March 4, 2015

Las Vegas: Drivers To Watch

Kobalt 400 Race Preview

Jimmie Johnson is already rolling in 2015
after his Atlanta win. (Getty)
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the only race of the year at the track.  It will be the second consecutive week that the series runs at a 1.5-mile oval, which should allow for the teams to get a better handle on the 2015 rules package for the cars.

Here's a look at some of the drivers worth watching:

Green Flag - Jimmie Johnson

Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48, always seems to have the car a step ahead of the completion, so it wasn't surprising to see Johnson drive up from 37th to win at Atlanta.  Combine early-season success with his record at LVMS, where he's the all-time wins leader, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Johnson running up front when the checkered drops.

March 3, 2015

Magic Mile Power Rankings: Atlanta

Next Up: Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Jimmie Johnson proved he's still the driver to beat in NASCAR
after a dominant finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Two weeks into the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and two spots have already (theoretically) been locked down for the Chase. Love or hate the new points system, it's been an awesome start to the season, with competitive racing at in Florida and Georgia before the series heads West -- Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana -- for the next three weeks.

Jimmie Johnson was the big winner this past week at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The six-time Sprint Cup champion came from the back of the pack in 37th to take the checkered flag for his fourth career win at the 1.5 mile quad oval, tying him with David Pearson and Fred Lorenzen for eighth all-time.

The win was a dominant one for the 48 team, but was it enough to eclipse Joey Logano for the top spot? Let's see who made the list after Week 2 in Atlanta.

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 third race of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday:

1. Joey Logano (16 points)  Sliced Bread is off a to a red-hot start, winning the Daytona 500 and following that up with a fourth-place finish at Atlanta this weekend. But Logano also took the pole this past weekend, showing that this team has everything clicking on all cylinders right now.

2. Jimmie Johnson (15 points) – It's not that he won at Atlanta that's surprising, but it's the fact that this team can go from an average car to a great car during the race that sets the 48 team apart from all others. Johnson dominated the second half of the race on Sunday and now is a virtual lock to make a run at a seventh championship in the fall.
Last week: Third, +1

3. Kevin Harvick (11 points) – October 26, 2014. That was the last time Harvick finished outside the top two. Pretty ridiculous. Happy finished last season with back-to-back wins to win his first championship, and he's off to a fast start again this season with back-to-back runner-up finishes. What championship hangover?
Last week: Fourth, +1

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10 points) – Consecutive third-place finishes to start the season for Junior and he drops in the rankings. Wow. Fans should be excited about this team's ability to start the season hot, though, given the changes to the rule package and a new crew chief on the pit box. Things look very bright moving forward for the 88 team this season.
Last week: Second, -2

5. Martin Truex Jr. (6 points) – Obviously Truex fans will be pining for a win, but the one-car team has shown consistent speed and an ability to adapt to the race in the first two weeks. A victory is a very attainable goal for the 78 team this season and it wouldn't be a shock to anyone to see Truex as one of the top 16 at the end of the 26-race regular season.
Last week: Seventh, +2

6. A.J. Allemendinger (3 points) – How about that run by the Dinger on Sunday? Allmendinger's seventh-place finish at a cookie-cutter track during the first race under the new rules package speaks volumes, as the 47 team is either ahead of the curve or everyone else is just playing from behind.
Last week: NR

7. Casey Mears (3 points) – There's a lot of racing left this season, and the grind of the NASCAR schedule has a way of sifting out the contenders from the pretenders. But anyone thinking that Mears got lucky during a restrictor-plate race at Daytona has to have a different opinion after the 13 team raced its way into the top 15 on Sunday at Atlanta. Mears is going to have to consistently turn average days into great days if he hopes to make a serious playoff run, but so far, so good.
Last week: Eighth, +1

8. Kasey Kahne (3 points) – With all the noise coming out of the Hendrick Motorsports camp these days, it's easy to forget there's a fourth car that's gotten off to a pretty good start in 2015. A ninth- and 14th-place finish at Daytona and Atlanta, respectively, doesn't exactly scream "championship run," but Kahne has turned something into nothing twice already this season. That said, Kahne is a year away from no longer being the young buck on a team full of big-named veterans.
Last week: Ninth, +1

9. Matt Kenseth (2 points) – A disappointing Daytona 500 was erased with a top-five Sunday at Atlanta. Kenseth looked strong at the 1.5-mile speedway and showed that with Kyle Busch out indefinitely, he's the top driver in Joe Gibbs Racing's big-named stable.
Last week: NR

10. Clint Bowyer (2 points) – He plummets, yes, but he still hangs on. This weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway could be a big hill to climb for Bowyer, who has only a single top-five finish in nine career starts there. 
Last week: Sixth, -4

Wave Around: Brad Keselowski –  He started 12th and finished ninth. The 2 team will want to be better than that moving forward, but after a 41st-place finish at Daytona, this was a strong step in that direction. 

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

March 1, 2015

Atlanta: Drivers To Watch

Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500 Fantasy Preview

Kevin Harvick had the makings for a big race before
his engine blew in practice on Saturday. (Getty)
Atlanta is certainly at a different spot on the schedule from its traditional Labor Day weekend, but that creates an opportunity for it to be a trendsetter.  Instead of being another cookie cutter on the schedule, it presents the first opportunity for teams to try out and assess the 2015 rules package that was not implemented at Daytona.

Here's a look at the drivers to consider (or not) for the weekend:

Green Flag - Kyle Larson

It's time the young stud won his first Sprint Cup Series race.  He has two top-fives in his two Xfinity Series starts at Atlanta and an eighth place finish last August in his only Cup start.  He was fastest in the first practice of this week and will roll off the starting grid sixth.

Yellow Flag - Kevin Harvick

All signs pointed to it being a dominant day for the defending champ before he blew an engine in the final practice and will fall from his front row starting position to the back of the field.  He was fastest in that final practice and second in the first practice, so he's spent all week running up front at Atlanta, it's just a matter of how much it takes to get back up there after starting from the back.

February 26, 2015

TBT: Joey Logano's First Win

#NHMS25 Anniversary Throwback Thursday Feature

Joey Logano celebrates his win in the rain-shortened LENOX
Industrial Tools 301; his first career Cup win. (NHMS/HHP)
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.

Long before becoming a Daytona 500 winner in 2015.  Long before serving as a championship finalist in 2014.  Long before joining Team Penske as a free agent in 2013.  Joey Logano won his first-career Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on June 28, 2009.

The race was rain-shortened from 301 laps to 273.  With the imminent weather rolling in, Logano opportunistically found his way to the front on Lap 264.  The caution dropped for weather on Lap 268, and the red and checkered flags waved on 273 as the storm rolled in.

The win gave him the distinction as the youngest driver in history to win a Sprint Cup Series race.  He accomplished the feat just over a month after his 19th birthday.

February 24, 2015

TTT: Storylines from Daytona

Top Ten Tuesday: Storylines from Daytona

This year's Daytona 500 certainly didn't lack in storylines. While it lacked the type of chaos we're used to seeing in regards to crashes, it made up for with some of the best side-by-side-by-side racing in recent memory. The skill level of today's driver is off the charts, and the 2015 season could truly be one for the record books.

So what was the biggest storyline coming out of Daytona Speedweeks? Was it the Busch brothers, perhaps Jeff Gordon or how about Joey Logano's win? 

Here’s a list of the top-10 storylines coming out of last Sunday's Daytona 500: