Saturday, March 31, 2012

Monday Morning Crew Chief Picks: Martinsville

Back to back correct picks for the MMCC crew have us feeling pretty good about ourselves. Yes we are ignoring the previous horrendous choices we have made. Can we make it three in a row at Martinsville?

Monday Morning Crew Chief Picks:  Martinsville

Jacob: Jimmie Johnson escaped Southern California with a lucky break after heavy rains saved his 10th-place finish after he cut an oil line, and he will bring that luck with him to Victory Lane at Martinsville. Johnson has dominated Martinsville in the past, including six wins, 14 top-fives and an astonishing 18 top-10s in his 20 career starts at the track. Johnson doesn’t have bad finishes at Martinsville, and he won’t have one this week.

Patricia (Monday Morning Driver): Kevin Harvick is my pick this week . He really likes this track and showed it by wining this race last year. He then went on to finish 4th in the October race. Harvick wants to come out of Martinsville with, not only the win and the bonus points, but with the championship points lead. Now that's motivation.

Terrence: This is finally the week that the No. 5 of Kasey Kahne brings home a top-ten finish. He has had fast cars each and every week, but just hasn't been able to finish the deal. Martinsville will be a different story.

1. Jacob, 27
2. Patricia, 34
3. Terrence, 46

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

MMCC Power Rankings: Week 5

Five weeks down, four different winners and the only two-time winner this season has been a surprise. What a dull race at California. Let's just get to this week's POWER RANKINGS.

1. Greg Biffle (Last Week 1) – He's still in first? Really?

2. Tony Stewart (6) – Stewart having two wins before March can either be a start of a very dominant season, or the first half of an epic post season collapse.

3. Jimmie Johnson (2) – So I guess that golden horseshoe is back in its rightful place.

4. Kevin Harvick (4) – Slow and steady wins the long race, maybe.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7) – Managed not to wreck anybody this weekend, congratulations.

6. Matt Kenseth (3) – Didn't get the same luck Jimmie Johnson did with the timely caution, why? One word: Horseshoe.

7. Martin Truex Jr. (5) –Still waiting on the real Martin Truex Jr. to show up.

8. Carl Edwards (12) – How many sponsors does this guy have?

9. Ryan Newman (16) – Your owner has two wins, what have you done for him lately?

10. Kyle Busch (17) – Now that's the Kyle Busch we all expected to see week in and week out.

11. Denny Hamlin (8) – I love how Hamlin was trying to justify the pit stop that cost him at least 10 points.

12. Brad Keselowski (9) – Tweeting after an 18th place finish is a lot less interesting.

13. Clint Bowyer (15) – May end up with with a career-best points finish with MWR, if you saw that coming you had Norfolk St. beating Missouri.

14. Paul Menard (10) – The No. 27 car started 27th, now if only he could go back to 10 he may have a shot at the chase.

15. Jeff Burton (11) – I keep waiting for Burton to have a dominating race, Martinsville may be that track.

16. Juan Pablo Montoya (20) – One of the first few cars one lap down, not quite sure how that happened.

17. Mark Martin (NR) – If these runs continue, the No. 55 could be in the owners points championship chase.

18. Kurt Busch (NR) – Where the hell did that finish come from?

19. Kasey Kahne (NR) – Congratulations, you just brought home your first clean car of the season!

20. Jeff Gordon (16) – A victim of one of many pit road speeding penalties, needs to turn it around because 25th in the standings just isn't going to cut it.

DNF: The Rain – The only caution of the race was because of rain. The rain prevented what might have been an awesome battle between Hamlin and Stewart.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rating the Auto Club 400: 1 Star *

The first Sprint Cup Series race in California this year was less than thrilling, as a drive down the interstate would’ve been more exciting than Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway. It took just five races for Monday Morning Crew Chief to dish out the first 1 Star Rating of the season.

Congratulations to Tony Stewart, at least he had one of the best cars in the field Sunday. The green-flag racing also wasn’t a problem. NASCAR maintains integrity when it doesn’t throw debris cautions to bunch up the field, and letting a race go green decreases the chance of a fluke winner because of a restart.

Still, this race was two-and-a-half hours that most NASCAR fans will quickly forget. Nothing memorable happened, and then the race was shortened by rain with 71 laps remaining.

Those are the ingredients for a pretty boring race.

I actually had hopes for an exciting Sprint Cup Series race this weekend after watching the Nationwide Series race. Saturday’s race had the top five drivers all within a few car lengths of each other and the lead changed several times before Joey Logano crossed the finish line first.

That, however, certainly did not transfer over to Sunday’s race. Kyle Busch took the early lead, eventually Stewart ran him down to take over the top spot and then it rained. That was it.

Shoot, some fans might not have digested their Sunday fried chicken before the race was over.

The other issue that plagues races at Fontana is the fact that only drivers on big teams do well at the track. There are no surprises in the running order. The final results might as well have a dollar amount for how many resources the team can put toward a car’s performance.

I’m not saying NASCAR shouldn’t have tracks such as Fontana on the schedule. This track is a good test of a car’s performance. However, the teams that have the best handling cars are the teams with the most money and therefore run up front at large tracks where handling and aerodynamics matter a great deal. Thankfully, Martinsville is next week, and handling and aerodynamics hardly matter at all there.

The one lesson to take away from Fontana is that Stewart might have the best overall team right now. He has won seven of the last 15 races, including last year at several different types of tracks.

But, his two wins this year have been at Las Vegas and Fontana, the two intermediate tracks where the series has run so far. That could make for some Stewart domination this season because most of the schedule is made up of tracks similar to where he has already won.

In any case, feel free to quickly dispose of Sunday’s race and move on to next week at Martinsville. The paperclip racetrack has been the site of some of the best racing in the last few years and the sport sure could use a little bit of a pick-me-up as momentum has slowed since a wild Speedweeks in February.

It’s time to get folks excited again, and Martinsville might be just the place to get things fired up.

Friday, March 23, 2012

MMCC Weekly Picks: Fontana

Well, well, well. We have our first correct pick in MMCC history. Terrence Hunley correctly forcasted a Bristol victory for Brad Keselowski, helping the last-place picker gain a bit of ground. Certainly not enough though. Patricia's pick of Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended up 15th and Jacob closed within two points after Jeff Burton finished sixth.

Now we head to the high banks of California, who you takin?

Monday Morning Crew Chief Picks: Fontana

Patricia (Monday Morning Driver): Jimmie Johnson is my pick to win the Auto Club 400. Even though the No. 48 team has had constant distractions since the debacle at Daytona, they have continued to run in the top ten. Now, with those distractions in the rear view mirror, we hit the reset button. They are now 11th in drivers points and Chad Knaus will be on the pit box with more confidence than he has ever had. For the other 42 drivers, that is a scary thought!

Jacob: The easy pick this week is Jimmie Johnson, but the pick with the most upside is Tony Stewart. Stewart won the last time the series was out west at Las Vegas and is the only driver to win on an intermediate track this season. Plus, we won't get much deeper into the season before we have a repeat winner. Stewart will be the first to notch win #2 this weekend at Fontana.

Terrence: I'm riding high after correctly picking Brad K to win at Bristol, let's see if we can do this all over again. This week, I bet another Roush-Fenway driver reaches victory lane. I'm going with none other than Greg Biffle. It's the Biff's time to shine and finish higher than third.

1. Patricia, 24
2. Jacob, 26
3. Terrence, 40

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bruton Smith attempts to fix a self-inflicted problem with Bristol

As with many changes in the world of NASCAR during the past decade, the 2007 reconfiguration of Bristol Motor Speedway turned out to be a flop.

The World’s Fastest Half-Mile and host of two of the most anticipated races of the Sprint Cup Series season went from the role model of all short tracks to a wanna-be speed track.

Instead of the one-groove, beat-and-bang racing that made the track famous, the reconfiguration turned the track into a short version of nearly half of the tracks on the NASCAR schedule. Drivers could suddenly run side-by-side lap after lap. That was unheard of prior to 2007. If a driver didn’t hold the bottom of the track, he got freight-trained and sent to the back.

Now, not all fans hate the new version of the track and not all fans loved the old version. Even back in Bristol’s glory days when races were nearly sold out years in advance, some people complained that it wasn’t “real racing” just as they complain that restrictor-plate racing isn’t “real racing.”

The same can be said for the two road courses on the schedule. Some people think NASCAR should add more to the schedule and others never want to see a stock car on a track that doesn’t exclusively have left turns. Whatever real racing is, some people don’t like anything that is different.

In any case, it looks like track owner Bruton Smith is going to finally do something Monday Morning Crew Chief suggested a year ago in this story and put Bristol back the way it was before the repave. Smith has said he will use $1 million to fix the track. What can $1 million do to change a track? Only Smith and his cohorts know the specifics of that, but it is sounding like the progressive banking has seen its last race.

Unfortunately, NASCAR has caused or dealt with many changes in the past decade that many fans wish would be put back as they were previously.

Daytona International Speedway had to be repaved for the start of the 2011 season. The pothole during the 2010 Daytona 500 proved that. But, both the repaves at Daytona and Talladega produced two-car drafts that at times made for tame restrictor-plate racing, which was something many people didn’t think was possible.

All of a sudden the fans spoke out that they didn’t like the new drafting style and NASCAR worked to make the racing more like the old, big packs that made restrictor-plate races thrilling. Even then, most fans heard way more about how the cars cooling systems work than they ever cared to know. Plus Speedweeks felt like one huge test session because nobody knew how the races would look.

Fans also got NASCAR to remove the rear wing from the new Cars of Tomorrow and bring back the traditional spoiler. There have been several other examples throughout the decade of fans wanting a change to some aspect of the sport. NASCAR has addressed some, and left others such as the Chase format alone.

The sport has to change to some extent. That’s the way of the world, especially the car world. New cars come out every year with new innovations incorporated into the new model.

It is interesting, however, that most of the recent changes have been to return the racing back to how it was before a particular change was made. Even the 2013 Cup models are an attempt to return the look of the cars back to some semblance of the corresponding passenger car, as they were back in the day.

Now, whether Smith can bring back Bristol the way it used to be remains to be seen, but sometimes the best change is the one not made. That would saved several of the sport’s controversies during the last decade.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

MMCC Power Rankings: Week 4

Sorry for the delay. I had a slight home emergency last night -- the refrigerator stopped running. Don't worry, though, it won't spoil this week's POWER RANKINGS.

1. Greg Biffle (Last Week 1) – Maintained his point lead simply by surviving. Several of the top points guys had bad days at Bristol.

2. Jimmie Johnson (7) – Johnson has become the only NASCAR driver to go from 17th to a Chase spot on a Tuesday after Hendrick Motorsports won its appeal.

3. Matt Kenseth (8) – NASCAR better watch out. If Kenseth keeps this up he may win the championship, and we'll have a whole new points system all over again.

4. Kevin Harvick (4) – Harvick was the worst of his Richard Childress Racing teammates on Sunday. Maybe this baby thing isn't such a good idea.

5. Martin Truex Jr. (10) – Sits fourth in the standings and doesn't even have a win yet. Maybe Michael Waltrip Racing is ready to challenge for a title?

6. Tony Stewart (6) – Not the run that I expected out of Stewart at Bristol, but then again, we can't let one March win spoil what is usually a June-July hot streak.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (3) –Wrecked Mark Martin last week and Jeff Gordon this week. Bobby Labonte better watch out at Fontana.

8. Denny Hamlin (4) – Hamlin has already scheduled a dancing lesson with Jeff Gordon to teach him how to dougie.

9. Brad Keselowski (18) – Apparently, Bristol's victory lane is no a wi-fi hot spot. Bruton, get on that.

10. Paul Menard (12) – Twelve of Menard's 19 career top 10s have come on an intermediate track.

11. Jeff Burton (15) – This Duke fan's bracket may be busted, but his ability to drive sure isn't.

12. Carl Edwards (5) – Edwards had the luxury of sitting on top of a pit box and eating Cheeze-Its while waiting for his car to get fixed.

13. Ryan Newman (16) – Apparently "Rocketman" got his nickname at Bristol. Isn't it time he lost it?

14. Brian Vickers (NR) – Welcome back to the sport Vickers; congrats on the strong run.

15. Clint Bowyer (19) – Maybe the move from RCR to MWR wasn't such a bad thing after all.

16. Jeff Gordon (9) – I'm a little dissapointed with how calm Gordon was after Earnhardt Jr. wrecked him, Terry Labonte woulda been pissed!

17. Kyle Busch (13) – Back-to-back Bristol races where Kyle has finished outside the top 10.

18. Joey Logano (14) – Never had an issue and still finished two laps down. Now that is a long day at Bristol.

19. Jamie McMurray (NR) – One of five drivers I didn't expect to see in the top 10 that was.

20. Juan Pablo Montoya (NR) – Another one of those drivers, but I don't expect JPM in the top 10 unless it's a road course.

DNF: Regan Smith – Caused a wreck that took out three of the top contenders in the race. Oh, what a race this could have been. Then maybe Bruton Smith wouldn't threaten to tear up the track.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rating the Food City 500: 3 Stars ***

Six favorites crashed out just 26 laps into the race at Bristol Motor Speedway, but after that everybody played nice as Brad Keselowski picked up his second Bristol trophy. Overall, the fourth race of the season gets a 3 Star Rating.

Some people might go off the edge and say Sunday’s race was boring and lacked any kind of excitement, but the race wasn’t horrible. For those who like wrecks, hopefully they tuned in early. For others who like hard, clean racing, the final 450 laps were enjoyable.

Unless track owner Bruton Smith changes his mind and decides he doesn’t like the current style of racing, the old beat-and-bang racing is gone and it’s not coming back. The funny thing is the type of racing we saw Sunday would be considered intense and exciting at almost any other racetrack. People simply have different expectations for Bristol.

However, the race doesn’t get a rating higher than a three for a reason. Keselowski had the best car of the day and drove away for the win. Matt Kenseth tried hard to keep up, but he did not have a car that handled well enough at the end to really challenge for the win. The Keselowski-Kenseth battle was actually fairly similar to the Tony Stewart-Jimmie Johnson battle a week ago at Las Vegas.

Also, many of the promos for this week’s race included old footage of wrecks and overheated drivers getting angry at each other. But the only real angry battle between two drivers at Bristol since the reconfiguration in 2007 was Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards driving into each other after the checkered flag of the 2008 night race.

Other than Busch slamming the roof of his car as he got out after his early wreck, everybody else came back to the garage peaceful and ready to pack up and head home.

That has also been the case for the entire season to date. The drivers have been incredibly level-headed to open the season. Even after questionable incidents on the track such as when Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin bumped at Las Vegas, the drivers kind of shrugged their shoulders and moved on. The same could be said after all of the wrecks during Speedweeks, as well.

I’m not saying we need to have drivers angry at each other all the time. This is a sport that doesn’t need sideshow spectacles to be entertaining. The point is this is the quietest start to a season in regards to drivers’ emotions since the famous “Have at it, boys” edict before the start of the 2010 season.

One of the most surprising aspects of the race at Bristol was how well the three Michael Waltrip Racing cars of Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers ran, particularly Vickers.

Vickers hadn’t been in a Sprint Cup Series car since the final race of 2011 at Homestead before his Red Bull Racing team shut down. He ruffled a lot of feathers late in the season with rough driving, but he sure made the most of his opportunity Sunday in the #55 car.

Vickers led 125 laps and dominated the first half of the event. If the race had been 250 laps, he may have shocked the world and ended up in Victory Lane.

It will be interesting to see where his career heads from here on out. He has five more races this season in the #55 car and might drive his way back into a full-time ride again sooner rather than later.

So, next week NASCAR heads out to everybody’s favorite race on the schedule: the Auto Club 400 in Fontana, Calif. Last year was probably the best race at the track when Kevin Harvick passed Jimmie Johnson for the win on the final lap.

However, considering we haven’t had more than a 3 Star race yet this season, the chances of busting out the first 4 or 5 Star race at California aren’t very good.

In any case, have a great week, everybody.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Monday Morning Crew Chief Picks: Bristol

It's time for one of the most exciting races in NASCAR: Bristol. It's the one track on the circuit where a driver can get away with having both bumpers exposed and it wouldn't even matter. Patricia and Jacob extended their lead on Terrence as Greg Biffle finished third and Carl Edwards finished 5th at Vegas.

Monday Morning Crew Chief Picks: Bristol

Patricia (Monday Morning Driver): Dale Earnhardt Jr. is finally going to victory lane this weekend. Bristol Motor Speedway is one of Jr.'s favorite tracks. Combine that with the strong start the No. 88 team has had, and you'll hear a long sigh of relief from Jr. Nation on Sunday night.

Jacob: I’m going to go a bit off the beaten path this week and choose Jeff Burton. Burton has a history of running well at short tracks and Richard Childress Racing looked good at Phoenix led by Kevin Harvick’s second-place performance. Burton also needs a standout race to kick his season in gear. After a horrible 2011, Burton is currently 15th in the points standings and needs a strong run to remind everybody that he will be a factor for a Chase spot this season.

Terrence: I'm going to go with a car that has consistently performed well at Bristol no matter the driver. That is the Blue Deuce of Brad Keselowski. Keselowski has had a solid start to the season and will have another top 10 run at the half-mile, and maybe I'll make up some ground in this thing.

1. Patricia, 9
2. Jacob, 20
3. Terrence, 39

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chad Knaus’ suspension again delayed, but why doesn’t Jimmie Johnson still have his 25 points?

Hendrick Motorsports got the expected answer from a three-person appeals board Tuesday over its appeal of NASCAR’s penalties on the #48 team from Daytona: The penalties won’t be changed.

NASCAR had penalized the team 25 driver and owner points, fined crew chief Chad Knaus $100,000, and suspended Knaus and car chief Ron Malec for illegal C-posts on the back of the #48 car that were found during the opening inspection for Speedweeks.

Owner Rick Hendrick then filed an appeal that was finally shot down Tuesday.
But that’s not all. Hendrick has one more option, and he will use it. He will file an appeal of the appeal one level higher with the final judge on this case, John Middlebrook.

Although the next appeal doesn’t appear to be any more successful than this last one, Knaus and Malec will both still be at Bristol Motor Speedway this coming weekend. They won’t officially serve their suspensions until the horse has been beaten, buried, exhumed and buried again.

However, there is one part of the penalty that has already been enforced: the 25 points. Sure, it is easy to reverse that on the standings sheet if the next appeal is successful, but it doesn’t make sense to take away Jimmie Johnson’s points when Knaus hasn’t paid his fine or served his suspension.

Let’s say the #48 team crashed early at Bristol this week and was on the bubble of the top 35 in points that guarantee a car a spot in the race. Those 25 points could potentially make a huge difference in whether or not the team had a guaranteed spot in two weeks at Martinsville, which is when the top 35 rule goes into effect for this year’s points standings.

If the appeal isn’t heard by the April 1 race at Martinsville, Johnson could be outside the top 35 in points. But, if the appeal is later overturned, Johnson could’ve been cheated out of a spot in the Martinsville race because of points he never should’ve been docked until the final appeal was heard.

That means Johnson could miss a race because only part of the penalties were enforced after Daytona. If Knaus and Malec aren’t required to sit out races immediately following NASCAR’s announcement of the penalties, Johnson shouldn’t officially lose those 25 points until all of the appeals have been heard.

Johnson would currently be tied for 13th in the standings without the penalties, but instead he sits 23rd.

Penalties similar to this situation could also really mess up the Chase if NASCAR penalizes a team near the cutoff race in September at Richmond. If a team misses the Chase by less than 25 points but then has the appeal overturned after the Chase starts, would they be given back a Chase spot and somebody else kicked out?

There have been controversies in NASCAR before, but imagine how large this one would be.

Even though these are very hypothetical situations that are unlikely to happen this time, crazy things happen in NASCAR and one day this one could jump up and bite NASCAR pretty hard.

Monday, March 12, 2012

MMCC Power Rankings: Week 3

What a race! I think the fearless leader at the site got it wrong; that was better than 3 Stars. Anytime you get two all-time greats battling for the win is awesome.

Though you won't find a single championship among the top five in this week's POWER RANKINGS.

1. Greg Biffle (Last Week 1) – Biffle flopped a set of threes on the poker table after yet another third-place effort at Las Vegas.

2. Kevin Harvick (3) –Rode around all day at or near the top 10, finished 11th. It may not be closer-like but hey, he's second in points ... can't argue with that.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7) – You would have thought the leader of the most laps got a Diet Dew at the end of the race by the way Junior jumped out to that lead.

4. Denny Hamlin (1) – Text from Stewart: "Anything you can do, I can do better".

5. Carl Edwards (11) – What a terrible run for the #99 team, but a heck of a finish. Keep that up and another title chase will be likely.

6. Tony Stewart (15) – Really wanted him to say, "Here, kitty kitty kitty" again after getting to second and going for the lead.

7. Jimmie Johnson (12) – Looks like old five-time is back to his old self, now to see how the appeal turns out.

8. Matt Kenseth (3) – Should have used a bit more Zest on the outside of that car to be able to make that pass work, from fourth to 22nd in a matter of laps.

9. Jeff Gordon (12) – Had a horrible car for most of the day, but actually made it better as the day went on. That's a lot more than the Gordon-Letarte team ever did.

10. Martin Truex Jr. (7) – Starting to believe Truex Jr. when he sings about idiotic announcers in the commercial. I can't count how many times the announcers screwed up Sunday.

11. Mark Martin (5) – There is only one driver in NASCAR that could make Martin look like the villain, and that's Dale Earnhardt Jr.

12. Paul Menard (20) – Another solid run for Menard, seems to be feast or famine for the third Richard Childress Racing driver.

13. Kyle Busch (6) – Never made much noise at his hometown track. His brother, however, smacked the inside wall so hard the brother's old dirt track could feel it.

14. Joey Logano (14) – It's tough not to pull for a guy like Logano, always smiling, unlike his teammates.

15. Jeff Burton (16) – The Mayor of NASCAR was the worst of the RCR bunch and still finished 16th, those Childress cars look tough.

16. Ryan Newman (NR) – Didn't hear much about Newman all day. Then you look at the finishing order and ol' rocket man ended up fourth.

17. Regan Smith (19) – If Smith can sneak another surprising win this season, this team could sneak into the Chase.

18. Brad Keselowski (9) – Tough day for both of the Penske Racing Dodges. The 2013 season can't come soon enough.

19. Clint Bowyer (NR) – New "drinking game." Have a 5-hour energy shot every time Bowyer's commercials run during a race broadcast. #wired

20. Trevor Bayne (NR) – GET THIS MAN A SPONSOR! The 2011 Daytona 500 champion won't be racing at Bristol in either series. What a shame.

DNF: NASCAR on FOX – FOX needs to realize that social media makes broadcasting delayed. Pit stops after they happened, along with everything else, under commercial look bush league.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Rating the Kobalt Tools 400: 3 Stars ***

Sprint Cup Series defending champion Tony Stewart capitalized on several late restarts to seal the deal in Las Vegas and assure everybody he will be a major factor in the championship again this year. Although he had a great battle with Jimmie Johnson at the end, the entire race wasn’t nearly exciting and gets a 3 Star Rating.

With so many quality teams in the sport, it is relatively rare to see two of the all-time greats get the chance to compete head-to-head on the track the way Stewart and Johnson did Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With eight championships between them, the winner was going to know he beat the best competition on the track.

Other drivers tried to keep up throughout the race, but Stewart was solid as a rock and steadily moved to the front, while Johnson made his way to the front after starting 40th.

Johnson was actually involved in the two best battles on the track all day. He and Matt Kenseth had a terrific run in the first half of the race that usually isn’t seen at mile-and-a-half tracks until late in the race. Both battles were reminiscent of the Stewart and Carl Edwards battles at the end of last season.

For Stewart, Sunday’s win proves that he has certainly carried the momentum from winning the 2011 championship into 2012. With Steve Addington on top of the pit box this #14 team could have quite a run throughout the entire season, not just in the Chase.

The bulk of the race played out pretty much as expected. The big guns stayed at the front of the field throughout the day. However, most of the race was cleaner than expected. Minus two debris cautions and the two BK Racing engines overcooking their burgers, the Busch brothers had the only true incidents on the day. Kyle spun off of Turn 4 and Kurt wrecked coming out of Turn 2.

Other than the craziness at Daytona, the races at Phoenix and Las Vegas have been noticeably calmer than normal. Both races had large, multicar incidents last year as it seemed like drivers got acclimated to racing again for the new season. This year drivers have raced hard, but they’ve kept it clean. Nobody has even attempted a verbal throwdown in a post-race interview.

As far as the points standings are concerned, Greg Biffle took over the lead from Denny Hamlin, who had an awful day and finished 20th. This is the point in the season where the standings start to shake out and morph into how they will look for the majority of the season. Except for Mark Martin in 10th and Paul Menard in 11th, the Chase would be considered fairly normal with everybody who would receive a Chase berth.

Both Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano may be somewhat of a surprise sitting eighth and ninth, respectively, but these are two drivers who have run with a fully sponsored team in a large organization for several years now, and it is about time for them to consistently run near the front or go find another ride.

In any case, next week is Bristol and that is sure to stir everything up. Nothing cures a quiet start the season like a trip to Thunder Valley where a clean car at the end of the day probably means you didn’t drive it hard enough.

Have a great week, everybody.

Friday, March 9, 2012

MMCC Weekly Picks: Las Vegas

Well Phoenix was a wild one as far as the favorites go, nothing went as expected. Patrica's pick of Kyle Busch was best with his 6th place finish, Jacob's pick of Edwards wound up 17th and Terrence's pick of Kasey Kahne couldn't get past the first caution and ended up 34th.

Monday Morning Crew Chief Picks: Las Vegas

Patricia (Monday Morning Driver): This week I'm going with "The Biff." With a third place finish at both Daytona and Phoenix, Greg Biffle is poised for his first win of 2012. The #16 team has momentum and confidence going into Las Vegas this weekend, and that is a winning combination.

Jacob: This is a tough one since the series has yet to visit amile-and-a-half track such as Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but I will go with Greg Biffle. The Biff is off to a great start to the season and sits just six points out of the lead in the points standings. Plus, he should’ve won the race at Las Vegas last year but fueling problems cost him too much time in the pits and he finished 24th, the last car on the lead lap. The #16 team is running much smoother this yearand could finally put Biffle back in Victory Lane.

Terrence: Roush-Fenway Racing has been consistently great at the bigger tracks, with this being the first trip to a mile and a half track, look for all the Roush guys to be up front. My pick is Carl Edwards. The #99 has four wins at the track, including two with Cousin Carl in 2008 and 2011. Edwards is looking for a strong showing to get back on track.

1. Patricia, 6
2. Jacob, 17
3. Terrence, 34

Monday, March 5, 2012

MMCC Power Rankings: Week 2

Anybody awake yet? Boy was that a dull race, and not what NASCAR needed after all the Daytona 500 ratings. There were no explosions or fires. Heck, there were only one or two single-car wrecks too.

Let's wake up a bit and take a look at the Week 2 Power Rankings.

1. Greg Biffle (Last Week 2) – Who would have guessed Greg Biffle would be the best of the Roush-Fenway Racing trio two races in?.

2. Denny Hamlin (3) – Denny and Darian sitting in a tree W-I-N-N-I-N-G.

3. Kevin Harvick (7) – That's how you're supposed to race. Put it all on the line ... to hell with what happens. Maybe a championship is in his future yet.

4. Matt Kenseth (1) – Did anyone else see Kenseth on the Jay Leno show? It's sad when the guest is funnier than the host.

5. Mark Martin (9) – Mark may already be thinking about running the full schedule, sabotaging the Elliott Sadler announcement hours after it happened.

6. Kyle Busch (12) – How often is it that Rowdy is the classier of the two drivers in a "rivalry?" The younger Busch brother got booted out of the way by Harvick and didn't do anything about it Yet.

7. Martin Truex Jr. (10) – Ok I was wrong, the Napa Know How commercials are way more annoying than anything Clint Bowyer is in ... though not by much.

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (5) – Junior may have a few more Diet Dew offers if he keeps up the top-15 finishes.

9. Brad Keselowski (15) – If I hear one more thing about Keselowski's Twitter antics between now and Vegas, I'm going to put all my hard-earned blogging money on black.

10. Bobby Labonte (20) – I know it may be a bit early, but if the Chase started now Labonte would be in the championship hunt for the first time since guys such as Johnny Benson, Kenny Wallace and Ricky Craven were in the series.

11. Carl Edwards (3) – I hear the Subway driver promised media members Subway sandwiches for the Subway Fresh Fit 500; too bad the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki Sandwiches never made it to the track. Disclaimer: This ranking brought to you by Subway, eat fresh.

12. Jimmie Johnson (18) – You know it's not a good race when the fastest car can't even make a decent pass.

13. Jeff Gordon (17) – Four-time champion world problems: Running top 10 - "This car is junk."

14. Joey Logano (19) – May be about time to add some jam to Mr. Sliced Bread after two back-to-back top 10s.

15. Tony Stewart (8) – Tony did his best Marcos Ambrose impression, only he did it with more than 50 laps to go and was forced to ride around in 22nd.

16. Jeff Burton (6) – No better way to ruin a strong start to the season than by something out of your control, engines and UNC basketball .

17. Dave Blaney (13) – For the record, Dave Blaney has not joined Twitter, so any attempts to follow him will be futile. Unless you do it in real life, then you're just a creeper.

18. Juan Pablo Montoya (NR) – Track workers everywhere let out a huge sigh of relief when the #42 car finished the race without incident.

19. Regan Smith (NR) – Smith had the shortest drive to the track but one of the longest back to his hauler after a top-15 run was ruined by fuel mileage.

20. Paul Menard (11) – The official Paul Menard wrecks caused tally sits at: 1

DNF: Kasey Kahne – Sounds like someone is a little to antsy about getting to drive such good equipment. So much so, he turned right way before we ever got to Sonoma.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rating the Subway Fresh Fit 500: 2 Stars **

After the craziness of a wild Speedweeks that saw nearly everything imaginable, the Sprint Cup Series brought a toned down version of NASCAR racing this week in the desert. The second race of the season gets a 2 Star Rating.

This race had moments of tight racing, especially after restarts, but for the most part the field quickly got strung out and nobody could make up much ground.

We saw similar racing in the November race at Phoenix International Raceway, but that also included a great championship battle between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, who both finished in the top three in that race.

This time around Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick took turns dominating the race. Harvick raced hard to take away the lead from Busch midway through the race, but otherwise the driver out front couldn’t be touched.

The new surface and configuration at Phoenix make for some interesting moves down the backstretch, but there is also room for improvement in the quality of the racing. The groove is still too narrow early in the race, but hopefully that improves as the track ages.

Drivers were able to make moves on the high side late in the race. Johnson and Brad Keselowski had a great battle for the fourth position during the final run. Plus, Harvick had something for Hamlin coming to the white flag, but he ran out of gas before he could try to make a move for the win.

As for Hamlin, this win solidifies a great start to the season with new crew chief Darian Grubb. Hamlin didn’t have the best car throughout the weekend or early in the race, but the team adjusted on the car throughout the race and gave Hamlin the car he needed to run for the win at the end of the race.

This could be the start of something pretty great for the #11 team. This is a team that just 15 months ago led Johnson heading into the final race of 2010 at Homestead. Hamlin had issues early that race and never could find his stride in 2011 with Mike Ford on top of the pit box.

Ford was a good crew chief, but Hamlin needed a change and Grubb might be the perfect fit for Hamlin and the #11 team.

With an early win, Hamlin should regain some confidence that he will have a quality ride most every week and can go back to challenging for the championship rather than just a spot in the Chase. Hamlin likely won’t need a wild card to get in the 2012 Chase.

Now the series heads to the always important first mile-and-a-half racetrack of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Daytona and Phoenix are both tracks where the quality of the car is not nearly as important as it is at a track such as Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is where we’ll start to find out which teams have the best equipment. Also, teams that do well at Las Vegas often do well for the majority of the season. Although Carl Edwards didn’t win another race after he visited Victory Lane at Las Vegas, he did make quite a run at the championship.

So, welcome to the real beginning of the season. All of the excitement and extra festivities from Daytona and the celebrations for Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth are over. Now it’s time to dig in and build a solid foundation for the rest of the season.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

MMCC Weekly Picks: Phoenix

Amid several changes here at Monday Morning Crew Chief, we have decided to add a weekly pick'em column where Jacob, Terrence and Monday Morning Driver writer Patricia will pick who we think will win the race each week.

The format will be easy to follow. Each of us will pick a winner and write a few paragraphs as to why we think they will win. Below the picks will be a weekly standings column where the lowest score leads. We will get one point for a first-place finish and 43 for a third-place finish. If our driver happens to win the pole, we will subtract one point from the final score.
And yeah, we missed Daytona but since it wasn't run on Sunday it doesn't count. Haha. Picks below the break.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Michael Waltrip Racing in regards to switch: 'We are definitely a Toyota'

The strongest Dodge team since the manufacture's return 10 years ago, Penske, is leaving the Dodge brand for a more beneficial switch to Ford. With that switch it leaves Dodge in a state of disarray with the pending announcement of the 2013 Dodge Charger Sprint Cup car next weekend at Las Vegas.

One of the teams that was speculated could make the switch to Dodge for more funding was Michael Waltrip Racing. They can officially be ruled out. A source said the switch won't happen because "We are definitely a Toyota."

With MWR being ruled out, that takes one of the bigger teams with a chance for a switch out of the picture. Popular opinion would say Hendrick Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Hass Racing and Richard Childress Racing also have no reason to switch.

A spokesman for Dodge said the process is underway for Dodge and RAM to determine their 2013 lineups.

That leaves teams such as Richard Petty Motorsports and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing as two of the bigger teams left who might look at switching brands.

The official statement from RPM didn't rule out a switch, but it didn't say it would happen either.

“We have a partnership with Roush FenwayRacing and we are happy to be a part of the Ford Racing program. As wealways do, we will evaluate all of our options and make decisions based on whatis ultimately best for our race team.”

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Penske Racing opens all kinds of possibilities with move to Ford in 2013

An offseason of near non-stop driver and team moves has carried right into the beginning of the 2012 NASCAR season.

Penske Racing announced Thursday it will switch manufacturers by ditching Dodge to return to Ford for the 2013 season, a move that sets up a long line of dominoes for the next Silly Season.

Over the last several years the number of Sprint Cup Series teams running Dodges had dwindled to just Penske and Robby Gordon. Now that number could drop to zero without Penske. Gordon is looking to sell his team or find investors to keep it afloat.

Team owner Roger Penske previously fielded Fords from 1994 through 2002 with Rusty Wallace leading the charge.

Ford Motor Co. had to offer Penske a pretty sweet deal to leave Dodge, even though “The Captain” said the move is not about money. Penske often talked about the virtues of being the only big-time team for an entire manufacturer, even though other manufacturers found success as more teams joined the fold.

Apparently prevailing assumptions that being on a manufacturer island is a bad thing are true. Penske might have gotten Dodge’s full support, but it still had just two full-time teams to use to gather information. Other manufacturers such as Ford and Chevrolet have as many as seven and nine teams that finished in the top 20 in points a year ago.

Still, Penske did well under the Dodge banner and consistently put cars in the championship Chase.

Just like with driver moves, this move by Penske is going to have a ripple effect throughout the sport. Dodge said it will remain in the sport and will unveil its 2013 Charger next week, but right now it doesn’t have a team lined up to drive those new cars.

People quickly turned to Richard Petty Motorsports as a likely candidate to move to Dodge, and there are decent reasons to think that might happen. RPM’s contract with Ford is up at the end of the season, and Petty has long been connected to the Dodge brand.

But, the Petty organization has had trouble just staying in existence throughout the past several years, and it is tough to think the organization suddenly has the resources to venture out on its own with a new manufacturer.

If they do, the performance on the track could be dreadful. Just think of the 2001-2006 stretch when Petty Enterprises switched to Dodge and never had a car finish in the top 20 in the points standings.

The other factor in this situation is how Roush-Fenway Racing will react to Penske’s move. Owner Jack Roush had been on a decade-long run in which he became Ford Racing in NASCAR. Anything associated with Ford was also associated with Roush. The “Cat in the Hat” might not welcome a new organization with open arms, especially if it doesn’t run Roush-Yates engines.

Penske hasn’t yet said how his organization will handle the engine situation. If Penske Racing runs its own engines, there likely won’t be much information flowing between Roush and Penske. If Penske does run the Roush-Yates engines, then he might as well be in the same position as what RPM is in now.

Either way, it didn’t take long for teams set their sights on the 2013 season even though the current season is only one race old.

With Penske’s move forcing a manufacturer to look for teams, the door is now wide open for all kinds of movement to begin.