Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rating the Sylvania 300: 2 Stars **

Another Chase race, and another fuel-mileage win for Tony Stewart. The first two Chase tracks might look different, but their races were nearly the same. New Hampshire draws the second consecutive 2 Star Rating to start the Chase.

Stewart and the #14 sure have the fuel-mileage game figured out right now. Both at Chicago and New Hampshire he had not only a good car, but he and his team put themselves in position to take advantage of the situation. Last week he had to hold off the field, this week he had to wait for Clint Bowyer to run out of gas to take the lead.

This race was nearly a mirror image of last week’s race at Chicago, except the sky was finally blue with hardly any clouds.

As for the action on the track, both races were extremely clean. Chicago had twice as many as New Hampshire’s three cautions, but only one actually came from a wreck. Everything else was a myriad of reasons that didn’t involve cars being damaged.

Also, nobody made a pass Sunday. We saw this in the July race at New Hampshire, as well. Once the field settled down after a restart, everybody pretty much remained in their same spot.

That’s not to say the drivers simply took it easy all day. Sure, that may be part of the problem the past two weeks, but right now the setup of the cars does not make for good racing at New Hampshire.

Even last year, the drivers beat and banged their way through the race, and that has been fairly common in the past several years. That’s not the case this year. The New Hampshire races this year weren’t far from the restrictor-plate race at the track in 2000 when Jeff Burton led the entire race.

Along with the cars not matching up with the track very well, the fact that the Chase has started also plays a part in why these races have been so tame.

It’s not that this group of drivers can’t mix it up. They could barely get through 30 laps at Richmond without taking each other out. The Chase drivers have to play it safe right now, especially with the new points system. Denny Hamlin is 66 points out, and out of the championship picture.

Jimmie Johnson finished 18th Sunday and is 29 points out of the lead in 10th. That margin, however, is not insurmountable. Johnson has climbed out of similar holes to go on and win the championship, and he isn’t a full race out of the lead yet. That’s when things start to get scary, and Hamlin is already a race and a half behind points leader Stewart.

Still, these two races cannot be used to truly measure the Chase drivers’ success and predict how the rest of the Chase will play out. Although right now it seems possible, not every race is going to come down to fuel mileage. It would be shocking if it came into play next week at Dover. It could well be the fifth race at Charlotte Motor Speedway before we start to see who is going to be a factor for the championship at Homestead.

So far this year’s Chase has only taught us one thing: Save fuel; it’s a killer to run out.


  1. Yawn...just woke up from that one. Agreed two star snoozefest. Bank it so they can pass! LOL

    Was pretty stoked to see Jr running well - actually passing a few cars...dang flat tire!

    Kurt and his crew were biggest story of the race, perhaps followed closely by JJ/Kyle. Anyone else notice how JJ is claiming he is "racing" now in his interviews? Loved to hear JJ get all crabby on his radio at Chad too...ah the lovers quarrel!

  2. Maybe we need to come up with a different name for this last 10 Cup races of the year...

    Will Dover be any different from Chicago and now New Hampshire? Will it be Concrete Carl leading the parade right up till the end and then (OH NO!) he runs out of 15% ethanol Sunoco fuel! And (let's make it REALLY appealing!) Juan Pablo Montoya is there to flash by the man who led from the green flag for a hard fought victory! Wat to go Juan! Yuck!

    How many such races must we suffer through to get to one of the edge of your seat variety? How long will these guys continue to play nice? They're certainly not putting up a very appealing product just as football cranks up and baseball heads for the playoffs...

  3. klvalus - Haha, Johnson's deal on the radio was hilarious. He sounded like he was talking to his mom from the dugout during his little league game.

    Dwindy1 - Wow, that would be an interesting scenario. All of a sudden Montoya would be kind of relevent.

    I don't think the action will really heat up until Charlotte in a couple weeks.