Sunday, April 24, 2011

NASCAR: California, Martinsville or Talladega, what was the best finish so far in the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season?

Since the Cup Series in on a break for the Easter holiday weekend, today I thought that I would take a look back at three races that gave us three amazing down to the wire finishes and ask the question, “what was the best finish so far of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series?”

1. “The closer” Kevin Harvick makes a last lap pass on Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch to win the Auto Club 400 in California.
Earlier this month, NASCAR made its first and only visit of the 2011 Cup Series season to Southern California for the Auto Club 400 at California Speedway. Heading into the race, there was a lot of buzz considering not only did NASCAR remove on Cup date from the track, but what would the attendance be with just one race and would the shortening of the race to 400 miles make a difference.

The answer was simply yes, NASCAR ended up putting on a good race on the 2-mile d-shaped oval in front of a large crowd. And those fans would end up seeing one amazing finish.

In the closing laps of the race, Kyle Busch was leading, but with 5 laps to go, Busch’s mirror was getting full fast with second place driver Jimmie Johnson and third place driver Kevin Harvick. Neither driver were going to let Busch cruise to victory as first Jimmie Johnson caught and passed Kyle Busch with easy. Less than one lap later, Kevin Harvick would make the pass for second on Kyle Busch and set off for Jimmie Johnson.

With one lap to go, Kevin Harvick would catch Johnson heading into turn 1. Harvick decided that he only had one chance and he choose the give Johnson the bumper half way down the back straightaway and push him into turn 3. Johnson ended up hanging onto it. But Johnson would choose the middle lane and that’s Harvick would need as he went to the top lane, slip by to beat Johnson to the line and capture his first victory of 2011.

2. Kevin Harvick edging out Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch to win the Googy’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville.

Thanks to a tire wear issue, drivers found themselves completing on a very slick track, but amazingly enough, the larger crowd that was there saw the racing ended up looking like an old Martinsville race that had a lot of passing.

This race had several caution flags, one just before halfway that was for a violent wreck as Martin Truex Jr. had his throttle hung heading into turn 3. Truex would end up hitting Kasey Kahne and both drivers hit the wall hard. This one was a violent wreck to say the least with what I though Kasey Kahne had taken the biggest of hits. But thankfully both drivers walked away.

This would be the tip of the iceberg as with 20 laps to go, Dale Earnhardt Jr. would take the lead away from Kyle Busch, but once again “the closer” Kevin Harvick was there too as Harvick closed on Earnhardt Jr. and with 4 laps to go, Harvick made a good move on a loose Earnhardt Jr. to take the lead, leaving Junior to fight for second with Kyle Busch. Harvick would go on to victory and Dale Earnhardt Jr. would narrowly hold off Kyle Busch for second place.

I have to say that it was nice to see a larger crowd at Martisnville than in the last few races.

3. Jimmie Johnson edging out Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a three-wide finish to win the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega

Finally, last week, NASCAR returned to restrictor plate for the second one of the 2011 season where I have to admit that I was board. This new two-car draft or tag team drafting is boring to watch. At one point during the race, I ended up watching the IZOD IndyCar race from Long Beach as well as other TV programming that I had recorded earlier.

But the one reason the race was highlighted was because of the last 5 laps of the race and the closed finish since Darlington years ago.

This race would end being decided in the last few inches as on the last lap coming out of turn 3, Bowyer and Harvick where one pair, Gordon and Martin were another pair, but it was Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. that came out of the middle of nowhere, drove down to (not over the yellow line) the yellow line coming through the tri-oval and in a three-wide finish at the line, Johnson with Dale Earnhardt Jr. pushing Johnson to edge out Bowyer by a margin of victory of .002 seconds to win Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron’s 499 race.

Clint Bowyer finished 2nd in his best finish so far of 2011, Jeff Gordon finishing 3rd, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishing 4th and “the closer” Kevin Harvick finishing 5th. What an impressive finish.

So what was the best finish so far in 2011?

Personally, despite the fact that Talladega was one boring race for the first 180 laps or so, the question is, “what was the best finish so far of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series?” and not, what was the best overall race so far and for that reason, I would say the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega is the winner with a margin of victory of 0.002 seconds in a three-wide finish.

Full Disclosure: This article was originally published on Brian Vermette's former blog called BVinsight, however once was re-launched and rebrand, BVinsight was renamed BVDaily with 33 of 44 articles being published here on RaceDriven due to subject. 
But the best race at least of these three was Martinsville. Despite the tire issues, the racing was good to watch all race long and it ended with a late race battle for the lead. Thoughts?