Tag:Sprint Cup Series
Posted on: January 31, 2012 11:34 am
Edited on: January 31, 2012 11:41 am
 

2012 Sprint Cup race start times announced

By Pete Pistone

The start times for this season's 36-race Sprint Cup Series season have been released by NASCAR.

Once again the season-opening Daytona 500 will feature a traditional 1 p.m. ET green flag while races in the Chase maintain later afternoon start times at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.:

Feb. 18 ... Bud Shootout, 8:10 p.m.
Feb. 23.....Gatorade Duel 150's, 2 p.m.
Feb. 26 ... Daytona 500, 1 p.m.
March 4 .. Phoenix, 3 p.m.
March 11 . Las Vegas, 3 p.m.
March 18 . Bristol, 1 p.m.
March 25 . Auto Club Speedway, 3 p.m.
April 1 ..... Martinsville, 1 p.m.
April 8 ..... OFF WEEKEND
April 14 ... Texas, 7:30 p.m.
April 22 ... Kansas, 1 p.m.
April 28 ... Richmond, 7:30 p.m.
May 6 ...... Talladega, 1 p.m.
May 12 .... Darlington, 7 p.m.
May 19 .... All-Star Race, 7:30 p.m.
May 27 .... Coca-Cola 600, 6 p.m.
June 3 ...... Dover, 1 p.m.
June 10 .... Pocono, 1 p.m.
June 17 .... Michigan, 1 p.m
June 24 .... Infineon Raceway, 3 p.m.
June 30 .... Kentucky, 7:30 p.m.
July 7 ....... Daytona, 7:30 p.m.
July 15 ..... New Hampshire, 1 p.m.
July 22 ..... OFF WEEKEND
July 29 ..... Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Aug. 5 ..... Pocono, 1 p.m.
Aug. 12 ... Watkins Glen, 1 p.m.
Aug. 19 ... Michigan, 1 p.m.
Aug. 25 ... Bristol, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 ..... Atlanta, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 8 ..... Richmond, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 ... Chicago (CHASE), 2 p.m.
Sept. 23 ... New Hampshire, 2 p.m.
Sept. 30 ... Dover, 2 p.m.
Oct. 7 ...... Talladega, 2 p.m.
Oct. 13 .... Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 .... Kansas, 2 p.m.
Oct. 28 .... Martinsville, 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 4 ..... Texas, 3 p.m.
Nov. 11 ... Phoenix, 3 p.m.
Nov. 18 ... Homestead, 3 p.m.

ALL TIMES LISTED ARE EASTERN 


 
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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: January 4, 2012 11:36 am
Edited on: January 4, 2012 4:19 pm
 

Idle Thoughts: New Year's Wishes

By Pete Pistone

Image Detail
(After last year's epic title fight between Stewart and Edwards there should be no changes made to the Chase)


Hopefully you all got what you wished for this Christmas season. Santa was very good to my family but there are still a few items I’m hoping for this coming NASCAR season.

I’m not holding my breath for all these wishes to come true but since the year is brand new and fresh, let’s be optimistic:

No Changes in the Chase System

NASCAR has been notorious for tweaking and modifying its championship format since the Chase debuted in 2004. But after last year’s moves paid dividends in one of the most epic point battles in the history of the sport and an exciting playoff run from start to finish, it’s hard to believe the sanctioning body would tinker with anything for 2012. The addition of the wild card entries was a stroke of genius and the drama of who would make the Chase after the last race of the regular season was tremendous. Don’t touch a thing NASCAR and leave the format completely intact for the new season.

Dump the Top 35

However there is one points-related policy I would change and that is the controversial Top 35 rule. Originally intended to “protect” teams and sponsors committed to support the entire schedule, the rule only hurts the sport’s credibility but not allowing for the most competitive field possible to compete each week. And with the shrinking Sprint Cup garage area there’s no reason to guarantee anyone into the starting line-up. Let every driver earn his or her way into the show and make qualifying relevant again.

Stop Points Swapping

An unfortunate by-product of the Top 35 rule is the practice of teams selling their spots as commodities. Year after year we watch organizations manipulate the system to buy and sell their way into guaranteed starting positions for the first five races of the season, which includes the lucrative Daytona 500. There’s a simple way to stop the madness – force teams to either use ‘em or lose ‘em. If an organization goes out of business or be forced to shut down an entry the following season for whatever reason, those points should disappear as well.

Leave Restrictor Plate Racing Alone

This is a tough one because like many race fans I am not a fan of the two-car tandem draft that has evolved at Daytona and Talladega. However in an effort to somehow break up the Noah’s Ark racing, NASCAR may wind up creating a new set of problems. Messing with restrictor plates and spoilers is one thing but making radical changes to cooling systems so cars can’t hook up nose to tail for too long without overheating has potential disaster written all over it. Do we really want to see a Daytona 500 with car after car heading to the garage with blown engines because radiator capacities have been more than cut in half? Let the relatively new pavement wear naturally at both tracks and plate racing/drafting will evolve to its next incarnation like it has since the style of racing debuted in 1987.

Make “Special” Races Special Again

The Budweiser Shootout and Sprint All-Star Race have proven to be fan favorites and interesting additions to the schedule. However both events have become bloated affairs that are seemingly open to every driver and team rather than an elite group as was the original intent. The Budweiser Shootout at Daytona was once reserved for the previous season’s pole winners. But a sponsorship change in the pole award to rival Coors Light forced the brewery giant to alter the race’s criteria, which is now open to any driver who has won a Sprint Cup event at Daytona. That means 33 drivers are eligible for this February’s affair rather than a select few. Ditto for the All-Star Race in Charlotte, a race that was designed to showcase race winners only. Now it’s basically a full field competing in what amounts to a ten lap demolition derby for the final segment and its one million dollar payday. It’s time to either put both these events out to pasture or recreate an aura of specialness around their participants as was once the original idea.


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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: December 16, 2011 4:28 pm
Edited on: January 17, 2012 11:12 am
 

2012 Sprint Cup Series crew chief changes

By Pete Pistone

Teams have been changing crew chiefs at a record pace and the line-up for the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season already has a very different look to it.

You can keep up with this regularly-updated chart outlining changes as they are announced:

Joe Gibbs Racing – No. 20 Toyota (Joey Logano)

In: Jason Ratcliff gets the call to take over crew chief duties for Joey Logano who enters the 2012 season on the heels of a disappointing year. Ratcliff has had great success in the JGR Nationwide program and has helped guide both Logano and Kyle Busch to multiple victories. He now gets a shot at the Cup series as management promotes from within rather than go outside the organization.

Out: Greg Zipadelli was granted his release and now rejoins Tony Stewart this time as Director of Competition with Stewart-Haas Racing. Zippy was never able to get Logano to the next level of his career despite enjoying tremendous success while serving as Stewart’s crew chief during their time together at JGR. He still had one year left on his contract but rather than keep spinning its wheels, the team decided to allow Zipadelli to leave and give the 20 team a fresh start.

Our Take: Logano enters next season as a make or break year and it was clear he and Zipadelli weren’t on the same page. A new voice in Ratcliff from atop the war wagon can’t hurt but the duo will have their work cut out trying to rebound from a disastrous effort in 2011.


Joe Gibbs Racing – No. 11 Toyota (Denny Hamlin)

In: Darian Grubb didn’t waste any time in finding employment after he parted ways with Stewart-Haas Racing and Tony Stewart’s championship-winning No. 14 team. Rather than return to his roots at Hendrick Motorsports in an engineering role that was offered, Grubb will climb back up on the pit box to call the shots for Hamlin. 

Out: Mike Ford went from eight victories and a whisker of the Sprint Cup champion in 2010 to the unemployment line the following season. When the wheels came off Hamlin’s title run in the second to last race of the year in Phoenix, the No. 11 team was never quite the same and suffered through a miserable follow up campaign. 

Our Take: Grubb has the talent and in a very short crew chief career has scored wins with Jimmie Johnson, including a Daytona 500 victory, and taken a Sprint Cup championship with Stewart. Now he faces the challenge of trying to get Hamlin back to the force he was in 2010 while also dealing with the many issues that plagued JGR’s engine program last season. Grubb will be up for the test but will have his work cut out for him.


Stewart-Haas Racing – No. 14 Chevrolet (Tony Stewart)

In: Steve Addington punched his ticket out of Penske Racing days after the season ended to take the opportunity to work with Stewart on the championship-winning team. Addington has had a successful career despite dealing with the talented and emotional Busch brothers – Kyle, when he was at Joe Gibbs Racing and Kurt last season at Penske. Stewart is also known for his emotions but Addington is well-equipped to deal with it after his recent at-times tumultuous experiences with the Busch boys.

Out: Grubb couldn’t save his job even after helping Stewart win five races in the Chase and the title. The decision to go in a different direction was made well before Stewart eventually won the championship in Homestead and despite the success there was no turning back in the parting of ways. 

Our Take: Addington and Stewart have a relationship from both their days at Gibbs as well as their early short track careers. They’ve remained friends over the years and share a similar connection that should clock together as driver-crew chief pretty quickly. The tools and resources are there for Addington to pick right up where Grubb left off.


Penske Racing – No. 22 Dodge (A.J. Allmendinger)

In: Todd Gordon gets the call from Roger Penske to move over from the team’s successful Nationwide Series program, where he led the No. 22 Dodge to six wins a year ago, to the Sprint Cup effort. Like his counterpart at the Penske No. 2 entry Paul Wolfe, Gordon will get a chance to prove himself after working his way up through the organization. 

Out: Addington was admirable in the way he dealt with the turmoil around the team last year and Busch’s well-publicized emotional outbursts. Despite the controversy, Addington and Busch did win two races and make the Chase proving at times to be a formidable pairing.

Our Take: Gordon is a bright talent and will work well knowing the ins and outs of the “Penske Way.” Now that Allmendinger has been named driver the two can begin working on chemistry and their relationship. Both are young and will more than likely benefit from a fresh start and perspective. The duo take over a ride that won twice last year and made the Chase so expectations will be high and a good start to the season will go a long way in helping build confidence with the entire team.

 

Richard Childress Racing – No. 29 Chevrolet (Kevin Harvick)

In: Shane Wilson comes back to work with Harvick as the duo team up again in their careers. The two won the Nationwide Series together in 2006. Wilson most recently was Clint Bowyer’s crew chief at RCR and after moving into another role inside the team now gets another shot to work in NASCAR’s top division this time with Harvick. 

Out: Gil Martin was able to get Harvick to victory lane multiple times in the last two seasons and made the Chase, nearly winning all the marbles in 2010. But things soured internally with the team last season and Harvick voiced his concerns to team owner Childress who decided to pull the plug on Martin, who will stay with the organization but move into a management role for the time being. 

Our Take: Harvick can be prickly to work with and Martin may have found out the hard way. Wilson has the advantage of previously working with Harvick and tasting success in the Nationwide title run. Pit road miscues doomed the No. 29 team many times last year and that will need to be eradicated by Wilson in a hurry if Harvick is to return to championship contention.

 

Richard Childress Racing – No. 31 Chevrolet (Jeff Burton)

In: Drew Blickensderfer comes to RCR from Roush Fenway Racing, where he had spent his entire NASCAR career. Blickensderfer was a valuable commodity to Roush in both its Nationwide and Sprint Cup programs, most recently working as crew chief for Matt Kenseth and then David Ragan.

Out: Luke Lambert was the interim crew chief for Burton after Todd Berrier was released around mid-season. Lambert and Burton did begin to make significant progress down the stretch of the schedule with several top ten runs to their credit and a near victory at Talladega in October.

Our Take: Blickensderfer is a hot commodity and brings a great deal of enthusiasm to the job. He clicked very well with the relatively young Ragan at RFR, a partnership that resulted in a July Daytona win, but now teams up with the seasoned veteran presence of Burton. It’s an intriguing pair that might be one of the surprises in the coming campaign.

 

Michael Waltrip Racing – No. 15 Toyota (Clint Bowyer)

In: Brian Pattie got shuffled out of the crew chief role for Juan Pablo Montoya about mid-season in favor of Jim Pohlman. Pattie remained inside Earnhardt Ganassi Racing for the balance of the year but jumped at an opportunity to crew chief once again when Waltrip’s team expanded to three cars and brought Bowyer into the fold. 

Out: Pattie steps in to fill the crew chief position for the brand new No. 15 entry. 

Our Take: When Pattie methodically guided Montoya into the 2009 Chase with a carefully calculated regular season game plan he turned a lot of heads in the garage and many applauded his talent. Things didn’t go too well in the two follow-up efforts but Pattie is still regarded as a forward-thinking crew chief who has a chance to make an even bigger name for himself if he can get Bowyer into the Chase in year one.
 

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing – No. 42 Chevrolet (Juan Pablo Montoya)

In: Chris Heroy brings his engineering background to the crew chief position replacing the Brian Pattie/Jim Pohlman combo that split duties for the team last year. 

Out: Team owner Chip Ganassi made it pretty clear he wasn’t going to go into 2012 with the same lineup that was so disappointing last season so moving Pohlman out of the spot didn’t come as much of a surprise. 

Our Take: Heroy is an unknown commodity and steps into a difficult job of trying to right the ship. The entire EGR team including Montoya’s teammate Jamie McMurray endured a miserable season it will take a huge effort all the way around to get back to being competitive on a regular basis.

2012 DRIVER TRACKER

 
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Posted on: December 15, 2011 12:33 pm
 

Caution flags up slightly in 2011

By Pete Pistone

The number of caution flags flying in the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season was up just slightly from the previous campaign.

There were 278 cautions during the 36-race Sprint Cup season just completed compared to 265 in 2010. The 2009 total was 305.

All 36 races reached the scheduled distance with seven extended by late-race cautions which set up a green-white-checkered finish.

Here’s a caution breakdown for the last three years as well as other assorted stats comparing the 2011 season:

SPRINT CUP SERIES

Cautions 
2011 - 278
2010 - 265
2009 - 305

Caution Laps
2011 - 1,358
2010 - 1,325
2009 - 1,447 

Laps Run 
2011 - 10,550
2010 - 10,778
2009 - 10,492

Miles Run 
2011 - 14,236.738
2010 - 14,537.508
2009 - 14,107.391

Miles Under Caution
2011 - 1,813.507 
2010 - 1,839.510 
2009 - 1,972.568

Most Cautions in a Race
2011 – 18 (Martinsville2)
2010 – 15 (Martinsville2)
2009 – 17 (Darlington)

Fewest Cautions in a Race 
2011 – 3 (New Hampshire2)
2010 – 3 (Richmond2)
2009 - 3 (Michigan1, Indianapolis) 

Most Caution Laps in a Race
2011 – 108 (Martinsville2)
2010 – 103 (Bristol2)
2009 – 73 (Martinsville1)

Most Miles Under Caution 
2011 – 150.000 (Daytona1)
2010 – 100.000 (Daytona1)
2009 – 99.718 (Darlington) 

Race Extended Due to Caution
2011 – 7 
2010 – 7
2009 – 5

Races Shortened Due To Weather
2011 – 0
2010 – 0 


 
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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: December 12, 2011 11:21 am
 

Media votes for Top 10 moments of season

By Pete Pistone

The NASCAR media brigade has voted for this year's best moments of the season and the winners are:

#1 - Tony Stewart's Homestead-Miami win to clinch the Championship

#2 - Trevor Bayne's Daytona 500 Win

#3 - Brad Keselowski's win at Pocono after breaking his left ankle in a testing accident

#4 - Jeff Gordon's 85th NASCAR Sprint Cup Win

#5 - Regan Smith's Darlington Southern 500 Win

#6 - Jimmie Johnson's .0002 second margin of victory in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega

#7 - Paul Menard Holds Off Jeff Gordon to Win Brickyard 400

#8 - Austin Dillon Becomes Youngest NASCAR Camping World Truck Champion

#9 - Danica Patrick Posts Best Finish in NASCAR by a Female Driver with 4th place at Las Vegas

#10 - 2010 Sunoco Rookies Stenhouse and Dillon win 2011 Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series Championships 


 
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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: December 9, 2011 12:53 pm
Edited on: December 9, 2011 12:57 pm
 

NASCAR stats guru hands out 'Loopie' awards

Posted by Pete Pistone

From News Release

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Confusion ravaged home viewers tuned into the driver introductions at Homestead-Miami Speedway a few weeks ago. There was a major misconception that when Kyle Busch was introduced, attending fans were screaming “Boo!”

False. 

In actuality, the astute NASCAR fans knew that Busch owned the top Driver Rating in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and was a shoo-in for a postseason Loopie – NASCAR awards given solely on Loop Data statistics, which includes Driver Rating. They were actually offering a verbal pat on the back to the driver of the No. 18 Toyota, and yelling “Looooooooop” to Busch. It was an emotional moment for all.

So, let’s start the show. For the fifth consecutive season, NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications combed through the statistics to hand out a number of awards celebrating the best – and worst – Loop Data performances of 2011. The envelopes please… 

“Still The Most Awesome Sport Ever” Award: This one goes to NASCAR. Congrats again, us. For the second consecutive season, the world’s best racing boasted numbers never before seen in its six-decade-plus history. According to the Loop Data, there were 131,989 green flag passes this season, the most since NASCAR started recording the stat in 2005. Though not Loop Data, there were also an average of 27.1 lead changes and 12.8 leaders per race, both Cup Series records. The 2012 Daytona 500 -- Feb. 26 on FOX, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 -- can’t come soon enough. 

“Where Did He Come From” Award: Better known as the “Most Improved Driver” Award, this award goes to the driver who had the biggest gain in Driver Rating from 2010. Brad Keselowski, please accept your well-deserved award. Keselowski entered 2011 mostly as an afterthought. He finished the 2010 season -- his first with Penske Racing -- with a 25th-place points finish and a Driver Rating of 65.1. Still fresh to the series, most expected those growing pains to continue. But Keselowski scoffed at any low expectations with a quick win at Kansas. Then he won at Pocono on a broken left ankle. A few weeks later, he won the Bristol Motor Speedway night race. And soon after that, he made the Chase for the Sprint Cup, taking advantage of the new Wild Card berth. Keselowski finished the season fifth in points, with a Driver Rating of 87.1 – an improvement of 22.0 points, best in the series. 

“Nice Guys Finish Not First” Award: We hate to give this award out, but no one ever said The Loopies were easy. Fans place a certain level of trust in The Loopies board of directors. This one is given to the driver with the largest drop in Driver Rating. This unfortunate award goes to Jeff Burton, whose 96.2 Driver Rating in 2010 fell to 78.7 in 2011 -- a decline of 17.5 points. The personable Burton need not worry too much. Optimism reigns in the No. 31 shop, as the team scored four top-10 finishes in the final five races. 

“Rope-A-Dope” Award: Attention NASCAR Hall of Fame: Richard Petty’s plaque needs a re-write -- he has just won a Loopie. The King’s two drivers, A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose, ranked 1-2 in the “Closer” statistic -- the number of positions gained or lost in the last 10 percent of races. Allmendinger gained a whopping 134 spots as races winded down; Ambrose improved 85 spots. In case you’re wondering, Kevin Harvick (aptly nicknamed “The Closer”) ranked third, with 78 positions improved. 

“Irregular Season” Award: Season-to-Date Loop Data is what it says -- a statistical representation of the entire season. That’s why you’ll find Kyle Busch -- winner of this Loopie -- at the top of so many Loop Data charts, but at the bottom of the Chase standings. Busch led 10 different Loop Data categories this year: Average Running Position (10.4), Driver Rating (104.1), Fastest Early in a Run (average rank of 5.9), Fastest Late in a Run (average rank of 7.8), Green Flag Speed (average rank of 6.1), Laps in the Top 15 (79.6%), Laps Led (1,455), Mile Leaders (1,777.77), Quality Passes (2,219) and Speed in Traffic (average rank of 9.3). So why the 12th-place finish for Busch? The answer: Another subpar Chase. During the 26-race regular season, Busch had a Driver Rating of 108.4. In the nine races he ran in the Chase, his Driver Rating was 91.6.

“Brad Keselowski’s Ankle Deserves Its Own Award” Award: This award goes to Brad Keselowski’s ankle. Keselowski’s performance after his early-August accident that resulted in a broken left ankle defies logic. Check out the tale of the tape.

Good Ankle vs. Bad Ankle

Pre 8/3 - 20 starst, one win, two top fives, five top tens, 16.4 average start, 11.9 average finish, 78.7 driver rating

Post 8/3 - 16 starts, two wins, eight top fives, nine top tens, 11.9 average start, 9.6 average finish, 97.6 driver rating  

“Lifetime Achievement” Award: As this is the milestone Fifth Annual Loopies, we felt it necessary to commemorate the occasion with a special award: The Stefan Kretschmann Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kretschmann, the godfather of Loop Data, works for our partners at Stats Inc. in Chicago, Ill. He’s the man behind the Loop Data, originating each statistic and inventing the involved formula for Driver Rating. It’s only fitting this award be named after him.

And the winner of the first ever Stefan Kretschmann Lifetime Achievement Award Loopie is … Jimmie Johnson. Johnson’s championship reign ended in 2011, but his assault of the stats page continues. NASCAR started collecting Loop Data in 2005. Since then, Johnson has compiled a Loop Data-lifetime Driver Rating of 104.8, the only driver eclipsing the 100.0 barrier. Second-best is Jeff Gordon, with a 98.3.

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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: November 25, 2011 12:53 pm
Edited on: November 25, 2011 5:33 pm
 

Edwards leads list of next first time champions

By Pete Pistone


Image Detail
(Edwards will be doing flips over a Sprint Cup Series championship before too long)

Tony Stewart
is enjoying his third Sprint Cup Series championship after prevailing in the most dramatic title race the sport has ever seen. 

Stewart’s thrilling drive to this year’s crown derailed Carl Edwards’ shot at taking his first Cup title and sent the Roush Fenway Racing driver into a bittersweet offseason. 

But Edwards can take solace in that he’s a member of a club that includes some pretty impressive names all still searching for Sprint Cup championship No. 1.

Edwards leads the list of top ten current drivers never to have won the title at NASCAR’s highest level and appears to have the best chance to erase his name from that roster: 

No. 1

Carl Edwards 

If the old adage of having to lose one before winning a championship applies then Edwards is a shoo-in for a Cup crown. The experience of being involved in the closest title race in NASCAR history will help Edwards cope with the pressure when he contends again, which should come as soon as next season. Edwards is the lead dog at Roush Fenway Racing and with a brand new contract, hefty sponsor support and all of the organization’s resources at his disposal, "Cousin Carl" will be on the preseason favorite list for several seasons to come. 


No. 2

Denny Hamlin 

Like Edwards, Hamlin knows the disappointment of coming so close to NASCAR's Holy Grail only to fall bitterly short. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver followed up his championship run of 2010 with a disappointing season chock full of mechanical issues and engine problems. JGR’s commitment to eradicate those power plant gremlins is key to Hamlin returning to championship form in 2012. 


No. 3

Kevin Harvick 

Despite scoring multiple victories and making solid runs at the championship the last two years, Harvick reportedly pushed for a change at crew chief and sent veteran Gil Martin packing as season's end. Shane Wilson gets moved over from inside the Richard Childress Racing stable to call the shots for the No. 29 team next season but the question of whether or not Harvick can make a serious run for the title still lies behind the wheel. Harvick's fiery personality and emotions need to be held in check to some degree for a title shot to come to fruition. 


No. 4

Greg Biffle 

"The Biff" is still trying to become the first driver in NASCAR history to win titles in the Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series. He has the talent to do contend and the Roush organization’s resources behind him. But Biffle will have to find a way to be much more consistent that the wild roller-coaster seasons he has had in recent years. 


No. 5

Kyle Busch 

This was to be the year Busch finally became a legitimate Sprint Cup title contender and put to rest the doubts that have plagued him since he first moved to the top level of the sport. Despite coming into the Chase as the number one seed on the strength of his four regular season victories, Busch once again faded in the playoffs and saw the wheels completely come off with his emotional meltdown in the celebrated truck series incident with Ron Hornaday at Texas. Unless Busch can finally harness those emotions he will never be able to win a Cup title pure and simple. 


No. 6

Kasey Kahne 

Easily one of the hottest drivers down the stretch of the 2011 season, Kahne's move to Hendrick Motorsports next year provides the best opportunity to challenge for a Sprint Cup crown. It may not come in 2012, but Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis have the look of a tandem that can work their way to the top of the mountain sooner rather than later. 


No. 7

Brad Keselowski 

His breakout season of 2011 was not a mirage. Keselowski matured tremendously this past season and the chemistry he shares with crew chief Paul Wolfe is among the best in the Sprint Cup garage. The nurturing hand of team owner Roger Penske will help guide Keselowski’s ascension to championship contender in years to come. 


No. 8

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 

The clock is ticking on Earnhardt's quest for a Sprint Cup championship. He made vast improvement in 2011 and struck a nearly perfect chord with crew chief Steve Letarte. Just making the Chase was a stellar achievement for a team that ended last year floundering. However more gains need to be made in a hurry for Earnhardt to join the ranks as title contender.


No. 9

Ryan Newman

At times Newman demonstrated a perfect balance of wins and consistency this past season, showing he was capable of both. But it was short-lived and a string of disappointing performances ended any chance to contending for the crown early on in the Chase. He's a member of a championship-winning organization at Stewart-Haas Racing but at this point is light years behind his boss and teammate Tony Stewart on the title radar. 


No. 10

Clint Bowyer 

Had Bowyer remained at Richard Childress Racing, his championship caliber stock would have remained higher than it is now with the move to Michael Waltrip Racing. Although MWR has made adjustments in hopes of bringing the organization to the next level including the hiring of form RCR cog Scott Miller as Director of Competition, Bowyer will have his hands full trying to compete for wins and a title early on as the team tries to sort things out.

 
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Posted on: July 13, 2011 2:32 pm
Edited on: July 13, 2011 6:46 pm
 

NASCAR mid-season review

By Pete Pistone


Trevor Bayne is mobbed by his crew in the infield after winning the Daytona 500.
(Trevor Bayne's Daytona win kicked off the season in a dramatic manner)


The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has reached the halfway point with 18 of 36 races in the book. Although there are only eight races left for drivers to lock themselves into the Chase, the overall campaign is already fifty percent over. 

The opening five months of the year have provided a fair amount of surprises, successes, disappointments and emotions as well as enough controversy to last several seasons on their own. 

Before we throw the green flag on the second half Sunday at New Hampshire, here’s a review of some of the highlights (and lowlights) that have taken place since things kicked off at Daytona back in February: 

FIRST TIME WINNERS 

Trevor Bayne set the tone for the season of surprises with his dramatic Daytona 500 win. The feel-good story that also included the young driver bringing one of NASCAR’s original teams back to victory lane in the Wood Brothers was a tremendous way for the season to begin. But Bayne’s upstart victory turned out to be only the first of several other shockers. 

Regan Smith followed suit with career win number one on Mother’s Day weekend when he outran Carl Edwards to the checkered flag in the Southern 500 at Darlington. Despite driving for the underfunded Furniture Row team, which is headquartered away from the North Carolina hub of the sport out in Denver, Colorado, Smith outclassed the powerhouse organizations like Roush Fenway and Joe Gibbs Racing to score a thrilling win in the historic race. 

Daytona was again the scene of another underdog victory earlier this month when David Ragan drafted his way to Cup win number one in the Coke Zero 400. Literally driving for his NASCAR career, Ragan’s assist from RFR teammate Matt Kenseth may have saved his job as a Sprint Cup Series driver and was among the more popular in recent history with the very likeable driver putting his name in the record book. 

POWERHOUSE PERFORMANCES 

While there was a trio of first-time winners in the first half, the sport’s premier organizations and drivers also flexed their muscle. 

Kyle Busch has again been a lightning rod for controversy on and off the track but on the strength of three wins has climbed to the top of the Sprint Cup Series standings. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver seems bound and determined to put together a serious championship run this year and has at times been one of the most dominant forces in the field. 

Last year’s title runner-up Kevin Harvick picked right up where he left off and also has three wins to his credit. He’s done it in impressive fashion with late race surges to find the checkered flag and at times overcoming much adversity early in the race only to come back as a contender during crunch time.

Carl Edwards has been one of the year’s most consistent drivers and until only a couple of weeks ago was the man on top of the standings since virtually the beginning of the season. 

Jimmie Johnson hasn’t been a slouch in the opening half of the campaign but he’s hardly been a dominating presence either. The five-time champion does have one win and has been in the first half of the standings most of the season but so far hasn’t been the driver to beat on a regular basis. However those who chalk up Johnson as a non-contender for the title once the Chase begins are making a huge mistake. 

COMEBACK KIDS 

The pairing of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte has produced encouraging results for Hendrick Motorsports and Junior Nation, as the most popular driver’s incredible fan base can finally watch their driver contend after nearly three years of disappointment. Earnhardt still hasn’t won since 2008 and has slipped in the standings in recent weeks, but the improvement on the No. 88 team has been absolutely impressive. 

Jeff Gordon snapped a two-year winless drought with a win at Phoenix in February and backed it up with a return trip to victory lane last month in Pocono. Although Gordon has had some consistency issues in recent weeks, his pair of victories puts him in good shape for a Chase Wild Card berth. 

Matt Kenseth also returned to his winning ways with a couple of checkered flags early and has put together one of his patented stealth-like seasons of consistent finishes. 

And after watching the wheels come off the entire operation last season, Penske Racing has enjoyed a resurgence with both Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski. Busch provided a few epic meltdown moments with crew chief Steve Addington back in May but the ship seems to have been righted and the No. 22 Dodge has run strong in the last month and a half. Teammate Brad Keselowski won at Kansas in June and has also shown a recent knack for consistent finishes. 

DISAPPOINTMENTS 

After winning eight races and contending for last year’s championship right down to the wire, Denny Hamlin seemed poised to come into 2011 on a furious charge. But the Joe Gibbs Racing got out of the gate slowly with a rash of engine issues inside the team not helping his cause. He has won one race and climbed back into Chase contention but Hamlin hasn’t been in the same form as he was a year ago. 

Jeff Burton has watched the rest of his Richard Childress Racing teammates enjoy solid first halves including newcomer Paul Menard, one of the more pleasant stories of the year. But for Burton it’s been nothing less than a nightmare with bad luck, mechanical issues and other circumstances adding up to a 25th position in the standings. 

Jamie McMurray was the king of last year’s big events takings victories at Daytona, Indianapolis and Charlotte. It’s been a completely different story in 2011 with the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing mired back in 28th place with only a pair of Top 10 finishes. 

Joey Logano was set to finally have his breakout Sprint Cup Series season after closing last year with a string of impressive Top 5 and Top 10 finishes. But after stumbling out of the gate, Logano has had to play catch up until recently putting together a streak of good runs that he hopes will continue as the season half kicks off. 




EMOTIONS RUN HIGH 

The second year of “Boys Have at It” has provided some spirited moments between many drivers with Kyle Busch and Harvick at the top of the list. The duo’s feud boiled over at Darlington when a couple of on track altercations boiled over to a post race pit road incident that saw NASCAR place both on probation. 

Other combatants have included Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, Brian Vickers, Robby Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya and Kasey Kahne to name a few. 

The battling wasn’t limited to only drivers. Team owner Richard Childress landed several punches on Kyle Busch after a truck race on track scuffle at Kansas. That also landed Childress on the NASCAR probation list. 

CONTROVERSIES ABOUND 

Despite compelling stories, good racing, better attendance and an upswing in television ratings NASCAR still found itself in the wrong light several times. 

The fisticuffs in the garage area and encouragement of on track paybacks helped reinforce a negative stereotype the sport has fought hard to overcome. Kyle Busch’s speeding violation of 128 mph in a 45 mph zone didn’t generate any positive exposure for NASCAR or its athletes. Yanking one of the most popular short track events in all of racing at Lucas Oil Raceway for a move to Indianapolis Motor Speedway outraged many long-time fans. And last weekend’s Kentucky debacle of traffic nightmares and a track clearly unprepared to host stock car racing’s elite division ruined what should have been a story of a sell-out crowd and inaugural race.
  

 
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