August 31, 2012

It's Getting Pretty Wild

Kyle Busch is only a win away from the Chase. (Getty)
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is most definitely putting the "wild" in Wild Card.

During last week's race at Bristol, the Performance Racing Network read through the long list of drivers that were more or less a win away from racing their way into the Chase.  Afterward, they mused whether NASCAR could have envisioned there would be so much drama when it created the sytem.

I would say, absolutely, yes!

The kind of scenario that we're in for in the next two weeks is exactly what NASCAR had intended to do create when it instituted the Wild Card format before the 2011 season.  The system gives 10 of 12 Chase spots to the top-10 finishers in the standings, and the final two to which ever drivers finishing 11-20 had the most wins.

August 30, 2012

FANTASY: Labor, All Work and No Play

AdvoCare 500 Fantasy Preview

If Jeff Gordon doesn't do a victory burnout,
he'll just be spinning his wheels.  (Getty)
Most of NASCAR's fans might have a three-day weekend, but there's no rest for drivers on the track.  Bristol did very little to decide much of anything other than that Tony Stewart can throw a good fastball; so, it's on to Atlanta to try to determine who's going to be dancing and who's going to be watching when the NASCAR Chase starts in two weeks.

Theoretically, there are about 22 drivers that could make it into the postseason.  (It's not impossible for Aric Almirola to win the next two races and claim a Chase spot.)  Realistically, there are six drivers that are a win away from taking the Chase's final Wild Card.

However, while all those drivers will be vying for a win to keep their seasons alive, there are plenty of drivers locked into the Chase that could use a win simply to garner three bonus points for the Chase.  (Imagine if Carl Edwards had won one more race at any point last season, he would have won the championship.)  These drivers can afford to push the limits and risk falling back in the pack, because their fate is already decided for the better.

August 27, 2012

PODIUM FINISH: Week Ending August 26

Each Monday we take a look back at the best performances from the week that was from around the region.

The week got an early start with the Modified madness that was Bristol Motor Speedway, continued with the ACT Late Model Tour championship chase heating up in Quebec, and then continued on the weekly short tracks all across the northeast.

Without further ado, let's find out who made The Podium this week:

1. Ron Silk, Norwalk, Conn.

The reigning NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion survived all the carnage being collected behind him and made a bold late-race move on Todd Szegedy to win the UNOH 150 at Bristol Motor Speedway last Wednesday night for his second win of the season.

August 23, 2012

FANTASY: The Night Race

IRWIN Tools Night Race Fantasy Preview

Brad Keselowski won the Night Race last year
and has been running very well lately. (Getty)
When you ask people around NASCAR the race they'd most like to attend, most experienced fans pass on the Daytona 500 in favor of the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.  That's nothing against the experience of the speedweeks and the "Great American Race" in Florida, it's just that the race under the lights of the 0.533-mile oval has a certain mythical aura to it.

Nothing speaks to the race's status in NASCAR more than its name.  Whereas most every other NASCAR race is tagged with a number, this race is simply the "Night Race."  Like a husband or wife that emerges from a long line of relationships, it's not the only one, but it is the one.  Other tracks hold races under the lights, but only Bristol holds the distinction of hosting NASCAR's "Night Race."

BUMP STOPS: Tracks, Tempers And Testing

It's Thursday again. Time to roll the ol' Mini Stock out of the garage and dust it off for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

WE'VE NOW HAD a few installments of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Bristol Motor Speedway to look at, and we have to wonder if fans are getting what they hoped they would when it was first announced that the Tour would be heading to Bristol for an annual combination race with the Whelen Southern Modified Tour.

Aside from last night's caution-marred UNOH 150 at Bristol, with a huge 17-car pileup only a few laps into the race, was something of an anomaly for the Tour. But the previous races have featured a lot more single-file racing than the Tour has been known for on the bullrings of the northeast, and there hasn't been as much on-track action has hoped for.

What gives?

One astute observer wondered via Twitter whether or not the problem lied with the Bristol track configuration itself. And before we open up another discussion about third grooves, track grinding or the “old Bristol,” it's a point worth exploring.

Perhaps high banks just don't translate to entertaining Modified racing.

August 21, 2012

SATURDAY SHOWDOWN: Eddie MacDonald Leads Charge To NHMS

Like virtually every short-track racer across New England, Eddie MacDonald started his racing career with one simple dream.

“I remember driving through the infield tunnel for the first time,” MacDonald said of his initial trip to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, in the late 1980s, as the track was being constructed. “The tunnel then was just two flaps of corrugated metal blowing in the wind. Really, the place was just a mess at that time.

“But right from that first time, I always just wanted to be able to race on it.”

MacDonald, a native of nearby Rowley, Massachusetts, first got that chance in 2001 as a rookie on what is now the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. He's since gone on to compete at The Magic Mile in five different divisions, and he will represent the face of the New England-bred stock car driver when the track hosts its first annual Short Track Tripleheader as part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 weekend this September 22.

That day will feature the G-Oil 100 for the K&N Pro Series, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour F.W. Webb 100 and the fourth annual ACT Invitational for the American-Canadian Tour Late Models.

MacDonald is already counting down the days to the Tripleheader.

“Having all those races right here locally is definitely a big deal, because with almost everyone from around this area – everyone that will run there in the Modified and Late Model tours are within a 3-hour radius from the track – it's everyone's home track,” MacDonald said. “To have such a huge event, everyone wants to go there and win it.”

August 16, 2012

FANTASY: Getting Back on Track

Pure Michigan 400 Fantasy Preview

Not sure if the news made it to Siberia,
but Dale Jr. won here in June. (Getty)
Last week turned out to be a far tougher week than expected.  Usually road courses are rather predictable and I even went as far in last week's preview to say that only bad luck would create unexpected fantasy results.

Jinx!

Between Brian Vickers taking his car to the garage before completing a lap, Juan Pablo Montoya suffering Juan Pablo luck and Tony Stewart uncharacteristically spinning himself out and into a wall, it was a tough week for me in Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing.  Really only Marcos Ambrose's thrilling, albeit unsurprising, win saved what could have been an even worse week.

August 15, 2012

BUMP STOPS: Helliwell, Horsepower and Hot Shoes

It's Wednesday again. Time to take the ol' Mini Stock out of the garage and dust it off for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

AS GOOD AS the ACT Late Model Tour championship battle has promised to be over the second half of the season with four drivers involved in the dogfight, one has to wonder if Wayne Helliwell Jr. has any interest in a slugfest.

Helliwell dominated the ACT 100 at Sanair Super Speedway in Quebec last weekend, not only continuing this storybook season that's seen the No. 27 win everywhere he goes – even places he's never been before – but also beating up on the other heavies on the Tour.

To wit: Helliwell won on Sunday, with his two closest championship pursuers, Brian Hoar and Austin Theriault, finishing right behind him.

August 13, 2012

PODIUM FINISH: For Week Ending August 12

Each Monday we take a look back at the week that was from around the region.

Unfortunately, rain claimed a number of race programs around the northeast, but those who raced both ahead of and behind the weather that impacted a number of places turned in some impressive performances. From the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, there were plenty of standout performances.

Without further ado, let's look at who made The Podium this week:

1. Wayne Helliwell Jr., Dover, N.H.

The ACT Late Model Tour points leader extended his advantage atop the standings by winning the ACT 100 at Sanair Super Speedway in Saint Pie, Quebec, on Sunday. Helliwell dominated the combination event featuring both the ACT Late Model Tour and the ACT Castrol Series.

August 10, 2012

FANTASY: Curving Through Upstate N.Y.

Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen Fantasy Preview

Marcos Ambrose broke through with
a win at the Glen last August. (Getty)
I know our fans from upstate New YOrk can agree with me that when it comes to traveling from NHMS to that area, it's like accessing most parts of Maine: "ya' cayn't get the'ya from hey'a."

You end up on a windy road through Vermont, climbing the Green Mountains behind some truck that can't get it above 34 mph, watching the minutes roll by faster than the miles.  Yep...I did that trip as recently as late June when I went to a Brad Paisley concert in Saratoga Springs.  It...took...for-ever!

Once you get to Albany, you have a pretty straight shot on I-90 across the state Buffalo, but should you choose to get off that highway (I did not when I drove cross country in 2010), you'll quickly find yourself winding into the wilderness.  Seriously, ask any St. Lawrence University grad the fastest way to Canton, N.Y., and his/her first answer will likely be a chuckle.

August 6, 2012

PODIUM FINISH: For Week Ending August 5

Each Monday we take a look back at the top performers from the week that was.

As the summer starts to take a turn into the stretch drive, it seems everybody is stepping up their collective game. From Connecticut to Iowa, the racing was outstanding, and a few drivers and their teams were in championship form.

Without further ado, let's find out who made The Podium this week:

1. Doug Coby, Milford, Conn.

No driver has been better this season than the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour points leader. Coby won his third straight race this season at Stafford Motor Speedway on Friday night, his fourth in seven Tour races in 2012.

August 4, 2012

SUPERMAN: @supershoeLAJOIE Dominates In Iowa

NEWTON, Iowa – The only thing that was going to beat Corey LaJoie Friday night was the voice inside his own head.

Under a red flag with just 16 laps remaining at Iowa Speedway, LaJoie sat as the leader on the track's frontstretch and imagined all sorts of things about to go wrong. A wheel vibration. A balky ignition switch. A flat tire. Something.

Hard to blame him. When he was still searching for his first career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East victory back in May, an alternator wire came loose while he was running second at Iowa and cut his night short. Bad luck has crept up over the last couple of weeks, too – a fire at CNB Bank Raceway Park in Pennsylvania and more issues at Columbus Motor Speedway.

Nothing doing this time around. LaJoie dominated the K&N Pro Series East-West combination Pork Be Inspired 150 so thoroughly he broke his own tradition – giving away not one, but both of his driving shoes, in honor of his own nickname “Super Shoe” -- in Victory Lane after the race.

“When you're sitting there in a red-flag, no matter if it's a minute or an hour, every thought you can possibly have goes through your mind... because that's just the way our luck's been going,” LaJoie said. “We've had a couple of rough weeks, and luckily we were able to bounce back in a pretty big way and sort of set a statement here.”

August 3, 2012

PHOTO FINISH: K&N Pro Series At Iowa Speedway

Ryan Blaney signs an autograph for a fan during the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East-West combination Pork Be Inspired 150 at Iowa Speedway on Friday. Click below to see the full photo gallery from the event.

FANTASY: No Pocono Vacation

Pennsylvania 400 Fantasy Preview

June's win was Joey Logano's only
top-10 in seven Pocono starts. (Getty)
I took a vacation to Martha's Vineyard this past weekend.  Only, after falling off my bicycle and fracturing the radial head in my left arm, it turned out to be far from a relaxing vacation.

As I lay on a couch watching Olympic coverage of stuff like women's boxing and men's ping-pong, I gained a new respect for a driver like Brad Keselowski.  A year ago, he busted up his ankle in a test session at Road Atlanta and went out and won a race that weekend.

In my case, I instantly saw my golfing and gym visiting put on hold for the near future, as I will lounge around and try to rehab my arm.  That happened a week ago today and I haven't even gained full mobility back to straighten my arm; Keselowski had won a race in less time.

Now, there's a big caveat.  "Bad Brad" gets paid millions of dollars to win races, and I was just excited to have brought my golf handicap under a 30.  However, money shouldn't undermine the toughness required to drive a car with a broken ankle.  (Keep in mind that baseball players often hit the 15-day disabled list for blisters and stubbed toes, so it's not all about money.)

I've never been to this area of Pennsylvania, but I had a friend that went there often as a child, so I'm aware that Pocono is a beautiful place to relax.  In the hopes of making a vague connection to my injury and NASCAR, I didn't enjoy my trip to the Vineyard as a vacation and the drivers of NASCAR won't get a vacation in the Poconos this weekend either.

There's no relaxing now as the series is in its stretch run, the Race for the Chase.  It's all business this weekend.  With a triangular track layout built to reward car speed, it will be all hands on deck as the crews try to build the fastest cars for their drivers.

Strategy: Being triangular in shape and relatively flat, this track races something like Indianapolis did last week.  The long straightaways makes a fast car crucial, but a generally flat layout and three unique turns certainly takes some driver skill to hold that car up front.  Most of the drivers that are successful here tend to be those with the ability to navigate flat tracks.

A-List

Start

#11 Denny Hamlin - With four wins in 13 stars at Pocono, Hamlin is a clear favorite.  His 117.6 driver rating at this track is more than 10 points better than the next driver in the field.

#14 Tony Stewart - "Smoke" always competes well on flat tracks.  He has 19 top-10s in 27 Pocono starts, so he's consistently strong here.

#48 Jimmie Johnson - While not quite as strong as Hamlin, Johnson has a 106.7 driver rating at Pocono (second-best) and two Cup wins at the track.

Park

#17 Matt Kenseth - It's hard to find an A-Lister to totally discount.  I settled with Kenseth because he hasn't registered a top-five in the last 11 Pocono races and just three in 25 career starts, so he doesn't have much upside, even though his 13.9 average finish isn't horrible.

B-List

Start

#20 Joey Logano - His win in June was the only top-10 in seven Pocono starts.  However, he's taken the last two poles, so he's probably a good selection for qualifying bonus points, whether or not you start him.

#39 Ryan Newman - Outside of Kurt Busch, Newman has the highest driver rating at Pocono on the B-List.  That doesn't come as a surprise, as his success at NHMS speaks a lot to his affinity for flatter tracks.

#55 Mark Martin - With seven top-10s in his last 11 Pocono starts, Martin is a great option, especially since he's held his own all season in a part-time position.

#56 Martin Truex Jr. - In the midst of his best Cup season, Truex Jr. hasn't shown too many signs of falling out of contention.  It's been a long time since he registered a top-five, but he's finished 11th or better in three of the last four races and has a decent, not great, history at Pocono.

Park

#16 Greg Biffle - He's slipped a little in the standings but is still one of the best options on the B-List week-in and week-out.  WIth only four top-10s in 19 Pocono starts, I suggest saving him for another week, as there are ample opportunities.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - The new points leader is in a similar position to Biffle.  Sure, you could start him and he might do as well as the average B-List driver, but you expect more than average from him, so save him for a week when you'll get that.

C-List

Start

#22 Sam Hornish Jr. - It seems likely that Hornish Jr. will finish the season in the No. 22 now that Allmendinger is out.  That means you don't have to rush to use all nine of his starts, but it also means that he's going to be a good option most weeks.  Don't be frugal when the options are limited.

#43 Aric Almirola - The June race was Almirola's only appearance at Pocono and he finished 28th.  Normally, I'd suggest looking elsewhere, but there's not a lot out there, so you might need to cross your fingers and hope that June was a learning experience.

Park

#47 Bobby Labonte - He's usually a serviceable choice, but with not so much as a top-10 at Pocono since 2006, it's hard to expect he's going to be a full four quarters worth of a dollar this weekend.


--

The picks in this blog are based around Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game and its standard scoring rules.  The preview is designed to provide suggestions, while still encouraging managers to make their own decisions.  Once sorted into Yahoo's A, B and C-Lists, they are organized based on car number and not directly associated with a rank value.

You can sign up and play for free, by visiting http://racing.fantasysports.yahoo.com.  If signed up, the "Fans of NHMS" group may be joined by clicking here.

August 2, 2012

BUMP STOPS: Points Racing, Points Runaway And On Point

It's Thursday again. Time to take the ol' Mini Stock out of the garage and dust her off for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

PRIOR TO THE ACT Late Model Tour return to the points-racing portion of their schedule, eight-time champion Brian Hoar found himself in an unusual position.

Instead of being the chased, Hoar was the chaser – sitting third in the standings, even after winning two of the first five races of the 2012 season. Problem was, leader Wayne Helliwell Jr. had also won twice already this season and Joey Polewarczyk Jr. was having a more consistent season.

As Hoar headed to Beech Ridge Motor Speedway last weekend locked in a tight championship battle – the Top-4 in the standings were separated by only 42 points – where all involved had shown the ability to run at the front of the field week in and week out. Hoar suggested that “winning” had become the new “points racing” on the ACT Late Model Tour in 2012.