Sunday, June 5, 2011

Rating the STP 400: 2 Stars **

The Sprint Cup Series drivers endured another extremely hot day of racing Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Although the drivers were hot, the racing wasn’t. The first-ever spring race at Kansas gets a 2 Star Rating.

For the second straight week, everything came down to fuel mileage. Unfortunately, this week’s strategy did not carry as much drama.

Brad Keselowski definitely used some fancy tricks to save fuel, including pressing the clutch at the end of the straightaways and letting the car coast into the corner, and it looked like Dale Earnhardt Jr. might have the magic strategy to win the race, but the intrigue couldn’t match what happened the previous week in the Coca-Cola 600 where drivers were falling victim to fuel mileage left and right.

Maybe most of the crew chiefs learned their lesson at Charlotte and simply didn’t want to run out of gas for a second week in a row, but with 10 laps to go Keselowski was the only driver among the leaders who legitimately was running well beyond his fuel window.

It looked like Earnhardt Jr. was set up to make a run on Keselowski for the win because Keselowski was in major fuel-conservation mode, but after coming up empty at Charlotte the #88 team played it safe this week and had Earnhardt Jr. slow down to make it to the end as well.

Although it cost him a shot at finally winning a race, this was still a smart call by his crew chief, Steve Letarte. Earnhardt Jr. sits third in the points standings and is in a very good position to make the Chase heading into the summer months. At this point, it wasn’t worth the risk to try and win the race if it meant Earnhardt Jr. might fall back out of the top 10. It’s points racing, but this team has to take that into account considering where it has been in the standings in recent years.

A Chase berth will be worth much more than winning this race, there will be many more opportunities to win a race and it wouldn’t have been smart to put the Chase berth in any risk by trying to go for one win. Shoot, Earnhardt Jr. could just win a race or two in the Chase. That would be the best situation for him and his team because they would likely contend for the championship.

Other than the fuel-mileage finish, Sunday’s race had several of the same issues many bad races dealt with in the past few years. There were three debris cautions and basically three leaders for the majority of the race. Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart were the class of the field and without fuel mileage one of those three, likely Busch, would have easily won the race.

In fact, other than Landon Cassill hitting the wall and Earnhardt Jr. spinning, there wasn’t a heck of a lot of action on the track. Plus, Cassill’s wreck was caused because the field was bunched up again after one of the debris cautions.

Without that, there was one legitimate caution the entire race, and even with that one Earnhardt Jr. didn’t totally spin out, although it would’ve been difficult to go all the way around the track if he missed the entrance to pit road.

So, get ready for more spread out racing this week as the series heads to Pocono Raceway. The triangle track is tough on the cars, but the teams that bring the best equipment usually come out on top. This could be another race where the top teams dominate the top 10 the entire day. Have a great week!


  1. Hey jmayer!

    It was a 2... On to next week.

    Everybody (NASCAR drivers) seems to hate Pocono but I like the differences. The unusual track makes for a different race where a slightly different skillset makes all the difference and a much more interesting race than the 1.5 mile cookie cutter races like Kansas, Michigan, Chicago, Las Vegas, ad nauseum...

    When they scheduled the Kansas spring race I don't they HOT was anticipated. Watching the post race interviews, several of the drivers looked wrung out (especially Denny Hamlin who looked like he'd just come off a 3 day drinking binge)...

    Viva le difference! Viva Pocono!

  2. I will disagree. The racing was good. If you were there. However, FOX, TNT, and ESPN will not show the full group. They normally leave it to the front runners, and the "big names." That is not Kansas Speedways fault.

  3. Dwindy1 - I too like Pocono and am glad it has stayed on the schedule, especially now that it has taken care of several of its safety issues.

    Anonymous - TV never shows the full group, that's not so much Kansas Speedway's fault. However, when it got down to fuel mileage and drivers started to pit for gas, nobody other than Keselowski and the other usual suspects had a shot at winning because everybody else was already at least one lap down.

  4. Well I thought it was good! 3 stars to see Kurt finally up front and lapping folks at will and both he and Junyer being in it to win it in the end. There was at least some passing going on and lots of strategies. Pocono will be tough to watch but thankfully Sonoma right around the corner!