May 22, 2015

Charlotte: Three Drivers To Watch

Coca-Cola 600 Race Preview

Jimmie Johnson is a heavy favorite, having won seven races
at Charlotte Motor Speedway, including last May. (Getty)
The 10 Days of Thunder at Charlotte Motor Speedway are far from a break for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but it does provide the opportunity for drivers to hit the reset button.  The Sprint All-Star Race is a relatively short feature.  The proximity to most of the driver's residences in the Charlotte area allows for a few restful weeks (unless your significant other just had a baby, in the case of Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski).  And, this week's qualifying was run on Thursday in advance of Sunday night's race.

It's go time now, though.  The upcoming race will be a 600-mile marathon, the longest race in the sport by 100 miles.  This grueling test will help set the stage for the second half of the regular season leading up the the Chase.

Here's a look at three drivers to keep an eye on in the Coca Cola 600:

Green Flag - Jimmie Johnson

Johnson's win in this race last year put him alone on the leaderboard with seven career wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway (and that doesn't even include the four All-Star Races he's won at the facility).  Consider him a heavy favorite in this one.

May 13, 2015

All-Star Race: Three To Watch

NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race Preview

Jimmie Johnson has won four Sprint All-Star Races
and enters the weekend red hot in 2015. (Getty, 2013)
The early portion of the NASCAR season is officially over.  This weekend, the Sprint Cup Series won't be racing for points and instead showcase its top drivers in the All-Star Race.

While the series is still two short of being halfway to the Chase, this event serves as a mid-point in the regular season.  Coming out of the All-Star weekend, the races will count off faster than desired for drivers still looking to secure a spot in the postseason.  The temperatures will warm up and so will the competition for a berth in the Chase.

For the top contenders, it kicks off this weekend.  Sure, they won't be accumulating points, but they will be battling for a $1-million prize.

Here's are three drivers to keep an eye on in this showcasing event:

Green Flag - Jimmie Johnson

Last week's win at Kansas gives Johnson five consecutive finishes of third or better with two wins in that stretch.  He's the all-time winningest driver in the All-Star Race with four, so he certainly knows how to get up front in this unique format.  He's a clear favorite.

May 12, 2015

Magic Mile Power Rankings: Kansas

Next Up: Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Jimmie Johnson is quietly having one of the best seasons of his career. His victory on Saturday night at Kansas Speedway was hardly a surprise given he's been dominant on the mile-and-a-half tracks in his career. But what is surprising is that Johnson is now on pace to equal the best season of his career when he won 10 races en route to the championship in 2007.

With three wins in the first 11 races this year, Johnson has re-established himself as the sport's top driver, even in spite of the great season defending champion Kevin Harvick is having. Johnson has five straight top-three finishes, including a pair of wins. 

Those numbers are a guarantee for him to be atop the Magic Mile Power Rankings once again this week, but who's in the second spot: Junior or Happy? 

MMPR format:
Win: 10 points
Top-5: 5 points
Top-10: 3 points
Most Laps Led: 2 points
Pole: 1 point
21-30: Minus-1
31-40: Minus-3
41-43: Minus-5
*The most recent five races are counted.
(Last five weeks' point total in parentheses)

Here's a look at the MMPR heading into the 12th race of the season at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 24 in Concord, N.C.:

1. Jimmie Johnson (37 points)  It's been a great month for Johnson, whose worst finish in the last five races is a third at Richmond. And with Charlotte (seven career wins) and Dover (nine career wins) next on the calendar, it's safe to assume the 48 will still be here in June, too.
Last week: First, --

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (22 points) – Junior's third on Saturday night was his best Kansas finish since a second-place finish at the midwest speedway back in 2011. He definitely seems to be on the right track after a rough stretch at Phoenix (43rd) and Martinsville (36th).
Last week: Fourth, +2

3. Kevin Harvick (17 points) – This guy is just ridiculous. In 11 races this year, Harvick has eight finishes of second or better. Yeah, you read that right. That 38th at Bristol is the only blip on an otherwise flawless radar.
Last week: Second, -1

4. Kurt Busch (16 points) – Saturday night was a strong statement from Busch, whose best finish at Kansas in two starts last season was 42nd and 29th. In fact, Busch's eighth-place finish was just his fifth top-10 in 19 career starts.
Last week: Sixth, +2

5. Martin Truex Jr. (15 points) – Only Harvick has as many top-10s this season as Truex, who led a race-high 95 laps on Saturday night before fading to a ninth-place finish. 
Last week: Eighth, +3

6. Matt Kenseth (15 points) – Kansas is a good track for Kenseth, who won back-to-back races there in 2012-13. His sixth-place finish on Saturday night was sixth finish of sixth or better in his last nine starts there.
Last week: Third, -3

7. Jeff Gordon (14 points) – Gordon has turned an outside-the-top-10 qualifying position into a top-10 finish in four of his last five starts. The only time he didn't? When he won the pole at Talladega and finished 31st – the only reason he remains seventh on the MMPR.
Last week: Seventh, --

8. Joey Logano (11 points)  Sliced Bread's last five finishes: fourth, 40th, fifth, 33rd, fifth.
Last week: 10th, +2

9. Ryan Nemman (11 points) – His 12th-place finish at Texas was the worst of a stretch of five races that includes on one top-five.
Last week: NR

10. Jamie McMurray (8 points) – Since a 40th at Atlanta in Week 2, McMurray's worst finish is a 21st at Fontana. A victory is the only thing keeping the NASCAR world from taking the 1 team seriously.
Last week: Ninth, -1

Wave Around: Aric Almirola –  It's been kind of a ridiculous run for Almirola, who has yet to log a top-10 this season, yet has only one finish outside the top 20. His 11th-place finish on Saturday night was his third of the year. 

*This list is comprised of drivers that compete in the Sprint Cup Series on full-time basis.

May 6, 2015

Kansas: Three Drivers to Watch

SpongeBob SquarePants 400 Race Preview

NASCAR heads back to its 1.5-mile bread-and-butter this weekend.  While the SpongeBob SquarePants sponsorship suggest an underwater theme, the race track, Kansas Speedway, is just about the farthest from the ocean as any on the schedule.  Ironic?  Perhaps, but it's a fun sponsor for what should prove to be a fun race.

Here's a look at three drivers to watch in this race:

Green Flag - Jimmie Johnson

He's on a hot streak right now with four consecutive finishes of third or better, and it's hard to see Kansas cooling him off.  Aside from Kyle Larson (two starts), Johnson is the only driver with an average career finish of better than 10th at Kansas.  He has 14 top-10s in 17 starts at the track, including 11 in a row before an unlucky 40th cost him in the Chase last fall.

May 5, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Superhero Edition

If NASCAR Drivers Were Superheroes ...

Which masked man (or woman) would your favorite driver be?

The influx of movies coming out of Hollywood based on comic book characters is at an all-time high. With the recent blockbuster release of the Avengers: Age of Ultron and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice set to release in 2016, the staff here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway thought it might be fun to think about which NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers would make the best superheroes ... or, in some cases, supervillains.

These are supposed to be fun and not to be taken too seriously. And we welcome any suggestions or additions that might not have made this list.

Here goes ...
  1. Jimmie Johnson as Superman – Look! On the track! It's a car. It's blue. It's Jimmie Johnson! Superman was the first superhero, but it's his longevity at being on top that makes him the best. Technology has changed, the cars have changed, but like Superman, Johnson has stayed classically himself through it all. And he has six championships to prove it.
  2. Kevin Harvick as Batman – Where Bruce Wayne witnessed the murder of his parents as a child, Harvick began his Sprint Cup career having to take over the ride of arguably the most popular driver of all-time, Dale Earnhardt, after his tragic passing in 2001. Harvick donned the firesuit admirably and last year won his first championship.
  3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. as Captain America – Captain America was encased in ice for years after a failed mission (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) in the second World War. But The Avengers (Hendrick Motorsports) revived him and he became the dominant force that America needed once again. Junior is the most popular driver in NASCAR and his win on Sunday at Talladega was the latest winning battle on his quest to win the war, the Sprint Cup Series Championship. 
  4. Danica Patrick as Wonder Woman – Patrick honed her craft on Paradise Island, AKA IndyCar. An Amazon Warrior, Wonder Woman is an ambassador, princess and superhero. She came to the United States of America (NASCAR) to fight for peace, justice and truth. Patrick has a similar mission as she continues to break barriers and set records as the sport's "first woman to ... ." It will likely take a win, however, for the sport's followers to truly accept her.
  5. Jeff Gordon as Iron Man – Tony Stark's story arc doesn't exactly parallel Jeff Gordon, but there's not denying that Gordon is the Iron Man of NASCAR. In fact, Gordon will (in all likelihood) pass Ricky Rudd's record of 788 consecutive Cup starts on Sept. 27 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
  6. Joey Logano as The Joker – This isn't so much about Logano being a supervillain (because he's not), as much as it is about that infectious smile. Whether he's happy or angry, Logano has a way of working that smile into every interview. And hey, he's Batman's arch-nemesis, so it fits (see Kevin Harvick). 
  7. Ryan Newman as The Hulk – One of the strongest and most intimidating drivers in the sport, Newman is a perfect candidate to play the role of The Hulk. No driver garners more respect than the driver of the 31. Known to be one of the fairest drivers to race again, Newman is also known for his short temper. Should you cross him, you know the consequences.
  8. Martin Truex Jr. as Wolverine – Like the life of a superhero, the Sprint Cup season is a long and grinding one. And while the past hasn't been all that kind to Truex, like Wolverine he's able to focus on the present. Plus, the dude looks like Wolverine, so there's that, too.
  9. Brad Keselowski as Deadpool – For those unfamiliar with this character, Deadpool is a comic book character who knows he's a comic book character, breaking the fourth-wall (talks to the reader) and adding humor and sharp wit in dangerous situations. Find a better role for Bad Brad, who is arguably the most vocal driver in the series and isn't afraid to test the limits with fans, media and officials.
  10. Kyle Busch as Two-Face – Like Logano, this speaks more to the love-hate relationship Busch has with NASCAR fans than it is a reflection of himself. But, like Harvey Dent turned supervillain Two-Face, Busch is seen off track as a loving husband and doted father-to-be, while on the track he is ruthless, dominant and will do anything to win. No matter how you feel about Busch, Gotham race tracks just aren't the same without him these days.