Performance Enhancing Substances in NASCAR?
There is still one driver that is obviously using a substance to enlarge his stature.
A NASCAR blog based on stats and thoughtful opinion.
An NFL or NBA team that is out of playoff contention begins playing for next year. This often involves passively improving their draft pick status to land the next franchise player. Aside from waning fan support, there is no incentive for the bottom teams to remain competitive. For a losing franchise in the
Maybe the closest a
The Nextel Cup is only two races in, but some teams are already in a huge hole for 2007. The first big landmark will come after the
Based on the past three years, 400 points is the magic number for assured safety. That’s the average points total of the 32nd place driver after 5 races. With more full time drivers competing to make races, that might be too high. 400 points breaks down to averaging 80 points per race, or finishing 26th. For drivers like Brian Vickers and Paul Menard, who have already missed one race, the average bumps up to 100 points per race or a top 20 every week. Remember, Scott Riggs missed the Daytona 500 in 2006 and was back inside the top 35 by week 6. It’s not an impossible task.
Twelve drivers are trying to wriggle inside the top 35. The results range from sitting pretty to sitting on the edge of a cliff.
Joe Nemechek-A top ten at Daytona was huge. Nemechek currently has 259 points and sits 7th in points. Ginn Racing has obviously improved all three teams since last year. Nemechek is an excellent qualifier and the points he’s already accumulated provide additional cushion.
Johnny Sauter-After a disastrous 2004 rookie year with Richard Childress, Sauter has returned from Busch purgatory. He was always a good driver-he won a Busch race in 2005- but couldn’t land another Cup ride until this season. Two top 20 finishes in two races quietly puts Sauter on pace to sit inside the top 35 with room to spare. Maybe the bigger concern is ensuring his teammate Jeff Green is around to join him.
Dale Jarrett-It is a different story for Jarrett without his past champion provisional. Using the provisional buys Jarrett at least six races, but he hasn’t piled up points so far. He is 28th with 164 points, but struggled all day at
Sterling Marlin-Qualifying on speed is old news to Marlin, who spent a large part of 2006 outside the top 35. The cars have been better so far this season, but an early crash at
Brian Vickers-Team Red Bull finally made a race, and the finish was impressive.
David Reutimann-So far his record shows to races made on speed and three DNF’s including the Twin 150’s. He has been one of the fastest Toyotas in qualifying and certainly the most consistent of the MWR cars. Unfortunately he doesn’t have very many points to show for it. He sits 41st with 107 points. With two more speedway races and then the rookie-humbling
Paul Menard-All the attention is on his teammates and their blown engines, but Menard had a steady race at
Michael Waltrip-The 100 point penalty from Daytona is enormous. After missing the
Jeremy Mayfield-The second
AJ Allmendinger-It’s not surprising that the driver with no Cup experience would have the hardest time making races. What is surprising is that Allmendinger isn’t running the Busch series. He ran both truck races but he needs as much seat time as possible and Red Bull had to know it would be tough to do so at the Cup level. At least there are two road courses to circle on the calendar.
Mike Bliss, Ward Burton, Kenny Wallace-These teams all have limited resources and zero Cup starts in 2007. It will be a feat to make more than six races combined this year. It will be a greater feat if all three teams are still entering races by the summer.
With five to six outside drivers in good position to enter the top 35, other drivers will fall. Here are five candidates:
Scott Riggs-With a rough start, Riggs again finds himself with a potential battle for the top 35. The 25 point penalty makes the situation more serious. At least Riggs will get crew chief Rodney Childers back for
Kyle Petty-The 45 team spent last season struggling to regain a place in the top 35. With better funded teams looking to swoop in, Petty can’t afford many more DNF’s.
Ken Schrader-Schrader was the innocent victim of Dave Blaney’s reckless dive-bomb at Daytona. He is strong at short tracks, but he really needs strong runs at
Jeff Green-Green had a decent run at Daytona ruined by Jimmie Johnson’s crash. Green has always languished in the high 20’s, but that may not be enough this year.
Dave Blaney-A wreck and a blown engine put Blaney in a hole. He has an established team, but the Camry is far from a finished product. Blaney overachieved last season with an under-supported team. If he falls outside the top 35 to start the season it is a squandered opportunity.
-Having drivers surf in front of a blue screen. Get it? The race is in California. California is the only race venue where Fox feels compelled to havegimmicky promos. Scrap them all together.
-Larry McReynolds' favorite saying,“Guys I've been watching the __ car”. Dear Larry, watching cars is your job. I guess the alternative is doing a bit with corn dogs and fencing.
-I complain about Fox a lot, but they do a good job overall. Mike Joy is usually on top of the action and is quick to identify cars involved in wrecks. McReynolds and Jeff Hammond are at their best when they describe the technical aspects of racing and DW is DW. Fox also gets credit for catching most crashes, pit stops and restarts.
Daytona and Speedweeks are done. It was another interesting two weeks capped with a wild finish. It’s a fun way to get the season going, and stirs up interest, but Daytona has little overall bearing on the season. The next four races will play a huge part in who will succeed this season.
This week’s race at California will start answering questions about the season. There are no major changes to the aero package, so it is a good first look at who has their programs together.
Last year Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle dominated California. Many immediately assumed these were the two drivers to beat in 2006. Both had solid to good years, but were far from dominant on intermediate tracks.
Look at the top ten at California:
The Busch Series is in big trouble. So is the Truck series, but since I don’t get Speed TV, it’s rare for me to catch a Truck Race. The Diecast Dude wrote a very good post on the woes of the CTS. There isn’t a simple solution. \there are several complex issues that will take some vision, time and money. I hope to look at some of the problems with the series over the course of the season. Previously I questioned how the series can adequately develop young drivers. Now it's time to peer at the purses.
When you look at the weekly Cup entry list this year, it will top 50 every week. NASCAR officials love to point this out as evidence of the health of the sport. It’s partially true. Nextel Cup has an embarrassment of riches at the Cup level. Lots of prominent teams, plenty of big dollar sponsors and intense competition to simply make races each week.
Unfortunately the Busch and Truck entry lists are less than full fields heading to
One of the largest reasons for the Busch shortage is the prize money. It is a fraction of Nextel Cup purses. Kyle Petty won $248,050 for finishing 42nd in the Daytona 500. That’s more than double what Kevin Harvick won ($116,200) for winning the Orbitz 300 Busch race. In fact, Harvick’s $1.5 million check for the Daytona 500 was as much as the top 26 drivers in the Busch race.
If a team wants to turn a profit it is much easier to do so in Cup. Spend a little more with a significantly greater reward. Look at part time teams like Phoenix Racing and No Fear. Mike Wallace’s 4th place finish was worth $615, 658. That’s almost as much money that Wallace won in 23 Busch races last season. Obviously small part-time teams can’t count on a top five finish, but simply making a Cup race pays well. Boris Said made $307,375 for No Fear Racing.
The other problem is sponsors. In 2006 Harvick won nine races and the Busch Championship and still lost his sponsor. Either the Coast Guard got a lifetime supply of publicity last year, or they didn’t see the value in sponsoring a Busch car. If a Cup star and Busch Champion can’t hold on to sponsorship, how can Busch regulars hope to? The price for sponsorship in the lower levels is cheaper, but companies often prefer to move to the higher profile Cup scene.
After getting squeezed out the past few seasons by Buschwhackers, full-time Busch teams have either moved to Cup or packed up for good. Now the series will pay for that this year. There are plenty of reasons why the Busch series is struggling and likewise plenty of solutions. Increasing the prize money, especially for the full-time Busch teams, would give more incentive to stay with the series.
Airing all the races exlusively on ESPN plus a new title sponsor in 2008 is a good start. NASCAR now must ensure that the extra cash flow is properly reinvested in the Busch series and for the benefit of the series.
-Don't get mad at Kevin Harvick for “stealing” Mark Martin's win. He was doing his job. Everyone else wrecked on the final lap trying to pass Martin too. As much as Martin deserves to win a Daytona 500 (and a Cup for that matter), no one was going to simply sit back and hand it to Martin. And there's no doubt Martin would be upset if anyone did sit back and serve him the win.
-People complain the caution should have been thrown. If NASCAR throws the caution, people complain that a good finish was spoiled. Damned if you do...
-In the last two years, Hendrick won five of the eight restrictor plate races. they often placed multiple drivers in the top ten. They were easily the top plate program in NASCAR. Granted yesterday's race placed a greater emphasis on handling than pure horsepower, but aside from Kyle Busch, Hendrick's big guns were never a factor. Yes, Ginn and Haas cars have Hendrick power, and were strong yesterday, but they obviously found a package that worked better than the four in-house Hendrick cars.
-Three commercials really stuck out as entertaining. The Tony Stewart Sunoco commercial where he goes to the grocery store with a fan (and climbs a shelf). Denny Hamlin racing a scooter at a retirement home. Jimmie Johnson showing his Nextel Cup to Elliot Sadler.
-Worst in-race feature: Domino's Hot lap.Fox compared the times of the top five qualifiers on an arbitrary lap in the middle of the race. It is pretty meaningless at most tracks, but a fast lap at a plate race is almost as meaningless as qualifying in the top five. It was even worse when the “winner” of the Hot Lap was Jeff Gordon, who was running 28th at the time.
-Several full-time teams outside the top 35 had pretty good days. Joe Nemechek finished 7th, Johnny Sauter 15th, and Sterling Marlin 16th. Dale Jarrett is secure for the first six races but helped his cause with a solid 21st.
-Brian Vickers, Paul Menard and A.J. Allmendinger missed the Daytona 500, but at least they are still ahead of Michael Waltrip in the standings. Waltrip earned -23 points for his efforts Sunday.
-Lamest Quote: Mike Joy, “Can you hold your breath for 33 more laps?” Mike, that sounded a lot like something Bill Weber would ask. It's also easier to breathe with so many commercial breaks.
-I skipped the pre-race coverage, but was pleased with the race coverage. Fox didn't dwell on the cheating issues too much, and DW didn't even babble about Toyotas in excess.
-Maybe this is nitpicking. On ESPN's ticker it reads, “Kevin Harvick wins NASCAR Nextel Cup Daytona 500.” It's the biggest motorsports event in the US, and I think even the most clueless sports fan knows what sport the Daytona 500 is in. ESPN would never have to tell people that the Cardinals won the Major League Baseball World Series.
It’s not only because of Valentine’s Day that I say this, but my wife is pretty smart. She doesn’t really follow sports on her own time, but she is married to me. By default she has graduated beyond an elementary knowledge of sports. For instance she can identify the majority of the cars and drivers in Nextel Cup. From time to time I like to ask my wife what she thinks about current topics in sports. I simply present the facts without my opinion or editorial. It’s amazing how often she comes up with the most sensible answer. For example, I once explained how the BCS system worked in college football. She paused and then aksed, “Why don’t they just do a playoff? Wouldn’t that be easier?” Yes it would dear, yes it would.
Yesterday I told her what happened to Michael Waltrip and the other violators (she loves Kasey Kahne and Elliot Sadler, so the news hit hard for her). I explained that they ejected the respective crew chief/team director/man that sits atop the pit box, and also penalized Waltrip 100 points. Her first question was, “Why don’t they just kick the drivers out of the race?”
I think that echoes what many people think about this latest episode.
With all of the cheating prior to Daytona, I’ve really been wondering what the motivation is. Last year it was Chad Knaus, in 2005
I don’t like speculating and I have no concrete idea why they cheat. From what I can figure, there are two points worth mentioning. One, teams wouldn’t risk a 4 race suspension unless there was a gain greater than a fast qualifying run at a track where starting position is worthless. There has to be a good motive why teams are spending time and money on cheating. It can’t be as simple as what shows on the surface. No one would risk penalty for mere defiance.
The second point deals with the “why”. My thought is that teams are using Speedweeks as a giant test to see what will sneak past inspection in order to use these tricks at future tracks. It is possible that they try things at Daytona or
Instead of my speculation, I would love to see a credential-carrying reported get the reason from the garage. On a related note, is anyone being productive today during the Duels?
Is it possible that Thursday's Duel 150's could have more intrigue than Sunday's race? That's a stretch, but for a lot of teams it will set a tone for the season. Miss a race and it makes it much harder to enter the top 35 in points. Within the greater storyline to make the race, there are several smaller plots. Among the cars competing for the transfer spots, there are three formerDaytona 500 winners. Of the eight Toyota entries, only Jarrett and Dave Blaney have guaranteed spots. Two are certain to miss the race, but based on qualifying speeds, it will be more. Neither Toyota driver in the BudShooutout (Brian Vickers , Jarrett) did anything to show they are better in the draft than qualifying. Another problem is that one of the fastest Toyota's was Mike Skinner, a part-time entry. If Skinner makes the race, but teammate JeremyMayfield doesn't, how will Bill Davis handle that?The two highest finishing drivers in each heat will make the race, with a few exceptions. If any of the three top qualifiers (Said, Sauter or Marlin) finish in the first two transfer spots, the next fastest qualifier makes the race, which is Jeremy Mayfield, then David Reutimann . The same would happen with the past Champion provisional. If Jarrett captures on the the transfer spots, then the provisional would fall to Bill Elliott.
Handicapping the field, Jeremy Mayfield is in good shape in Heat 1. Ward Burton and Bill Elliott have both won Daytona 500's, but can't overcome the limits of their cars. AJ Allmendinger has one plate race in the Truck Series and Team Red Bull is yet to qualify for a Cup race. It's a real long shot for Allmendinger. It is hard enough for a rookie to get drafting help, let alone a rookie with almost no stock car experience. Michael Waltrip's car was impounded after qualifying. Apparently it's not an infraction, but it does cost the team time that they can't work on the car.Waltrip is a good plate racer who is capable of hooking up with the right drafting partners. It's a big help to have his teammate Jarrett in his heat.
In heat 2, David Reutimann is a rookie, but has raced in 6 plate races in the Truck and Busch series. He was one of the fastest Toyotas and has the best chance of the Toyotas to make the field. DEI traditionally has stronger cars in race trim which should allow Paul Menard to compete better than his qualifying time suggests. JoeNemechek will hope for the same thing, and Ginn racing does have Hendrick power to boos that effort. Brian Vickers is a good plate racer but the Toyotas haven't been very strong so far. Unless he learned something on Saturday night, his chances do not look very good. The X factor as far as full-time teams are concerned is Mike Skinner. He has made two of the last threeDaytona 500's as a part time driver and was one of the quicker cars on Sunday.
His greatest asset, though, may be a newfound mental toughness, one that requires him to focus on positive things instead of any shortcomings.
That could be the edge that pushes him over the top, allowing him to realize his potential and finally produce that much-anticipated breakout campaign.
Did he train under Pai Mei in the offseason, drink raw eggs every morning, or spend endless hours playing chess? No he just thought happy thoughts, which obviously worked for the fictitious Happy Gilmore.
For Tony Stewart, no season is uneventful, quiet or simple. By those criteria, it was a pretty normal season for Smoke. He won five races, stirred up controversy, fractured his shoulder blade, and missed the Chase.
Stewart’s season began in typical fashion with both success and controversy. A week after warning drivers of excessive bump drafting, it was Stewart getting penalized for ramming into Matt Kenseth at the Daytona 500. Despite damage, Stewart still finished 5th. The following week he led 28 laps before losing an engine late. He led laps in the first nine races, but only one win at
A funny thing happened on the way to engraving his trophy. Stewart’s summer was inconsistent and he failed to make the Chase. Stewart’s regular season was very similar to Greg Biffle’s, the driver who finished second to Stewart in 2005. Both ran very well in the majority of races, but often finished much lower than deserved. Cracks began showing in the spring at
One of the more entertaining images during the season was Stewart pounding dents out of his car after an early crash at
He was in the top five at
Suddenly he went from a lock for the Chase to sitting on the bubble. The final blow came at
Reduced to driving for wins, Stewart was free to experiment a little during the Chase. He won at
Aside from the disappointment of missing the Chase, Stewart’s season was impressive. He scored 5 wins for the second straight season, led the most laps, was third in top fives, second in earnings and fifth in driver rating. After a nearly flawless 2005, his 2006 effort was a pretty decent encore.
Stewart will begin 2007 like he did in 2006, a favorite to win the Cup and considered one of the best drivers in the world. The #20 team has every ingredient necessary for success. He can win anywhere; in fact there are only four current tracks where he hasn’t won. Joe Gibbs is one of the top three or four organizations in Cup and Greg Zipadelli is the longest tenured crew chief. It all points to one of the elite teams in NASCAR.
One of the tracks Stewart hasn’t won at is
No driver has repeated since Jeff Gordon nearly ten years ago and for good reason. There are more requirements and commitments for the current champion than other drivers. This can drain a driver and will ultimately hurt performance at some level. Without this burden Stewart could have another stellar and consistent season.
Maybe the only question mark for Stewart is the Car of Tomorrow. Gibbs and Stewart should cope well with the brand new car, but it is such an unknown that there is a chance to slip. Stewart can certainly drive any type of car on any type of track, so the new body type won’t be a problem granted Gibbs gives him adjustable cars. The only other question mark is his emotions, which can cost him at times.
Stewart will make the Chase this year. Despite last year’s struggles he still almost made the playoff field. With 12 spots, plus a few more points for each win, Stewart should coast into the Chase. Once he gets in he is an instant favorite to win it all.