Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fan Insight: Jeff Gordon “We just beat Kyle Busch” wins the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix

(Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Welcome readers, earlier today in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, in a race that saw one red flag for around 18 minutes after a multi-car wreck on the back straightaway that was caused by Kyle Busch sending Carl Edwards a little airborn off the rumble strip. Jeff Gordon (#24-Drive to end hunger - AARP) muscled his way by Kyle Busch with 5 laps to go to snap a 66-race winless streak.

Notebook:


1. Jeff Gordon wins at Phoenix: On Sunday, the second race for Jeff Gordon with his new crew chief Alan Gustafson was strong all day long despite a good hit with the wall before the red flag with Carl Edwards. Gordon got behind Busch on the final restart, but chased down Kyle Busch and with 5 laps to go muscled his way by Busch off turn 4, down the front stretch and into turn 1 to go on and capture his first victory since April 2009.

It was interesting hearing Gordon in victory lane, I believe that he was still taking in his first victory since April 2009 and very grateful for it. When you come so close as Gordon has in the past 2 years (9+ runner-up finishes), winning is memorable for sure and in Jeff Gordon’s own words “We just beat Kyle Busch”.

2. Trevor Bayne has rough weekend to say the least: On Friday, Bayne crashed his primary #21 Cup Series car in practice after having what looked to be a brake problem heading into turn 3. But on Saturday, Bayne would once again find the outside wall as he blow a tire late in the Nationwide race. And then of course on Sunday, lap 50 saw Bayne cutting it too close with Travis Kvapil and Bayne would back into the outside wall in turn 1.

Not a good weekend at all for the 2011 Daytona 500 winner at Phoenix. But I do expect good things in 2011 for Trevor Bayne in both the Nationwide Series and the Cup Series. And there’s always next weekend in Las Vegas to turn things around.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. rally’s back in Phoenix: Dale Earnhardt Jr. has already had an eventful 2011, in Daytona, Dale Jr. lead laps, ran mid-pack and up front, but would get caught up in a late-race wreck and finished 24th. But at Phoenix, it looked to be the same fate when Dale Jr. would have to pit for a tire issued, however Dale Jr. would rally to finish 10th at Phoenix. Now Dale Jr. finds himself 17th in points, -25 points behind.

4. Busch Brothers 1-2 in Cup Series point’s standings: After just two races, the new point’s standings are changing things up in the Cup Series. Kyle Busch finds himself leading by -3 points over Kurt Busch.

Notables:
* Tony Stewart is 3rd, -11 behind
* Jeff Gordon is 5th, -15 behind
* Carl Edwards is 12th, -21 behind
* Jimmie Johnson is 13th, -21 behind
* Denny Hamlin is 14th, -22 behind
* Kevin Harvick is 22nd, -36 behind (he gained 15 spots this weekend)
* Jeff Burton is 32nd, -53 behind
* Brian Vickers is 33rd, -53 behind

I’m already optimistic about the new 1 point per position points system in NASCAR and it has already separated several of the top drivers. Some drivers like Jeff Burton are going to be digging out of this hole for a while. But the top 35 rule doesn’t look it will come into play for him at least.

5. Phoenix grandstands sold out for Cup race: According the PIR, Sunday’s race was sold out and in this economy that is a good thing to see. Hopefully in 2011, NASCAR sees more tracks on the verge of selling out for each Cup Series race.

6. The monkey (Kyle Busch) leads every lap and wins again at Phoenix in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race - Yeah that's two hours of my life I wouldn't get back. (Read more)

Picks for Las Vegas Cup Series race:
* Jeff Gordon
* Jimmie Johnson
* Kurt Busch

Next is Las Vegas.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fan Insight: Trevor Bayne survives the two-car drafts and several wrecks to win the 2011 Daytona 500.


(Credit: AP via Yahoo! Sports)

Welcome readers, as the 2011 NASCAR season kicked off with Speedweeks at Daytona this past week-end (12 days), here at RaceDriven.com, I want to kick off the 2011 season in style with my new column called “Fan Insight”. Fan Insight is a new article/column for me, this fan to give insight into any given subject and in this edition, its NASCAR.

With that said, what a wild weekend at Daytona NASCAR fans saw that ended with the Daytona 500. All three national series kicked off their 2011 season with a bang to say the least. Each race had something different in it from large packages and impatient drivers to smaller packs and two-car break away, but one thing was the same had to be the wrecks including the “Big One” that happen multi-times in each race.

But in and among all of the racing from Michael Waltrip winning in Trucks, Tony Stewart winning the Nationwide race and Trevor Bayne winning the 500, there were several things that caught my eye, here’s my top 5 from Daytona (1).

1. Trevor Bayne wins 2011 Daytona 500: In a race that featured a record number of lead changes, leaders and cautions, one driver, Trevor Bayne driving for the legendary Wood Brothers Racing in the famous #21, not only survived the two-car drafting effect and several big wrecks, but in his second Cup Series start, won his first race, The Daytona 500.

That is incredible on so many levels and it is the Cinderella story sort of speck of the Daytona Speedweeks. I for one when I was watching the Daytona 500, I sat there watching this kid come off of turn 4 leading and I was just shocked. Nothing really shocks me anymore in this day in age, but watching Bayne come across the finish line to win the 2011 Daytona 500 left me speechless and that is hard to do. My father who was in the other room watching it taped delayed by one lap on his DVR was just coming to the end, I stood there and watched his expression as Bayne won. He was shocked and just said “what?”

Neither one of us could believe what we just saw, but one thing was for sure, we were thrilled for Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers to see them in victory lane in Daytona.

Funny thing was on Inside NASCAR on Showtime (yes I watch the show because I like the unedited scanner chat), On winning the Daytona 500, Bayne stated, “Coming to the white flag I was thinking, ‘Well, at least we can tell everybody we led the Daytona 500 on the white flag lap.’ Then we got to turn four and I was thinking, ‘I led coming out of turn four!’ Then you cross the finish line and its like, ‘Wait a minute...we just won this thing.’” (From Inside NASCAR on Showtime)

2. Top Drivers starting out in the hole: A lot of big top drivers were wrapped up in one of several wrecks that happened during the Daytona 500 and as a result of finishing outside the top 20, now have a lot of work to do to climb to the top 10 to make the chase. The new points standings look like this:

22 -Dale Earnhardt Jr. -21
23 -Kasey Kahne -23
25 -Jimmie Johnson -25
26 -Jeff Gordon -25
27 -Brad Keselowski -26
31 -Matt Kenseth -32
32 -Greg Biffle -33
33 -Jeff Burton -33 (Engine Failure)
37 -Kevin Harvick –39 behind (Engine failure)

Even Denny Hamlin finished 19th, so he has some work to do as well.

3. Two-car drafting effect - It's just different, but not boring: Two-car drafting showed promise in both the Nationwide Series race and the Daytona 500. The two-car drafts while insane at times did in fact at least split up the huge packs and that’s a good thing. But in the Truck Series, NASCAR is going to have to install a lower bumper in the rear so the trucks can bump draft too. My hope is that after a while, the two-car drafts will spread the field out enough so that they wouldn’t have these giant packs that seem to caught all of these big crashes namely “The Big One”. There is nothing worse during a race then watching half of the field gets taken out as the result of one wrong move. And that one wrong move happened in all three races. Enough is enough.

4. The controversial finish in the Truck Series race: Michael Waltrip in a last lap pass off of turn 4 blows by then leader Elliott Sadler to win the Truck Series race at Daytona. But the problem was, was that a part failed on Waltrip’s truck that helped him win the race namely half the rear spoiler fell down.
Personally this happened on the last lap, there was nothing NASCAR could do nor anybody for that matter could do and it was what it was.

* Do I believe Waltrip should be striped of the win? No, it’s a simple last lap parts failure that every now and then happens.

* What Waltrip have won the race even if the rear spoiler had stayed up? All I can say is, I believe he would have, but it would have been a photo finish.

* Did Waltrip get penalized by NASCAR for the infraction? Yes, on Tuesday, NASCAR announced that the #15 truck driven by Michael Waltrip was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4-J (any determination by NASCAR Officials that the race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules); and 20B-3.1.2E (rear spoiler did not meet specifications in post-race inspection) of the 2011 NASCAR Rule Book. As a result, crew chief Doug Howe has been fined $25,000 and placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31. Owner Billy Ballew has been penalized with the loss of 25 championship owner points. (From NASCAR PR)

I believe that Michael Waltrip won the race fair and square and I congratulate Michael Waltrip and the entire team on a good victory.

5. David Regan sees hopes go out the window at Daytona: Finally to cap of Daytona with a little insight into the David Regan penalty, it seemed to me that NASCAR warned both David Regan and Dale Earnhardt Jr. once before for passing before the start/finish line on a restart, but I did hear on the scanner chat before that first G-W-C restart that David Regan’s spotter or crew chief did warn his driver not pass before the start/finish line. I have to say that after hearing the scanner chat, David Regan made a mistake and NASCAR penalized him for it plain and simple. NASCAR had every right to penalize Regan for it and did, he got what he deserved and will learn from it (yes I agree with NASCAR). Regan would go on to finish 14th. It is what it is.

Picks for Phoenix:
* Cup Series race: Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jimmie Johnson. These two drivers know exactly how to win at Phoenix, but for Dale Jr., he has a new crew chief and something to prove and after Daytona, Dale Jr. is hunger for a victory.
* Carl Edwards in the Nationwide Series
* Kevin Harvick in the Truck Series race. Harvick just seems to be that damn good at Phoenix in his own truck and its hard to bet against him.

Next is Phoenix for all three of NASCAR’s national series.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Predictions: Who's going to be 2011's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wild card drivers?

Welcome readers, as the Daytona 500 is in the record books with rookie Trevor Bayne winning in his second career Cup Series start, today in part-four of my prediction series, I’m discussing what I call the wild card drivers. Now when I say wild card drivers I don’t mean the normal cast of suspects like Busch Brothers, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon or anyone else typically inside the top 10 in points.

No, I’m looking at the drivers outside the top 12 or even outside the top 20. These drivers can be rookies, a driver that can be a breakout star, or somebody that maybe the telecasts don’t really talk about as well as a few drivers that have been out of the spot light. So here are six drivers or teams that I’m looking to have a good year for whatever reason. And of course two driver’s that are in one way or another, a make it or break year.

But as you read this, keep in mind that I have had this article and series in my head for the past few months now and I was going off of pre-2011 results. With that said, here we go:

1. Red Bull Racing’s #4-Kasey Kahne. Kahne comes into 2011 in an interesting position or what the NASCAR SPEED media is calling “One and Done”. You see Kahne will be racing at Red Bull Racing in 2011 and then moving onto Hendrick Motorsports to drive the #5 Impala SS. But I don’t expect Kahne to stand still, no he’s going to be racing hard in the #4 Red Bull Toyota for race wins and trying to make the chase come Richmond. I see Kahne having a good year with two race wins for this credit and then possibly leaving Red Bull Racing at the end of the season. However part of me still believes that Red Bull Racing will move the Chevrolet’s in 2012 and Kahne will stay at Red Bull with Hendrick Support.

2. RPM’s #9-Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose comes into 2011 in a good position. He moves to the new Richard Petty Motorsports with Roush-Fenway Racing support and Yates Engines. With “The King” as his car owner and RFR equipment, plus the financial mess behind them, I look for Ambrose to pickup his first victory in 2011 in the Cup Series. And I’m not just thinking at a road course like Sonoma or Watkins Glen, but on an oval track. Ambrose knows how to drive a racecar and with good equipment, he can win races. But I don’t see him making the chase until at least 2012.

3. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne running for the Wood Brothers: Damn, one driver of the breakout stars that has caught my eye has to be Trevor Bayne and yes well before the Daytona 500. As a matter of fact, Bayne caught my eye last year in the Nationwide Series. The SPEED announcers said it the best, when a 4x time Cup Series Champion, Jeff Gordon wants to work with you in drafting during the Daytona 500, you know you’ve done something especially being a rookie. I don’t know why Michael Waltrip send Bayne packing last year, but it already turned out to be a blessing for him considering he is now in RFR equipment and having the Wood Brothers behind him. Plus I also see Bayne contending for the Nationwide Series drivers championship in 2011. This should be a good for Trevor Bayne, he is a one to watch.

4. #2-Brad Keselowski isn’t new to me, I became of fan of his three years ago when he started driving for JR Motorsports. This kid has talent and one of the best things going for him is the fact that he’s not afraid to hold his group with any driver including a dirty driver Kyle Busch. But even more, for 2011 Keselowski steps up to the big leagues after winning the 2010 Nationwide Series Drivers Championship as he will drive the iconic #2 Miller Lite Dodge for Penske Racing, a car that was once driven by one of my favorite drivers Rusty Wallace. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Keselowski in the top 20 in points at the end of 2011 and having a race win.

5. Martin Truex Jr.: I would have thought that with a new crew chief and driving for MWR, Truex would have been higher up in the standings and be contending for wins regularly in 2010, but that simply wasn’t the case. I really don’t know what to think of Truex Jr. heading into 2011, but this is a year for him to shine. The chemistry between driver and chew chief has had time to gel, the equipment is TRD (Toyota Racing Development) and the tools are there, now all he needs is some luck and he’s right there for top 10 finishes every week.

6. Speaking of MWR, every year there is one driver that is a favorite in the garage area and that would be David Reutimann. Last year, Reutimann made headlines by not only winning a race at Chicagoland, but ended up doing something that no other driver had done. He put Kyle Busch into his place by putting Busch into the outside wall in a weird way at Kansas. I still didn’t get that move, but it sure sent a message that you shouldn’t push Reutimann around, otherwise me might just give you something in return. But for 2011, I see nothing less out of Reutimann then another race win and a good guy.

7. If there is one driver that is in a make it or break it year, it has to be David Regan. A few years ago Regan was a breakout star that narrowly missed making the chase by a few points and having a Nationwide Series win. But since then, Regan has had nothing but bad luck and if the #6-David Regan on Roush-Fenway Racing can’t turn it around, I don’t see him in for 2012. But even more, I don’t see anything to say that we will see a comeback for Regan neither and hate to say that, maybe the team just isn’t what he needs, I don’t know. But you never know, anything can happen especially in NASCAR.

8. And finally and sorry to say, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in a make it or break it year and if the crew chief swap, if Dale Jr. doesn’t show improvement, Hendrick should consider letting him go.

Final lap: Simply put, for my readers, do you have any drivers you’re watching in 2011 that could be a breakout star or a wild card driver?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Predictions: Danica Patrick and Travis Pastrana racing in NASCAR in 2011?

Welcome readers, as the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series season is on the horizon, today in part-three of my prediction series, I’m discussing two well known Motorsports drivers that have decided to embark on NASCAR in the next stage of their racing careers, namely Danica Patrick and Travis Pastrana.

1. Danica Patrick. Now I realize and understand that there are a lot of NASCAR fans that don’t care for Danica Patrick being in NASCAR and driving for a well known ride namely at JR Motorsports. Nor care for her switching between the IRL IndyCar Series and NASCAR like she is.

But for me, a motorsports fan that has watched Danica Patrick since her day’s in the Toyota Atlantics Series and while I do believe that Patrick should be picking a series and run full-time in it whether it’s the IRL IndyCar Series or NASCAR so she can succeed in it, she did learn a few thing in 2010 as she had a few good runs and made headlines everywhere she went in NASCAR especially when she taught a driver at Phoenix that art of a simple payback pass.

But now it’s all about 2011 and where will see go from here? In my predictions, I’m going to go against a lot of people in saying that 2011 will be a make it or break it year for Danica Patrick. Patrick now must prove to herself, JR Motorsports, Rick Hendrick and the sponsors that she can be successful in NASCAR in the long run. Otherwise she is on her way back to the IRL IndyCar Series or off to another series.

However I believe that after her learning a few things in 2010, Danica Patrick will continue to move forward in NASCAR and start finishing in the top 10 in a few NASCAR Nationwide Series races. But in my opinion in order for Patrick to really be successful, especially with her expectations and show everyone she can win in NASCAR, she will need to leave the IRL IndyCar Series and commit full-time in NASCAR with no distractions.

But the problem there is her contract in the IndyCar Series is a three-year deal, not a two-year deal like with JR Motorsports and until we see that commitment, I don’t see the point of anything beyond 2011 plain and simple.

I hate to put it so blunt, but it’s the truth. Making the jump between the IndyCars and NASCAR stockcars isn’t one that a driver should do at all. But if she were to make the jump to NASCAR, I see talent and possible success in the Nationwide Series, but that’s as high as I see it right now.

Travis Pastrana: Making any predictions on Travis Pastrana is almost impossible for me as I only have seen him race in one race so far in his stockcar career and that was back in January at Irwindale Speedway in California (yes I know they changed the title of the track, but I don’t care), nonetheless he did show he can race a stockcar as he battled back in that race from a lap down to finish 6th and he wasn’t afraid to mix it up.
Another thing I like about Travis Pastrana is he is starting his own race team called Pastrana-Waltrip Racing and to me that shows commitment. But his first race isn’t until late July which makes it very interesting from here on out. Nevertheless, he is racing and I will be looking forward to seeing what he can do in his own equipment with MWR.

But what about Danica Patrick vs. Travis Pastrana: “who will be the bigger name for NASCAR?” As the fans, media, drivers, teams, NASCAR and more have seen, where ever Danica Patrick goes in her 12-13 scheduled races a year in the Nationwide Series, she gets a ton of press hanging on her every word and movement. Of course that attention has gotten to some of NASCAR’s drivers including Kyle Busch at one point making a statement.

However I have to say that as big as Danica Patrick has become in the media in her short NASCAR career, if Travis Pastrana can succeed in a few races in 2011 once he starts up, I see Travis Pastrana being a bigger name in NASCAR than Danica Patrick is right now. Pastrana will also bring a lot more in fans to the table as well for NASCAR from his Rally car career, Motocross and Supercross career, not to mention X Games and daredevil career especially jumping a Subaru over a lake. I also believe that Pastrana has an upper hand thanks to rally car experience. Driving a car at high speed is very interesting no matter what series you’re in especially with car control. But until he straps in later this year in July, nobody knows.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Take: Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton find victory lane in the Budweiser Shootout, Pole Day and The Duels – But what about the 2011 Daytona 500…

Welcome ladies and gentlemen, for just about the past week, I have been for the most part watching a lot of the on-track action from practice and qualifying to the kick off races on TV and I have to admit that unlike in past years during speedweeks in Daytona, I don’t know what to expect in the Daytona 500 at all this year.

Nevertheless, here’s my take on the 2011 Budweiser Shootout, Pole Day, The Duels and predictions for the Daytona 500.

* Last Saturday night in the Budweiser Shootout, fans, media, drivers, teams and NASCAR saw a preview of a different type of racing that includes the high speeds over 200mph and two-car packs instead of 195mph and a huge pack of cars and (in my opinion) it was a different show. I actually found the racing to be a bit better than normal.

Consider this, I’m not a fan of restrictor plate racing to say the least, as a matter of fact, at least once a year I call this racing a “demolition derby”. It’s a wreck fest. However this for the most part wasn’t. Yeah we saw a few spins and one wreck with a big pack, but it was better than normal. But it was the controversial end to the shootout that left most people saying what.

Personally it was Kurt Busch making the right moves and Denny Hamlin making the wrong moves going below the yellow line and they meant dead even at the line. But NASCAR made the right call and awarded Kurt Busch with the victory. NASCAR has to keep consistant with there calls, they ruled Regan Smith didn’t win a few years ago at Talladega and in this case, they had to rule against Denny Hamlin here.

* Sunday’s Pole Day in my opinion is a joke and a waste, in the fact that there are already “the duels” and they need a better format for the Daytona 500. But until then, this is the current format and it just is what it is. And in the end though, JR Nation saw there guy Dale Earnhardt Jr. take the pole for the Daytona 500 with his teammate Jeff Gordon along side.

But the victory was sort lived as in yesterdays practice session, Dale Jr. received a triple-hit as he crashed his primary car, as a result Dale Jr. would have to start from the rear in both his Duel race and the Daytona 500.
Nevertheless, even after Dale Jr’s pole, but having to start from the back, it still once again brought out the conspiracy theories that NASCAR once again gave Dale Jr. a break and fixed qualifying so Junior would be on the pole.

You know I ready don’t know why some people including some members of the media have to rain on fans short-lived parade, but they do. And this time we have a unknown female reporter saying she believed there was a 60 percent chance that Junior qualified with a car not quite up to code and people looked the other way. Of course this was repeated and added to by Tony Kornheiser with his accusations that he made on Tuesday’s ESPN's show "Pardon the Interruption".

Hay Tony, I believe you made your accusations to get your 15 minutes of fame, so here’s your 15 minutes of fame, use it in good health. (Read more over on “From the Marbles blog”) …time’s up.

* The Duels at Daytona: The first Gatorade Duel race was a tamed race with a few bits of action compared to the second one. However that didn’t stop the action on-track as a few drivers did have problems. But in the end, it was Kurt Busch holding off Regan Smith to pickup his second win of Speedweeks heading into Sunday’s Daytona 500.

However it was the second race that for sure got my attention especially with Trevor Bayne in the #21 Wood Brothers drafting with Jeff Gordon. That combination sure did work for a while there, but it ended in a big cloud of smoke as Trevor Bayne and David Ragan both had to walk away with wrecked race cars. However it was the two races up front that were the big story as Jeff Burton with teammate Clint Bowyer coming to the line in dead heat with Burton picking up his first Duel victory.

But the Duels aren’t just about who wins, but who races their way into the field and those two honors belong to Michael Waltrip with finished third and Brian Keselowski with drafting help from his brother Brad to finish fifth. That’s a good one, I’ll be interested in seeing how both drivers do in the Daytona 500 on Sunday. All in all, both Duel races had better racing than in past years, but NASCAR does need to change the cooling system back to normal to even out the playing field again. Otherwise your looking at the Ford’s having the upper hand on Sunday and that’s not right.

* Predictions for the Daytona 500: Over the past few days, I’ve read a lot of predictions from Darrell Waltrip saying Dale Jr. has got a legitimate shot to win the 500 on the FOX Business Network morning show, singer Nick Lachey, Gavin DeGraw among others picking “5-time” Jimmie Johnson, while Holly Madison, Rodney Atkins, Joe Namath among others picking Dale Jr. saying he’s overdue, to Brad Paisley picking Jeff Gordon and WWE Superstar picking Carl Edwards to win the Daytona 500, just to mention a few.

As for me and since I’m the writer, I’m going to pick three drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a personal pick (I’m a member of JR Nation), Tony Stewart because he’s good on the plate tracks like Junior is and overdue for a Daytona 500 victory and the favorite Kevin Harvick. But let’s be honest, picking a winner for the Daytona 500 can as of now include half of the field and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a first time winner come Sunday.

One thing is for sure, Speedweek’s at Daytona is just getting started and between now and the Great American Race, the Daytona 500, everybody will be talking about this one.

Predictions: Who's going to win the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series Championships?

Welcome readers to the part two of my predictions series. Today I will be focusing on the run for the Cup Series, Nationwide and Trucks Series championships in 2011. Earlier this year before going to Daytona, NASCAR made two changes that in my opinion will have a major impact on all three national series championships.

First NASCAR introduced the new points system which is simply put a 1 point per position points system with bonus points for winning the race, leading a lap and leading the most laps.

But it’s the second change that is going to make a bigger impact on the championship. NASCAR has made a rule that a Drivers can only run for one championship. At the beginning of 2011 on each driver’s licenses, each driver must declare which championship they will be completing for. So that means that none of the Cup Series drivers can win the lower series championship unless they aren’t running for the Cup Series championship like Travis Kvapil is. Yes Kvapil is running for the Truck Series championship, not the Cup Series championship.

Predictions for the Cup Series Championship: Right now, I see 15-17 drivers who have a good shot at making the chase and contending for the Cup Series championship. However I am predicting that the wild card spots will play a big role for at least one spot in the chase. I’m predicting these 10 drivers will make the chase (without use of the wildcard spots) in no particular order: Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, and Mark Martin.

Yes I added Mark Martin in the top 10. Martin enters 2011 with a new crew chief and one last chance in the #5 ride to win the championship.

The wild card spot will have 5 drivers going for 2 spots either by wins or points: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray and Greg Biffle. I’m thinking that Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make the chase, while the rest including Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman will not make the chase due to no wins in the regular season.

I believe that wins will play a big role and for Dale Earnhardt Jr. with his new crew chief, that will be the combination he needs to win a race or two (particular at either Talladega or Daytona) in the regular season and propel him into the chase. 

I like the fact that the wild card spots could play that big role that NASCAR is really looking for, it makes wins in the regular season (first 26 races) worth more, especially worth more than 48 points.

Predictions for the Nationwide Series championships: With the changes NASCAR made, the Nationwide Series will see two different championship winners namely one drivers champion and one different owners championship considering a few cup series are racing almost full time or full time in the series in 2011.

In the Driver’s championship, the top 5 front runners are Aric Alminola, Elliott Sadler, Trevor Bayne, Justin Allgaier, and Steven Wallace. All five drivers have a good shot at winning, but to narrow it down even more, I would say come the end of the season; it will be Alminola for JR Motorsports, Sadler for KHI and Allgaier for Turner Motorsports heading down to the wire for the championship.

I like the fact that Aric Alminola finally has a full-time ride in the Nationwide Series and he can prove himelf. But it’s Elliott Sadler that I’m most interested in seeing win races and complete for the NNS championship. Sadler is a good driver and with KHI equipment, this is his chance to be a contender on a weekly basis. As for Trevor Bayne, this kid has a bright future in both the Nationwide and Cup Series, but 2011 will a question mark, at least for a little while.

As for the Owner’s championship, unless something big happens, it will be Penske Racing vs. Roush-Fenway Racing vs. JGR for the title as it was in 2010 with mainly Cup Series regulars in the drivers seat, yeah sad isn’t it. Of course I like the idea of having a few Cup Series drivers in each race, but right now it has gotten out of hand, and it’s not entertaining.

Predictions for the Truck Series Championship: As in the Nationwide Series, the Truck Series looks to have two different champions as well, one driver’s and one owner’s. On the Owner’s side, Kyle Busch Motorsports is running for the Owner’s Championship and they will be a hard team to beat. However it will be harder for KBM to win then in the Nationwide Series.

In the driver’s championship, the top 5 drivers have to include the normal suspects including Todd Bodine providing he has sponsorship for the entire season, Ron Hornaday Jr. and Matt Crafton. All three drivers have found success in 2010 and will contend in 2011. In addition for 2011, I would add Austin Dillon especially with a few wins in 2010, and Johnny Sauter. A wild card entry would be Travis Kvapil. Kvapil is a classic example of running two season, but running for only one championship and that’s in the Truck Series in the #5.

I didn’t include Mike Skinner because he only has a ride for Daytona, not the full-season as of writing this article.

Closing thoughts: I believe that the 2011 NASCAR Cup Series championship chase will be a good one to watch especially when you have a good 16 drivers in the hunt not even counting a few others wild cards. However even with the new rule changes in the two lower series (namely the Nationwide Series and the Truck Series) where drivers can only run for one championship, I’m still concerned that it simply wouldn’t be enough to keep the racing on a completive level that they need to be and not just a bunch of Cup Series regulars going at it two or three times a weekend in two-three different races.

I believe that 2011 should be a learning experience for NASCAR, drivers, teams and more to find out what both series needs to survivor especially in this economy. But 30 teams are committed in the Truck Series as well as the Mustang and the Challenger are now completing the Nationwide Series is a good start.

But maybe NASCAR should consider one lower series and one elite series in the future, of course that would merge the Nationwide Series and the Truck Series, of course that’s my opinion and not NASCAR’s. I know one thing, changes still need to be made in all three series, but the state of NASCAR is strong.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Predictions: Top 6 biggest NASCAR storylines to watch in 2011.

Welcome readers, with the 2011 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona already in the record books and the Great American race, the Daytona 500 coming up this Sunday, today I want to talk about the 2011 NASCAR season, namely predictions. So now between Sunday’s Daytona 500, I will be introducing a four-part 2011 NASCAR predictions series.

Today, in this first edition of my four-part series, I will be focusing on “what are the top 6 biggest NASCAR storylines to watch in 2011?” Now please note that this edition will focus on NASCAR changes and not teams, drivers and beyond as I will be writing on those subjects separately. With that said, here we go.

1. The new NASCAR points system: In the biggest change of the offseason, NASCAR decided to make some much needed changes to the NASCAR points system by introducing a 1 point per position type of points system. Basically if a driver wins the race, he can collect as much as 48 points which includes 43 points for winning, 3 points for a victory, 1 point for leading a lap and 1 point for leading the most laps. Typically, a driver who only leads the last lap and wins the race will collect 47 points for the victory.

That means that 2nd place will get 42 points, 3rd will get 41 points and so on down to 43rd place getting a simple point just for starting the race.

In looking at the new points system, I believe that this change isn’t just cosmetic as some media are putting it, but rather a real change and improvement. I also believe that this new points system will be easier to explain and understand for the fans, drivers, teams, media and more. (Read more on my opinion here)

2. Failure to address “Boy’s, Have at it”: One of the biggest turn off’s in 2010 for me had to be some of the drivers taking advantage of the new “Boy’s, Have at it” policy by retaliating or taking out another competitor. And even more, NASCAR didn’t do a damn thing about it neither. A classic example would be Carl Edwards taking out Brad Keselowski at Atlanta last Spring, or how about Kurt Busch taking out Jeff Gordon at the fall Martinsville race or Carl Edwards taking out Brad Keselowski in the Nationwide Series race at Gateway which caused a giant mess.

The point is while NASCAR has some success with “Boy’s, Have at it” in 2010, in 2011 they needed to set limits and create real simple rules. Right now, NASCAR seems to want to be like the NFL, if so, they might want to try some actual rules. But right before the 2011 Daytona 500, NASCAR is “letting the inmates run the asylum” and that’s dangerous. Someone is going to get hurt sooner or later. (Read more)

3. Evolution of the NASCAR Cup Series COT namely the new front nose: A more welcome change has to be removing the front splitter braces on the COT nose and replacing it with a solid mold piece like a body kit on a car. This move is better for design, look and function, especially if NASCAR is trying to get the COT cars to look more like the showroom models. Personally I like it, its just like changing from the rear wing to the spoiler, its makes for better racing and pleases most fans.

4. The new NASCAR Nationwide Series COT: NASCAR talks about change and safety, the new Nationwide Series COT does both of them. In the safety aspect, its simple, better green house (cage) around the drivers and removes the need for specialty cars like a superspeedway car and a road course car, namely cost.

But the change also creates better racing on-track. In watching the 4 races in 2010 that NASCAR ran this car, they were actually better races to watch as it also created a temporary even playing field. One team will figure out this new car and really be able to win with it, but for at least the first 4 races, its actually anybodies game.

And most of all, the new Nationwide COT brings the Ford Mustang and the Dodge Challenger into the series and they look as close to a showroom model as NASCAR will most likely get. Now I just wonder about overall cost, Nationwide teams don’t have the funding that Cup Series teams do. (Read more)

5. Self venting gas can, no catch can man: Removing a pit crew member from pit road is a good move for safety reasons. You figure that we have 43 cars in each race in both the Nationwide and Cup Series races. So each team has 7 pit crew members, that’s 301 pit crew members going over the wall for each pit stop. But with the new self-venting gas can, teams now can subtract 43 pit crew members from pit road that brings 258 crew members. Now that might sound small, but that’s one less person for a team to worry about on pit road and less congested.

But I will be interested in seeing how long it takes to fill up a 17.75 gallon fuel cell of racing fuel? And what will be the pit strategy be?

6. E15 fuel (15% ethanol and 85% gasoline): As if introducing a new self-venting gas can wasn’t enough, NASCAR racecars look to have less fuel economy as well with the introduction of E15 racing fuel.

Personally I don’t care for this change, it’s actually doesn’t go far enough. Right now, passenger cars run on E10 and maybe E15 in a few years as our gasoline. But while that is ok for us, it’s not good for NASCAR. They need to have done more, like fuel injection (coming in 2012), E85 or 100% ethanol or even bio-diesel fuel. There is no reason why NASCAR or racing in general should be running gasoline, they need to go with bio-diesel or another alternative fuel. Its time for a change and while NASCAR has changed, it’s a small one.

Finally, as I sit here watching practice on TV and seeing both the Nationwide Series and Cup Series on-track, I’m for the part excited about the new season and for many of the reasons that I stated above including the new points system. However I still do have question marks for 2011 and while I will talk about the championship, wild card drivers and more in other edition, overall 2011 should be a good year. Now let’s just hope that NASCAR continues to evolve with the times and the on-track action especially “Boy’s, Have at it”.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Made in America does mean something especially when buying a car

Welcome readers, very recently in my life, I have found myself experiencing a crash course in “Made in America” or “Made in the USA” on vehicles when I went along for the ride with a family member when he wanted to buy a pre-owned car. And it all started when he gave me his three major points that the car must meet.
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Of course number 1 was the price, number two was the car had to have all wheel drive or four wheel drive so he could go to work even in Massachusetts’ toughest winter storms. But it was number three, the pre-owned car had to be “Made in America” or “Made in the USA” in some way, shape or form to got me. Basically he preferred having a 1, 4, or 5 as the first number on the VIN or be a Ford, GM or Chrysler product.

Now in being a car guy, I immediately started picking out cars that meant his first two major points without a problem from the Ford Escape, Ford Fusion, Subaru brand, Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Charger and so on. But when I started matching up price it got a little hard especially to find the pre-owned car in our area, but it was the “Made in America” that surprised me the most. It was an eye opening experience for sure.

So I started researching VIN numbers and decoding them, looking up window stickers, checking out articles and I quickly narrowed down the list to a few cars. But at this point I wanted to see what vehicles where made where and how much U.S./Canadian content are in each vehicle. The second one is very hard info to come by. So here is got my attention the most.

The big three automakers, namely Ford, GM and Chrysler were first on my list. Now this actually doesn’t go by car manufacturer, but by model. A classic example came out of the Ford (vehicles) stable. Ford actually builds there vehicles in several different locations in several different countries including the United States and Mexico. Two good examples are the Ford F-150 and the Ford Fusion. The Ford F-150 is assembled in the United States, its engine and transmission is built in the US and contains 75% of U.S./Canadian content.

But the Ford Fusion goes in the opposite direction. The Fusion is assembled in Mexico and contains only 25-30% (depending upon the model year) U.S./Canadian contents. By the way, that’s sad especially for Ford.

As for General Motors and Chrysler, General Motors does in fact make several vehicles throughout the brand, namely Buick, Chevrolet and GMC are made in the United States and Canada. A classic example is the Chevrolet Camaro that one is built in Canada, while the Chevrolet Corvette is built in Bowling Green, Ky.

But a bigger surprise was Chrysler. They built most of there vehicles right here in the United States, along with Mexico and Brazil. I read that 61% of their vehicles come from the United States and Canada. One example is the Dodge Challenger/Dodge Charger/Chrysler 300. All three cars are made and assembled on the same assembly line in Canada, while the engines are made in Mexico and shipped by rail and then truck to Canada. A hat tip to the TV show “Ultimate Factories” for that information.

Now as for imports/foreign name manufacturers, Subaru actually was the biggest surprise. Subaru has one plant in Lafayette, Indiana where they assemble the Legacy, Outback and the Tribeca. Of course the rest are built in Japan.

And that isn’t all, Acura has two models assembled in the U.S., along with Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Infiniti, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Honda, Mazda, Nissan and Toyota.

All of the information is amazing is read when you can find it that is and if your researching buying your next new or pre-owned car, this information should be on your list to find out.

And by the way, after researching and testing driving a vehicle, he actually chose a 2010 Subaru Legacy in the next town over the Ford Fusion. The feel of All-Wheel-Drive and a good deal made all of the difference and so far, so good. I have actually been in it several times and it’s actually makes me possibly want one in the future. To date, he has put almost 1,000 miles on the vehicle in the first month, just getting to know it and doing some unexpected drives.

Sources: Bankrate.com, Automoblog.net, and Wikipedia.com

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

NASCAR, Cup Series Teams and Owners points: How does NASCAR stop this and will they?

Welcome readers, with another NASCAR season on the horizon, this is the point in the year that one of the biggest deals roars its ugly head. Yes the Top 35 and the debate of who gets who’s owners points and every year it gets more and more ridiculous to watch, let along figure out.

Back in 2007, I called out NASCAR and Penske Racing for miss using owner’s points when NASCAR approved a Penske owner’s point swap between the #2-Kurt Busch and his new teammate the #77-Sam Hornish Jr. so that Hornish could be guaranteed a starting spot in the first five races.

If that wasn’t enough, this will be another one of those years with the owner’s points that will for sure get several fans and media member’s attention.

According to Jayski.com, for 2011, there are several changes in the owner’s points that will guarantee several drivers a starting spot in the Daytona 500 and the four races following the Great American Race.

The first bit of news to get my attention had to be RWI (Rusty Wallace Inc.) with driver Steven Wallace wanting to make the Daytona 500. Now rather than going out and trying to qualify, the rookie will now have a guaranteed starting sport thanks to Penske Racing with the #77 swap in owner’s points. Of course Roger Penske is listed as the owner on Wallace’s #77 Cup Series car.

But that wasn’t the only change, try four more. The next one had to do with the #71 TRG team. The way I understand it, the listed owner of the #71 car left the team with the owners points from 2010 and took them to RCR for the #27-Paul Menard. The former owner will now be listed as the car owner after the former owner and RCR formed an alliance for the first several races. I remember RCR doing that a few years back as well.

Now you would think that that would leave the #71 without owner’s points right? Nope, the #71-Andy Lally at TRG will now take over the old #98 owner’s points. Remember, Richard Petty Motorsports reduced the team from a four car team to a two car team. That left the #19 and #98 teams and owner’s points up for grabs.

Which sends us into the #19 owner’s points, they will now be in the #21-Travor Bayne. As far as I know, the #21 is the Wood Brothers Racing. The #21 will run in several select races.

And finally as far as I know, the #37 and #38 will swap owner’s points putting the #38-David Gilliland into the first five races including the Daytona 500.

But the biggest question is, how does NASCAR stop this and will they? 
There is a few ideas on the table in my eyes:
1. NASCAR could do away with the entire top 35 in owner’s points, but since that’s as close as NASCAR will get for now to franchising the sport, that’s highly unlikely.
2. So that leaves it to everybody must qualify for the first two races of the season including the Daytona 500 regardless of where they finished in the previous season and then have the new seasons owner’s points start at race #3. It's a dramatic change and I'm sure provisionals will return for the first two races, but that would be better then this owner's points deal. Basically, once a season is over, so are the owner's points.

But will NASCAR stop this?
No, at least not in the next few years anyway or not until owner's start speaking up and calling for change.

Until then NASCAR, its teams, drivers, media members and fans are all stuck with this drama for now. Well at least NASCAR has a few requirements to being allowed to swap owner’s points and selling is under the table.

Hat tip to Jayski.com

Friday, February 4, 2011

Video: Hot Rod Magazine races a 2011 Shelby Super Snake against a Shelby 427 Cobra.

What an incredible comparison, an old school raw, iconic car, the Shelby 427 Cobra with over 500 HP that has to be one of the baddest muscle cars in history and one of my favorites next to a Chevrolet Corvette vs. a new generation 2011 Shelby GT500 Super Snake with over 750 HP and the results should surprise you in some ways, but not in others.

Personally if I was able to choose between the two, I, even though I'm a new school type person, I would choose the iconic Shelby 427 Cobra. The reasons are simple, theres nothing like a Shelby Cobra, the raw horsepower, the look and its as close to a race car as I would want to get. There is no extras on this car, its just what you need to go fast, two left and right, set fast lap and stop on a dime.

And believe it or not and I know that several car guys will have an issue with this, but I don't find the 2011 Ford Mustang to be a good looking car. The changes from the 2005 generation are enough to where the car boarders on unattractive to me. Sorry, the styling just isn't there from the crushed front to the expanded rear. Now I should mention that I do like the styling of the 2005, but I would still choose a Cobra hands down.



Source: YouTube with a hat tip to Autoblog.com