March 29, 2012

FANTASY: Paperclip Racing

Goody's Fast Relief 500 Fantasy Preview

Hamlin loves returning to his
home state of Virginia. (Getty)
There's a certain art to short-track racing that brings most drivers back to their roots.  Similar to Bristol Motor Speedway two weeks ago, Martinsville Speedway in Virginia is more about good, old-fashioned bumping and shoving your way to a win.

At a Cup level that so often rewards the state-of-the-art machines with the best funding, short tracks still put an emphasis on overall driver ability.  I mean, it's certainly not a coincidence that those with the best overall driving ability often end up in the most pristine cars, but this is the kind of track that reminds us what got these drivers to the levels they're at now.

Push just about any driver for a pre-Cup career story and you'll probably hear about how he crashed his way to a victory on some half-mile (if that) track that was lucky to have asphalt.  These types of tracks are abundant in New England.

March 27, 2012

NASCAR Names

It's not surprsing a guy named "Jimmie
Johnson" won so many titles. (Getty)
Awesome!  I'm excited that "NASCAR" and "names" both begin with the letter "n."  The reoccurance of alliteration (two words that start with the same letter for those that don't remember their middle school grammar classes) is going to be the main focus of this article.

We get a lot of questions from supporters about how to get their kids into auto racing.  My first recommendation: make sure you give them an appropriate name.

If you name your kid something like Jonathan Stallsmith, like parents chose, chances are that your kid is not going to make it as a driver.  Football player?  Maybe.  You see plenty of names that drag on in that sport: Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Charles Woodson, Robert Griffin, to name some recent Heisman Trophy winners that are now in the NFL.

It doesn't work that way in NASCAR.

March 22, 2012

FANTASY: California Love

Auto Club 400 Fantasy Preview

I wasn't far from this start/finish line
when Kenseth crossed it in 2009. (Getty)
Do you remember your first race?  Nevermind...stupid question.

Statistics show that NASCAR fans are 76.8% more likely to recall who won the first race they attended than they are to remember their mother's first name.  If you took my word on that stat, then let me also tell you that research shows 28.7% of people make up percentages on the spot.  (...Wait...is he joking?)

Look, the point is this: nobody forgets their first NASCAR race, and for me that was at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

The year was all the way back in 2009.  The reigning champion was a man by the name of Jimmie Johnson, and the race winner of the Auto Club 400 that day ended up being this guy they called Matt Kenseth.  I know, I'm probably dating some fans with these references, so my apologies.  And, by "some fans," I mean those that have been born since the fall of Jimmie Johnson's reign last November.

March 20, 2012

The New, Loud Garage Band

The additions at MWR have made it one of
the most competitive in the Cup Series. (Getty)
In recent years, there have been four large garages in North Carolina and a bunch of one or two-car teams trying to catch up to those organizations.  In 2011, Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing all fielded the maximum of four Sprint Cup Series cars, while Joe Gibbs Racing fielded a comparable three.  They accounted for eight Chase spots; in 2010, they accounted for 10.

Of course, the idea of the "big four" took a major hit when Tony Stewart dominated the Chase to win the championship.  He proved that you could leave a large team (JGR, in his case), go buy your own team and beat the big guys.  Then again, he did enlist the help of Hendrick Motorsports in building his cars.

Likewise, there are other solid teams, like Penske Racing.  That two-car team placed both drivers in last year's Chase despite the challenges associated with driving Dodge Chargers unique to the Cup field.  Richard Petty Motorsports and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing also field very compeitive teams.

But, the strength of Charlotte's four mega teams might have finally collapsed thanks in part to a move that most of us questioned.  Michael Waltrip Racing has been the first of these second-tier teams to find success in fielding three, full-time Cup cars.

March 16, 2012

BUMP STOPS: Opportunity Knocks, Open Seats Filled and Openly Rooting For Kurt Busch

It's Friday again. Time to dust off the ol' Mini Stock for a test run around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

THE NASCAR K&N Pro Series East opens the new season at a new venue, at least for the series itself.

While Bristol Motor Speedway is a staple of the NASCAR national schedules, it will host the K&N Pro Series for the first time tomorrow night with the Widow Wax 125 under the lights on the “World's Fastest Half-Mile.” It's a coup for the series, and something that will only serve the division's continued growth as it moves forward.

Think back to less than a decade ago, when the remnants of the Busch North Series were struggling to attract 20-car fields on a bunch of short tracks littered around the northeast. NASCAR gave the series a major facelift in 2007 – moving the series over a broader range of both race tracks and the nation. It got Sprint Cup Series involvement, and infused some much-needed life.

The work to take the series to the next level – as a true development step on the NASCAR ladder – continues. Now, the series competes at places like Richmond, Dover and Rockingham, in addition to its staple hub at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and will hold six of its 14 races this season on the undercard of national series stops.

March 15, 2012

FANTASY: Bumpin' Through Bristol

Ford City 500 Fantasy Preview

Keselowski's win last August was
his only top-10 at BMS. (Getty)
Bristol is a great place to watch a race.  It's small 0.533-mile oval with banking of up to 36 degrees makes it a unique experience that puts a true emphasis on continuously holding that steering wheel to the left, while maneuvering between accelerator and brake.

The venue itself projects itself more like the bowl of a football stadium than the open grandstands of a speedway.  There's nowhere for the roar of the engines to go, so it's appropriately earned the nickname "Thunder Valley."

However, for all the enjoyment the race itself might provide, it won't be a fun week to be a fantasy owner.  The short track causes two major issues.

The first being that there are a lot of cars and a little amount of space.  It's likely that only the diehard start-and-parkers won't trade at least some paint this Sunday, and drivers can end up getting turned to face the oncoming traffic at any point in the 500 laps.

March 14, 2012

K&N EAST: 2012 Season Gets Jumpstart At Bristol Motor Speedway

It's race week at Bristol Motor Speedway, a brand new venue and brand new start for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

As usual with this incredibly competitive development series on the NASCAR ladder, there are a lot of offseason story lines and changes within the garage to wrap your head around. Most significantly, perhaps, is the season getting started at a brand new track for the division.

Bristol is something of an anomaly on the Sprint Cup Series side, one of only two half-mile tracks on the schedule each season and one of only three tracks that are less than a mile in length. But while it's not the norm for the Cup circuit, Bristol's half-mile is something K&N Pro Series teams know well.

There's Bowman Gray Stadium, Gresham Motorsports Park and Greenville Pickens Speedway all on the schedule this season. All are Saturday-night short tracks; all are the kind of rough-and-tumble venues where the series and its drivers were first initiated.

Surely, Bristol is a different animal – but a lack of experience on that track shouldn't add up to a bad race on Saturday night under the lights in the Widow Wax 125.

Here's what we're watching:

NEW MAN AT THE TOP: 2011 series champion Max Gresham has graduated to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season, leaving both the season title and his seat at Joe Gibbs Racing vacant.

March 13, 2012

The Champ is Here!

Stewart made sure to remind
us that he's the champ. (Getty)
The Subway Fresh Fit 500 in Phoenix was a nice story: a discarded championship crew chief in Darian Grubb helping a disappointed Denny Hamlin find his way back to Victory Lane.  It was an uplifting story of two disregarded Virginians teaming up to move forward from a bitter tasting 2011 season.

For the greater NASCAR community, it symbolized the new year.  The whole offseason, the talk was about Tony Stewart's historic run to the championship, and that dumped right into the Daytona 500 and the media frenzy that surrounded it...which focused heavily on one of Stewart's drivers, Danica Patrick.

Phoenix allowed all of us to get a fresh perspective and realize that we were officially in the midst of the 2012 season; it was anybody's year to claim the Cup.  That was fine for most everyone, except the struggling championship driver that everyone was torching for letting go of his crew chief.  On Sunday, "Smoke" reminded all of us that, despite the varying storylines, he is still the reigning Cup champion.

March 8, 2012

FANTASY: What Happens in Vegas...

Kobalt Tools 400 Fantasy Preview

Barring the occasional mystery, trips to Las
Vegas tend to follow a formula. (The Hangover)
Social media really put an end to the age-old phrase that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.  Nowadays, what happens in Vegas will be posted to Facebook and uploaded to YouTube long before anyone begins to piece together a night of debauchery.

Not that it really has anything to do with predicting who will win the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, but I'm sure I can find a way to make my peeve of the week relevant.

See, while the social media craze has destroyed the secrets of the Desert Destination and worn off its once mysterious allure, we race fans don't need to be disappointed.  In the case of LVMS, it doesn't hold any weird secrets that are just now being revealed.  The 1.5-mile, D-shaped oval serves as one of the stereotypical "cookie-cutters" of the Sprint Cup Series.

March 6, 2012

Getting Grubb-y

Crew chief Darian Grubb has the No. 11
team firing on all cylinders. (Getty)
The first thing that crossed my mind when Denny Hamlin ran away from the field and left Kevin Harvick's car choking for gas on Sunday was: wow, another win for Darian Grubb!

Grubb has now crew chiefed victories in six of the last 12 Sprint Cup Series races.  That includes five wins during last year's Chase as Tony Stewart's head man and the win at Phoenix this past weekend, as he called the shots for Hamlin.

Together, the two Virginia natives (Hamlin and Grubb) are back in a familiar spot: Victory Lane.  For Grubb, it was a short absence of a single race.  For Hamlin, it was a whole lot more.

March 1, 2012

FANTASY: Subway, Start Fresh

Subway Fresh Fit 500 Fantasy Preview

After finishing 29th at Daytona, Kasey
Kahne will be excited to return to a track
where he won last November. (Getty)
Ouch!  Unless you went with the Fords of Kenseth and Biffle, the fantasy team probably didn't fair too well at Daytona.  The race was every bit as unpredictable as expected, right down to Juan Pablo Montoya's night ending after he totaled his car into a jet dryer while under caution.

While some of the 550+ owners in the "Fans of NHMS" group fielded a comparable fantasy team, only 22 of them put up more than 300 points, an approximate cutoff for what would be considered a really good week.  That's not a very high percentage!

Any time you see three of last year's Chasers (and Yahoo Fantasy "A-Listers") finish 32nd or worse, it's probably a sign that things didn't go as planned.  Brad Keselowski ended up 32nd after a wreck, Jeff Gordon's engine blew to give him a 40th-place finish, and Jimmie Johnson was taken on just the second lap for a 42nd.