Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rating the Price Chopper 400: 2 Stars **

After a couple of weeks on traditional one-mile ovals, NASCAR moved out to Kansas and added an additional half-mile. However, the added distance did not mean added excitement. Kansas gets a 2 Star Rating.

Congratulations to Greg Biffle, the #16 team and the entire Ford stable. The Roush-Fenway Racing cars have finally come to life, with three cars in the top 10, and the Richard Petty Motorsports cars swept the front row in qualifying.

Coming into the season, one of the most often asked questions were about whether or not the Roush and Richard Childress Racing organizations would improve on sub-par 2009 season. The Childress group jumped out front early and has debatably been the best overall organization this season. Roush, on the other hand, continued to struggle through much of the regular season. Several Roush drivers would put down consistent finishes, but they were never really a threat to win.

Then came Sunday. At one point Ford held the top four positions on the track. What is the difference? One obvious answer is the new engine program finally has the kinks worked out and is running full speed ahead. However, the cars are handling much better.

On a track that caused drivers such as Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson to spin out in practice, Biffle’s car was on a rail for much of the day. Lots of cars can make horsepower, but the ones that carry speed through the corners will be at the front in the end.

The only real drama Sunday dealt with the points standings. While Johnson once again has the lead in the Chase, the overall standings are as close as ever. Eight drivers are still within 100 points of the leader, the most ever in the Chase era.

So far all of the folks hoping for a close Chase battle have been treated to exactly what they were looking for. Now, the possibility of having an elimination format has been thrown around so much it might as well already be in place. But why would NASCAR want to eliminate drivers early in the Chase? Right now 11 of the 12 drivers could mathematically leave California next week in the lead. Wasn’t one of the main reasons for the Chase to have more drivers compete for the title? Well, they’re competing — but Johnson is once again in the strongest position.

A positive from Sunday’s race was the lack of cautions. As I said earlier in the year, this group of drivers has, for the most part, been on the track together for a while now. The lack of developing Nationwide drivers has helped, but right now each and every week there are surprisingly, and refreshingly, long stretches of green-flag racing. NASCAR helped hand last year’s race at Kansas to Tony Stewart when it threw a debris caution late in the race and everyone came in to pit.

This time, however, Biffle had a Denny-Hamlin-at-Michigan-type lead and NASCAR allowed it to finish under green. Kudos, NASCAR. The integrity of the race is has remained intact of late. Now that Clint Bowyer penalty situation, that’s a story for another day.

Next week the series moves out to the final fall race at California with Johnson in the lead. The racing may not be the greatest, but the race will be important in terms of the championship situation. Hamlin and the rest of the Chase field have to put up a good finish to keep Johnson from running away for championship number five.

Even if Johnson wins, the championship isn’t over. The #48 team has struggled at more tracks than normal this season and the competition has remained in stride for much of the season. Be ready, Homestead might actually mean something this year.


  1. Yup, an unfortunate 2 stars...agreed.

    Rooty knocking Kyle out was cause for some excitement but otherwise I fear the next 2 cookie cutter tracks will provide more of the same single file racing...but at least it did stay mostly green and end legit.

    Kurt could make a run the next few races - he has been wicked good on 1.5's and at Lowes this year...but JJ's in the catbird seat again!

  2. yeah, I'd agree with this one, jm :)

  3. klvalus - Charlotte is usually a good race, but California could be brutal especially if NASCAR starts bringing back the debris caution to try and save the Chase. Reutimann's payback was the first time in a while that a non-Chaser has roughed up a championship contender. So much for racing them differently, and that is certainly a good thing.

    tezgm99 - Thanks, bud.

  4. Maybe if they made these tracks narrower... Like two and a half car widths instead of what... 5-6? put these guys right side by side to pass... Maybe just have a funnel going into the turns and drop the lane width in half! These cookie-cutters are for the birds...

    You remember the old-time baseball parks around the country? Only Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are left, but each one of them was unique... Then baseball went the cookie-cutter route. Today they've learned their lesson. All the new ballparks have their own idiosyncrasies. NASCAR lost touch with that (or maybe I should say Bruton Smith). Seems like they could play with these tracks giving them some individuality that would bug the hell out of the drivers and add interest in the stands...

    Thanks jmayer!

  5. Dwindy1 - Interesting thought. Darlington is kind of like that and it's one of the best tracks on the schedule.

    Smith changed Las Vegas a few years back and I think most people saw it as an improvement. He's not afraid to spend money, but I'm not totally sure his tracks are the problem. New Hampshire isn't great, but he just bought it last year. Michigan, California, Kansas and Chicago are all the same and all owned by ISC. Switching California for Kansas is a bit better, but Atlanta would have been much better.