Jeff Gordon won at Kansas, Johnson at Charlotte, Dover,  and Michigan (which is a track where he had never won), and Dale Jr at Pocono. That is a powerful statement by the Hendrick garage. Currently, there is absolutely no debate on who is the strongest team in the Sprint Cup Series. If you do try to debate it, you are being foolish.

Current standings have Gordon first, Johnson second, and Dale Jr third. Like I said, you can’t argue with the results. If the Sprint Cup Chase started today, Johnson would be seeded #1 (due to his 3 wins), Dale Jr would be seeded #2 (2 wins), Joey Logano #3 (2 wins), Kevin Harvick #4 (2 wins), and Jeff Gordon #5 (1 win).

Right turns, anyone?

Here comes the first of two road courses on the schedule this Sunday in Sonoma, California. As NASCAR fans, you either hate road courses, or love them.

I love them. I think that it is a great break from the monotony of drivers going around the world to the left every weekend. I also get to see a driver on the course that had one of the greatest post-race interviews ever. If you ever get the chance, watch Boris Said’s interview from after the 2011 Watkins Glen race. It was an instant classic. Said, who is not a Sprint Cup regular, with his 80’s porn hair, called Greg Biffle a “chump” and said if someone would give him Biffle’s address, he would give him what he deserved, “a butt whoopin’”. Classic NASCAR stuff.

This happened after the cars were beatin’ and bangin’ in good old fashioned road course style. If you want a laugh, check it out. I look for the Hendrick win streak to stop at 5 this week. I’m going to go out on a limb and take the driver from Tasmania. Marcos Ambrose has the highest driver rating at Sonoma, and is an excellent road course driver. However, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon could threaten for the win.

Twice is Nice for the #48

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comAs we talked about last week, lots of folks were writing Jimmie Johnson off this year. He has gone out the past 2 weekends and proven that he isn’t chopped liver, as some had suggested. There were 2 pretty darn dominant cars at The Monster Mile this past Sunday, and JJ was one of them. The other, was none other than the number 18 of Kyle Busch, who was attempting to sweep all three (Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series, and Sprint Cup Series) races this past weekend. However, those dreams were dashed when Busch tangled with Clint Bowyer and wrecked 125 laps into the contest. Evidently, Bowyer, driver of the #15 car and his spotter had a little bit of miscommunication and left Busch no room underneath him, causing the #18 to wreck. Bowyer said “sorry,” but Busch was ticked, and left the track without comment. As I predicted last week, Jimmie Johnson was the outright winner at Dover, and I am afraid his run is about to start. So are the other drivers.  JJ usually runs great in the summer, and summer is here.

What Pothole?

In a strange twist of events, part of the concrete at Dover actually came up and caused a driver to hit it, then hit the wall. The race was then red-flagged, so track crews could repair the track where the chunk of concrete had come up. The result of this was Jamie McMurray going multiple laps down, due to repairs that had to be made to his car, after hitting the wall. Therefore, NASCAR picks up the Skid Mark of the week. By no fault of his own, McMurray’s day was essentially ended when the concrete hit his car. As a matter of fact, the concrete piece hit the splitter on the front of his car and exploded into air. The announcers on Fox initially thought it was a can of fluid that was flying in the air that hit McMurray’s car and exploded. When a race is red flagged, crews cannot work on cars on pit road. This is where the rule is wrong. The pit crew for McMurray should have been able to work on his car. Totally unbelievable, in my opinion. Hence, the Skid Mark of the Week.

The Poconos

Here we go to another Northern track this week. Pennsylvania to be specific. Pocono Raceway is a 2.5 mile tri-oval where cars will run at very high rates of speed. I enjoy watching races at Pocono, and if you don’t get to watch this one, don’t fret. NASCAR will return to Pocono in a couple of months for their 2nd race at this track. Kind of strange, huh? Anyhow, my pick for this week. I think I’m gonna ride the #48 horse until he proves me wrong. He has 3 wins at Pocono, and an average finish of around 8th. Another pretty good bet would be the #24 of Jeff Gordon or the #11 of Denny Hamlin.  Gordon has won at Pocono 6 times while Hamlin has won 4 times. Let’s just hope for a non-snoozer. Big tracks with long green flag runs spell NAP. Until next week, happy racin’ and keep it clean.

It Was Only a Matter of Time for #48

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comSix times, that is. Also known as Jimmie Johnson. Everyone that follows NASCAR, including myself, knew the #48 would find himself in Victory Lane. The drought is over. Coming into this week, Johnson was sitting in 7th place, with no wins. However, people were acting like he was NASCAR’s equivalent of the Cleveland Browns. No way. Not this guy. Not his crew chief Chad Knaus, either. These guys are now going into a summer stretch, where they run VERY well. People maybe now will act like he is the equivalent of the Seattle Seahawks, last year’s Super Bowl Champion, instead of the Browns. Folks, it was only a matter of time.

 Kurt’s Day

Kurt Busch ran all the laps in one of the races he ran in on Sunday. Not the one we are most familiar with, however. Busch drove his car to a better than respectable finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, finishing in 6th place, in his first ever attempt at the Indy 500. Things didn’t work out so well for him that night in Charlotte, though. Kurt finished in 40th position after blowing an engine in the Coca Cola 600. Wonder if he’ll try it again?

Out of place track

Don’t get me wrong. I really like Dover, where the Sprint Cup Series drivers will be racing this week. However, this track seems out of place to me. The one mile concrete oval, also known as the Monster Mile, is a fun race to watch. But, Delaware for a NASCAR race? Could you imagine seeing all the “typical Southern” type things in Delaware? I have never been there, but I just assume it wouldn’t have that same feel as a good ol’ NASCAR race in the South. I couldn’t imagine seeing blue jean cutoff shorts with the white pockets hanging out the bottom (worn by men, of course) in Dover. And, what would a NASCAR race be without seeing every other car with a Confederate flag or sticker on it? It just seems weird to me. Dover does have a cool mascot. ”Miles the Monster” is a much cooler mascot than Charlotte’s “Lugnut.”  Anyhow, I like Jimmie Johnson as the repeat winner this week. His career average finish at Dover is less than 9, and he has 8 wins out of 24 races there. So, statistically speaking, he wins one out of every three races he runs at this track. Don’t bet against him.

Richmond International, Repeat Winner and a Right Hook

skid marks, jason hildebrand, beaverdamusa.comWhat a race last week! Richmond turned in one of the most interesting races we have seen in a while. First, there were tires being used and abused all over the place, with NASCAR allowing more flexibility to the race teams to adjust the camber. You ask what camber is….Well, straight from NASCAR .com. “Camber is, simply put, the vertical tilt of a wheel. If it’s bowed out, it’s positive camber, and if it’s bowed in, it’s negative camber. Zero or neutral camber is when the wheel is straight up and down.”  The more camber you have, the better grip you have. This has allowed teams to be more aggressive in their car setups. Since there has been a significance on winning this season to get into the Chase, teams have been more aggressive and overly aggressive, at times. With this being said, we have seen many instances with tires dating back to the Auto Club 400, and now this past week at Richmond. There were multiple cars that had tire issues, including 6-time and defending Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson. This just hasn’t been Jimmie’s year. Wait a second…… As bad sometimes as Jimmie has been, he is still in the top 10 in the Sprint Cup standings. He still needs to get that win, and the pressure is getting heavier, week by week.

Who would have thought that the second 2-time winner of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season would have been Joey Logano. Logano in his #22 Ford was absolutely great on short runs last week at Richmond. The Rick Hendrick cars of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., were great on long runs, but when you get late cautions, the cars that are good for short runs prevail. The yellow #22 ran down cars in front of him and took the checkered flag on the .75 mile track in Richmond, Virginia, like a seasoned veteran. He was cool, kept his composure, and even burned the tires off in his post victory burn out. Congratulations, Joey.

After the race, there were shenanigans. Over guess what? Drivers racing for 18th place. Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears got into a little fisticuffs in the pit area after the race was complete. Mears was fined $15,000 and probation until May 28, and Ambrose, who connected on a right haymaker, was fined $25,000 and probation until May 28, as well. So, that one punch that Ambrose laid cost him $10,000. I thought the fight was good for the sport. NASCAR thought it was detrimental to the sport. I obviously disagree.

Alabama, here we come. My first experience at Talladega was one I will never forget. Mainly, because of one unknown guy, Alabama’s finest. This one dude, was wearing cutoff blue jeans. Way up to where you could see his white pockets hanging out of the bottom of his shorts. No shirt. Boots. If this weren’t bad enough, the guy had a prosthetic leg… with Dale Earnhardt bumper stickers all over it. All I have to say is, “C’mon Man.”  Anyhow, I am looking forward to frolicking with Alabama’s finest again this week. Watch for one of the usual suspects to win this race: Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, or Jeff Gordon. Sleeper picks to win this race are David Ragan (last year’s Talladega spring race winner), Ryan Newman, or Paul Menard.

Skid Mark of The Week goes to Brad Keselowski. How can you blame a guy (Matt Kenseth), who is leading the race, for bumping you and trying to protect his lead? Quit whining Brad. You got bumped, and I am sure you would have tried to protect the lead, if you would have had it.

 

 

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