Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rating the Southern 500: 3 Stars ***

The Sprint Cup Series headed back to its roots Saturday night for an evening with “The Lady in Black.” A great finish was beginning to take shape, but a late caution with 26 laps to go put a stop to that. Overall, the eminent stock car race of the South gets a 3 Star Rating.

Denny Hamlin continues to amaze after winning his third race of the season and second after having knee surgery less than a month ago. Also, the tracks he has won at are some of the toughest on the circuit: Martinsville, Texas and now Darlington. However, had Joey Logano not spun out near the end of the race, Jeff Burton may have been the one standing in Victory Lane.

Both Jeffs have had interesting starts to the season. Gordon and Burton are running very well week in and week out, but have yet to be able to bring home a trophy. When drivers get on a roll like this, it is almost guaranteed that something will jump up and bite them at the end of a race to prevent them from winning. Saturday it was Burton’s turn as he ran over the air hose on his final pit stop. After that, there was no competition left for Hamlin as he left the field in his dust during that final run.

Overall, this race had an old-school feel to it. No, the track did not eat up tires as it had in the past, but track position was important and about the only way to get around someone was to move them out of the way. There is always a lot of talk about how great it is that several of the tracks have several different grooves. While that certainly works for the big, wide tracks, one groove can make for exciting races at smaller tracks.

Although there were 11 cautions Saturday night, there were still a couple of long stretches of green-flag racing. That’s another reason why I prefer the 500-mile races. The marathon part of the 500-mile race is part of racing and something that should be appreciated. In a few weeks the Coca-Cola 600 will be upon us and that is always one of the best races of the season.

Also, with less new up-and-coming drivers jumping into Sprint Cup cars, I think over the next couple of seasons we will see cleaner and cleaner races. For much of the last decade it was not uncommon to have six legitimate contenders for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year. Lately, however, there are only a couple each season. As the drivers currently in the series continue to mature and improve, I think the number of cautions during the races will come down, and that is definitely not a bad thing.

So after visiting a track with some of the best nicknames in the sport, the series moves to another track with a great nickname in the “Monster Mile” at Dover. We are in a stretch right now of several physical tracks lined up one after the other, and it is nice to have a feel that the drivers can work to improve how they are running on their own without having to come to the pits before they can make up any ground.

Finally, this week marks a very important moment in NASCAR history as the new NASCAR Hall of Fame opens its doors for the first time. If the previews are any indication, this place is going to be like Christmas morning for a NASCAR fan. Hope everyone had a fantastic Mother’s Day weekend and has a couple of great weeks coming up, because the one of the greatest racing months ever is still just getting started.


  1. It was interesting to see lots of teams take 2 tires when in the past you could never go with anything but 4. Seemed to make race strategy a bit more interesting last week. All in all a pretty good race IMO.

  2. Hey jmayer!

    Seems to me Hamlin does best on certain tracks or maybe certain types of tracks. His home track at Richmond comes right to mind. It is amazing what he's doin' with a recently surgically repaired knee.

    Who do you like at Dover?

    Thanks man!

  3. @klvalus-

    Suggestion for Kurt Busch pit crew (if NASCAR would allow it of course...):

    Instead of the standard fuel container they use during pit stops, make them look like BIG bottles of Miller Lite! Great advertising and a real eye catcher! Glug Glug Glug! LOL

    I'm sure it wouldn't be long before the Budweiser crew would follow suit.

  4. klvalus - I agree. Many people seemed disappointed the tires were holding up so well, but I think the race was better with the strategy. This weekend really made me wish they ran a second race there though, lol.

    Dwindy1 - Good point. Pocono is another track where he is always a favorite. Dover is a tough track and comes after several physically demanding races anyway, but I think Jeff Gordon or an RCR car will be strong.

    Also, if the #2 and #9 crews did that it would really be a battle of the beers!

  5. Even though the Foxheads on TV were trying to sell Gordon or Burton as having a winning car, unless they beat Denny out of the pits they couldn't have passed him. Once any one of those three, or McMurray, was out front... they were gone.

  6. jmayer, I would have rated the race at 3.5 stars if not for Logano spinning out late. A long green flag run to finish the race would have brought out some very interesting strategies, to say the least. And I like your point that fewer rookies are coming up the ranks, making for cleaner racing.

  7. @Dwindy - they have cans in the garage painted like that like our garbage cans etc but NASCAR wont allow any stickers on the gas cans for race day. Believe me if Miller could get advertising on there they would! LOL

  8. Gene - I don't think Gordon would have had a shot as he was fading there late, but I think Burton would have at least caught Hamlin. Now passing him is a whole different issue, but it would have been interesting.

    jon_464 - I agree, and the race likely would have had a higher rating had it stayed green, but after Burton had the problem in the pits and Hamlin jumped out front it was over.