Sunday, April 29, 2012

Rating the Capital City 400: 2 Stars **

After several races full of long green-flag runs and few caution flags, people thought that all might change as the Sprint Cup Series visited Richmond International Raceway. Unfortunately, Saturday night’s race combined all that has been bad about the 2012 season and gets a 2 Star Rating.
Even though it’s a short track, Richmond produced similar racing as most of the other tracks outside Daytona this year. There were only five cautions throughout the race, and that’s including the bogus debris caution NASCAR threw with 12 laps remaining to spice up the finish.
None of those cautions were for a wreck besides Kurt Busch’s spin on lap 118, and he didn’t sustain any damage.
The complaints about no wrecks started to get louder and louder as each week passed, so NASCAR decided to throw the caution in hopes of an old-time throwdown.
Well, the only possible throwdowns at the end of the race would’ve been between drivers and NASCAR officials instead of drivers angry at each other.
Kyle Busch won the race, but Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart should have been the two drivers to battle for the win. Instead, NASCAR penalized Edwards for jumping the restart on lap 318 and the debris caution at the end killed Stewart’s chances when he came in to pit and Busch beat him out of the pits.
The rest of the race wasn’t terribly exciting, but other than the screaming people who lust for wrecks each week, this would’ve been a fairly typical race. Edwards likely would’ve driven off from the field and cruised to victory.
Edwards sure could have used the win, too. He remains ninth in the points standings after finishing 10th at Richmond. Still, his run Saturday night should build some confidence for the #99 team. They usually aren’t that great at short tracks, and his teammates have run extremely well on the intermediate tracks this year.
Talladega is always a crap shoot, but Edwards ran well at Darlington last year and will surely get a win or two at some point during the summer. Stewart and Edwards ran most of Saturday night’s race as if it was last year’s season finale at Homestead. Regardless of how they’ve run so far this season, both the #14 team and the #99 team are still two of the very best in the sport.
After all of the problems, perceived or real, with the racing during the past month or so, all of that will be forgotten as the series heads to one of the greatest racetracks in the world, Talladega Superspeedway.
Talladega race weekend is one of those on the schedule where it doesn’t matter how the racing has been or how your favorite driver has run so far this year. Everybody has a chance to do well at Talladega, and it is usually some of the most exciting racing of the season.
The only silver lining to the problems at Richmond is that it generated debates that will have people talking throughout the week. That will only continue after next week because there is always something that gets people fired up after a Talladega race.
Enjoy next weekend, folks, it is one of the special stops during the season.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Richmond race perfect for those who like entertainment more than racing

Kyle Busch crossed the line first Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, and although he had a fast car, he had no business in Victory Lane.
Before we really get started though, let me throw out the disclaimer to address all of those who will try to accuse this post of being upset because the #18 car won. This story has much less to do with Busch and more to do with how terribly NASCAR handled Saturday night’s race.
First, NASCAR single-handedly took Carl Edwards out of contention for the victory when officials penalized him for jumping a restart with 82 laps to go.
Again, this isn’t about Edwards, but how NASCAR handled the situation. Apparently officials told Edwards’ spotter the #99 car was the leader ahead of Tony Stewart.
Granted, Edwards took off before the restart line, but he was close. It’s fine to say that should be an objective call, but then Matt Kenseth should’ve been penalized twice at Bristol for beating the leader back to the line on a restart.
If NASCAR thought Kenseth was close enough to get a gimme on the restarts, Edwards was certainly close enough to get a gimme at Richmond.
In that case, the only other problem would’ve been if Edwards was supposed to restart in second place. He obviously thought he was supposed to restart second because he was in the outside lane, but the he was told he was the leader. Therefore, there shouldn’t have been a problem.
That wasn’t the only problem with how NASCAR handled the end of the race, though.
Stewart caught a break when Edwards was black-flagged, but he also had the race taken away from him with just 14 laps to go when NASCAR found an excuse to throw a debris caution.
Supposedly there was a water bottle or beer can in Turn 2. We’ll never know because the TV cameras couldn’t find it, but Busch won the following restart and won the race.
Stewart would’ve won the race easily had the race stayed green, but that would have been the third race in a row that didn’t have a close finish. Heaven forbid that happen, people might say the race was boring again.
NASCAR couldn’t allow a competition to play out naturally. It had to throw the caution to keep things interesting. Well, the end of the race wasn’t much more exciting than it would’ve been if Stewart had cruised on to the win. Dale Earnhardt Jr. never got close enough to Busch to make the end interesting.
Unfortunately, all of these issues hurt the integrity of the racing.
NASCAR is already a sport that fights perceptions from non-fans who say it isn’t a real sport and the drivers aren’t truly athletes. Most of the time those comments come from ignorant people who have never watched an entire race in their life, but Satruday night was pretty much a staged finish.
I’m sorry recent races haven’t been packed with action, but this is supposed to be a sport. If NASCAR wants to make this reality television, then jump in with both feet and have producers control how the race plays out, who races who and who gets upset at each other.
People lose their minds when they think a referee or umpire in another sport affected the outcome of a game, but coming into this race people were actually debating whether NASCAR officials should intentionally affect the end of the race.
NASCAR officials will forever deny it, but that water bottle would not have affected how Saturday night’s race finished. The debris caution sure did, though.
It might be unfair to say Busch was given this win because he still drove hard throughout the night, but he sure got a ton of help from the NASCAR officials in the control tower who took the win away from Edwards and Stewart.
The only lasting impression from Saturday night’s race may have been the substantial questions of NASCAR’s integrity.

Monday Morning Crew Chief Picks:  Richmond

Jacob: Another short track, another good run for Jeff Burton. Burton hasn’t been spectacular by any means and currently sits 17th in the points standings. But, he finished sixth at Bristol and ran third in Denny Hamlin’s event Thursday. Plus, Burton is a Virginia native who, like Denny Hamlin, always puts in extra effort to win at his home track.

Patricia (Monday Morning Driver): When I think "short track", I think Kevin Harvick and that is who I pick to win in Richmond on Saturday night. Harvick dominated the race here in the fall by leading over half the laps and coming away with the win. I'm hoping for a repeat performance.

Terrence: It's Richmond and I have to start making up ground, now. After Mark Martin blew an engine last week I'm 75 points behind the leader...OUCH. I'm going to go with the guy who has back-to-back top ten finishes for the first time this season and got his first career victory at Richmond. Kasey Kahne will get the job done tonight.

1. Jacob, 44
2. Patricia, 67
3. Terrence, 119

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ryan Blaney and Co. show NASCAR might soon have new young guns

Travis Pastrana caught a lot of the spotlight leading into his Nationwide Series debut Friday night at Richmond International Raceway, but the debut of another driver could be the true future of NASCAR.
Ryan Blaney, the 19-year-old son of Sprint Cup Series veteran Dave Blaney, also made his debut at Richmond and finished a very impressive seventh.
Blaney’s entrance into the Nationwide Series marks a trend that NASCAR has not seen in several years now. Other than Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, the Cup series has not had a young rookie driver splash onto the scene.
Yet new hotshots were a common sight during the first half of the 2000s with the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and the Busch brothers bursting into NASCAR’s top level.
But, since Kyle Busch entered the Cup series full time in 2005, the pipeline of new NASCAR drivers shut off to the point where the Rookie of the Year award became a joke as the driver who made the most races ended up winning the award.
Although there might not have been an abundance of talent in NASCAR’s lower divisions at the time, Cup series owners made matters worse by bringing in several open-wheel or road course racers and giving them some of the best rides in the series.
Most of those drivers failed in their attempts at NASCAR racing and few remain, including Sam Hornish Jr., Danica Patrick, A.J. Allmendinger and now Pastrana, who finished 22nd in his debut.
However, the pipeline of young NASCAR talent might open back up in the next few years. Along with Blaney, Richard Childress’ grandsons Austin and Ty Dillon are making their way through the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series. Cole Whitt is also doing a solid job in JR Motorsports’ #88 Nationwide car.
Other NASCAR veterans also have sons in NASCAR’s minor leagues, including Ward Burton’s son Jeb, Bill Elliott’s son, Chase, and Matt Kenseth’s son, Ross.
When these drivers, along with current Nationwide drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne are ready for the big show, Gillette might have to bring back it’s “Young Guns” campaign.
A new influx of talent into NASCAR’s top series is vital. Obviously this sort of thing is cyclical, but the current generation of drivers who make up the 43-car field on Sundays has raced together for several years in a row without much turnover.
That might also be part of the reason the Cup series has had fewer and fewer cautions in the past few couple of years.
The current stars of NASCAR who came through in the past decade eventually replaced the Dale Earnhardt generation that included drivers such as Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Sterling Marlin and Ricky Rudd.
Right now Johnson, Kahne, Kevin Harvick and several others are similar to the previous group, and eventually be replaced by the young drivers who are just getting started.
It might still be a few years before these new drivers show up in Sunday races, but at least there is a new group of potential stars getting ready to take the stage.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bruton is changing Bristol, but did people really want it changed?

When the Sprint Cup Series rolled out of Bristol Motor Speedway in March, it left behind plenty of angst about the condition of the race track.
Fans from seemingly everywhere wanted the track changed back to the one-groove, bump-and-grind race track that Bristol was before it was repaved in 2007.
So, Bristol Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith announced Wednesday his intentions to grind off the top groove in the corners at the speedway to try and improve the racing action for the next NASCAR weekend in August. In theory, that will create just two lanes of racing and make it more difficult to pass on the outside.
Smith said the changes were made because fans supposedly overwhelmed him in unofficial surveys that they wanted the track changed.
However, Smith also said Wednesday the final results of those surveys showed that 40 percent of fans who responded wanted the track changed.
Wait, 40 percent?
I’m no math major, but that doesn’t sound like a majority to me. If Congress, or any legislative body, made decisions based on a 40-percent majority, we would have some very different laws and leaders in this country.
Let’s compare this situation to an election where the results came out 60-40. Logically, it would seem more people wanted Candidate A to be in office, but by the Bristol method the victory would go to Candidate B, who had just 40 percent of the vote.
Early voting apparently favored changing the track by a 75 percent majority, but we still don’t make decisions based on who votes first.
The 40 percent who wanted Bristol changed might have been a very vocal minority, but I’m not sure decisions should be made on who has the loudest megaphone.
Sure, attendance has been down at Bristol for several races now, and it was prudent for Smith to conduct surveys to receive feedback from fans. But, apparently most of them said leave it alone.
On top of that, nearly all of the drivers have said they wanted the track left alone.
"I've had driver after driver tell me 'don't touch it,' talking about Bristol, and that the last race was the greatest race they've ever seen," Smith said. "We are trying to satisfy both sides, and we believe we are doing the right thing. We've got to go with that."
So let’s get this straight. About 60 percent of fans wanted the track left alone and almost all of the drivers wanted it left alone, but the track still decided to make changes.
Under those theories, the “Fans spoke … we listened” tagline that will surely be trumpeted from the mountaintops surrounding Thunder Valley this summer doesn't sound genuine.
The fans spoke, but if Smith and his cohorts listened, they didn’t act on what the majority of fans wanted.
I’m not saying the changes to Bristol will be bad. This could turn out to be a great change that will appease both those who liked the old Bristol racing along with those who liked the new racing style at Bristol.
But, if Smith said he wanted to follow through on the fans’ wishes, the numbers say that he did the opposite and took actions that most fans didn’t want.
Maybe Smith knew the correct decision all along was to change the track and things work out beautifully. But, if these changes don’t make the racing better there is only one side to blame, and it’s not the fans.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rating the STP 400: 3 Stars ***

The Sprint Cup Series visited its second consecutive mile-and-a-half racetrack Sunday and delivered nearly the exact same race with few cautions and long green-flag runs. The finish was closer this time, however, and gets the race at Kansas a 3 Star Rating.

Greg Biffle passed Jimmie Johnson with 30 laps to go to win the Texas race a week ago, and this week Denny Hamlin passed Martin Truex Jr. with 31 laps remaining to win the race. The Kansas race also set records for fewest cautions (three) and race speed (144.122). The race at Texas last week set similar records for that track. For whatever reason, the drivers are running these races as if we’re in the summer stretch at Michigan and Pocono.

That is a topic that will likely draw increasing scrutiny this week, but it is unlikely to last in the upcoming weeks with Richmond, Talladega and Darlington on the horizon. I those races set records for fewest cautions, then we’ll know that something is up.

Still, other than the one debris caution Sunday, NASCAR has done a very good job of allowing the races to play out naturally and not messing with the finish by throwing a caution late in the race.

As for Sunday, Hamlin obviously deserves congratulations for running a steady race and pouncing when he had the chance to race for the win, but Truex Jr. also deserves a lot of credit for his race.

Truex Jr. led 173 laps and is now second in the points standings, just 15 points behind Biffle for the lead. That’s the highest Truex Jr. has ever been in the points standings and has shown that he can run well on several different types of tracks this year. Even though it’s early, something drastic would have to change for him not to make the Chase this year.

However, for all of the positives Truex Jr. and the #56 team can take from Kansas, the fact that they once again came up short has to be a nagging concern. When drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch dominate a race the way Truex Jr. did Sunday, they finish the deal and win the race. For whatever reason, Truex Jr. is still not to that level and he won’t be a true championship contender until that happens.

Once it does happen, he will likely go on a tear and win a bunch of races. It happened to Brad Keselowski last year.

Although they both broke into the Cup series full-time in 2006, Hamlin has now won 19 races and has the experience to know how to close out a race and win. Truex Jr. still has just that one win at Dover in 2007 and cannot close the deal no matter how well he runs throughout the day.

That will come as the #56 team continues to run well. Usually drivers have to be in contention several times before breaking through with a win, but once that win happens they find that path to Victory Lane much easier and more often.

Now that we’re done with the intermediate tracks for a while, the short track of Richmond International Raceway comes up next followed by the ever-interesting Talladega Superspeedway.

Next week will be interesting because the teams and drivers have two short track races under their belt and it’s getting to the point in the season where several drivers who are used to winning will look up and realize, “Wow, it’s nearly May and I still don’t have a win this year.”

That, combined with the typically close racing at Richmond should make for a great Saturday night race.

Have a great week, everybody.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Monday Morning Crew Chief Picks: Kansas

Monday Morning Crew Chief Picks:  Kansas

Jacob: Jimmie Johnson is on a roll right now, and it is just a matter of time before he gets his first win of the season. He has led laps in five of the last six races, and this week he will finally lead the final lap to get owner Rick Hendrick his 200th victory.
Patricia (Monday Morning Driver): This is the week that Hendrick Motorsports gets their 200th win and Jimmie Johnson is the one to bring it home. He has 5 top tens in the last 5 races in Kansas and 2 of those were wins. Get those celebratory hats ready, Mr Hendrick, they'll be used this weekend!

Terrence: Well I was going to go with Jimmie Johnson, but since the other two did so, I guess I better pick someone else. How about a driver who's never too old to win a race. I'm going with none other than Mark Martin to get the win in his part-time ride. What a story that would be.

1. Jacob, 41
2. Patricia, 63
3. Terrence, 86

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rating the Samsung Mobile 500: 2 Stars **

The year of the long green-flag run continued Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway in a 500-mile race that closed with a 351-mile green-flag run that included four green-flag pit stops. However, there wasn’t much action in those 500 miles so the first night race of the season gets a 2 Star Rating.

Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson were the stars of this show. Johnson led a race-high 156 laps but Biffle caught him with 30 laps to go to cruise to his first victory since October 2010.

Although Biffle went 49 races between wins, he has been in contention several times and has run extremely well so far this season. He leads the points, and it was just a matter of time before he reached Victory Lane.

The #16 team could really be on to something. The Biff has two wins at Kansas Speedway, the site of next week’s race, and the Roush-Fenway Racing Fords of Biffle, Matt Kenseth and to a lesser extent Carl Edwards have run well at each intermediate track on the schedule.

Right now Biffle and the #16 team have the look of a group that will seriously contend for the championship. Edwards and Kevin Harvick have started recent season in similar fashion to Biffle this year and each finished in the top three in the final standings. Don’t be surprised if Biffle is in that position this year.

As for Saturday’s race, the action wasn’t thrilling by any means, but at least it was a legitimate race. NASCAR officials didn’t get trigger happy throughout the race and throw cautions for debris to bunch up the field. Sure, that would’ve made for closer racing at times, but NASCAR should be a sport first and entertainment business second.

In the days before every lap of every race was televised, plenty of races finished with a margin of victory that was more than three seconds. The problem lately has been that people complain and complain and complain that the racing isn’t close enough, so then we end up watching reality television where the producers, or in this case race officials, influence the outcome of the event.

The other aspect of racing Saturday’s race the green-flag racing showcased was that there are still differences in the cars’ setups. Drivers complain nearly every week that they can’t pass because everybody is running the same speed. Well, some of that is because the cars all have the same basic body shape, but another reason is because there aren’t many extended green-flag runs in modern day NASCAR races.

At least the drivers had a hand in the outcome of the race at Texas. Biffle actually had to save his equipment so he could make a final push to get past Johnson for the win. That’s the type of strategy that won David Pearson so many races. That is an aspect of auto racing that shouldn’t be lost.

Sunday’s race at Rockingham also forced drivers to really drive their trucks rather than ride around at the same speed all day. The wonderfully abrasive surface at the Rock created solid, good racing.

NASCAR didn’t grow in popularity during the 1990s and 200s because of weekly photo finishes. It grew because people enjoyed watching drivers manhandle their cars through 500 miles at high speeds.

Sunday’s Rockingham race showed how fun racing can be without all of the heavy dependence of aerodynamics. It wasn’t a wreckfest and the finish wasn’t particularly close, but the trucks weren’t all running the same speeds because the tires wore outs so quickly.

While it’s nice to have the big, fancy palaces of speed such as Texas Motor Speedway, this weekend may have stirred memories of why we all fell in love with racing in the first place. The 200-mph race at Texas was fine, but the 130-mph race at Rockingham was just as fun, if not more.

Have a great week, everybody. Next up the trucks and Cup cars will be at another 1.5-mile giant in Kansas that will likely produce a race very similar to what we saw Saturday night in Texas.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

This April weekend spotlights NASCAR’s two worlds

As 43 Sprint Cup Series and 43 more Nationwide Series cars sped around Texas Motor Speedway on Friday and Saturday night, NASCAR fans were treated to big-league stock car racing in the 21st Century.

When 36 Camping World Trucks Series trucks take the green flag Sunday at Rockingham Speedway, fans will once again experience racing as it was in the 20th Century. Well, besides the fact that it will be trucks and they will race under a few different rules than in the old days at the Rock.

For the first time in nearly a decade, NASCAR will be able to embrace the rich excess of the 2000s while at the same time pay tribute to the good ‘ol Southern racing fans loved from the 1960s through the 1990s.

Texas Motor Speedway, the site of the Cup and Nationwide races this week, is a track that sums up just about everything that has changed in NASCAR since it last raced at Rockingham Speedway in 2004.

Texas is a big, 1.5-mile oval that can seat more than 190,000 people in one of the largest metropolitan markets in the country, sitting just outside of Dallas. Rockingham is a small track slightly more than one mile in length that seats 34,500 and lies in a town with a population less than 10,000 people.

Texas Motor Speedway opened in 1997 on a huge, flat open piece of land that is about as scenic as the parking lot at a mall. Rockingham Speedway opened in 1965 and sits in the hills of southern North Carolina.

NASCAR’s roots are in those hills in North Carolina, but its money is now in places such as that open space near Dallas. About the only similarity between the two tracks is neither has been repaved in the last five years.

When NASCAR left the Rock in 2004, it was the first year of NASCAR’s new title sponsorship with NEXTEL, a telecommunications company that has since morphed into Sprint. It was also the first year of the Chase, NASCAR’s oft-debated playoff system.

For many, 2004 was the beginning of the new modern era. Sure, the changes were coming years in advance, but NASCAR took the path of the future when it reached the 2004 fork in its history.

The sport went from a Southern passion sponsored by tobacco company Winston to a nationwide sport that tweets, competes in huge cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City and is sponsored by a telecommunications company.

The changes in the sport in the last eight years will surely show up Sunday during the truck race. That will be the first NASCAR race at Rockingham to feature double-file restarts, wave-around cars and lucky dogs. Shoot, if we’re lucky maybe there will even be a debris caution.

However, when the trucks fire up on that crowded pit road at the Rock, it will mark another important time in NASCAR’s history. For years now, many fans have felt pushed aside as NASCAR charged into larger and larger markets with shiny new racetracks that ended up all looking the same.

Now it will be those fans’ turn to enjoy a slice of what made them racing fans in the first place. As in the old days, tires will probably be at a premium and the chances of a fuel-mileage finish are incredibly low considering most of the drivers will be seeing one of the toughest tracks in the country for the first time.

In any case, this weekend offers something for everybody. The NASCAR on FOX Digger generation can enjoy the races at Texas Motor Speedway while the generation that remembers not having races on television can enjoy NASCAR’s return to Rockingham Speedway.

Let’s hope this is just the start of similar weekends that can take fans down the memory lane side of the fork in the road.

Monday Morning Crew Chief Picks: Texas

Monday Morning Crew Chief Picks:  Texas

Jacob: Jeff Gordon has had tough luck at Texas in recent years and a difficult start to the season, but this will be the week he turns things around and lights up the six-shooters Saturday night in Texas..

Patricia (Monday Morning Driver): Dale Earnhardt Jr. is my pick to win the Samsung Mobile 500 under the lights. In the last 5 races in Texas, Jr. has 3 top 10's. On the 2 intermediate tracks that we've visited this season, the #88 has finished 10th in Las Vegas and 3rd in Fontana. They've got the intermediate  tracks figured out. This could be Jr's best chance to get that 200th win for Mr. Hendrick.

Terrence: This is finally the week that the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson brings home Rick Hendrick's elusive 200th victory. The win is inevitable, who's more likely to get it than the hottest of the Hendrick drivers?

1. Jacob, 39
2. Patricia, 53
3. Terrence, 84

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Don't blame David Reutimann or Danica Patrick, blame the system

David Reutimann single-handedly changed the finish of the Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, albeit accidently.

Reutimann caught some serious heat from fans and people in the sport after stopping on the frontstretch with four laps to go. His car was obviously down on power several laps beforehand, but Reutimann and his team decided to stick it out and hope they could limp to the finish.

Unfortunately, the car didn’t make it and NASCAR officials had to throw a caution. That caution set up a green-white-checkered restart that ended up with the top three drivers all day, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer, wrecked in Turn 1 while Ryan Newman went on to win the race on the following restart.

Obviously, everybody was upset that Reutimann’s caution caused a mess that ruined the days for the top three cars and gave the win to what was a 10th to 15th-place car that day.

However, Reutimann was a man caught between a rock and a hard place. NASCAR only guarantees starting positions for the cars in the top 35 of the owner points standings. Reutimann’s #10 car was right on the edge and would’ve made the top 35 had he completed one more lap. Instead, he sits one point out in 36th and will have to qualify in on time in two weeks at Texas Motor Speedway.

Many people looked at the #10 car as the car Danica Patrick will race in five weeks in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. That’s true, and her big-money sponsor Go Daddy certainly doesn’t want to risk her missing the race because she didn’t qualify fast enough.

But, five weeks is a long time to make up one point.

Make no mistake, that #10 team wanted to be in the top 35 in points heading to Texas for their own sake. Sure, there might be some sour consequences for the entire Tommy Baldwin Racing organization if Danica Patrick doesn’t make the Southern 500 field, but they also have to take care of their own business. Missing a race does nobody any good.

Let’s move the situation forward and say a driver on the cusp of a Chase spot needed one more point to make the playoffs in the final race at Richmond but had a motor coming apart. Would people crucify that driver if he didn’t make it around and brought out a late caution that changed the end of the race? Or, would they praise that driver and say he pushed it to the limit and tried as hard as possible to make the Chase?

Either way, the situation Sunday was not a good one, but NASCAR’s current system creates desperation for teams on the top-35 bubble. More than any previous situation, Sunday’s events should have given proper fuel for the top-35 rule haters to scream from the mountaintop.

NASCAR doesn’t have a perfect system right now, and it may even be part of the reason those teams on the bubble can’t find any sponsorship. Who would want to sponsor a car that might not even race on Sundays?

It would be nice to have teams race straight up each week to make a race, but there is too much money involved. Imagine if Dale Earnhardt Jr. crashed in qualifying and missed a race. That wouldn’t be good for business.

If there is anything positive to take out of the situation late in the race at Martinsville, it was proof that NASCAR teams and drivers put their full effort into what they do. Sure, the start and parkers don’t race to win, but they park early in a race so that some day in the future they will be able to race for the win.

Tommy Baldwin Racing is a perfect example of a team that had to build through start and parking. Right now the organization still isn’t strong, but it is moving in the right direction.

People will say what they want about points racing and drivers taking it easy, but that might be a little bit more of a myth than some people would like to believe. If they have a chance to race for the win, no driver is going to sit back and let someone else win.

Wins in the Sprint Cup Series are extremely difficult to come by, and the absolute joy of winning a race should be plenty of motivation for drivers to give it everything they have.

Reutimann didn’t have a good day Sunday, but he did give it everything he had. Keep that in mind if something similar happens late in the season to a Chase contender.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Rating the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500: 4 Stars ****

Several drivers walked out of Martinsville Speedway in need of some Goody’s pain relief Sunday in a finish that was as wild as a finish at a restrictor-plate race. However, much of the rest of the race was dominated by a few usual suspects. The second short track race of the season gets a 4 Star Rating.

Martinsville produces racing that Bristol Motor Speedway would love to have back. The only way to make a pass is on the low side and usually that requires bumping the car in front out of the way. Sunday’s race had a lot of green-flag racing, but it also had upset drivers at the end.

The point is that short tracks can have it both ways. Bristol doesn’t have to immediately turn into a wreckfest if track owner Bruton Smith makes some changes to the track, but it could turn the track back to a fast-paced version of Martinsville.

Interestingly, the race at Martinsville would’ve had just five cautions and no major wrecks if David Reutimann hadn’t stopped to bring out a caution with four laps to go. That’s the same as the race at Bristol two weeks ago. That’s not to say one style of racing is better than another, but it does show that a one-groove track can have long stretches of green-flag racing.

Anyway, on to Sunday’s race where Ryan Newman shockingly found himself in Victory Lane. Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon Jimmie Johnson dominated nearly the entire race. Gordon led 328 laps, Johnson led 112 and both were involved in a great battle for the lead at the end before the green-white-checkered restarts.

So, Newman got a pretty large gift Sunday, along with drivers such as A.J. Allmendinger and Martin Truex Jr. All of those drivers ran most of the day between 10th and 15th, but they avoided the big pileup on the first green-white-checkered and came home with top-five finishes.

Many of the Hendrick haters will be thrilled with Sunday’s finish because Gordon and Johnson wrecked at the end and gave the win to somebody different. But, in fairness, this race did not end the way it was supposed to. Thankfully, it was due to a problem with another car and not because NASCAR wanted to spice up the finish of the race.

Up next is the first off week of the season for the Sprint Cup Series. A change in the schedule this year eliminated the early off week. Overall, the break comes at a good time. It actually feels like we have a significant portion of the season behind us, and now everybody can gear up for the next long stretch of races that will take us into July if the All-Star weekend in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway is considered a race weekend.

After the break the series will visit a couple of mile-and-a-half tracks with Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway. If we don’t have a good idea of who the real contenders will be this season, those two weeks will go a long way toward helping answer those questions.

Have a blessed Easter, everybody.