Quite a race and such controversy from last week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup (NSC) All-Star Race at the 1.5-mile quad oval track of the Charlotte Motor Speedway (CMS). Jimmie Johnson and his #48 Lowe’s team came home with a near walk-off win (sorry for the baseball metaphor) as he dominated not only in winning the first segment, but the final segment after spending segments two, three, and four “sandbagging” as some have termed and after the well-timed pit stops that put him at the front of the pack for most of the final ten laps. Matt Kenseth finished the second segment in first, with Brad Keselowski taking the third, and a huge fan ovation as Dale Earnhardt Jr took the fourth segment. And since Dale Jr would have likely won the Fan Vote, his victory in the fourth segment enabled the Fan Vote to go to Bobby Labonte.
Lots of emotion and consternation this week following the All-Star race, not just for the format itself, but how the winners of the first three segments were effectively allowed to run in the back of the pack, avoid any wrecks, only to line up and start in the front, thus gaining the relative advantage. While I don’t agree with the tactic of hanging in the back until the final shootout, I think NASCAR officials are very close to a useful and entertaining format for the All-Star race. Can’t please everyone, but most do have to admit, this race showed some of the best competition so far this season.
The NSC professionals and their teams travel back to the Charlotte Motor Speedway (CMS) for the Coca Cola 600, the longest race on the NSC schedule. Since this is Memorial Day Weekend, we’re up for some rare Sunday Night racing, where we not only celebrate and honor those in the Armed Forces who have perished while defending the Constitution and the freedom we have enjoyed, but the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who currently serve and uphold that freedom today.
To help celebrate this event, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin will serve as the race’s Grand Marshal, with Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory waving the Green Flag at 6:16pm EDT as the race’s honorary starter. U.S. Army Col Gregory Gadson (also making his acting debut in the movie “Battleship”) will give the Command to Fire Engines following the National Anthem performed by Darius Rucker (former lead singer for Hootie and the Blowfish), and a pre-race flyover of a U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress from the 307th Bomb Wing, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.
Television coverage for this event begins at 3:30pm EDT Sunday with NASCAR Raceday on SPEED, NASCAR Pre-Race on FOX at 5:30pm EDT, with the race coverage itself at 6:00pm EDT on FOX. There is only one car due to start at the tail end of the field, as Kurt Busch’s #51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevy crashed during qualifying. The field will run 400 laps for a total of 600 miles, in a race that tests not only the driver, but the machine. And, despite any lingering possibility of rain from Subtropical Storm Beryl, it currently looks like we’ll be rain-free.
My guess is that while a lot of Coca Cola will be consumed, there will be many people far from having a Coke and a smile. Many teams are out to prove themselves with their first win of the season, while some are out to extend their leads on the season’s performance in this, the twelfth race (and 1/3-mark) of this 2012 NSC season. Expect some hard racing on Sunday, with numerous Caution Flags waving throughout the evening. I don’t think it’ll get to the current record number of Caution Flags with 22, but I would bet it’ll be at least a dozen. Aric Almirola, the Coors Light Pole Award winner, will lead the field to Green in his #43 U.S. Air Force Ford (rather appropriate for Memorial Day), with Marcos Ambrose and his #9 DeWalt Ford completing the all-Petty front row for Richard Petty Motorsports.
Best Bets: My first pick is an easy one; question is whether he’s the only one…
Jimmie Johnson (#48 Lowe’s Patriotic)- Well, hate to say I called it last week, but this is still Jimmie’s house. He announced that last week with authority in the All-Star race, and I don’t think he’s going to fool around at all this weekend. Jimmie has finished no worse than third on the last three 1.5-mile tracks, and has six wins, ten top-five, and fourteen top-ten finishes here in the Queen City. With his one win at Darlington, five top-five, and eight top-ten finishes out of the eleven races thus far, “Five Time” seems to be back for more. He’ll start third, and was fourth-fastest in final practice. Don’t be surprised to see Johnson lead a LOT of laps tonight.
Matt Kenseth (#17 Fastenal Ford)- Matt’s been consistent here at CMS. He’s posted two wins, seven top-fives, and thirteen top-ten finishes, and has a win as recently as last fall. He’s been no worse than fourteenth the last four races at Charlotte, and with a win, six top-five, and seven top-ten finishes, his second-place standing in Sprint Cup points tells me he’s more than just in the hunt for a Championship. Matt also won the second segment of the All-Star race last week. He will start twentieth, and was seventh in final practice.
Probables: These two typically do well on 1.5-mile tracks. Question is if they can manage a win at Charlotte?
Greg Biffle (#16 3M/O’Reilly Auto Parts Ford)- Biffle sits atop the NSC standings right now, and has finished no worse than fifth the last three 1.5-mile track races. His last three races at CMS, he’s managed to finish no worse than fifteenth, posting a P15, P13, and P5 for those outings. Greg only has a win, six top-five, and seven top-ten finishes for the eleven races run so far this season, and only has a two point advantage over teammate Matt Kenseth. He’ll start fourth, and was fifteenth in final practice.
Carl Edwards (#99 Fastenal Ford)- ”Cousin Carl” is the last of the three Roushketeers, and I’m thinking he’ll be riding up front a lot tonight. Although he’s starting back in the 28th position, Edwards was the second-fastest car during Happy Hour final practice. He’s still winless here at CMS, but has five top-five and eight top-ten finishes. Carl’s managed to keep himself in tenth place in the NSC standings, and is only 74 points behind current leader and teammate Greg Biffle. Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne, I’m guessing, have something up their sleeves for tonight.
Dark Horses: True DHs this week, but one has lots of time logged in Victory Lane at Charlotte.
Mark Martin (#55 Aarons Armed Forces Foundation Toyota)- ”The Kid” has been quite the surprise for the few races he’s run this year. While only on a part-time schedule, Mark’s managed to post a top-five and four top-ten finishes for team owner Michael Waltrip. He’s got four wins, eighteen top-five, and twenty-three top ten finishes at CMS, so he’s no stranger to crossing the stripe here first when the Checkered Flag flies. Starting sixth, Mark was third-fastest in final practice.
Some others to be on the lookout for include Kurt Busch’s #51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevy, AJ Allmendinger’s #22 Shell/Pennzoil-AAA Dodge, and his teammate Brad Keselowski and the #2 Miller Lite Dodge. Busch wrecked his car during the early part of the weekend, and ran ninth in final practice, the “Dinger” has hit the board with a third and seventh-place finish in two of the recent races, and Kes (aka Mr Twitter) has two wins, three top-five, and five top tens to his name this season; he also won final practice.
Rumor Mill: Polarizing is an understatement to describe this week’s NASCAR newsmakers.
NASCAR Unpatriotic?- A pair of U.S. Congressmen have proposed a bill (again) to limit or even prohibit U.S. Government sponsorship of NASCAR. Reps Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Jack Kingston (R-GA) co-sponsored a new version of a bill originally proposed previously by McCollum (voted down in Congress last year), that not only prohibited government funding of NASCAR, but in the newly proposed amendment to the $608 billion defense bill added in “None of the funds made available in this act may be used to sponsor professional or semi-professional Motorsports, fishing, wrestling or other sports.”
Citing a lack of return on investment, Kingston added, “I think that if Southern, pro-NASCAR people say, ‘You know what, I love NASCAR [and admits he has yet to attend a NASCAR event] but this is not a good recruiting tool (and) we’ve got to make some serious decisions in the name of the [USA].’ I think NASCAR fans would appreciate that.”
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion and FOX television broadcaster Darrell Waltrip, interviewed on Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends Weekend Saturday, said of Rep Kingston’s comments, “someone who needs to do a little more homework.”
National Guard and other recruiting sources have confirmed that NASCAR sponsorship has a very positive effect on recruiting, considering that in 2009, 43,934 signed up for an online program, with 38,846 qualified leads were generated. If you’ve wandered through the merchandise haulers and vendor displays outside the track on any given race weekend, you’ll find hundreds of young adults taking the physical fitness challenges, trying out the flight simulators, and the like…I would beg to differ with the Congressmen’s limited experience-based assessment.
Looking back on previous comments I’ve made about NASCAR “haters”, I think one particularly applies to Rep Kingston: Don’t knock NASCAR if you’ve never been to a race. (ArmyTimes.com and AutoWeek.com)
Danica Mania, revisited- Danica Patrick was back in the forefront of the news this week, as Sunday marks the presence of NSC’s only female driver, and her absence from the Indianapolis 500 (also run Sunday). She’ll start her third NSC race Sunday night for the Coca Cola 600. Many stock car an open-wheel fans alike discussed how Danica gets a “pass” by the media, who supposedly defend Patrick in how much media attention she receives in only her first year in full-time stock car competition.
While I think she does garner significant media exposure, her polarizing storylines make me want to just tell everyone to chill out. Danica is doing nothing but learning right now. Her continually improving finishes in the Nationwide Series (NNS) are encouraging, but that’s only because this is where she has the most experience so far. If she runs, and finishes, the Coca Cola 600 this weekend, it will be a huge victory for her, just like her Darlington finish a couple weeks ago.
Will she win an NSC race this season? I doubt it. Will she end up in Victory Lane from a NNS win? Probably. Either way, her star (and stock) are on the rise. Just wait until she gets a little more time in her NSC ride.
NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2013 set: This past week, the fourth NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees were selected in Charlotte, NC. Out of a nominee class of twenty-five, only five were selected. Herb Thomas, Leonard Wood, Cotton Owens, Buck Baker, and a surprise selection in Rusty Wallace will be inducted into the HoF next January (NASCAR.com).
Final Thoughts: This weekend, while you enjoy your BBQ, time at the lake, pool, or the beach, or watching your favorite sporting event, take a moment and remember the true meaning of the weekend: To remember and celebrate those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in laying down their lives for this great nation, and pray for those who stand watch today to defend us.
So tune in to FOX, your local Performance Racing Network affiliate, or on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch 90) for the racing action, and their selection of drivers’ radio channels. And as normal, I’ll be making race updates, analysis, and occasional rants, so follow me on Twitter (@speedglutton).
LET FREEDOM RACE!!!
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