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 LifeLock.com 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 NASCAR.com, 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.