April 23, 2015

TBT: Big Little Performances

#NHMS25 Anniversary Throwback Thursday Feature

Chad Little and his team celebrates in victory lane in 1995.
This year, New Hampshire Motor Speedway celebrates its 25th Anniversary. Throughout the year as part of that celebration, the Granite Stripe will throw it back on Thursday and give a small history lesson on past events at the track.

On May 13, 1995, Chad Little won the New England Chevy Dealers 250 in the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series (now known as the NASCAR XFINITY Series) at NHMS.  He started ninth and found his way to the front on Lap 167, after which he led 78 of the final 84 laps.

It was Little's third win of the 1995 season, by far his most successful in NASCAR.  He collected all six of his NASCAR National Series wins that season and finished second in points to Johnny Benson, Jr.  He raced again in the series full-time in 1996 before moving up to the Cup Series in 1997.

Also in 1997, Little's wife gave birth to their son Jesse, who would follow his dad into racing.  The family's tie to NHMS grew much stronger on July 11, 2014, when Jesse started second in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race and kept himself near the front for much of the afternoon.

Richmond: Three Drivers To Watch

Toyota Owners 400 Race Preview

A setback from recent neck and back spasms is the only
 thing that could slow Denny Hamlin at Richmond. (Getty)
The short-track tour continues for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  For the third time in four races, the series will race at a track of 0.75 miles or less.  This weekend's challenge: Richmond International Raceway.

This week's additional challenge: Saturday night under the lights.  Although the event marks the third consecutive week for a planned or unplanned night race, so the drivers should be used to it at this point.

Here's a look at three drivers to watch in the Toyota Owners 400:

Green Flag - Kevin Harvick

Hiccup!  That's all he experienced at Bristol as his run of 10 consecutive top-10s (dating back to last season) came to an end.  He got caught up in a wreck, and that happens at Bristol, but it wasn't before he led a race-high 184 laps.  Expect Harvick to be back to his dominating ways at Richmond where he has three career wins.

Yellow Flag - Denny Hamlin

He's led 1,390 laps at Richmond and tops the field with a 10.4 average finish at Richmond, but how's his health?  Hamlin pulled himself from the car at Bristol during the rain delay with neck and back spasms and was replaced by Erik Jones.  It might have just been the track, which is notoriously tough to drive, but it could also be signs of some lingering issues from when he suffered a broken back at Auto Club Speedway two years ago.

April 21, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: In with a Win

Outside Looking In

Top 10 drivers currently outside the top 16 that have best chance to win

Kyle Larson ran well at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday,
but still couldn't find victory lane for the first time in his
career. Will he get one before the Chase? (Getty Images)

Two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions, a Daytona 500 winner and a 29-time winner in NASCAR's top division. That's quite a list, especially when you consider that list is made up of current drivers ranked outside the top 16 in points.

The top 16 in points right now could very much be how things shape up this season. There's also a good chance that anywhere from 5-6 names drop off of that list, leaving room for the likes of the drivers below. The best way to assure a spot in the postseason, though, is a win.

Here’s a list of our top-10 drivers currently outside the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship points standing that will find a way into the playoff via a win:

April 20, 2015

Magic Mile Power Rankings: Bristol

Next Up: Toyota Owners 400 
at Richmond International Raceway

(Getty Images)
Well, that was different, wasn't it? Bristol Motor Speedway has a way of shaking up a season, and Sunday was a perfect example of what can happen at the Tennessee track. The half-mile oval has a way of making and breaking seasons for teams, and for one Joe Gibbs Racing driver, the season was made as it looks like he's all but assured himself a place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship playoffs.

Kenseth led 47 laps, but it was the last one that was most important as he beat Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle to the checkered flag for his fourth-career win at Bristol — the most wins he has at any track on the circuit. That wasn't a surprise, but the uncharacteristic finishes of Joey Logano (40th), Kevin Harvick (38th) and Brad Keselowski (35th) certainly prove that a bad day can happen to anyone.

Were the bad days enough to knock any of those aforementioned pilots out of the Magic Mile Power Rankings or is Happy Harvick still going strong at No. 1? And as Kenseth's win enough for him to crack the rankings? 

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 ninth race of the season at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night in Richmond, Va.:

1. Kevin Harvick (27 points) – You never want to see a driver struggle or get in an accident, for that matter. But it was nice to see that Harvick is human — at least sometimes. Clearly he's been so good that he still ranks first, seven points clear of second place.
Last week: First, --

2. Brad Keselowski (20 points)  Bad Brad has been red hot since finishing 41st at Daytona, but a spin and a crunch from teammate Joey Logano ended Keselowski's run at a seven consecutive top-10 finishes.
Last week: Second, --

3. Jeff Gordon (17 points) – The ship has officially been righted and Gordon is full speed ahead as he races toward a championship in his Sprint Cup swan song. Five straight top-10s after an abysmal start, Gordon placed third this week at Bristol and will now look toward Richmond for that first win, a track he's won only twice in 44 career starts. Now that would be a statement win.
Last week: Seventh, +4

4. Jimmie Johnson (17 points)  Only this team could find a way to turn what would be a 30th-place finish or worse for other teams into a runner-up finish.
Last week: NR

5. Ryan Newman (14 points)  One of the few drivers that entered Bristol hot and left it hot, too. Newman finished fifth for his fourth top-five in his last six starts.
Last week: Sixth, +1

6. Kurt Busch (14 points) – After charging out of the gates, Busch has slowed down over the past three weeks, finishing with a pair of 14th-place finishes and a 15th this weekend in Bristol. Richmond might not be the best bounce-back track, though, as Busch has just five top-fives, including one win there in 28 career starts.
Last week: Fifth, -1

7. Joey Logano (14 points)  Another driver watched his consecutive top-10s to start the season go up in smoke when the Sliced Bread crashed into his teammate. Oh well, something says this team will be just find moving forward.
Last week: Third, -4

8. Matt Kenseth (12 points) – Given how many wins Kenseth had two seasons ago, it doesn't seem like it's been that long since the last time he visited victory lane. Well, believe it or not, his last win was here at New Hampshire in September of 2013. But that string of 51 consecutive races without a win ended on Sunday night at Bristol.
Last week: NR

9. Martin Truex Jr. (11 points) – For the first time this season, Truex finished outside the top-10. Pretty staggering accomplishment given he had a total of five all of last season. It won't be long before this team assures itself a spot in the playoffs.
Last week: Fourth, -5

10. Jamie McMurray (10 points) – A ho-hum day for McMurray, who finished a lap down. But anytime you can finish near the lead lap and finish 14th, and it's considered an average day, you're doing something right.
Last week: Ninth, -1

Wave Around: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. –  Only the third top-five finish of his career, Stenhouse now has two of those at Bristol — one of the toughest tracks on the circuit. 

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

April 17, 2015

Bristol: Three Drivers To Watch

Food City 500 Race Preview

Brad Keselowski has taken the checkered
flag twice at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Getty)
#ItsBristolBaby!  It's second smallest track on the schedule at just 0.533 miles with banking up to 30 degrees.  There's nowhere for the cars to go when racing in a 43-car field, but that doesn't stop them from pinballing around the track like a roulette wheel.

A roulette wheel.  That's a pretty fitting comparison for a track where no car finishes the race without a dent or a tire rub.  It's not about being the best, it's about keeping your nose clean enough to be near the front late in the race and seizing victory if the opportunity arises.

Here are three drivers to keep an eye on this weekend at Bristol:

Green Flag - Brad Keselowski

He finds his way up front at Bristol, having led at least 40 laps in five of the last seven races at that track.  He's won two of those events and finished in the top-three on two other occasions.  Expect to see his run of six straight top-10s on the 2015 season get extended at BMS.