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Monday, March 19, 2007

View from the Couch: Atlanta

Atlanta was just what NASCAR needed: An exciting race with few cautions and even less controversy. After the cheating at Daytona, lots of cautions (including disputed debris) at California, the tire complaints and wrecks at Las Vegas an uneventful weekend suited all parties well. A tight finish made things even better. Unfortunately, the racing will take a weekend or two off while the focus returns to the Car of Tomorrow. Expect widespread panic this week as several teams complain about the new car, while the few teams that did their winter homework laugh all the way to Victory Lane.

I had to tape the race and watched it last night. As a result I was more concerned with finishing the race than analyzing the various coverage elements. Many will say that’s a good thing. The one thing that stuck out to me was green flag runs give the Fox crew less time to goof around. That means they are talking about racing instead of showing needless fluff or allowing DW to go off on tangents. I though the coverage was pretty good on Sunday.

A few thoughts:
Ignore DW because Mark Martin will not make the Chase. He plans to miss the next two races and will certainly skip more during the summer. Say he misses two races that he normally scores top 20’s. Considering how he has run so far this year, that’s a safe estimate. That’s at least 206 points Martin leaves on the table. It would be tough to make that difference up. That’s also not accounting for any bad runs Martin has. Martin doesn’t seem to care, so why does everyone else want to make a big deal out of it?

-Props to Mike Bliss and BAM racing. They failed to qualify in the first three races, but Bliss was 9th fastest at Atlanta and finished 21st.

-Juan Pablo Montoya had a great run at Atlanta. Ganassi’s equipment is really improved and Montoya is learning quickly. After his first Cup top 5 his reward is 1000 laps of short track racing over the next two weeks. People can complain about Montoya saturation, but he is pretty exciting to watch. One of the most impressive things about Montoya’s run was the tire management. Teams were reporting minor tire issues and other cars struggled on long runs. Montoya drove aggressively but consistently. Consider that in Formula 1, the cars run one set of tires for two entire races.

-Setting aside the engine woes at California, DEI might have graduated from being an overgrown one-car team. There are early signs that they finally have two teams that can run well every week. Martin Truex Jr scored a top ten Sunday and ran well at Daytona and Las Vegas too. Dale Earnhardt Jr has spent the majority of the last two weeks in the top five, but hasn’t finished well. The finishes will come at the speedways. It’s a significant improvement over previous years where Earnhardt Jr was the only car capable of running up front every week. Now we’ll see if DEI paid attention to the Car of Tomorrow.

Who Would Have Predicted…
…That Evernham cars would have two top ten’s and none on the intermediate tracks where they usually run so well.

…That David Ragan would have more top fives (1) than Greg Biffle (0).

…The most consistent Dodge to date would be David Stremme.

…That Toyota would have this much trouble. Only one car (#44 Dale Jarrett) currently sits inside the top 35. David Reutimann can’t seem to avoid trouble. He now has 3 crashes in 3 races and sits 43rd in points.

…That James Hylton would have as many points as Jeremy Mayfield and AJ Allmendinger and more than Michael Waltrip.

…That after four races, there is no sign of a feud between any two drivers. That should change next weekend in a small Tennessee town called Bristol.

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