Monday, September 6, 2010

Top 6 NASCAR things learned from Kentucky and Atlanta – Tony Stewart wins the Labor Day Weekend Classic at Atlanta that ended at 11:45pm EST on Sunday night.

Welcome ladies and gentlemen, I hope that everybody enjoyed the rare Cup Series off weekend, I know I did and watched the Nationwide Series take center stage up in Montreal that ended in a photo finish. But were back to busy as usual as the Truck Series raced at Kentucky on Friday night, the Nationwide Series raced at Atlanta on Saturday night and of course the main event, the Cup Series raced on Sunday night in the Labor Day classic at Atlanta.

Now getting back to busy, we had an interesting week, so what did we learn from the last week and of course the Labor Day Weekend racing in Kentucky and Atlanta?

1. Should there be a Montreal or Canada 500? Yes racing in Canada is a good idea, they have earned a Cup Series race, but while the Nationwide Series did put on a good show last weekend with Boris Said picking up the victory by a nose over Max Papis, a Cup date in Montreal most likely wouldn’t happen in the next few years at least. The reason is because ISC and SMI control 95% of Cup Series dates and they wouldn’t move a date anywhere that isn’t there racetrack period, so unless Pocono, Indianapolis or Dover losses a date, Iowa, Montreal or even Laguna Sega isn’t an option and that’s sad.

And that’s also the same reason why the 2011 Cup Series schedule is the most bold moves (if you can call it that) NASCAR fans will see for at least the next few years as well. Well at least the racing in the Cup Series is better in 2010, than in recent years.

2. Todd Bodine spins and wins on fuel mileage…then in victory lane calls Kyle Busch a dirty driver. All I have to say is, I was even surprised not only that Bodine won the race on fuel mileage, but called out Kyle Busch in victory lane. I wrote all about it last Sunday night in an article called “NASCAR: Todd Bodine tells it like it is about Kyle Busch in victory lane at Kentucky after winning Truck race.” Trust me, it’s worth reading.

3. Jamie McMurray denies Kyle Busch victory and wins one for JR Motorsports and Tony Eury Sr. Hats off to Jamie McMurray, he won the Nationwide Series race last Saturday night in what was going to be a Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch victory. But I will say that I really didn’t watch the entire race, I was too busy watching the IRL IndyCar Series race from Kentucky and the IRL race was a better race and I don’t even like the cookie cutter tracks especially for the IRL, it’s like watching a Talladega race…

4. Is January testing at Daytona back? Well while NASCAR hasn’t made it official, according to SceneDaily via Jayski.com, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams have been told that the tentative dates for a test on the new Daytona International Speedway pavement will be Jan. 17-19. I have to imagine that this testing is returning due to the new asphalt (repaving) that is currently being laid at Daytona International Speedway and NASCAR wants to give teams a chance to test on it. Is it a good move, I don’t know. I mean NASCAR already has several days of practice at Daytona during Speedweeks, but it could be good especially to get fans fired up for the 2011 Cup Series season.

I think NASCAR either needs to bring back Preseason testing, have a preseason race in January out west or have the first Cup Series race in January to start out the next season to get the fans fired up for the new season.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Lance McGrew will stay together… for now. From a Team Chevy Press Conference Transcript, Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports:

Q) A FEW YEARS AGO WHEN JEFF GORDON DIDN'T MAKE THE CHASE, YOU MADE A CREW CHIEF CHANGE AT THE START OF THE CHASE. LOOKS LIKE DALE EARNHARDT JR IS NOT GOING TO MAKE THE CHASE. WHAT OPTION IS THAT FOR A POSSIBLE CREW CHIEF CHANGE THERE?

Hendrick: "Actually, I'm pretty happy with the chemistry there now. Maybe some of you guys don't agree but I'm around them and I'm in the shop during the week and the Tuesday meetings and I talk to Dale and I talk to Lance (McGrew) and I talk to them both after they've been testing. And we had some good momentum going and then we kind of fumbled the ball a little bit here right before the Chace. If you can't pinpoint where your problem is, then the whole organization needs to be better. We're working hard but we're not as sharp as we want to be with all four cars. But the guys are working hard and working together. If you miss the Chase and you just decide that you're going to change something to be changing it, I think that's a mistake. I've never tried to do that. I keep my options open, but at the same time if the driver and the crew chief are getting along and they're working together and they're trying, that's all I can ask for. It's pretty darn competitive here in the garage. Guys get on a streak and then guys fall back a little bit. We're not happy with where we are as an organization, but we're working on it. And nobody is blaming anybody and nobody is giving up. So we're getting ready for the Chase. We're trying a lot of stuff and we're all over the map here this weekend, but we're trying some things. We know we've got to get better. And I'm really happy with my whole group and the way they work together and of course we'd like to win more races and you like to dominate, but it's hard in this sport. You look at the guys up there now and they get a streak and then they cool off. That's probably a 10-minute answer to a short question."

Q) SO IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU PLAN TO KEEP LANCE MCGREW AND DALE EARNHARDT JR. TOGETHER THROUGH THE CHASE AND GOING INTO NEXT YEAR. YOU ARE NOT PLANNING ON A CHANGE AT THIS POINT?

Hendrick: "That's correct. We make decisions as things develop during the season. And right now we've got a game plan and we're sticking to it. Next week and going into the Chase and during the Chase, our plans are for those two guys to be together."(From Team Chevy via Jayski.com)

I think at least for right now, this combo is still working, Hendrick Motorsports as a whole is off right now, Jimmie Johnson is having some bad luck, but finished 4th at Atlanta, Jeff Gordon is having issues, Mark Martin most likely won’t make the chase, so you can’t just blame it on Dale Jr. and his crew chief.

But I do believe that it’s time for Dale Jr. to leave Hendrick Motorsports and drive for himself at JR Motorsports with Tony Eury Jr. or Sr. on top of the pit box with Hendrick support like Stewart-Haas Racing has. I believe that having his sister Kelly, Tony Jr. and Sr. and guys he knows in his corner will help. I know it’s in the distance, but you know I’m right. And look at Jamie McMurray, Roush Racing wasn’t the right combo, but EGR is.

6. As Tony Stewart (first win of 2010 and much needed) wins the Labor Day Classic at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which drivers are locked into the chase for the Sprint Cup? In and among a better than expected Atlanta race and in front of a decent crowd, the discussion was mostly about which drivers would be locked into the chase and more so, who would have to wait until next week at Richmond, the last chance qualifier to get into the chase.

As the race ended just before 11:45PM EST, despite some bad finishes including Denny Hamlin with a blown engine, Kevin Harvick with a blown left front tire, the top 10 are now locked into the chase for the sprint cup. That would be the points leader Kevin Harvick, followed by Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Denny Hamlin.

So now only Greg Biffle in 11th (accident) and Clint Bowyer in 12th who finished in 7th will have to wait until next week at Richmond to be locked in to the chase. But let’s be honest, Greg Biffle really just has to start next week and Clint Bowyer finished 7th and is +117 over 13th place Ryan Newman just has to stay out of trouble and get a decent finish to lock into the chase. So unless Bowyer is out early, Richmond will see no real chase drama and ESPN can focus mainly on the race itself and that works great for me, I love it that way. And yes, I hate having the coverage talk all about who is going to lock in by finishing where.

But before I wrap this one up, I should mention that Mobil 1 could be at Stewart-Haas racing (Hendrick did say despite Quaker State re-signing with Hendrick, that doesn’t affect any leased engine programs, Stewart-Haas Racing can run anything they want. And no news on UPS, but I can’t imagine they are happy with the #6 David Ragen, but I don’t know when that contract ends neither.

Happy Labor Day.