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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Random Thoughts and Notes

1.Jeff Burton (finished first): How can you not cheer for Burton to win a race? It’s the same reason that everyone would cheer if Mark Martin won a championship. The last 30 laps created one of the best finishes of the year, and Burton deserved to finally take the checkers.

Cup Chances: Burton has equaled consistency this year. Aside from the universal landmine, Talladega, Burton must conquer Martinsville to have a chance entering the home stretch.

2. Jeff Gordon (finshed third) -6 points behind. Gordon might be in the best shape of any driver. Two top fives at tracks where Gordon has lacked consistency. Gordon quietly worked up to third. Like Burton, Gordon had strong runs earlier in the year but faded at the end of races.

Cup Chances: They are looking pretty good. Texas and Phoenix are still question marks, but continued top 5 runs can ease the pressure by the end. He may have two wins by Texas.

3. Matt Kenseth (finished 10th) -18. It could have been worse, but it should have been better too. The 17 was the dominant car all day, and they were in first place when the caution came out. Both of these elements dictate that you do the safe thing, four tires and fuel. Force another car to risk something on pit strategy.

Cup Chances: Outstanding. Two races and two sub par finishes for the team’s expectations. When sub par is 10th that is a team that is going on. The 1.5 mile tracks are certain top fives, and everywhere else

4. Denny Hamlin (finished 9th) -18. He is in fourth place and yet still under the radar. There isn’t really a radar, and since NASCAR doesn’t allow telemetry on the cars, it would be pointless to have a radar. Still Hamlin is finishing well.

Cup Chances: No one thinks he has a chance and I don’t either. Hamlin’s dominant Pocono car hasn’t been as stout on other tracks. He will continue to grab top tens, but he must run up front more often to have a chance at Homestead.

5. Kevin Harvick (finished 32nd) -54 . He struggled all day and nearly walked away with a top ten. Blown engines happen and Harvick is still in good shape. He will rebound with a top ten at Kansas.

Cup Chances: Harvick has ran well everywhere all year and one tough day at Dover won't change his status as a serious contender.

6. Mark Martin (finished 14th) -75. Like many contenders, Martin got caught by a late caution and couldn't regain his lap. Dover is one of Martin's best tracks and needed to cash in. Martin runs very well at the 1.5 mile tracks, including a win last year at Kansas.

Cup Chances: He is in the hunt as long as his crew can keep him there. The large hurdle is Talladega. Martin has crashed early in the last three races at the longest track on the circuit.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr (finished 21st) -102. For the third week in a row a top five run was spoiled late. This one stemmed from a bad setup that wore out the tires too quickly. Kansas could help Jr rebound, he should be a favorite to get a top five or even win the race. Ignore his previous history, he has been fast at flat, intermediate tracks all year.
Cup Chances: The number 8 team no longer has the luxury to finish in the top ten. Some top fives are needed to draw closer in the points The next three races will be big for DEI. Not even Talladega is sure thing lately.

8. Jimmie Johnson (finished 13th) -136. There is still time, but Dover could have gone better for the 48 team. Johnson gained two spots in the standings but lost more points to the leaders.

Cup Chances: Johnson must turn it up now. Johnson has one top ten (Bristol) since his win at Indy. The 48 team must quickly find a way to run up front. The good news is the tracks line up very well after Kansas.

9. Kasey Kahne (finished 38th)-182. The 9 team is staying positive and they should be. They are probably too far back to catch the leaders, but they have a car that has won 5 races this year.

Cup Chances: Kahne needs a top five at Kansas and to finish the Talladega race in the top 15. Kahne has one lead lap finish at Talladega (13th in October '05). If he can accomplish both and the front runners have a problem, they have an outside shot at making it interesting.

10.Kyle Busch (finished 40th) -224. “We’re done.” Whether you like him or think he’s a jerk; Kyle Busch is pretty candid in interviews. Busch will still contend for a win in the final eight races.

Cup Chances: His chances are in the same shape as his Dover engine: Fried.

-The late caution for Scott Riggs’ crash was the pivotal point in the race. It trapped contenders Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jimmie Johnson a lap down. The fewer lead lap cars also insured Matt Kenseth from real disaster after running out of gas. Instead of tenth, it could have easily been 20th or worse.

-Kyle Busch won two races last year, but inconsistency put him 20th in the final standings. It was an impressive first year in Nextel Cup. This year there are three rookies with a realistic shot to make the top 20. Reed Sorenson and Clint Bowyer both exceeded expectations this year. Martin Truex sits in 23rd, disappointing, but still decent for a rookie. This rookie class actually lived up to the hype.

-The least interesting news item during the Chase. The battle for 11th place. Even after his crash on Sunday, Tony Stewart has a 200+ point lead on Greg Biffle. I formally submit my request to the networks and media outlets to not waste any more time on this story line. A million dollar bonus isn't that exciting to these guys anyway.

-The phrase “Drive for Five” is tired. Please stop now.

-Bill Elliott is driving R&J Racing’s #37 car this weekend at Kansas. He has now driven for MB2, Ray Evernham, Michael Waltrip and is scheduled to drive for Red Bull before the end of the year. The R&J deal is puzzling. Is Elliott that desperate to race that he joins a team that has one miraculous top ten finish in three years? Obviously Elliott is not ready for retirement.

-Mark Martin will drive 10-15 races for the No Fear #60 team next year. What happens if Martin decides to enter the Bud Shootout? Boris Said is also eligible for the Shootout thanks to his Pepsi 400 pole.