Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle are at the head of the field at Kansas

16 Oct

What impact will the new surface at Kansas Speedway have on Sunday?

That's the question that you'll hear more times than you can count over the course of this week, as Sunday's race is the first Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas since the track repaved. Gone is the consistent 15 degrees of banking throughout the track's four corners, replaced by variable banking of 17 degrees near the white line and 20 degrees near the wall.

So, we ask again, what impact will the new surface have? Since racing can be such a finicky beast, it's probably impossible to figure out the exact significance of past performance at a remodeled racetrack. You certainly can't look back to the last few races on the old surface for a reliable indicator, but can you throw out the results completely?

The result is probably somewhere in the middle. What we do know, however, is that Jimmie Johnson (surprise!) and Greg Biffle were the two best drivers at Kansas before the repave. And it wouldn't be stunning if they were two of the best drivers at Kansas after the repave. But how much of it is the driver and the car instead of the track?

Johnson: Vader has two wins and 10 top 10 finishes at Kansas Speedway for an average finish of 7.9. He won last year's fall race here and was in the thick of the Chase mix until the following week at Charlotte. He was also third in the spring.

Biffle: Biffle is just fractionally worse than Johnson at Kansas with an average finish of 8.0, and that can be traced back to his only nine top 10s in 12 starts. Biffle also has two wins at Kansas; in the near darkness in 2007, and in the fall race in 2010.

Brad Keselowski: Jetski's first Sprint Cup Series win for Roger Penske came in the 2011 spring race at Kansas, when he conserved enough fuel over the final laps to pull away from the field. Back then, it was a surprising win. Now? No, not at all, and we're surprised when Keselowski and Paul Wolfe don't make their fuel supply last longer than everyone else's. His average finish is 10.2.

Jeff Gordon: The winner of the first two races at Kansas hasn't won since, but has nine top 10s in 13 starts at the track. His average finish is 11.1, but his last two Kansas finishes have been 34th thanks to an engine failure, and 21st.

Tony Stewart: Stewart showed Keselowski how to win a fuel mileage race at Kansas in 2006, when he coasted more than a half of a lap without fuel to the win. In 2009, he won without the benefit of fuel mileage, outrunning Gordon to the finish over the race's final green flag segment. His average finish is 12.2.

Kevin Harvick: Harvick's average finish isn't too far behind Stewart's at 13.0, but he hasn't been to victory lane at Kansas. Harvick has six top 10s in 13 Kansas starts, and with the way that RCR is going this year, it wouldn't be surprising if Harvick made it seven in 14 without sniffing the lead.

Denny Hamlin: The Hamster is going for a rare sweep of two wins in the same season at the same track that really isn't the same track. He ran down and passed Martin Truex Jr. in the spring after the sun came out late at Kansas in the spring for his only win and just his third top 10 at the track. His average finish is 14.1, thanks in part to Hamlin completing all but four laps in his Kansas races.

Clint Bowyer: Saturday night's winner hasn't had the best luck at the track that's just an hour and change from his hometown of Emporia, KS. Since finishing second in his second Kansas start, Bowyer has only finished higher than 12th once. His average finish is 15.0. (Did you know that Bowyer's win at Charlotte was his first at a 1.5 mile track?)

Kasey Kahne: Kahne, who has an average finish of 16.1, has started on the pole twice at Kansas, but in those two starts, he's finished 33rd and 37th. Kasey, you may not want to lead the field to green on Sunday. He was second in this race last year for Red Bull Racing, and was 8th in the spring.

Matt Kenseth: Kind of surprising to see Kenseth so far down the list, no? His average finis is 16.9, and that's after finishes of seventh, sixth, fourth and fourth in the last four Kansas races. Four finishes of 32nd or worse will do that to you.

Martin Truex, Jr.: This would be a different paragraph if Truex would have been able to hold on in the spring. He dominated the race, leading 173 of 267 laps on his way to a second place finish. And that second place finish? That was his first notable finish at Kansas; his previous high finish was 11th, and that came in his first start at the track. Hence the average finish of 23.2.

Tags: , , , spring, surface, ,
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Chase Power Rankings: Have the Big Three become The Big Four?

15 Oct

The fifth race of the Chase is over, and that means it's time for Power Rankings! But we're doing things a little differently now that we're in the postseason. It's all-Chasers, all the time. Good job, good effort for those of you that didn't make it, but we've got bigger fish to focus on. We'll be judging who's running well, considering not just finishing position but quality of run, expected potential, and general gut feelings. As always, we hate your guy and are biased against him. Now, enjoy.

Oh, and as for last week's attempt at Mafia names for our favorite drivers ... let us never speak of that one again. Every race season has an Auto Club Speedway, right?

1. Denny Hamlin: This top spot is likely to rotate among the Big Three, and perhaps the Big Four, over the next few weeks. Right now, we're giving the nod to Hambone over Vader, but only by a hairsbreadth. This very easily could have been a big victory for Hamlin, and #11 fans should be pleased with the fact that he didn't seem to enjoy his second-place finish very much. Last week: 3.

2. Jimmie Johnson: Another week, another outstanding run from Johnson. Last year, we were all falling over ourselves at how amazing it was that Carl Edwards was finishing so high week after week. Now we've got three guys doing it. Johnson took the wise approach to fuel management on Saturday night; if he'd run out, he'd have a much higher hill to climb. Last week: 2.

3. Brad Keselowski: Sure, he falls out of the top spot here, but he's still running the show points-wise. This makes next week a key for Keselowski: you can afford to have an off week, but you need to be able to rebound immediately or you're going to get passed like you lost the draft. Last week: 1.

4. Clint Bowyer: Rawhide's rise is one of the more notable efforts of the season, and it'd be a shame if he doesn't get himself into the top crew here in the next couple weeks. Also: his press conferences are joys of (perhaps) Five-Hour-Energy-filled energy. Last week: 5.

5. Kasey Kahne: Decent run for Mr. Kahne at Charlotte, but we all expected a lot more out of him. Eighth place is not enough, sir! Anyway, his chances at a Cup are fading fast, but he's already turned a previously horrid season into a success. Last week: 6.

6. Martin Truex Jr.: True story: Truex wants everyone to mean HIM when they refer to "Junior." (May not be a true story.) Also a true story: this will never happen. But MTJ is establishing his good name all by himself. Last week: 9.

7. Jeff Gordon: Looks like the dream is about over for Jeff. Here's hoping that there's some kind of change in the points system (heresy!) in order to prevent one bad finish from decimating your entire season. Last week: 4.

8. Greg Biffle: All right, good to know that Biffle is starting to validate that first-place regular-season finish. Barring some lost haulers en route to a track, Biffle won't be in this hunt. Still, he's the class of the Roush squad this year. Last week: 12.

9. Matt Kenseth: Um, no offense with that "class of Roush" crack in the Biffle entry, Matt. You done good by winning Talladega, of course, but it's been a tough road these last few months. Hopefully your five-race swan song will go well for you. Last week: 10.

10. Tony Stewart: It's been a rocky Chase all the way around for Mr. Stewart, with the Talladega Monstrosity being the worst of a rough go. But he's getting sponsorship lined up for 2013, which has to be a big relief. Last week: 8.

11. Kevin Harvick: Sooner this season is over the better for Harvick fans. Nothing's working well enough, but nothing's going bad enough for a wholesale change, either. Well, at least he had himself a kid, so the year's not a total wash. Last week: 11.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Salute to Junior for taking the tough path to stepping out of the car this year. Not like he'll miss out on Vegas; the "most popular driver of the year" always ends up there anyway. Last week: 7.

Non-Chaser of the Week: Carl Edwards. Good to see Carl running strong this week. Shame he wasn't able to earlier this year, but if history is any guide, he'll be right back in the mix in 2013.

All right, you're up. Who belongs where? Have your say!

Tags: carl edwards, , , , Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, , , Power Rankings, , ,
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Clint Bowyer reminds us that he’s still a force in the Chase

13 Oct

It's all right to admit if you thought the Chase was down to a three-man race. Just don't expect Clint Bowyer to go along with that idea.

Bowyer, whose phenomenal rise has to rank as one of the top success stories of this season, notched his third victory of 2012 on Saturday night in Charlotte, and he did it using a combination of driving skill and crew-chief savvy that might just put him back into this Chase after all.

Coming into this evening, conventional wisdom held that the Chase was already a three-horse race between Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin. And indeed, for most of the night the Big Three in the standings were the Big Three in the race, trading the top three spots back and forth.

But a crucial fuel issue put Keselowski far down in the pack. Some gambling on mileage left Bowyer alone with the other two, more than 25 seconds ahead of fourth place. And since no debris mysteriously/suddenly appeared, no caution flags flew, and Bowyer held off a charging Hamlin for the win.

[Related: Brad Keselowski's empty fuel tank tightens up Chase points race]

This doesn't quite put Bowyer into the Chase conversation, as he's still 28 points behind Keselowski. But 28 points is a total you can chip away at over the course of five races. And Bowyer and crew chief Brian Pattie, by remaining in the mix this late into the season, have shown they know how to hang around and take advantage of opportunities.

"At the end of the day we're a hell of a lot better than we were leaving Talladega," Bowyer said. "To be back in victory lane, new life, new hope going into Kansas, there's a lot of races left."

That, in itself, is something of a miracle. Recall that at this time last year, Bowyer was headed to Michael Waltrip Racing in what was widely, and almost universally, seen as a step down from Richard Childress Racing. Nobody's saying that now. With two drivers in the Chase, more than Childress or Joe Gibbs Racing and the equal of Roush Fenway, Michael Waltrip Racing has firmly established itself as one of NASCAR's elite teams of 2012. And in NASCAR, team success has a way of building on itself. We could be seeing a lot more of MWR in the years to come, and that's something nobody saw coming.

"Who would have thought in a million years after making this switch and coming over to a new family and everything that was new that we would be in victory lane three times?" Bowyer said. "Five races left, and we're still in contention for a championship."

For now, though, it's all about Bowyer. He's got very little margin for error, but he's also racing against guys who have been all but flawless these first five races. Everyone has at least one rocky time out, and if Bowyer can stay steady and take advantage, he could pick off the challengers one by one. Hey, at this point, in this season, would you expect anything different?

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Tags: , clint bowyer, , lane, michael waltrip racing, , nobody, , the Chase, , ,
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Chase Watch: Keselowski’s empty fuel tank tightens up the points race

13 Oct

For a significant portion of Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte, status quo looked like it was going to be maintained at the top of the points standings.

Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, the top three drivers in the points standings entering the Chase, were bunched together at the front of the field and even occupied the top three spots in the race for a segment. It was going to take something big to catalyze a meaningful shift in the points standings.

When the caution flag flew on lap 223 for debris just after the field had cycled through green flag pit stops, Johnson and Hamlin pitted to try to make it the rest of the race on one stop. Keselowski stayed out. It wasn't terribly surprising; Johnson has admitted that saving fuel is a weak link for his team, the fuel mileage of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas has been much discussed and exceptional fuel mileage was a reason that Keselowski won two weeks ago at Dover.

What happened next was surprising, however. As the field started the green flag pit stop cycle again, Keselowski, who was the race leader and had led the most laps, cruised past the entrance to pit road with 59 laps remaining in the race. His car started sputtering.

[Related: Clint Bowyer reminds us that he’s still a force in the Chase]

Keselowski coasted around to the pits, losing precious seconds both while he coasted on the track and in the pits as the crew worked to refire the car. He rejoined the race in 16th place, and was going to need to pit again to make it to the end on fuel.

He moved up to 11th by the time the checkered flag flew thanks to a combination of differing strategies and the speed of his car, but the (minimal) damage had been done. Thanks to that caution flag pit stop, Hamlin was able to push until the end and finished second, and while Johnson had to back off the throttle significantly over the final few laps, the cushion he had built in third was more than enough to maintain the position.

"It's like playing blackjack. Sometimes you get a good deal but you're not going to win them all," Keselowski said. "You know that, and you hope that when you're sitting there with 13 that you can just not have a lot of chips in the pile. We didn't lose too much. We got 11th out of day where everything kind of fell against us; the cautions at the beginning and the lack of them at the end and we still put out a respectable effort."

But yes, like Keselowski said, the damage in the points standings could have been much worse; it's not often that drivers who run out of fuel for an entire lap late in a race come back to finish 11th. And the points lead is still Keselowski's, the cushion is just smaller.

Who's up? We'll give this one to Hamlin and Johnson. While Clint Bowyer might have just made this Chase a four man race, Johnson essentially cut the deficit between he and Keselowski in half to seven, and Hamlin is now 15 points back. After this race last year, Tony Stewart was 24 points behind.

Who's down? No, this is not going to be a cop-out paragraph that will just say Dale Earnhardt Jr. and then be done with it. This award goes to Jeff Gordon, whose pit road speeding violation on lap 219 meant that he went a lap down serving the penalty. Gordon was never able to make the lap back and finished 18th, the lowest finishing position of any Chaser.

Who's out? And Gordon's penalty leads us to this. Sorry Jeff, you're now officially in the out column, 50 points back of Keselowski in 9th place. The same goes for you Tony Stewart. Smoke and company made a valiant effort after sustaining some substantial front-end damage on a restart crash early in the race, but a 50 point deficit is too much to overcome at this point. We're not going to split hairs, either. at 49 points back, you're done too, Martin Truex Jr.

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Tags: , , caution, clint bowyer, damage, , Jimmie Johnson, mileage, , points standings, , stop
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The Phoenix Racing No. 51 has a smiley face on the hood

11 Oct

With Kurt Busch in the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 for the remainder of the season, Phoenix Racing went with a new paint scheme for its first race with Busch in another car.

This week at Charlotte, the red No. 51 has a smiley face on the hood and the sides of the car. Why? We'll let car owner James Finch explain:

From Fox Sports:

"If you wreck 25 cars this year, you haven't been smiling much," Finch said. "That's 25 wrecks. I don't think the whole garage has used that much sheet metal this year — except at Daytona and Talladega.

"Twenty-five wrecks would make anyone dizzy. For a small team to repair 25 wrecks and show up for every race on time, I think they did a great job."

Regan Smith, who was in the No. 78 until Busch replaced him this week, was scheduled to be in the car this weekend, but he was called into action over at Hendrick Motorsports after Dale Earnhardt Jr. was diagnosed with a concussion. That opened the spot for AJ Allmendinger, who is making his first start after completing NASCAR's Road to Recovery program.

Allmendinger was suspended just before the July Daytona race after failing a drug test after the Kentucky race, and was replaced in the Penske Racing No. 22 by Sam Hornish and eventually released from his contract at Penske. He qualified 38th for Saturday night's race.

Tags: , , , Finch, Furniture Row Racing, James Finch, Kurt Busch, , paint, Phoenix Racing, , remainder, wreck
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. to miss two races after suffering concussion at Talladega

11 Oct

On Sunday afternoon, with the smoke of a two-dozen-car wreck still lingering in the air above Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat on the bumper at the end of his hauler, clearly dazed. He shook off questions about his health and proceeded to give a lucid, if pointed, interview about the state of racing at Talladega. He clearly was not in the best condition, but observers attributed it to the shock of being involved in such a major wreck.

The truth, as it turned out, was much worse. On Wednesday, Earnhardt was diagnosed with a concussion. And now, according to Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt will sit out the races at Charlotte and Kansas. Regan Smith will drive the #88 in his stead.

This, of course, ends Earnhardt's championship hopes, but that's not the real issue. The issue is that Earnhardt suffered a brain injury despite all the safety improvements now in place in NASCAR. This puts a lie to the idea that drivers are perfectly safe encased in their 21st-century cars, and shines an even harsher light on the true effects of wrecks such as Talladega's "Big Ones."

Here, for reference, is Earnhardt's Talladega interview, immediately post-concussion:

Of note: This is Earnhart's second concussion. He suffered one back in 2002 during a major wreck in California, but hid it from NASCAR and his team for fear of being removed from the car. It's good, for his future, that he came forward on this one. This will end Earnhardt's consecutive Sprint Cup starts streak at 461, the fifth-longest current streak. Ahead of him: Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte.

Also of concern: how many drivers suffer undiagnosed concussions? If a driver can wheel his car back to his hauler, as Earnhardt did on Sunday, he's not required to go to the infield care center for diagnosis. Should drivers be required to undergo testing whether or not their cars are driveable?

The issue of concussions is not a minor one, as any observer of the NFL over the last few years knows. The links between head trauma and quality-of-life concerns, as well as early death, are increasing. NASCAR owes it to its drivers' future to ensure that the on-track racing is as safe as possible.

Other sports require a doctor's examination of a participant to first verify no concussion has occurred, and second to permit return to competition. In boxing and MMA -- which, granted, have a far higher risk of head trauma than a NASCAR driver -- fighters can be kept out of the ring for up to 90 days pending a doctor's approval.

Clearly, the Talladega story is not through yet.

-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-

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Tags: , , , , Earnhardt, , Talladega, trauma, wreck
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Happy Hour: So, what about this whole Kurt Busch thing?

10 Oct

Welcome to the latest Happy Hour mailbag! You know how these work: You write us with your best rant/ joke/one-liner at or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face. Let's get to it, shall we?

Hey Busbee -- you're an idiot. Also, what do you think of what Kurt Busch did on Sunday?

— Jay Busbee
Atlanta, GA

What a witty letter, and I'm sure the writer is devilishly handsome. All right, I cheated a bit and sent myself a letter on this topic, 'cause I'm sorry, but we've already covered the whole Talladega mess ad infinitum and nobody sent me a letter suitable for printing on the KuBu situation.

Anyway, at this point I almost feel sorry for Busch. Almost. I mean, he must be thinking that there's absolutely nothing that he can do that won't be misinterpreted and twisted. Problem is, he still does things that don't even need to be misinterpreted or twisted to look bad, like driving away from safety officials without your helmet on. But Busch hides behind irrelevant phrases like "my competitive fire," trying to tie himself to old-school (to use one of his pet phrases) NASCAR style when, in fact, he's just being a jerk.

Somebody needs to sit Busch down, somebody that he respects, and tell him: the days of acting however he wants without consequences are over. Yes, the rules are different for him now. He gets more media scrutiny, and less rope, than any other driver on the circuit. And the opportunities he's had to make things better, he's squandered, time and time and time again.

Here's the problem: Busch's actions have veered from his words so many times that we don't believe anything he says or does anymore. Example: I was in the press scrum surrounding Busch at Talladega on Sunday. (That's my hand and iPhone there at center left. I was trying to show Kurt the level I'd just reached on Angry Birds Space.) You can't ever know the truth of a guy's mind, but his farewell-hug-tour of his team seemed premeditated and choreographed just for the cameras. Maybe it wasn't, but we immediately suspect it was ... and that's a real problem for Busch going forward.

Hey, I want Kurt Busch in NASCAR, and I want him on a good team. The sport could use more strong personalities like his, and I'm fully aware that strong personalities don't always run exactly the way you want them to. But enough with the blame-everybody-else routine, enough with the self-professed innocence. New team, new chance to create a new image for himself. Good luck — serious, not sarcastic — to both Kurt and Furniture Row.


Your story "Dega delivers..." sounds like you are crediting the fans for the restrictor plate. What gives? Fans don't favor having the plates, never did ... don't blame the fans! Fans don't like to see such big, catastrophic wrecks. If you ask me they should shut down Talladega, period. Or build a nice road course track in the infield.

Mike Williams
Adin, CA

I didn't blame the fans, I simply said their safety was the reason for the change. Like motorcycle helmets and two-beer-per-customer limits at ballgames, it's a way of protecting fans from their own worst instincts. But oh, were there a variety of opinions on this Talladega issue ...


I can't speak for all of us, but I can say among the fans I know, no one watched for or enjoyed the pile-up at Talladega.  I'm thinking that "meme" is something akin to unicorns, yeti, and Nessie - a legend. Without question, we're drawn to watch wrecks, and to some extent, they're a part of racing. Yet when a single accident removes 25 cars, something is ghastly wrong. This isn't demolition derby.


This gives me a chance to run one of my favorite videos: the 1960 Daytona 500. Check out the back-in-the-day racing, or fast-forward to the 1:50 mark for a wreck that makes Sunday at Talladega look like a parking-lot fender-bender:


Plate racing is not racing, every driver says so.  Even the great Earnhardt Sr. said as much many times.  When drivers can go into a race knowing they have no control of their finishing position, knowing their team has no control over the finishing position, it is not racing.

Christopher Sanford

The luck factor is a huge problem with Talladega, I grant you that. But was it really bad racing? Other opinions differ ...


It was unfortunate that the raced ended in a wreck.  However, it was the best race of the season. There were over 30 cars on the lead lap, the winner could have been any of 12 to 15 cars, and the winner was not determined until the end.  This is racing, as opposed to the typical boring Sunday drive about when you have less than 10 cars on the lead lap and the winning car was determined after a few laps ... If Sunday's quality of racing continues I will return. I hope NASCAR does something to bring real car racing to all of the tracks so I can become an avid NASCAR fan again.

Robert J Honold

Restrictor plates at all tracks? Make it so! Anyway, what this race (and my email inbox) showed is that no matter how much we all want to believe our version of what constitutes a good and a bad race, the truth is, there's absolutely no consensus, and there never will be.


Why does Tony Stewart get 22nd-place points when he caused everyone to wreck? What an [body part]. He should get the worst points placement of anyone else on the lead lap in the wreck caused by him. Can you imagine if anyone named Busch would have caused that wreck?

Old School

Yeah, Tony pretty much skated on that wreck; if anyone else had been involved in it, he'd have ripped them a new [body part]. But no, of course he shouldn't be penalized overmuch, and he shouldn't be paying for anyone else's damage (another popular criticism). This is racing, and it happens. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of 'Dega.


How does NASCAR determine where each car finished in a wreck like this? I thought the field is frozen upon signal of the yellow flag. Being a Dale Jr fan, that should have put him around 6 or 7, but he ended up 20th.

Joe G.
Jacksonville, FL

It's not as simple as freezing the field; NASCAR judged it based on each car's ability to blend back into a theoretical pack. Freezing the field at the moment of caution would have had Stewart in about fourth or fifth, and he was upside down at the time. NASCAR makes a judgment call on where cars should be able to blend back together, not on their exact position on track.


I love that the roots of NASCAR were formed in running 'shine, and there's no way Junior Johnson got away from the revenuers just turning left.  Give me a track where these guys are driving like someone is on their tails over a 180 mph parade any day.

Oscar Hopper

Hell, give me a track where someone IS on their tails. Hide contraband in one car and call the cops, Talladega Nights-style. Driving for your freedom is a lot more inspiring than driving for a snack-food sponsor, am I right?


I'm just curious, when you recently wrote that Bowyer "is the epitome of what the world expects a NASCAR driver to be," what exactly did you mean ?


Did I say that? Yeah, I probably did, what with the use of the word "epitome" and all. Pretentious jerk. Anyway, it was a compliment. Bowyer's an affable dude with a leathery look and an accent that would frighten people on both coasts. Combine those, and you've got your perfect NASCAR driver for non-NASCAR fans.


Regarding Talladega's race attendance on Sunday, one article mentioned: "The main culprit, NASCAR and track officials have said, is the global economic downturn that started in the fall of 2008." Does this mean the infield previously included a contingent of thousands of drunk Europeans and Asians?

The article also mentioned the race competes with college and pro football...though the article failed to mention Coach Satan's team [that would be Alabama; I hope I didn't need to explain that -JB] did not play this past weekend (and, I imagine, Auburn fans might complain that their team did not play this past weekend, either).

W Connor

This year, for the first time ever, I drove straight from the highway all the way into the track, and that NEVER happens. I wasn't even that early, either. Attendance is a problem that's becoming more serious by the weekend, and NASCAR's going to have to face some hard truths very soon.

And, yeah, the global economy plays a role ... Greece used to run these junkets from Athens to Talladega, and oh lordy, the parties they'd have in the infield.

And on that note, we're out. Thanks to all our writers this week. You want in? Fire up the computer and hit us with whatever's on your mind, NASCAR-wise, at . You can find Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR coverage on Facebook right here, and you can follow me on Twitter at @jaybusbee and on Facebook here. Make sure to tell us where you're from. We'll make you famous!

Tags: , Happy, Jay Busbee Atlanta, Kurt Busch, , luck, , Talladega, ,
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10 Oct
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It’s no surprise that Jimmie Johnson is tops at Charlotte

10 Oct

Entering last year's Charlotte race, Jimmie Johnson trailed points leader Carl Edwards by four points. He left trailing by 35.

It was the perfect symbol for the end of Johnson's reign. He crashed at a track that he had dominated throughout his career. In his five championship seasons, the lowest Johnson had ever finished at Charlotte was 14th. That was in 2007, and after that race, he was in second, trailing teammate and points leader Jeff Gordon by 68 points — or roughly 2o points converting to the current point system.

So this current 14 point deficit to Brad Keselowski? Nah, that's nothing. (For all of his success at Charlotte, Johnson has never taken the points lead during the race. In 2006 and 2007, he's entered and left trailing, and in 2008-2010, he was the points leader both before and after.)

Johnson's average finish at Charlotte is the highest of any Chase driver at 11.8, with six wins and 14 top 10s in 22 races. Yes, it's worth noting that since his last win (the 2009 fall race) that Johnson has finished 28th or lower three times in five races. But, it's Jimmie Johnson at Charlotte. After all, the dude did win four straight races there at one time.

Here's how the other Chasers stack up:

Kasey Kahne: Kahne's won the Coca-Cola 600 earlier this season and you can make a case that he's been the series' best on intermediate tracks this season. That bodes well, as four of the final six races are at 1.5 mile tracks. In his career at Charlotte, Kahne has three wins and an average finish of 12.7.

Tony Stewart: Think of how different the storylines would be surrounding Tony Stewart this week if he would have held onto the lead for another 1/3 of a lap. Anyway, Stewart's average finish is 14.0 at Charlotte and his lone win there came in 2003. In last year's race, he had the pole and led 94 laps, finishing 8th.

Matt Kenseth: Here's the man that won last year's Charlotte Chase race and the guy that won Sunday at Talladega, and he clocks in with a 14.2 average finish. Kenseth has 14 top 10s in 26 starts, and is going to need to repeat if he wants to get out of the Chase cellar.

Denny Hamlin: Hamlin's average finish at Charlotte is a nice, round, 15.0 and he's got 7 top 10s in 14 starts. He finished second in the Coca-Cola 600, and unless he finishes behind Johnson or Keselowski, I'm sure second this time would be just fine too.

Gordon: Gordon clocks in with an average finish of 15.7 and 21 top 10s in 39 starts. His last Charlotte win came in 2007. You know what will probably happen on Saturday night? He'll finish fourth... behind Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin, in that order.

Keselowski: His fifth place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 was Keselowski's first top 10 in six Charlotte starts, and he finished 16th in last year's Bank of America 500. As we've said before, Keselowski is NASCAR's small sample size outlier, so his average finish (16.5), is likely the least indicative of anyone else's.

Greg Biffle: Being in Roush equipment for all of his 19 starts at Charlotte, doesn't it seem that Biffle's average finish would be higher than 17.1 and he would have won a race at the track before? Biffle has 4 top fives and 7 top 10s.

Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has finished outside the top 10 in his last four Charlotte starts, and was 13th in the 600 in May. His average finish is 17.5, and his best run came in 2007's fall race at the track, where he finished second and led 79 laps.

Kevin Harvick: Harvick's only victory at Charlotte came in last year's 600, when he seized the lead on the final lap when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas, the second of his four straight top 10 finishes at Charlotte. And he finished second and eighth in his two rookie Charlotte starts. But in the 17 races between his rookie year and the first of those top 10s, he only grabbed one top 10 finish. His average finish is 18.1.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior has 11 top 10s in 26 Charlotte starts, with five top fives and no wins and an 18.8 average finish. He finished sixth in the 600, and 19th in last year's fall race. In between finishing fifth in the 2008 600 and seventh in the 2011 race, Junior's highest Charlotte finish was 22nd.

Martin Truex Jr.: Here's Other Junior, and his stats at Charlotte are slightly worse than Junior in the average finish department at 19.4. He's got two top 10s in 14 Charlotte starts and was 12th earlier in the year at the 600.

Ryan Newman: Newman has nine poles in his career at Charlotte, but the worst average finish of any Chaser at 20.1 Kind of weird, eh? Newman had the pole for both 2007 races, and promptly lost an engine in the 600 and crashed in the 500 for finishes of 39th and 28th. He was 10th in last year's Chase race here.

Tags: , , Charlotte race, , Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, , , , , Tony Stewart, ,
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Matt Kenseth says Talladega win was a boost for his final six races at Roush

09 Oct

Still in 12th in the Chase points standings after Sunday's win at Talladega, Matt Kenseth's championship hopes are pretty much nonexistent in his final season at Roush Fenway Racing, and Kenseth said Tuesday that the win was integral in helping him feel better about he and the team's split when they officially part ways in six more races.

"Well, it's made me feel a little bit better about certain things," Kenseth said."I mean, it's really important for me to finish this thing off on a high note. It would just break my heart if the thing was broken when I left. So I certainly didn't want that."

"And we had a really rough few weeks in The Chase with parts breaking and following off and not getting good finishes and not running good and everybody was getting close to being at each other's throats and things like that.  So it's important for me to try to really try to keep that whole unit as a cohesive front-running championship-contending unit.  So I'm hoping in the next six weeks we can continue this momentum, hoping we can get another win or two and finish as high as we can in the points and end this thing on a high note."

Kenseth was the series' best driver at restrictor plate tracks this season, also winning the Daytona 500 and finishing third twice. Drivers rarely move on to other teams when things are going well, so that's one reason that Kenseth became just the third different Chase driver, along with Tony Stewart in 2008 and Kurt Busch last year, to win a Chase race the season before leaving for a new team. But Kenseth said that once he met with Joe and JD Gibbs, his decision to take over the driving duties of the No. 20 wasn't as difficult as you might have expected.

"When I've talked to Joe and JD and went and saw some of their stuff and spent some time with them, I just really felt like that was the right place for me," Kenseth said. "I felt really comfortable with everything.  I feel really good about their stuff, when you watch how good all their cars perform on the racetrack and how many races they win and all that kind of stuff, I just felt like that was the place for me."

"It really wasn't as hard or I wasn't probably as conflicted as one might think."

Tags: , , , Talladega, , unit,
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