Saturday, December 26, 2009

Budweiser Shootout Format Changes...Again

Earlier this week, NASCAR announced that for the second year in a row, there will be a new format for selecting drivers to compete in the Budweiser Shootout. This time, drivers will be selected based on a number of eligibility factors.

First, the 2009 Chase participants are to be entered in the race. Next, any past series champions are eligible who have raced in the past two seasons, including any driver who has won either a previous Budweiser Shootout or any points paying race at Daytona. Finally, Joey Logano will be in the race because he won the 2009 Rookie of the Year award.

So, what does this all mean? Well, rarely do the non-points events have the same rules from year to year, but now the format of how to choose the drivers is the part of the race that is changing. I understand that Budweiser no longer wanted to have the previous season’s pole winners in the race because Coors Light now sponsors the pole award. But, that move was what kicked off another downward spiral for this race.

Winning the pole now means nothing more than starting at the front of the field and having the chance to select the first pit stall. I always felt that the Bud Shootout was special in the fact that it awarded drivers for something other than winning a race or even how their entire season had gone. In the past few years guys like Joe Nemechek would have to run partial schedules, but by qualifying well at a place like Talladega, they were able to run the Bud Shootout the following year. That is no longer the case.

Now this race is just like every other gimmick race in that it will have the same basic drivers year after year. For the most part the drivers in the Chase remain fairly consistent from year to year, and the past series champions will never change. I thought past champion eligibility was reserved for the All-Star race.

However, if we are going to go down this road, I do like the idea of having past Daytona winners entered in the race. Sometimes drivers who do well at Daytona and Talladega are different than those that are traditionally at the front of the field each week. But, overall this is just another case where corporate sponsorship got in the way of a good race.

Changing the format for the manufacturers last year was a bad idea that had no real staying power. Eventually a manufacturer was going to leave the sport or one would enter the sport. Either way, there would be a group of cars that were not as competitive as they should be for this race. To illustrate how bad an idea this was, only one year into the change, one of the manufacturers now has only three full-time cars in the series, thereby leaving open holes in the field.

So, once again, changes had to be made. But like many things in the sport over the last five years, if the first change had not been made, none of the following changes would have been necessary.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rating the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: 3.6 Stars ***'

The 2009 season has come to a close and the awards have been handed out, so now it is time to take a look back on the fond and not-so-fond memories from a season filled with rain, action on the track, new rules, debris, spectacular crashes, spectacular finishes, and history with Jimmie Johnson winning the Sprint Cup for the fourth consecutive year. This all adds up to a 3.6 Star Rating for the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

To assemble the rating for the season, Monday Morning Crew Chief went back through the ratings from each race this season, excluding the two non-points events and the reader’s choice Watkins Glen edition, and averaged the ratings. So, that means according to the ratings, the season was almost directly between OK and fairly good. Late in the season the complaints started to roll in more heavily about the problems in NASCAR. There are problems, but as a whole, the sport is still not doing too badly. As in other sports, no matter what goes on around the game, the game will always remain. Racing has been around longer than most of us, and they will continue to race long after we are gone.

Here is the breakdown of ratings throughout the season:

5 Stars: 5 races

4 Stars: 16 races

3 Stars: 10 races

2 Stars: 3 races

1 Star: 1 race

The 5 Star races were, interestingly enough, all run on either short tracks or superspeedways. Our first 5 Star Rating came in the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville. There was close racing throughout the race and the final laps came down to a duel between Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson with Johnson nudging Hamlin out of the way in turns three and four and taking the victory.

Next came the Aarons 499 at Talladega. This was a race that certainly had everyone talking the next few days. On the final lap of the race Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski paired up and roared to the front. However, coming through the tri-oval on the final lap, Edwards made a move to block but the rookie held his ground and Edwards was sent flying into the fence in one of the most dramatic moments of 2009.

Up next was another superspeedway, this time Daytona in the Coke Zero 400. After the 500 had been rained shortened, everybody was excited to get a full race in under the lights on July 4th. Throughout the night Tony Stewart had the best car but found himself behind Kyle Busch coming to the line. Similar to the Edwards-Keselowski incident, Busch tried to come down and block Stewart but was instead turned up into the wall creating the big one at the finish line.

The fourth 5 Star race was the final regular season race of the season. On a Saturday night in Richmond, getting into the Chase was all that mattered in the Chevy Rock & Roll 400. Denny Hamlin got the win in his home state, but the real battle was between Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers as they fought for the chance to race for the championship. This one was not decided until the checkered flag flew and Vickers raced his way into the Chase and Busch was left shaking his head, missing the Chase by a mere eight points.

Finally, in the most controversial race of the season, NASCAR pulled on the driver’s reins just hours before the start of the Amp Energy 500 at Talladega. With penalties in play for bump drafting in the corners, the drivers played it safe until all heck broke loose in the final 10 laps. Heading into Turn 3, Ryan Newman got turned around and went airborne, landing on his roof after sliding up the track and back down with many flips in between. Then, on the final restart of the race, another big one occurred and championship contender Mark Martin got flipped upside down and, as Carl Edwards’ wreck at Talladega did the year before, may have cost Martin the championship.

So now after looking at the best parts of 2009, I want to mention a few things that can be improved upon going into next season. First, cut it out with the debris cautions. The fans hate it, the drivers hate it, even Darrell Waltrip hates it.

“We've also become predictable with debris cautions to bunch the field up or stopping the race with those red flags,” Waltrip said in a recent article on “If you know who is going to win or be in the top 10 every week, isn't it common sense that folks are going to lose interest and find something else that excites them?”

However, before we all jump on the NASCAR haters’ bandwagon, there are other people in the sport that can do a better job. Yes, I’m looking at you Casey Mears. Drivers such as Mears, Jamie McMurray, David Ragan, and others of that same breed need to step up and make something happen. I know we hate the field fillers at the back of the pack, but these guys have more or less been field fillers in the middle of the pack. Please, somebody step up in 2010 and make some noise. I’m not sure how long sponsors will continue to hang on to these guys year after year.

Overall, the 2009 NASCAR season was pretty good. As with every season there are good times and bad times, but I think we can all look forward to better racing in the coming years. I think/hope NASCAR learned some valuable lessons from this season and will take steps to improve the sport as time moves forward.

Throughout the winter Monday Morning Crew Chief will have different articles regarding offseason news, rumors, and opinions. Thank you to everybody for reading this season and have a wonderful holiday season.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rating the Ford 400: 3 Stars ***

The 2009 NASCAR season came to a close Sunday with Jimmie Johnson making history and taking home his fourth consecutive title. Denny Hamlin also spanked the field in the final run and won his fourth race of the season. A season finale filled with history and emotion gets a 3 Star Rating.

Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson and the entire #48 team. What they have accomplished since becoming a team in 2002 is ridiculous. Never have they finished outside the top five in points and now they are right there in the conversation of the greatest teams in the history of NASCAR. Also, throughout the race Johnson was surrounded by guys who were not taking it easy. Juan Pablo Montoya and Sam Hornish Jr. were on edge all day, and provided a couple hold-your-breath moments for the eventual champion.

As for the race, I hate it that the winner always gets overshadowed. Even though it is the last race of the season, I find it extremely hard to remember who wins at Homestead. Sometimes it even feels like Johnson has won this race the last four years. But, Denny Hamlin finished off a very good year with his victory Sunday evening. If the Gibbs cars ever put together some consistency, look out. They seem primed for a strong comeback campaign in 2010.

I thought it was interesting that everybody seemed to be less willing to give up a spot in this race. They certainly were content to ride in place the week before. Anyway, the battle between Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart was classic. If there is one guy in the field willing to blatantly deliver some payback, it’s Montoya. It was also good to see the RCR cars up front and contending. We all know they have had a terrible year, but the racing is better when a few of those guys return to the front, including Jeff Burton who finished off the season with two impressive second place finishes. He may have even won this race had the mandatory debris caution not flown with 51 laps remaining (I told you I would gripe about it again this week). Burton was horrible on the restarts all night and never had a chance on the final run.

So, as we now face the 83 days that make up the NASCAR offseason, I want to wish everyone here a safe and enjoyable winter. Remember to throw the debris caution and take time to be with family and friends during the holidays, but of course you know that means a double-file restart at Daytona is soon to follow.

Thank you to all of the readers of this blog. It is enjoyable for me to share thoughts about the race each week and I hope you feel the same. Look for the Monday Morning Crew Chief season wrap-up on December 8, the Tuesday after the awards banquet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rating the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500: 2 Stars **

The penultimate race of the 2009 NASCAR season was anything but ultimate in the excitement level it generated. I’m sorry, but there are practice shows more interesting than the race at Phoenix on Sunday. Phoenix brings home a 2 Star Rating this week.

Once again, Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team dominated the race. There were a few other contenders. Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Mark Martin all maintained spots in the top five for much of the race, but there was no drama in this one. Anytime somebody seemed to be making up time on the leader, the lead would suddenly stabilize and things would continue as usual. Also, everybody thought short races were the next great thing to generate excitement, but I think last week would have been better had it been a 400 or 500 mile race. Shortening the length of races opens the door for more races like this one.

There were some positives on Sunday, but NASCAR once again touched that mean little button because, well, we don’t really know why they push the caution button every once in a while. The green flag racing was nice, but the race could have gone all 312 laps under green. However, NASCAR threw the caution flag for debris twice, and both times it caused wrecks soon after the following restart. Like I have said a million times here, more cars are damaged because of the debris cautions than there would be if the supposed “debris” was just left alone. Sure Dale Jr. may have still had an oil leak, but he would have caused an 11 car pileup if that incident had happened on the previous green flag run.

So, next week I will be back to gripe about the debris cautions for the final time, but in the meantime, there will likely be plenty of championship build up as the week goes on. It will be devastating if Johnson does not bring it home, but that does not look likely. As for Homestead itself, there have been good races at the track in the past; it’s just unfortunate that the race always gets overshadowed by the Championship. Just a quick note for all the Chase haters out there, under the old points format Jimmie Johnson would lead Tony Stewart by only 13 points heading into the final race next week. But hey, that system never produced any exciting finishes. I’m just saying. Have a good Championship week everybody.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rating the Dickies 500: 4 Stars ****

The last 500 mile race of the season brought with it plenty of intrigue as the points leader crashed on lap 3, opening the door for someone to jump back into the Chase. Whether or not somebody actually does have a chance to catch Jimmie Johnson is yet to be seen, but the race at Texas gets a 4 Star Rating.

Obviously, the big news coming out of Sunday’s race was that Johnson wrecked. However, the fat lady was still singing in victory lane at Texas. Johnson still has a larger lead in the standings than he did at this point last year, and if he were to lose the championship, it may be one of the biggest meltdowns NASCAR has ever seen. It is still going to be tough to beat the #48.

The race itself was pretty clean Sunday. It was nice to once again see a different face in victory lane, and fuel mileage races are always exciting at the finish. I want to thank NASCAR for not throwing a debris caution during that last run because I am sure there had to be something on the track with all of those wrecked cars out there trying to maintain minimum speed. That caution at halfway for the hot dog was pretty lame, but otherwise the race played out the way it should have. What made the fuel mileage race surprising was the fact that everybody pitted later in the race this year than Carl Edwards did in the same race in 2008. In that race he was able to run 69 laps after his final stop, while this year nobody made it more than 63 laps That makes Sunday’s race all the more surprising.

Also, there were some great paint schemes on the track this weekend. A.J. Allmendinger’s Petty blue Ford was beautiful, as was David Ragan’s blue colors for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Sunday’s winner, Kurt Busch, also had a very cool paint scheme with Operation Homefront on the hood. Plus, Busch won Michael McGee $1 million because McGee picked Busch to win the race. I’d say those two had a pretty good day.

Next week the series heads out west for the final time in 2009. Mark Martin is primed to have a very good race after dominating at Phoenix in the spring. If Johnson for some reason has another bad day, things could be pretty interesting heading into Homestead. Have a good week!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Rating the Amp Energy 500: 5 Stars *****

Well, did anybody enjoy that race? Yes, there were issues with parts of the race that will need to be worked out, but this is just another example of why restrictor plate racing is bar none the most exciting racing in the world. Talladega gets a 5 Star Rating.

An unexpected winner, two cars flipped on their roofs, and plenty of water cooler talk capped off a great season of restrictor plate racing. It was very refreshing to see new faces at the front of the field throughout the event. Everyone was complaining about the smaller restrictor plate, but that was the one change that probably helped the racing. Sometimes at these races there will be one car that is just better than everyone else. Tony Stewart had that car at Daytona in July. On Sunday, however, there was not a dominant car throughout the race. With 60 lead changes among 26 different drivers – yes 60 among 26 – there was always somebody new at the front. That was also the second most different leaders a Cup Series race has ever seen. It was nice to have a race where the Chase seemed not to matter.

Before we go any farther, huge congratulations should be extended to Jamie McMurray and the #26 team. They are the 14th different team to visit victory lane this season. Things have not gone the way anybody had hoped when McMurray signed on to drive the #26 car, and very rarely do guys win a race late in a year when they know they will be moving on to a new team the following season. McMurray has always been a good plate racer and hopefully he will find what he is looking for in 2010.

Alright, on to the controversial/bad things about Sunday’s race. The most obvious thing to criticize about Sunday’s race is the new rule about not bump drafting in the corner. People talk about this every time there is a restrictor plate race, and now NASCAR actually did something about it. Yet, other than creating a single file race for much of the first two-thirds of the race, the new rule did not prevent the big wrecks that everyone is scared about.

Over the years many things have been done to try and prevent “the big one” from happening. The restrictor plates get smaller and smaller, the yellow line was put in place, and now penalties will be handed out for bump drafting in the corner. None of these solutions have prevented big wrecks. This week’s race was one of the worst as far as the number of bad wrecks that occurred. Sure they happened really late in the race, but they still happened. Maybe NASCAR and everybody involved will just have to accept that this is what you get at Daytona and Talladega. They are great races to watch, and NASCAR has done a great job of making the cars and the walls safer when those wrecks happen.

I still wish NASCAR would take out the yellow line. That thing has created more controversy and caused about as many wrecks as it has prevented. I thought it was really cool to see cars six-wide through the tri-oval with cars stretching from the grass to the wall. Dale Jr.’s wreck in the Daytona 500 was partly because of that line. Otherwise, he may have been able to take his time before moving back up onto the track. Also, Regan Smith would have a win since he was the first to cross the finish line in this race a year ago.

Overall, this was a great weekend of racing. Talladega and Daytona are the two best tracks on the schedule and nothing NASCAR does will change that. If they are going to continue to complain about this type of racing, about the only thing they can do to fix it is to take the tracks off the schedule, and that will never happen.

So now there are three races to go. Personally, I kind of hope Jimmie Johnson is able to clinch the championship before Homestead. I have a feeling this is not what NASCAR was looking for when they implemented the Chase format in 2004. The final three races will probably be like the rest in the Chase, but at least this weekend was awesome.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rating the TUMS Fast Relief 500: 4 Stars ****

The final short track race of the season was a good old-fashioned slugfest. The majority of the cars pulled into the garage Sunday afternoon looking like they had been to the local demolition derby. But, that is what Martinsville is all about. Bent fenders and crinkled hoods is part of the charm of the paperclip. Sunday’s race gets a 4 Star Rating.

Jimmie Johnson did not win this one. Should we be concerned? Has the #48 team lost their edge? Is the Chase still wide open like every TV network was telling us two weeks ago? Nope. Johnson finished second and ahead of anyone that he needed to beat. However, just like back in some of the Winston Cup years, when the points battle isn’t all that close the racing on the track is still worth watching.

Sunday’s race was incredibly similar to the spring race at Martinsville earlier this season. Seven drivers that finished in the top 10 in March also finished in the top 10 this time around. Also, at a few points during the final 60 or so laps it looked like the finish might turn out to be exactly the same as well.

Now, while Sunday’s race was good, next Sunday’s race could be awesome. Personally, I have been waiting for Talladega since maybe late July. This could easily be the most exciting race in the Chase, and two of the three restrictor plate finishes this season have had incredibly exciting finishes. There is nothing like having 30 cars lined up three-wide going 190 mph for several laps at a time. One thing is for sure, the finish will be a close one, and there is really no way to predict a winner because almost anyone could come away with a Brad Keselowski-type miracle this week. Even Paul Menard has come close to winning at that track.

That’s it for this week. Enjoy this weekend because it is the best race left on the schedule. Over the last several weeks, unless you are a Johnson fan, there has not been much hope that your driver could bring home the trophy. That will be different at Talladega and maybe we will finally get that 14th different winner of 2009.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rating the NASCAR Banking 500: 4 Stars ****

The final Saturday night race of the season was a big upgrade compared to the previous races in the Chase to this point. Yes, Jimmie Johnson won again, but the racing throughout was better and all 10 cautions were for a legitimate reason. Therefore, a 4 Star Rating is appropriate.

In the final race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Johnson and the #48 Lowe’s team wind up in victory lane. This may have actually been their most impressive weekend to date. All three practices showed Johnson at the top of the board, he won the pole, led the most laps, and won the race. A team cannot have a better weekend than that.

This is why coming into this weekend everyone was saying that the Chase was over. Many of the Chasers had issues, while Johnson stayed at the front of the field. Now, with the Chase halfway complete, Johnson has a 90 point lead over second place Mark Martin, the only driver within 100 points of the lead. This is the biggest lead any driver has had at this point in the season since the Chase was started in 2004. Sorry folks, it will take a semi-miracle for somebody to prevent Johnson from winning his fourth consecutive championship. However, as with Albert Pujols and Peyton Manning, we will all be able to tell stories to the younger generation that we saw these great players do incredible things the way people talk about Willie Mays and Joe Montana today. Jimmie Johnson is certainly in that category.

Racing at Charlotte will always be better than it is at Kansas and California just because of how the track is laid out, but there is something about the tracks in the Southeast that just make it feel like the team is in for a home stand, just coming back from a West Coast swing.

There was good racing throughout much of the race, and the fact that some non-Chasers scored top 10 finishes was very refreshing. This race was similar to the Atlanta Labor Day race except that the #48 team is on their game now. There is no reason to think that they won’t go out and dominate at Martinsville next week as well. They have actually had more recent success at that track than they have had at Charlotte.

Finally, and I hate to keep bringing this subject up, but at the end of the race Juan Pablo Montoya complained that there was debris on the track several times during the race and NASCAR didn’t throw a caution. First off, thank you NASCAR; the race was better for it. Also, there were no cars involved in a wreck that was caused because someone ran over a piece of debris. This is what I was saying last week; more cars would have been damaged if those cautions had been waved, rather than allowing the race to unfold itself, because wrecks would have happened on the restarts as they did last week in California.

So, we now understand why NASCAR was artificially messing with the races, because Chase drivers were going to have races like they did at Charlotte and the points would have been even more spread out than they are currently, but when a team is as dominant as the #48, nobody is going to slow them down. They are amazing. We also learned that even as much as the television networks tried to tell us the opposite, people were right when they said the Chase is over now that the #48 is on top. If Johnson doesn’t win the championship, something much different than what has happened in the first half of the Chase is going to have to happen in order to prevent a four-peat.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rating the Pepsi 500: 3 Stars ***

Everybody came home Sunday night unsurprised as Jimmie Johnson once again took home the trophy from Southern California. A normal California race that was made eventful late, earns a 3 Star Rating.

Coming into the event, Johnson was clearly the favorite to win on Sunday. Once he took the lead at any point in the race, he absolutely drove away from everybody else in the field, at one point having over a seven-second lead. The only reason Johnson didn’t lead 90% of the laps was because he consistently lost positions on pit road. Even in traffic he was able to move up better than anyone else. The #48 team definitely has Auto Club Speedway figured out.
Other than Johnson winning again and taking the points lead, the only other issue of the day was, once again, debris cautions. NASCAR made a great move last week in announcing that the start times will be moved up for next year. Now, the next move they need to make is to quit throwing debris cautions. Finally, a driver made my case for me this weekend.

“NASCAR threw a debris caution for no debris…that caused the whole next wreck on the frontstretch,” Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Dodge, said. “It’s disappointing we had a bad race because kind of a caution to put a show on for the fans…we have to keep the fans excited, but sometimes it ruins people’s days and today it was our day.”

Now I will ask you, NASCAR fans. Is this the kind of show that we want? Would it have been alright for the final 68 laps to go green and Johnson win the race anyway? Yes, I know Tony Stewart was spared a bad finish because of that caution, but in saving on Chasers day, NASCAR ruined three others. Kahne, Biffle, and Hamlin are all pretty much out of championship contention because of the debris caution Kahne spoke about earlier. Maybe, things could play out naturally and it would still come down to multiple drivers having a chance to win the cup at Homestead. I thought that was why the Chase was created in the first place. If everything is going to be controlled by cautions, let’s dump the Chase because a close points finish could be manufactured anyway. The way Stewart was running for a few weeks combined with what Johnson is doing would certainly have made for a close finish.

Alright, I want to thank Kasey Kahne for speaking out against the ongoing debris problem. Next week everyone comes back home to Charlotte. Now, Lowe’s Motor Speedway usually produces good racing, so long as Johnson doesn’t stink up the show. But, even if that happens, he has earned the right to blow everyone else away. He should not have to line up double-file with 20 laps to go because he was too far ahead.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Green Flag to Drop Earlier in 2010

In its best move since Brain France became CEO and chairman, NASCAR has announced that they will be moving up the start times for most of the races next season.

Many of the Sunday afternoon races will be moved to 1 pm ET. This was a change that was sorely needed. Yes, everybody loves prime time television, but NASCAR is not set up to be that week in and week out. The Saturday night races are fun, but the majority of the schedule should be run on Sunday afternoons right after everyone gets home from church and the race can be finished without having to turn any lights on. This will be evident in the coming weeks at Texas and Homestead where it will be almost completely dark when the race is finished.

My favorite thing about the change is that the Daytona 500 will return to a true day race. I always thought that the Indy 500 and Daytona 500 were special because of their prestige, and because they started early in the day. It was something to look forward to right away before anything else could get in the way. Also, I like having the 500 winner celebrate in daylight. Something about those pictures of past winners at Daytona is so special because it’s still in the afternoon. The night time stuff works great for things like the Budweiser Shootout, All-Star Race, and most of the Saturday night events, but the early Sunday afternoon races are what make those weekends special. Everything else can wait until later in the day because there is time left afterwards to attend to other matters. Let’s face it, when the races starts mid-afternoon, many fans sit around watching pre-race shows waiting for the race to start anyway.

This move is also good in many practical ways. When the at-the-track activities are finished, there is still time to get out of the complex before nightfall and possibly get home before it is really late. Combine this with the probable returns of the Brickyard 400 and Charlotte Motor Speedway; things will really start to feel comfortable.

Truthfully, there seem to be very few, if any, drawbacks to this change. For the first time in a very long while, NASCAR made a change that looks like it is totally for the better, and after last week’s debacle, this sort of thing was needed.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Rating the Price Chopper 400: 2 Stars **

The NASCAR teams are not in Kansas anymore, but the race Sunday afternoon left plenty to chew on. Some not-so-exciting racing, combined with some rather questionable calls from NASCAR during the event gives this Kansas race a 2 Star Rating.

As expected, Hendrick Motorsports came out and filled up the front of the field early. Surprisingly, the #88 car led the field throughout the first run. But, in what has become all too typical for them this season, a problem on pit road – this time a loose lug nut – put Dale Earnhardt Jr. a lap down and he was not heard from again until the end of the race when his engine started to leak.

Another surprise Sunday was the race put together by Greg Biffle and the #16 team. For much of the season the Ford camp has really struggled, but in the last two weeks they have had a car in the top five. Granted, Biffle got to the front because he took two tires, but he was able to hang on to the lead both times they used that strategy. This was unexpected because I thought the tires would give up a lot more than they did. However, Ford still needs to start getting that new engine on the track. Their cars simply cannot run up front on a consistent basis with the package they currently are running.

Alright, now let’s discuss NASCAR’s putrid day in the control tower. Many fans have grumbled about NASCAR playing favorites before, but this week that issue came to the front and center. Brad Keselowski had a great weekend in the #25 car. He qualified third and ran in the top five for much of the race before getting shuffled back on a round of pit stops and a poorly timed caution. Then, he gets in a battle with Juan Montoya and races him hard, even trading some paint. Okay, finally there is a side-by-side battle on the racetrack. However, while this is going on NASCAR issues a warning to Tony Eury Jr. advising him to tell Brad to back off because he is racing a Chase contender. This is absolute bogus. NASCAR took away the old points system because they wanted to inject more excitement into the latter part of the season. Yet they issue warnings telling the non-chasers to give the other guys plenty of room so they don’t cause these drivers to lose valuable points that will keep the standings close as the Chase wears on. This is exactly what everybody feared would happen when the Chase was announced. The big complaint back then was that only the Chasers would be focused on and everyone else would be forgotten. NASCAR made a huge mistake here. If this is how it’s going to be, please bring back the old points system. Even if the standings weren’t close – and many times they were – at least every driver had a chance to give everything they had to try and win a race. That is what the sport is about after all. We don’t tune in each week to see how close the points battle is, we tune in to see drivers go door-to-door to try and win that particular race.

Secondly, Dale Jr.’s engine leaked fluid at the end of the race. Maybe. The fluid was never shown but isn’t it amazing that the caution came out with 31 laps to go in a race that was shaping up to be a fuel mileage finish. Here comes my conspiracy theory. It seems to me that many of the leaders, including Jimmie Johnson, were well short on fuel and it would be a big stretch to make it to the end. But, there were a few teams saying they were really close and could possibly make it. Now, we saw what happened at Michigan both times this year when some of the leaders ran out of fuel. They finished back around 30th or so. Had that happened Sunday, there possibly would have been a few Chase drivers run out of gas and drop way back in the finishing order, thus losing many points in the Championship Chase. NASCAR is already hurting for TV ratings and a finish like that would have really spread out the points battle. So, instead Tony Stewart wins in a boring finish and the points are still really tight. Congratulations NASCAR, I too hope there are at least six drivers with a chance to win the Cup at Homestead.

That’s it this week. If you made it this far, well, thankfully I don’t have much more to say. Next week is the ever exciting Jimmie Johnson domination show at Auto Club Speedway in front of a bunch of red and yellow bleachers. After next week, however, some better tracks are on the schedule and the racing should be better as we move in on halfway in the Chase to the Championship.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rating the AAA 400: 3 Stars ***

The Monster Mile chewed up and spit out a bunch of cars on Sunday, but Hendrick Motorsports was unaffected as they once again brought home a 1-2 finish. Once again, when Jimmie Johnson goes out and dominates it’s difficult to have a really exciting race, so the second race of the Chase gets a 3 Star Rating.

Just as we have seen many times over the last half decade, Jimmie Johnson jumped out to the mandatory two second lead on the first run. Thankfully, he got put back in the field a bit after the first pit stop and really didn’t make much headway back in traffic. But, once he did get back out front it was all over.

The way Johnson runs races these days reminds me of Jeff Gordon in his prime. There were races where Gordon would dominate all day and easily lead the most laps, but there were also days when he wouldn’t pop up until the very end and steal a victory. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, though; Johnson was mentored by Gordon and has maintained that same driving style.

For the most part, this was a pretty clean race. Every once in a while somebody would blow a tire, but other than Joey Logano’s wild ride, things were pretty serene. However, the wreck that Logano had was spectacular. People don’t come to Dover expecting cars to flip over seven times. That stuff is usually reserved for Daytona and Talladega.

“It just really scared the heck out of me,” Logano said. “It started rolling, and I was in there, thinking, 'Man, just make this thing stop.' It wouldn't. It just kept going and going.”

Overall this year has seen its fair share of wild crashes. From Carl Edwards at Talladega to Kyle Busch at Daytona to Sam Hornish Jr. at the Glen; there have been some hard licks and yet nobody has come away with much more than a few bruises. The safety of these cars is amazing, and that was NASCAR’s top priority in building the new car.

While the safety of the cars has been a bright spot, NASCAR continues to hurt their credibility when they throw the debris caution with 30 or so laps left in the race. Every time a race looks like it may go green to the end and the leader has a comfortable lead, here comes the debris caution, which just causes more cautions when they line the cars up double-file. I know NASCAR is excited about the double-file restarts, but please stop messing with the finish of these races.

The final northern swing of the season is finished and now it’s on to the heartland and Kansas Speedway. I happened to visit the track earlier this year so it will be cool for me, personally, to watch the race. Hopefully the racing is pretty good. This is another race where an unexpected winner can emerge and fuel mileage can sometimes come into play. That’s it for this week, and the great thing about this time of year is there are no more off weeks, just two straight months of racing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rating the Sylvania 300: 3 Stars ***

The first checkered flag of the 2009 Chase has flown, and Mark Martin remains on top. After a couple of crazy weeks with teams fighting just to get into the Chase, everybody kind of held their own at New Hampshire. Other than Kasey Kahne blowing an engine and Dale Jr. being a tad upset with David Reutimann, things pretty much held true to form with a 3 Star Rating.

New Hampshire is a tough track to handle, especially with the COT. Personally, I am not a huge fan of tracks that put a premium on rolling through the corner. If a couple of cars do not get hooked up in a battle, passing becomes so hard that the entire field pretty much falls in line throughout the run.

As for the action on the track, the Chase contenders showed why they belong in the postseason as ten of the top 15 finishers Sunday were in the top 12 in points. Every year it seems that one driver has a really bad first race, but in the end there has been mixed results at the end of the season for that driver. This year Kasey Kahne was the one Chase contender that suffered such a problem. Thankfully for him, nobody had a huge lead coming into the Chase so the damage is not as bad as it could have been. In 2006, Jimmie Johnson finished 39th in this race, yet still came back to win the championship. However, the #9 team has used their mulligan and will have to really be on top of their game the rest of the way.

With only 24 laps to go, NASCAR again threw the debris caution flag and bunched up the field for a final sprint to the finish. Luckily, Mark Martin was still able to hold on for the victory, because NASCAR could have been the reason for an alternative ending. Also, the caution brought David Reutimann and Dale Jr. close together and Reutimann turned Jr. up into the wall. Afterward, Jr. was not happy, saying, “My car is tore up and he ain’t got enough talent to run in the top five, I guess. He ran into the side of me and spun me out late in the race.” Sounds like a guy who has gone through a season with an average finish of 21.9.

Next up is the Monster Mile in Dover. The track is roughly the same length as New Hampshire, but it races completely different. High banks where drivers can float the car down into the corner and make a move without having to root someone up out of the groove. Last year Ford stole the show with three Roush-Fenway drivers fighting for the win. It will be tough to duplicate that success this time around. Ford is noticeably going through a rough stretch; one that may not level out until next season with a new engine package.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rating the Chevy Rock & Roll 400: 5 Stars *****

A tension filled evening in Richmond brought with it the closest Race to the Chase battle the sport has ever seen. That, plus some really good battles on the track – especially between Hamlin and Gordon – gives the final regular season race a 5 Star Rating.

I have always loved this particular race because of how many different things are going on throughout the event. There are battles on the track all over the place, the points are extremely close, and for some reason pit road usually plays a fairly large role in the event. I think most everybody was surprised that Kyle Busch missed the Chase; however this sort of thing is not without precedent. Actually, history points us in the other direction. In years past there has always been at least one big name just miss the Chase. Gordon, Stewart, and Earnhardt Jr. have all been on the wrong side of the cutoff. No matter how many cars they allow into the playoff, I would bet that there would still be a driver that many people think should have a spot in the Chase not get in.

As for the racing on the track Saturday night, once again, Richmond International Raceway did not disappoint. They say that track produces racing perfection; while I would not want every race to be like RIR, the track does put on really good shows twice a year. Thankfully for Denny Hamlin, that last caution did not cost him the race. There have been many times where the #11 has dominated a race but had something go wrong right at the end. It even happened to him at Richmond last year when he had a flat tire. Also, it was great to see him finally win at his home track. Both of his wins this year have been highly emotional.

Now with regards to the Chase, the battle that Vickers and Busch had at the end was as good of a points battle that I can remember since the 2004 season ending race at Homestead when Kurt Busch beat out Jimmie Johnson by only eight points. The magnitude of the moment was great because at times during the final run only a one position change could have made the difference in an entire season for those two drivers. I do feel bad for Kenseth though. A professional in every sense of the word, it was hard to see him go through some tough times after his season started off so promisingly with two victories. Ford needs to get that new engine in those cars as soon as possible.

The Chase begins next week at New Hampshire and it always seems that somebody comes out of that race rather upset. Something about the racing at that track brings out the emotions in drivers. Maybe it is the design of the track. Gateway is a similar layout and there were several truck guys pretty upset over the way that race finished. So, buckle up and settle in for the final ten races to determine the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion. History was already made by the closest Race to the Chase ever; maybe the Chase for the Championship will produce similar results. Have a great week!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rating the Pep Boys 500: 4 Stars ****

After another long two week break from racing action, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series got things fired up by bringing the Labor Day race back to the Southeast and going under the lights for the first time in front of a full house. The best COT race at Atlanta gets a 4 Star Rating for the holiday weekend show.

This race felt more like race at Atlanta in years past. There were truly racing grooves all over the race track and guys were able to go side-by-side at many points throughout a run. Also, the tires fell off so much that it felt like the race could have been at Darlington anyway.

As the race went on, new drivers continued to show up at the front of the field. For the first time in a while, Hendrick Motorsports didn’t have two cars at the front of the field for over half of the event. To begin, the front row of Martin Truex Jr. and Kasey Kahne was a bit different then has been the norm throughout the summer. I was really surprised to see the Richard Petty Motorsports cars qualify well and then run where they qualified for much of the race.
The other great aspect to Sunday’s race was the variety of drivers up near the lead. In that sense, it felt a bit like a restrictor plate race. The drop-off in the tires created a big difference in cars that were set up for a short run vs. those set up for a long run. Also, with the conditions of the track changing so much throughout the race different cars would hit on a set-up that worked really well while other guys fell through the field like a rock.

As for the Chase standings, this is shaping up to be one of the best regular season finales since the first Chase season in 2004 when Jeremy Mayfield won the race and made the Chase field. Both Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch could do just that, but there are still four drivers that could potentially fall out of the Chase by the end of the night. In the past few years there have been only a spot or two open going into Richmond, but this year there is any number of drivers that still have their playoff hopes hanging in the balance.

So, thankfully the final off-week has been passed, and now things are shaping up for a great run to the finish. If the final run at the championship is anything like the Race to the Chase, this is going to be a great ending to the season.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rating the Sharpie 500: 4 Stars ****

The highly anticipated Bristol night race brought with it a little bit of everything this year. There were several long green runs, yet there were also several wrecks. Finally, as things came to a finish under the threat of rain Kyle Busch held off Mark Martin in a race deserving of a 4 Star Rating.

Once again, Hendrick Motorsports dominated most of the night, but in spite of all the laps led, they could not put a driver into victory lane. It is kind of amazing that every week right now there are two HMS drivers that take hold of both the lead and second place early in the event. Most often it has been Martin and Jimmie Johnson, and Saturday night’s race was no different. Thankfully, qualifying was not rained out because it allowed several drivers not in Chase contention to start near the front and also made big names have to come from the back of the pack.

Overall, when it came down to it, the usual suspects were up in the front of the field, but it took them a while to get there. It was nice to see guys like Michael Waltrip, Martin Truex Jr., and David Gilliland drive inside the top 20 for much of the race. However, one-by-one, each of these guys was taken out or had something go wrong on their car. The one exception was Marcos Ambrose. Wow, did he drive a great race or what? About midway through the race he broke into the top 5 and then was shuffled out after a round of pit stops. Then, later in the race he drove himself back to the front for a terrific third place finish. This guy is the real deal. Let’s hope he can continue to improve into next season.

Finally, if Bristol did not have the progressive banking, Martin may have laid the bumper on Busch at the end. But, the way that Bristol races now, there is more side-by-side racing throughout the majority of the event. As in everything, there are pros and cons, but I’m starting to warm up to the new Bristol.

Alright, next week is the final off week of the season. There are only four breaks in the entire schedule but it sure does feel like there are about twice as many on the schedule. But, with all of the rainouts it will be good for the teams to have a week at home. Then it’s on to Atlanta under the lights for the first time. They have qualified at night for many years and the high speeds on a cool track should make for a great race. That’s it for me until Labor Day. Have an enjoyable and safe two weeks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rating the Carfax 400: 4 Stars ****

The second race at Michigan this season brought with it another good old fashioned fuel mileage race. Just like the race in June, things set up perfectly for a nail-biting race to the finish. In typical Michigan fashion, there were not many wrecks, and lots of green flag racing with several teams on different strategies at the end. The reward for a good strategic race with major Chase implications is a 4 Star Rating.

The man who was able to outlast them all in the final run to the checkered was none other than Brian Vickers, and man did he work a long time to make it happen? Vickers showed early on in his Nationwide career that he could run well in NASCAR by winning the Nationwide Championship in 2003. However, once he made the step up to the Cup Series with Rick Hendrick in the #25 car he found himself battling to stay relevant in the sport. After one win in three years with Hendrick, Vickers moved over to the newly formed #83 Red Bull program that was starting from scratch along with Toyota in 2007. Now, after two and a half years with the #83 team, Vickers was finally able to pull off the long-awaited victory at Michigan.

This was not really a fluky win like some fuel mileage victories turn out to be. Vickers was right on Johnson’s tail during most of that final run, a move that may have lead to him winning the race because of the draft he was able to use down the straightaways. But, if both Johnson and Vickers did have enough fuel to run like normal in the final laps I think Vickers may have been able to pull off the pass for the win. Plus, Mark Martin would have been right in the mix.

As for the Chase standings, Martin took a big hit, while Vickers was able to pull within just 12 points of the final transfer spot. The great thing about how this battle is shaping up is that it’s not just the driver in 12th that has to look over his shoulder in the final three races. With Biffle, Kenseth and Martin all within just 32 points inside the Chase, there are many drivers that are still not sure if they will make the Chase or not. The past couple of years it has seemed like there was really just a one-on-one battle for that final spot. Not this year. Kurt Busch in fifth is probably safe, but with three races to go in the regular season anyone from sixth on down could still miss the Chase come Richmond.

With the final regular season fuel mileage race out of the way, next up is the great short track in Bristol, TN. Fuel will not be a factor there. Instead, keeping the fenders on the car will go a long way towards victory lane and the all important bonus points. 13 drivers have been to victory lane this year, surpassing the total from a year ago. I would actually expect a few more different winners yet this season as there are still good drivers and good teams that have not yet won a race. Have a good week!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Rating the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen: You Rate the Race!!

The second and final road course race of the season brought with it lots of turns, strategy, and big hits. But, this week it’s up to you to put a rating on what you saw/heard/followed on Monday. Thankfully the race went off at noon ET or else the race may have been shortened due to weather because the drops started to fall during post-race interviews. So, take a look at the Rating System and sound off on what you thought of the race.

Tony Stewart and the #14 team continued their roll towards the Chase this weekend. This is shaping up to be a Johnson vs. Stewart battle to the finish. But, there are plenty of other drivers that could put up a good fight.

My question along with the rating is who do you think will still be in contention for the Championship come the final race at Homestead? Will it be a runaway the way Stewart did in 2005, or will it be a several driver battle to the final lap? While both scenarios are entirely possible it has been awhile since there has been a really good fight for the title in the final race. The first Chase Championship in 2004 comes to mind but other than that there have not been any hold your breath finishes to the season. It would be nice to have something like that shape up this season.

Alright, the rating is in your hands this week. Good or bad, the race had several storylines and subplots that will carry on later in the season. Several guys that needed to survive Watkins Glen were able to get out with a top 15 finish, while other Chase contenders were stuck in the back of the pack nearly all race long.

Anyway, next week is the final fuel strategy track for awhile, as Bristol comes up following Michigan. So enjoy another short week as the fight for the Chase heats up with Kyle Busch inching ever closer to getting his spot in the Chase back. When the Shrub has to go all out every week, things are bound to be interesting.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rating the Pennslyvania 500: 4 Stars ****

An emotional day at Pocono brought with it plenty of excitement and intrigue. There were guys upset all over the place on Monday. Plus, some close racing throughout the second half of the event gives Pocono its second 4 Star Rating of the year.

Things started off as normal with Jimmie Johnson jumping out to his mandatory two second lead during the first run. While that happened I was thinking “O boy, this is going to be a long one today.” Johnson, however, ended up having plenty of other issues to make his day stressful. Although none of the problems were able to take him out of the race. I don’t know if the #48 team just has more luck than anybody else, or if they are so good that nothing can ever knock them out of contention. If they had that type of problem at any other track their race would have been over with no questions asked. Only at Pocono and the restrictor plate tracks could have left them with any chance. This team will be right there once again in contention at Homestead.

Aside from the #48 saga, there were plenty of other battles Monday that had people fired up, and things just got tighter and tighter as the race wound down. First, Robby Gordon and David Stremme had about three dustups on the track before NASCAR stepped in and slowed them down. Robby kind of seems like an older version of Kyle Busch. He is a great all-around racer, but he can never keep his cool when something goes wrong. I guess I thought he would have matured past that eventually.

Then, on the final caution of the day at lap 180, David Ragan runs up the back of Bobby Labonte going down into turn 1 and send Labonte flying into the wall while collecting five other cars. Labonte was obviously upset after the wreck because Ragan basically bump-drafted him going down into the corner over 200 mph. Not a great move on Ragan’s part after struggling for much of the weekend.

Finally, coming up to that final restart, Denny Hamlin told his crew while sitting in sixth with only 13 laps left that “I’m going to win this race,” and crew chief Mike Ford responded, “I know you will.” Four laps later the #11 would take the lead and never look back. With his grandmother’s passing weighing heavily on his mind, plus pure relief that he finally returned to victory lane; Hamlin’s victory celebration was as emotional as any this season.

So, a pretty good Monday in the Pocono Mountains means the week is one day shorter before things get started up in Watkins Glen. This will be another race where the road specialists show their stuff. However, it will also be a huge test for guys like David Reutimann. He will need to have the best road course race of his career in order to remain in serious contention for a Chase spot. On the other hand, next week’s race gives guys like Juan Pablo Montoya a chance to solidify their spot for the final ten races.

Get your rating hats on for next week as it will be a “You Rate the Race!” weekend. Then it’s back to more traditional ovals, but next week will still have good racing, only twisted.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rating the Brickyard 400: 3 Stars ***

After a week off, everybody got back in the swing of things this past weekend in Indianapolis. However, the much anticipated return to the Brickyard turned out to be incredibly alright. This race actually had the feel of an Indy 500 as much as it did a Brickyard 400. A pass on Sunday was about as hard to accomplish as when the open-wheel cars run there in May. Just advancing one position had to feel like a great victory. This race gets a 3 Star Rating; much better than the tire shredding race of a year ago, but nothing that really made this race stand out.

Thankfully the tires held up. I’m not really surprised that tires were not an issue because Goodyear spent a ton of time and money on getting the tires right for this race, and they did an excellent job. The bigger issue that this race brought out was that over the offseason NASCAR is going to have to unlock the box that is the COT. It is getting pretty regular now that the person out front is able to absolutely drive away from the rest of the field. Juan Pablo Montoya was so good Sunday that he had nearly half the field a lap down by the halfway point in the race, and that’s at a 2.5 mile track.

Montoya was good on the track but just pushed it a little too far on pit road. I understand that he was adamant that he did not speed on that last stop, but he didn’t have to push it that hard anyway. He had such a large lead on the field that he surely could have backed off a bit just to play it safe with such a large lead, especially at this track. He was able to drive away from everyone while in the lead, but back in traffic he was no better than anyone else.

So, all of Montoya’s troubles handed the victory to Jimmie Johnson. Johnson seems to win several races like this. He and the #48 team are so good that not only do they win races by out racing guys throughout the race, but they are almost always in position to pick up the win when somebody else has a problem. It almost happened at Michigan with the fuel mileage. But, this kind of takes the drama out of the finish of the race. It’s like “Oh yeah, there goes the #48, imagine that.” I guess that’s what happens when you march toward a fourth straight championship.

Alright, next week is back up in the Pocono Mountains for some more big, flat track racing. Expect the guys that were good at the Brickyard to be good at Pocono. These tracks are similar in that they are unique. Just take out a corner at Indy and add some banking to turn one and you would have Pocono. This will also be interesting to see who will run well since this is the second time teams race on the track. I think it will be a predictor of who will be good down the stretch and into the Chase. Thankfully there is no off week in between now for awhile, that last one took forever.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Welcome Aboard!

Welcome to Monday Morning Crew Chief's new home! This is where you will find the ratings of each and every NASCAR Sprint Cup race, plus lots of interesting other pieces that deal with stories off the track as far as what cars drivers will be in next season, new rules, alliances, etc. All the fun stuff that comes along with the sport!

Thank you for taking time to stop by and look things over. Below are the last four articles posted from MMCC dating back to the New Hampshire race in June. Hopefully you find things to your liking; questions and comments are always welcome.

Rating the 400: 3 Stars ***

A picture perfect evening in the heartland brought along with it a nearly perfect race for Mark Martin as he won his fourth race of the year, putting him in position to possibly enter the Chase with the lead. However, all but about 30 laps or so of this race were like it was being run a California. Add to the mix the fact that NASCAR controlled that portion of the race with three debris cautions and it all adds up to a high 3 Star Rating. Thankfully that last segment was crazy.

Glad to see Martin hold on for the win here because he totally deserved to be in Victory Lane. That car was bad fast. There has not been a driver dominate a race like that since Jimmie Johnson did so last year in the fall race at California. Also, there were not many changes to the top of the field all night. The guys that were good at the start of the race were still the ones that were good once the sun went down as well.

Speaking of the sun; what a beautiful sunset Saturday night. That is possibly one of the best things that changing the race to night has done to the weekend. Having no buildings or trees next to the speedway allowed for a great view of an awesome sunset. Plus, the weather was just about perfect for this time of year. Then, after the sun went down, the action on the track heated up.

Now remember, all of these wrecks and hard racing at the end were set up by the three debris cautions earlier in the race. However, once they lined up double file, the fight was on. Hamlin and Vickers, Busch and Johnson, the battles went on and on. Also, coming through the frontstretch they were three and four wide on several of the final laps. The other thing that Chicago did was keep the points standings interesting. Now drivers 10th through 13th are separated by just 13 points with Greg Biffle sitting on the outside looking in.

After the race several drivers were complaining about the double file restarts. Larry Mac was not happy to hear that and said that it "Galls my butt" that the drivers are complaining. Monday Morning Crew Chief has to agree with him here. I thought the new restart rule was something that came out of that town hall meeting with drivers and owners a few weeks back. Now if that's the case, it would seem that the drivers thought it was a good idea to add this rule. Now, however, they are all complaining because it is ruining some of their nights. There seems to be a double standard here. But, drivers will always complain about something when it doesn't go their way. That's just drivers being drivers.

Overall it was not a bad night of racing to finish up the 2009 Summer Series. Now we've got a week off to gear up and head back to the Brickyard which should be much improved over what took place last year. Goodyear has worked their tails off getting ready for this race and hopefully it pays off for them.

Thanks to all who have been able to follow the Monday Morning Crew Chief ratings as they have found a new home for the rest of the 2009 season.

Martin Truex Jr.: Step Forward or Step Backward?

Earlier this week Michael Waltrip Racing announced that they were bringing Martin Truex Jr. on board to take over the full-time NAPA ride from Michael Waltrip himself. This was really the first big announcement regarding driver movement this season. With the economy being the way it is, the Silly Season has been a bit slower in developing this year.

Truex will drive the #56 NAPA Toyota while Waltrip will cut back to a part-time schedule in 2010. The reason for the number switch is that MWR asked for some input from Truex and he asked to drive the #56. This was a similar situation to what Dale Earnhardt Jr. did when he moved over to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. The #56 is to the Truex family what the #88 is to the Earnhardt family. Also, Waltrip will be able to remain in the #55 in the races that he does run next season.

The question is, however, will moving to MWR be a move up or a move down for Truex? There are a couple of different scenarios that could be looked at here. MWR has developed some top notch equipment in the past couple of years and now have the cars capable to run up front with the leaders. However, the same thing was said about Earnhardt Jr. as he moved to Hendrick. So, obviously the equipment isn't everything.

The other way to look at this is that Truex will be moving to a team that has never been together before. This may not be as much as a factor because the organization is established for awhile, not one that is just getting up off of the ground.

In a poll on, 72% of fans think Truex will not make the Chase next season. This was a bit surprising considering that a driver that has previously been in the Chase is teaming up with an organization that has a car in contention for a Chase spot this season.

Overall, this is probably a smart career move for Truex. He obviously was not making any moves forward in the #1 car and the entire EGR organization is facing some hard times as the group has consistently downsized from four cars to the current two in just over one year. For Truex's sake, hopefully this works and he can find himself back up at the front of the pack in 2010 and beyond.

Rating the Coke Zero 400: 5 Stars *****

Restrictor plate racing does it again and gives us another 5 Star Rating. Being the Fourth of July this race could not be a dud and it was far from it. The only negative about the entire night was the debris caution with 15 laps to go. Other than that, this was one that left me standing on my feet at the end.

This race pretty much had it all. Every green flag lap that was run was seen by the viewing audience - nice job TNT on that, there was the big one that changed the complexion of the race for the second half, and there were plenty of different guys up in the top 10 throughout the night. Plus, the number one thing about this race was the finish. Just like Talladega, it all came down on the last lap and the winner wasn't decided until they actually crossed the finish line.
Speaking of the finish, there was not much that either driver could have done in that situation and still feel safe that they could get the win. Stewart got a run coming off of turn 4 and did the double fake that Kesalowski used on Edwards in April. The only other choice that Kyle Busch had was to maintain his line on the bottom and hope that Stewart didn't have enough time to get in front of him before the finish line. I think it would have been a photo finish had it gone that way. Either way it was going to be a great finish and thankfully everyone came out of that final wreck alright. Once again, NASCAR made the right decision to build the safer car.

While there were several comers and goers throughout the night, there were also about four cars that remained in the front group the entire night. Stewart, Hamlin, Busch, and Edwards were definitely the class of the field. There seem to be restrictor plate races where a ton of guys are out front for just a little while, and there are others where just a couple guys dominate, and the latter was the case Saturday night.

Overall a fantastic race and now TNT will finish up the Summer Series in Chicago once again under the lights. This is a track where often a few guys dominate the race but the racing has been getting better over the past few years. We are also coming up on a stretch that doesn't normally have a bunch of different winners. There have been 11 different winners this season and only 12 all of last year, but there were already 10 different winners at this point last year. Busch, Edwards, and Johnson just dominated the entire second half of the season. Still, this season isn't quite setting up like last year. There is more parity and seven of last year's winners have not won yet this season. You don't have to look it up because Monday Morning Crew Chief already did. Have a great week!

Rating the Lenox Industrial Tools 301: 4 Stars ****

Strategy wins it again and for the third time in the last four races fuel mileage works out and this time brings home a surprise winner. Sliced Bread gets the first win of his extremely young career and becomes the youngest driver to ever win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Race. This combined with the better than expected racing this weekend at New Hampshire gets a 4 Star Rating even though rain ended the race before the scheduled 301 miles were complete.

This was a good race even before the late race drama with fuel mileage and rain came about. From the drop of the green flag to start things off Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon battled door-to-door all day. And, had the race not been stopped by rain it probably would have been those two fighting it out for the victory. This was also the best race so far with the double file restarts. It helped that there were plenty of cautions on which to use the procedure, but almost every time Gordon and Busch would be side-by-side for the first four laps or so with Stewart or Johnson looking to possibly make it three wide. That was good racing.

For the second year in a row the extra mile tacked on to the end of the race was not needed because of rain. However, both times a very unexpected winner ended up with the trophy and the top of the finishing order had guys come from all different directions in order to get a top ten finish.

There also have been a few trends this year that this race continued. First, there was another fuel mileage finish. Second, there was another event where rain was a factor. And third, another different winner came in and took home the hardware. This was the 11th different winner already in the 17 races that have been run in 2009. Last year there were only 12 different winners throughout the entire season. The question raised by the numbers is whether or not this is just a fluke, or is the COT finally leveling the playing field to where more drivers are in contention to win races, and make the Chase?

Anyway, one exciting weekend of racing is followed quickly by another. Daytona is next week under the lights. Wide Open Coverage will keep the commercials at bay and Independence Day can shine next to the beach! To everyone, have a safe and wonderful July 4th. This year more than ever, that shouldn't be a problem with a race to finish off the celebration.

Monday Morning Crew Chief Rating System

A look at the rating system from Monday Morning Crew Chief:

1 Star * = Awful race. Debris cautions every twenty laps. The top 5 remains the same basically throughout the race. And to top things off, caution comes out during the green-white-checkered finish causing the race to finish under yellow.

2 Stars ** = Pretty boring race. I find myself surfing the television guide looking for something entertaining. The race ends with the same driver winning by nearly 4 seconds. No side-by-side racing and cautions galore.

3 Stars *** = OK race. Race seems pretty long. The last 30-40 laps drag out like Tony LaRussa and his pitching changes. Debris caution to kill the final run that is coming down to fuel mileage and causing all strategy to be thrown out the window.

4 Stars **** = Fairly exciting race. Strategy is involved at the end, either with how many tires to take or fuel mileage. Throughout the race there are comers and goers so that a different mix of drivers populates the top 5 throughout the race. Maybe an unexpected run by someone other than the usual suspects.

5 Stars ***** = Terrific race. One of those that leaves you with your heart pounding and probably standing up in you living room. One that will cause you to search out any post-race coverage possible to be able to relive what had just taken place. Either the racing was intense throughout the race, or the finish comes down to drivers beating on each other all the way to the line.