The NASCAR Sprint Cup (NSC) series drivers had last week off, the final breather of the 2012 NSC season. Now it’s racing every week leading up to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead Miami Speedway just before Thanksgiving. And while some drivers enjoyed the break with their family and friends, others elected to run in the NASCAR Camping World Truck (NCWTS) or the Nationwide Series (NNS) races.
When we last left our NSC teams, we were in Loudon, New Hampshire at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway rockin’ the Granite Stripe. Kasey Kahne came up the big winner, running a great race to beat out Denny Hamlin when the Checkered Flag waved. Clint Bowyer continued his surprisingly fast outings with a third-place finish. Dale Earnhardt, Jr continued his masterful runs in fourth, followed by Brad Keselowsi, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, and Ryan Newman rounding out the top ten.
So as we’re back in action this week, drivers, teams, and spectators turn to the hallowed ground of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) for the Crown Royal Presents the Curtis Shaver 400, a 160-lap, four hundred mile race around this famed 2.5-mile quad oval. IMS is like no other track on the NSC circuit, as it’s rather rectangular-shaped, and flat, with only nine degrees of banking. Race coverage begins Sunday at 10:00am EDT with the NASCAR Raceday Pre-Race show on SPEED, NASCAR Countdown to Green at 12:00pm EDT on ESPN, with the race broadcast likewise on ESPN at 1pm EDT. This weekend marks the first of ESPN’s race coverage, as they will carry the NASCAR broadcasts for the remainder of the season.
Raul Malo, lead singer for The Mavericks, will perform the National Anthem prior to the military flyover of two Marine Corps V-22 Osprey aircraft (these are the craft that can take off and land like a helicopter, then tilt its propellers and fly like an airplane). The Green Flag will wave at approximately 1:19pm EDT with Coors Light Pole Award winner Denny Hamlin leading the field, starting an afternoon of fast racing, lots of strategy, and an occasional encounter with the SAFER barrier. Michael McDowell and his #98 Ford had his qualifying time disallowed for having too high a nitrogen pressure in a rear shock absorber; Mike Bliss and his #19 Toyota will start at the rear of the field instead.
IMS is famous not only for hosting the annual Indianapolis 500 race earlier in the year, but also for its unique START/FINISH line made up of bricks a yard wide (hence the moniker “The Brickyard”). It’s home to many a sports legend, and was actually the first race track to include the word “Speedway” in its name. But we’ll see this weekend who gets to kiss the bricks, and who must hit the bricks.
Best Bets: Hendrick Motor Sports teammates take my top two picks this week.
Jimmie Johnson (#48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevy)- Jimmie has the highest number of NSC points here at the Brickyard the last four years. He’s got two of his three wins here in the last four years, but stumbled a bit the last two years. Three overall wins, three top-fives, and four top-tens at IMS says he’s more than capable of getting to kiss the Bricks. Johnson will be looking to add to his two wins, nine top-fives, and fourteen top-tens, and improve his fourth-place standing in the NSC points race. He starts sixth, and was sixth in final practice.
Kasey Kahne (#5 Farmers Insurance Chevy)- Kasey solidified his place as the lead wild card contender in the NSC points race last week with his win (second of the season) at New Hampshire, at least up to this point. He’s also got five top-five and ten top-ten finishes in this, his first year at Hendrick Motor Sports. Kasey is currently seventh-highest in points in the last four races at IMS, and although he’s only got two top-five and four top-ten finishes here, he seems to have more than a little momentum coming into this weekend. Kahne starts fifteenth, but was fourth-fastest in Happy Hour final practice (even though he won the first practice session). He and crew chief Kenny Francis have got something to prove here.
Probables: One inside, one outside the Chase standings with good hopes for Sunday.
Denny Hamlin (#11 FedEx Express Toyota)- Hamlin continued his streak of runner-up finishes at New Hampshire last week (making three second-place finishes in a row), and moved up two spots in the NSC points standings to fifth (79 pts back). Denny has only a top-five and two top-ten finishes to his name here, and is fourteenth highest in points earned in the last four races at IMS. As mentioned, Hamlin will lead the field to Green on Sunday, and with his recent resurgence, he wants to prove he deserves to be at the top of the NSC points race again (since he narrowly missed winning the Championship a couple years ago). Denny was only tenth-fastest in Happy Hour practice, but he will definitely work to keep at the front of the field in the opening laps.
Jeff Gordon (#24 Drive to End Hunger Chevy)- Gordon won the inaugural race at IMS back in 1994, and has added three more wins to that tally in the succeeding years. Along with those four wins, he’s got ten top-five and fourteen top-ten finishes to his name (including winning three Pole awards). Big Daddy has finished no worse than ninth in three of the last four races here, and is eighth-best in points earned in those last four outings. Jeff is still searching for that elusive first win of the 2012 season, but did manage to finish sixth last week at Loudon (which also allowed ALL FOUR Hendrick entries to finish in the top-ten). Gordon will start back in ninth Sunday, and although he was eighth-fastest in final practice, he was third in the first practice session.
Dark Horses: The Brickyard, like Talladega and Daytona, can be a difficult track to determine who will be up front when the Checkered Flag waves; here’s a few other possibilities for good runs Sunday.
Brad Keselowski (#2 Miller Lite Dodge)- Keselowski topped off a good weekend at New Hampshire, placing fifth after winning the NNS race two weeks ago. He’s currently occupying the tenth position in NSC points standings, and drivers like Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch hope that he continues to stay in the top ten (since he would take one of the wild card positions with his three wins this season, should he fall outside the top ten). The Blue Deuce has placed ninth, and nineteenth, in the last two races at IMS, and while Brad only has one top-ten finish to his name here, the momentum he’s got from his three wins, six top-five, and nine top-ten finishes gives him some additional mojo. Keselowski, one of Penske Racing’s two entries, is hoping to bring their first NSC trophy to team owner Roger Penske (he has fifteen Indy 500 victories). Brad kissed the Bricks and brought a Nationwide victory to Penske Saturday, winning the inaugural NNS race at the Brickyard; this may show a lot of promise for his expected performance Sunday. He’ll start back in twenty-second, but was eleventh-fastest in final practice.
Carl Edwards (#99 Fastenal Ford)- Cousin Carl sorely needs a win this season, and I mean in the next seven races, if he has any chance of competing for the 2012 NSC Championship. And because of a disappointing finish in eighteenth two weeks ago, he must do something. Edwards did have his crew chief replaced, as long-time man on the “war wagon” Bob Osborne, citing health (and likely performance) reasons, was replaced by Chad Norris, who himself has only “called” one NSC event. Carl is fifth in NSC points through the last four IMS races, and he’s finished no worse than fifteenth in those last four outings, including a runner-up finish in 2008. Sitting eleventh currently and on the outside looking in on the NSC points, his two top-five and nine top-ten finishes will need to get bolstered quite a bit before the Chase starts in only a few weeks. Edwards only has a top-five and three top-ten finishes at IMS; he’ll start on the outside of the front row next to Denny Hamlin, and was second-fastest in final practice. Perhaps it’s time to get back to Victory Lane?
Others you could potentially see up front include Tony Stewart and his #14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy, Joey Logano and his #20 Dollar General Toyota, Greg Biffle and his #16 3M Ford, and even Jamie McMurray and his #1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevy. Smoke is the only active driver I haven’t mentioned who has multiple wins here (two), and has been in the top six three of the last four IMS races. Biffle only has two top-five and five top-ten finishes, has been no worse than eighth the last four Brickyard events, and even starts fifth and won final practice. Logano has been top-twelve in two of the last three IMS events; McMurray was fourth last year, and won in 2010.
Rumor Mill: Just a couple of news and notes, amid a somewhat quiet two weeks…
Time for a Programming Change- AJ Allmendinger, after testing positive for a banned substance from the “A” sample a few weeks ago and removed from his #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge, had the “B” sample tested this past week (the “A” sample determines if there is a banned substance in one’s system, the “B” says what and how much exists). For the time being, he has been indefinitely banned from any NASCAR competition. To make his way back into NASCAR competition, Dinger has agreed to enter NASCAR’s “Road to Recovery” program, in the hopes of regaining a ride in NASCAR’s premier series. While the Penske driver still has a way to go, and still has yet to determine the source of the illegal substance, he seems to be remaining hopeful. Sam Hornish Jr, winner of an Indy 500 at IMS, will replace him this week, in the hopes of proving himself worthy of a more permanent ride.
Camaro to run Nationwide in 2013- Chevrolet unveiled the 2013 Camaro as its model line for the 2013 Nationwide series races, amide a flurry of enthusiasm from fans and drivers alike. After Camaro was re-introduced in 2009, it has taken the lead as one of Chevy’s most popular vehicles. Chevy decided it was time for a change. The model unveiled this week at Indianapolis hasn’t been tested yet on the track, so there will be some likely (and expected) design changes, but expect it to be fundamentally close to the street model it’s named for. “I’m like our fans — I’m a bit of a car guy — so this is an exciting moment for us,” NASCAR President Mike Helton said Thursday. “To have the Camaro now in the Nationwide Series, against the other pony cars, is kind of fun for an old guy.” I, for one, look forward to seeing it! (NASCAR.com)
There’s very little chance of rain at the Brickyard, so the six Jet Dryers officials have on hand will likely only be used to blow debris and Speedy-Dri off the track during Caution flags. The action will be broadcast on ESPN, with radio coverage on IMSProductions.tv or SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (channel 90). One of those sources, or NASCAR.com’s RaceBuddy, will be the only way to find out who kisses the Bricks. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@Speedglutton) for my in-race updates, news, and rants.
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