Momentum and The Monster Mile

(photo courtesy of Leon Hammack)
Jimmie Johnson has emerged from the pack of twelve by winning the AAA 400 at Dover, and taking the first step towards winning his fourth consecutive championship in a row!  However, he still trails Mark Martin by 10 points in the championship standings.   Nonetheless, the Hendrick Motorsports #48 Lowe’s Chevy has established itself, as they have for the past four years, as the car to beat for the Championship!  Of the 52 races run so far in the six years of the Chase, Johnson and team have won 15!
Jimmie Johnson’s #48 Lowe’s Chevy was clearly the class of the field at Dover Sunday.  On his way to the victory, Johnson led 271 of the 400 laps that encompass the AAA 400 at Dover!  By having such a dominate car, Johnson, Knauss, and the whole #48  Lowe’s Chevy team has sent a message very loud and very clear to the other 11 Chase contenders!  That message simply states,” we are here, come and get us”!
Could this be the year that history is made with Johnson’s four consecutive championships?  Could this be the year that the oldest champion in NASCAR history is crowned with Mark Martin?  Could Jeff Gordon finally caps off “the drive for five”?  Will this be the year the crowns its first driver/owner since Alan Kulwicki won the championship in 1992?
What do you think?
The answer will unfold in the next eight weeks!

Dover Is Kind To Johnson!


(photo by Leon Hammack)

Because the Hendrick Motorsports #48 Lowe’s Chevy has been so good at short and intermediate tracks in the final 10 races of the year, the Chase tracks, however his great finishes at Dover have been somewhat overlooked.  The defending 3-time champion is looking for his first sweep of Dover since his rookie season, 2002, where he led a combined 358 laps.  Five Chase starts at Dover have brought him a win in 2005 and two other top 10’s.

Johnson was the dominate car in May, leading 298 laps and getting his fourth win in 15 starts there.  In spite of all the evidence that would lead one to believe that Johnson is the favorite for Sunday’s AAA 400 race, the driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevy takes a wait and see approach.

You can’t blame Johnson for being somewhat superstitious.  None of the fall Dover winners have gone on to win the championship, Greg Biffle was the latest example winning the 2008 race.  After all Johnson is trying to become the only driver to win 4 consecutive Championships in a row!

But the #48 Lowe’s team has already made history in the Chase and has reason to be confident in their ability to break “the curse”.  While Johnson would like to sweep at Dover, it is not necessary.   However, a good finish at Dover would put the team in a good position to break through at the 1.5 mile tracks of Kansas and Lowe’s.

If history serves this reporter well, Johnson has won 14 of the 51 races that compose The Chase to The Cup since it was conceived!  Does that make Jimmie Johnson the favorite for the 2009 Championship?  You tell me!  Look where he is standing  in  the Chase standings, 2nd position just 35 points behind the leader.

What do you think about Jimmie Johnson’s chances of making history by winning four consecutive championships?


Is Busch Toast?


(photo by Leon Hammack)

Kurt Busch is a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan.

At this point of the 2009 season the #2 Miller Lite Penske Racing Dodge race team is resembling the yearly struggles that haunt those Cubbies and their clubhouse struggles that ensue!  After the Richmond race, it was acknowledged that his crew chief, Pat Tryson, was leaving the team and heading to Micheal Waltrip Racing’s #56 Napa Toyota driven by Martin Treux, Jr in 2010.

Tryson has come out publicly last week stating that his departure from Penske Racing has nothing to do with Kurt Busch.  But listening to the team scanner during the Louden race would indicate that “the driver/crew chief chemistry” has turned into a NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST! The team radio transmissions from the Louden race indicates that Busch and Tryson may, in fact, have some serious issues!  Additionally, Penske has banned Tryson from the Penske Racing facility except, for the Tuesday team meeting.  Pat Tryson has been effectively separated from the entire team, except at the Tuesday meeting and the race track.

It appears that the #2 Penske Miller Lite Dodge is in a downward spiral out of control at a time when the team is trying, in vain now,  to win the 2009 championship!

How can this team survive the deep division?


Could This Be The New Champion?


(photo by Leon Hammack)

With all the attention focused on the 50 year old, twice returned out of semi-retirement, Mark Martin, the #11 JGR FedEx Toyota driven by Denny Hamlin has quietly surged into a contenders role!  Because the team scored a win at “the last race of the regular season”, Richmond, momentum has moved into their race shop!  In the races leading up to The Chase For The Cup, Hamlin’s team has scored 4 top 10’s and 2 top 5’s.  And did I mention that Hamlin finished second at Louden, and is tied with Jimmie Johnson for second place 35 points behind Mark Martin!

In order to be a contender all the way to the finale in Homestead, Hamlin must come out of Dover with a great finish.  Going onto this weekend’s race, Hamlin has four consecutive finishes outside the top 35, including a last place finish in June 2008!  According to NASCAR  statistics, Hamlin has 7 Dover starts with an average finish of 22.1 and leading only 61 laps!  Those statistics are not exactly sterling for this championship contending team.  It is imperative that they overcome this tendency!

Still the entire #11 FedEx JGR Toyota team is extremely upbeat, especially Denny Hamlin.  “We are really good and getting better and I think that sets up for a good run at Dover”, Hamlin reveals.  It’s important that we have a good finish, but at Dover it’s important just to finish”, Hamlin adds.

Even though NASCAR has moved their celebration banquet from New York City to Las Vegas starting this year, if the #11 FedEx JGR Toyota team gets their wish it will be held at, you guessed it, DENNY’S!!

Do you think that this team has a viable shot at winning the championship?  What do you think?


Youth Be Damned!


(photo by Leon Hammack)

Fall is in the air and the temperature in the Northeast is cooling down.  That is, all but the temperature at New Hampshire International Speedway!  Sunday the racing was BLISTERING HOT for one 50 year old driver of the #5 Hendrick Motorsports Kellogg’s/Carquest Chevy, named Mark Martin.

The Chase is on and the racing was hot, fast, and furious.  The 12 Chase contenders came out of the box smoking.  The racing throughout the 300 laps race was both hard and very clean, considering what is at stake at the end of this 10 race segment.

The sentimental “dark horse” just struck one for the old guys!  This one race does not the Chase make, but it is a start!  Remember last year, however, Greg Biffle started out the Chase with two victories only to peter out  in the end.

This race, the starting of the the crucial 10 race SPRINT to the Cup, is going to be laced with several sub-plots that, indeed, will hold our interests for the remainder of the next nine weeks!

Who will prevail at Homestead?  Will there be more “dark horse” winners?  Will history be made with a four-pete?  Will the oldest driver in NASCAR history win a championship?

What’s your take on The Chase to The Cup?


Let The Chase Begin!


Photo by Leon Hammack)

It is almost the beginning of fall in the Northeast when the leaves turn spectacular colors and the road become clogged and snakelike similar to a huge line of ants marching away with their “bounty”.  But this weekend the roads will be clogged with NASCAR fans heading to Louden,N.H, which marks the annual start of  The Chase to The Cup for the  NASCAR faithful!

The sacred 12 have been cast in stone for this annual affair.  But who will prevail at Homestead?  The question will take 10 weeks to answer with, most likely, a few twists and turns in the journey to The Cup.

It appears that the consensus “talking heads” , myself included, think that the front-runners for this year’s Championship are Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Tony Stewart.  Each one of these teams would bring their own flare if they were able to capture the 2009 Sprint Cup Championship.

For Jeff Gordon, it would complete his “drive for five” Championships.  Most likely his last great opportunity, in light of his chronic back problems.  Could Jimmie Johnson complete something that has never been done in the entire 60 years history of NASCAR, 4 championships in a row?  Tony Stewart could be the first owner/driver to win the Sprint Cup Championship since Alan Kulwicki did it in 1992.

There are three “dark horses” that could steal the show in this year’s Chase for The Cup.  The sentimental dark horse is  the 50 year old, Mark Martin.  Another dark horse for this year seems to be the former Formula One driver, JPM, Juan Pablo Montoya.  But the dark horse that just might have the best potential to upset the entire fleet is Brian Vickers.  That team has scored more points in the last 10 races than any other team.

Whom ever you think has the best chance, the one thing that is factual, the team must put together 10 good races.  There are no mulligans!  If you are going to win the championship, top 5’s are a must!  Recall that last year Jeff Gordon averaged a 5.2 finish throughout The Chase and ended up in second place!

Let the Chase begin!


The 2009 Chase Analysis


(photo by Leon Hammack)

The pre-Chase season has ended!  All twenty six races in the 2009 pre-season are complete.  Now it time for the Top 12 to “pull your belts down tight, pull your gloves up over your elbows, flip your visor down, and get focused on the next 10 races”!  “It is time to let the Big Dog eat”!

I am going to try to look at the 12 drivers and handicap their chances, kinda sorta!

There are four teams that start 40 points out of first place.  Those teams are, the #42 Target EGR Chevy of Juan Pablo Montoya (JPM), the #39 Army Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy of Ryan Newman, the #15 3M Roush-Fenway Racing Ford of Greg Biffle, and the #99 Aflac Roush-Fenway Ford of Carl Edwards.  Of those four teams, keep your eye on the #42 Target Chevy of JPM!  That team has been very consistent in their last 10 races and could be a very dark horse in the Chase!  Cousin Carl has that delicate broken “loud pedal” foot that may prove to be a handicap for him as the Chase drags on.

There are three teams that sit 30 point out of first place.  Those teams are the #24 Dupont Hendrick Motorsports Chevy of Jeff Gordon, the #83 Red Bull Toyota of Brian Vickers, and the #2 Miller Lite Dodge of Kurt Busch..  Brian Vickers has scored the most points of any team in the last 9 races, keep your eyes on that team!   Jeff Gordon, a four-time Cup champion, has been very consistent in the finishes in the last half of the pre-season.  Kurt Busch, a past Cup Champion, is rebounding and could have something for the other 11 drivers.

The next group is 20 points back in the Chase.  The #9 Budweiser Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge of Kasey Kahne is just one week removed from a big victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway Labor Day Weekend.  The  #11 FedEx Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin is coming off a very emotional and momentum type victory at Richmond International Raceway Saturday night.  That victory could give them something for Louden this weekend.

Just 10 points back of the leader is the #14 Office Depot Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy of two time Cup Champion Tony Stewart.  In this same group being 10 points back is the #48 Lowe’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevy of the current defending and 3 time Cup champion, Jimmie Johnson.  Jimmie Johnson has won 14 of the 50 races that have been held in the current Chase format!  That speaks volumes in and of itself!!  But can that team defy all odds and be the only team in NASCAR history to win 4 championships in a roiw?  Tony Stewart has slumped as of late in the season, but still a force to be reckoned with for the Chase.

Alone at the top of the Chase is the 50 years old KID, the #5 Kellogg’s/Carquest Hendrick Motorsports Chevy of Mark Martin.  That teams has been performing very consistently in the last 10 races of”the pre-season”.  Could this be the year that Martin wins his first Championship?  He has finished second on more than one occasion!

This is a very tough one to call!  However, the team that comes out of the box at Louden growling, biting, clawing, and fighting, just might have the best chance to take their team to Homestead with a lead in Chase!

What is your take on this years Chase?  Who is your favorite to win?


2009 Chase Class

The field for the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship has been set.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
(photo by Rusty Garrett/ Getty Images)
Well gang, these are the players involved in the Class of 2009 Chase Contenders!  There a couple of fresh faces this year, JPM (Juan Pablo Montoya), Mark Martin, Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne, and Ryan Newman.  The other seven players are “the traditional strong teams” of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart (new team Stewart-Haas Racing), and Greg Biffle.
1.    Mark Martin
2.   Tony Stewart
3.   Jimmie Johnson
4.   Denny Hamlin
5.   Kasey Kahne
6.   Jeff Gordon
7.   Kurt Busch
8.   Brian Vickers
9.   Carl Edwards
10.  Ryan Newman
11.  Juan Pablo Montoya
12.  Greg Biffle

Chevy Rock and Roll 400


(photo by Leon Hammack)

He finally won a Cup race at his”home race track”, Richmond International Raceway!  In spite of Denny Hamlin winning the Chevy Rock and Roll 400, he  was only one part of the big story Saturday night in Richmond, VA.  At the culmination of the Chevy Rock and Roll 400, the top 12 are set for this year’s “Chase for the Cup”! The contenders have a familiar ring for the most part, however, there are a few “newbies” in the class of 2009’s Chase for the Cup.  ( More on those teams in another article later!)

The #11 FedEx Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was the class of the field at Richmond International Raceway Saturday night!  Hamlin led 298 out of the 400 laps that make up the race distance.   This isn’t the first time that Hamlin has dominated the race at Richmond, however it was the first time the #11 FedEx Toyota scored a victory there!

Throughout the 400 lap race there were subplots and story lines running and changing with every lap of the race.  Who is in the Chase and who is out of the Chase at that particular juncture of the race was changing constantly!!  It made for good drama for the race fans at the track, as well as those watching on TV.  The most interesting subplot for this reporter was the race between Brain Vickers and TLVW (The Las Vegas Weasel/Kyle Busch).  They have some history from back at Michigan a few weeks ago, remember the race to the checkered flag that they both lost to one Brian Keselowski??  Both Vickers and ol Kylie Busch were racing for the last spot , 12th position in the Chase.  Since Kenseth was having a terrible race, and had basically fallen out of 12th, these two were racing to fill that spot!  At the end of the race, it was Brian Vickers who raced his way into 12th spot beating ol Kylie by a mere 8 points!

THAT IS DRAMA! (And TNT thinks they know drama??)

In addition to scoring the victory at Richmond, Hamlin takes a big bag of momentum with him to the start of the Chase next week at Louden, NH.  It is important to go into this Chase for the Cup, a ten race shootout, with momentum on your side.  There was pressure throughout the first 26 races on the race teams to make the Chase, but now the pressure really mounts and we can really separate the contenders from the pretenders!

Now that the 12 Chase contenders are identified, the teams now must size up their opponents, dig deep for additional strength and performance.  It is time to see just what you are made out of for the next ten weeks!



The Ball Is In Kyle’s Court!


(photo by Leon Hammack)

Tonight is the night!!!

It is Saturday night in Richmond and it is crunch time in the Sprint Cup! Kyle Busch, “The Wonder Kid”, “The Las Vegas Weasel”, “The Whiner”, “The Spoiled Brat”, call him what you might,  but one thing you can’t call him, is in “THE BIG SHOW”!! But the bottom line is Busch is on the outside looking in for the Chase for The Cup.  He is tied with Mark Martin with the most wins by a driver this season, four victories.  In spite of being tied with the most victories in the 2009 season, that team has been very erratic in their performances in 2009 and is currently two positions outside the Chase !

With one race to go to solidify the top 12 in the Chase to the Cup, ol Kylie Busch finds himself in 14th place, 37 points out of “THE BIG SHOW”! The JGR #18 M&M’s Toyota has their work cut out for them in order to make the top 12.   They have to finish significantly better than more than half of those teams that are in positions 1-12 in order to pick up more than the requite 37 points needed to get into “THE BIG SHOW”!!

Tonight there will be races within this race!  There are about four teams that have a chance to move into the top twelve and they will be extremely aggressive trying to get into the Chase. Those teams who have already locked into the Chase,  may be pushing really hard to try to pick up bonus points with one more win.  Some teams may instead be using this race to test some new setup items for possible use during the Chase.

Anyway, it is Saturday Night, it is Richmond, and it’s the end of the regular season! There will be some radiator spewing and fender chewing going on tonight!!