NASCAR's cautions, Hamlin's title hopes and Stewart's revenge
(Photo by ASP, Inc.)
Trust and belief are core issues the Backseat Drivers Fan Council delves into this week. Members state how much they trust NASCAR in regards to debris cautions. Belief centers on what Fan Council members think about the title chances of Denny Hamlin, who has a series-high four wins, including the last two races. Belief also centers on what they think of Tony Stewart’s various comments last week toward Matt Kenseth and if Stewart will seek revenge. Here’s what members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had to say on those topics and more.
Do you trust NASCAR on calling debris cautions?
55.9 percent said only part of the time 33.0 percent said yes, all of the time 11.1 percent said no, never
What Fan Council members said:
• I have to be honest here and say that sometimes I think NASCAR throws a caution for no apparent reason to change the outcome of the race ... plain and simple!
• If you can't trust NASCAR then why are you watching?
• How many times does this need to be talked about?! Seriously, I am tired of it! Face it, NASCAR is a dictatorship; they are judge, jury and executioner. They are in business to make money, and what makes money in racing? Excitement! What doesn't make money in racing? Boring-ass, single-file, follow-the-leader (who is eight seconds ahead) racing. So if NASCAR wants to toss out a phantom yellow once in a while to create some action — which creates profits — I am all for it.
• I'm sorry, but I just don't buy the conspiracy theories. There is just too much at stake, financially, for the powers-that-be at NASCAR to go around manipulating results. It's a legitimate sport, not wrestling.
• The lack of consistency has always irked me. If brushing the wall brings out a caution on lap 10, it should bring out a caution on lap 110.
• I do believe that NASCAR does, at times, consider what will make a good TV finish and may be inclined to abuse the caution flag to create that situation. That's my honest opinion, and I hope somebody can argue the other point and change my mind.
• I believe they make mistakes but I also believe that NASCAR has to err on the side of safety and there may be cautions called that are not necessary. However, by and large, they make the right calls most of the time.
• NASCAR is definitely not infallible when it comes to their calls, so they're not going to get it right all the time. But this is racing. You're never going to get it right all the time. And you're never going to please all the fans with the calls — it just can't be done, especially when you consider the coverage that most of us are stuck with. I'm tired of this whole debate.
After scoring two consecutive wins, is Denny Hamlin the championship favorite?
75.1 percent said No
24.9 percent said Yes
What Fan Council members said:
• Denny is too mentally weak. He'll snap and disappoint the team again.
• Hamlin choked the 2010 title away in the final two races after being one of the winningest drivers of that season. Just because he has won two in a row, he looks like the flavor of the month. Remember what happened with Smoke last year? The only favorite is the 48, period.
• That team has not shown the consistency to win the championship so far, but with Darian Grubb as crew chief, who knows?
• With Darian Grubb, a crew chief who did a great job last year with Tony Stewart, on top of the pit box and having momentum heading into the Chase, they could be dangerous.
• I believe this might be Denny's year, he and Darian are really clicking and look very good to win the Championship!
• Serious challenger, but still think JJ is the man to win.
• He hasn't shown the consistency to be the favorite. Betting against Jimmie Johnson in the Chase is the ultimate sucker bet. It’s about time to start singing the praises of Darian Grubb, though — what a 12 months of racing for him!
• Hate to say it, but Dale Jr. is the guy to beat. Top 5s week in and week out.
(Photo by ASP, Inc.)
Will Tony Stewart seek revenge on Matt Kenseth? After wrecking with Matt Kenseth at Bristol, Tony Stewart said: “I’m going to run over him every him every chance I’ve got from now ’til the end of the year, every chance I’ve got.” But then a few days later, Stewart said: “I can’t guarantee anything is not going to happen. It’s not our intention to seek him out. We’ve got along a lot more races than we’ve disagreed. We’ve always got through it in the past.” Fan Council members were asked if they think Stewart will seek revenge on Kenseth by the end of the season?
74.9 percent said no, Stewart won’t seek revenge 25.1 percent said yes, Stewart will seek revenge
What Fan Council members said:
• I'm looking forward to it and will be disappointed if Stewart doesn't.
• Tony is a professional and won't stoop to the level of others.
• If it serves Tony's purpose or if he gets angry, he will wreck anyone at any time. I'm growing tired of NASCAR applauding his childish/angry behavior.
• Now that Tony has lost his primary sponsor, he doesn't dare do anything controversial. It's a shame, because I was kind of looking forward to a punt at Richmond or Martinsville.
• Frankly, Tony is full of a lot of hot air (kind of like Harvick). They both say what they want, in the heat of the moment, and then change their minds later when it suits them.
• Tony is smart enough to know not to get negative publicity by doing something stupid. Will he cut Matt a break? Probably not ... but not at the cost of his racecar. Now having said that, if I were Matt Kenseth, I wouldn't push Tony around for a while because Bad Tony can come back quickly!! But I don't think Tony will actually go out of his way to run him over.
• Racers never forget when they think another driver has wronged them.
Grade Sunday night’s Cup race at Atlanta
51.9 percent called it Good 29.5 percent called it Fair 11.6 percent called it Great 7.1 percent called it Poor
What Fan Council members said:
• It was a good, solid race. I have come to appreciate the races with long green-flag runs. The best cars end up at the front.
• This could have been a 100-lap race, because the first 250 were not that exciting. I am not a huge fan of long green-flag runs with the field so spread apart, and so few people on the lead lap.
• I was there in person. The only good parts were the beginning and the end, unfortunately. Normally in person you can find good racing that is not shown on TV, but sadly this was not the case in Atlanta ... disappointing and boring.
• This was just a great race throughout. There were battles up front all race long and watching some of the drivers master that track was just beautiful.
• Just when racing was getting entertaining again we go back to single-file, spread-out-by-two-three-seconds racing. They need to maybe throw tacks on the track every 70 laps to cause wrecks.
• I have to say I was really bored. I don't know if the track needs repaved or what, but when the cars get so spread out I start web surfing. This is one race that I would not go see in person.
• Another green-flag-plagued race saved by cautions at the end.
• This was by far the most boring Atlanta race I can remember and I was there! No passing, single-file runs. The ending was "fun” but other than that ... very slow.
• Once again it seems aero rules. The race was pretty boring overall. The last 20 laps were exciting. Then total heartbreak.
The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was founded and is administered by Dustin Long. Fans can join by sending Dustin an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
Hamlin, Johnson, Keselowski separate from the pack
"Hmmm ... what should I ask him?" (ASP, Inc.)
1. Jimmie Johnson Denny Hamlin may be the hottest driver on the Cup circuit at the moment, but Johnson’s team will still be the one everyone keeps an eye on going into the Chase.
2. Denny Hamlin Became the first driver since Tony Stewart in last season’s playoffs to score consecutive wins on the Cup circuit, with victories at Bristol and Atlanta. This is not the Denny Hamlin of 2011, folks.
3. Brad Keselowski Throw out Keselowski’s disastrous night in Bristol (which is a real rarity) and you’ll find a driver with eight straight runs of ninth or better. Along with Johnson and Hamlin, he has to be a title favorite.
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Persevered for a respectable seventh-place showing on what was shaping up to be an off night in Atlanta. The consistency is unquestioned, but can Junior post a couple wins in the Chase?
5. Greg Biffle Was expecting more out of the points leader at the fast and slick Atlanta track. That said, his team of intermediate-track specialists will be ready for the Chase kickoff at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway.
6. Martin Truex Jr. Victory slips through Truex’s fingers once again. He and the No. 56 team’s performance in the closing laps at Atlanta are what separate the “title contenders” from the “playoff participants.”
7. Matt Kenseth One has to wonder how his Roush Fenway bunch will react now that Kenseth has walked the halls and officially announced his Joe Gibbs Racing relationship.
8. Clint Bowyer Moved into the top 10 from a rear-of-the-field starting spot at Atlanta before battery issues cost him three laps. Could Bowyer be a guy who breaks up the Kyle Busch/Jeff Gordon battle royal in Richmond?
Truex's 2013 Toyota. Pretty spiffy. (ASP, Inc.)
9. Kasey Kahne Looking to make up the 19 points he’ll need to slide ahead of Tony Stewart in the standings and take advantage of the bonus points he’ll receive for the two wins. That may be a lot to ask.
10. Jeff Gordon Gordon regretted not putting the fender to Hamlin on the final lap at Atlanta. Considering all that’s riding on a win, I’m scratching my head as to why he didn’t, either.
11. Kyle Busch Busch can win at Richmond, no doubt. But can JGR give him a piece that lasts the whole race?
12. Kevin Harvick The last couple of weeks makes me wonder why Harvick and Gill Martin split up in the first place.
13. Tony Stewart Point to ponder: Danica Patrick is currently the only driver at SHR with full sponsorship for 2013.
14. Marcos Ambrose Valiant performances by Ambrose and the team over the last month is example of too little, too late.
15. Paul Menard Here’s betting the “Paul Menard Empire” is the only group that knew he has three straight top 10s.
Just off the lead pack: Carl Edwards, Sam Hornish Jr., Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman
Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's AdvoCare 500
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Coming off another exciting race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads south to Atlanta Motor Speedway for this weekend's AdvoCare 500. Only two races remain before the Chase for the Cup gets underway in Chicago, and if the past few weeks are any indication of things to come, you better hold on a lot tighter than Tony Stewart holds onto one of his helmets.
Since the series hit the summer stretch in June, there have been 11 different winners in 11 races, dating back to Joey Logano's win at the repaved Pocono Raceway. Last week, it was Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin that broke in the new configuration at Bristol and went to Victory Lane.
Just as the battle for wins each week has heated up, so has the battle to secure a spot in the 12-driver Chase field.
Hamlin's victory was his third of the season, making it a four-way tie for the most win on the seasons with Hamlin, Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. So far, only four drivers have locked themselves into the Chase: Johnson, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth. This weekend, eight other drivers could mathematically lock themselves into the field.
While the top 10 is settling things amongst themselves, the fight for the two wild card spots are very much up for grabs. Entering this weekend's race, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch hold the coveted position, but anything can change, as Sunday night's race proved. Among those looking to secure a spot in the Chase through via wild card are Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards.
In the meantime, we've seen wild races over the course of the last three weeks. Last-lap drama, helmet throwing, finger pointing, accusations of teams testing the boundaries of the rulebook … you name it, it’s happened.
With a 500-mile race under the lights on the fast, high-banks of the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway, the stage is set for yet another dramatic weekend for the Cup Series.
However, look for that streak of 11 different winners to end this week as Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the entire No. 48 team look to solidify their spot as the top seed heading into the Chase.
This organization has shown it is once again in championship form, with a win at Indianapolis, a second last week at Bristol, a third at Watkins Glen and a 14th at Pocono. Don’t forget, the 27th-place finish at Michigan is very deceiving as Johnson lost a motor leading in the closing laps.
A three-time winner in Atlanta, Johnson enters the weekend as the fantasy favorite. Already locked into the Chase, Johnson and Knaus are now looking solely for wins. While this group has not been to Victory Lane at AMS since it swept the races in 2007, Johnson was second last year and third in the September 2010 event. Look for him to improve that finishing position by one spot Sunday night and emerge as the Chase favorite heading to Richmond.
While questions arose about when last year's Atlanta event would be run after rain washed out the race until Tuesday, there was no question as to who had the best car when the green flag finally flew. Veteran Jeff Gordon dominated the day, leading seven times for a total of 146 laps en route to his fifth Atlanta win.
Marking the 20th anniversary of his historic first start in the Cup Series, the four-time series champion is on the verge of missing out on this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Currently third in the Chase wild card battle, with one win (Pocono), Gordon is 55 points out of the top 10, but only 16 behind fellow wild carder Kyle Busch. If Gordon can score his second win of the season, it would go a long way towards his quest to make the Chase.
The No. 24 team, led by crew chief Alan Gustafson, has been strong of late, but two poor finishes at Watkins Glen and Michigan have made things much more difficult. Expect Gordon to be a contender throughout Sunday night's race and be there in the end, challenging for the win.
Five Favorites: Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne
This year, veteran Mark Martin has proven that you are only as old as you feel. The 53-year-old is running a limited schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing, but each time he climbs behind the wheel, he’s a threat for the win. Making only 15 starts thus far in 2012, Martin leads the series in poles (four) and has two top 5s and five top 10s.
Over the past few seasons, however, Martin has struggled a bit on the high banks of Atlanta. Since finishing second in the spring 2006 race, he has only two other top--10 finishes and seven finishes outside the top 20 (including three DNFs).
Despite his not-so-stellar record in Atlanta of late, Martin appears renewed at MWR and is this week's undervalued pick of the week.
When looking for another undervalued driver for your fantasy lineup, you might want to consider Richard Petty Motorsports' Aric Almirola. While Almirola has only one start in Atlanta, he sat on the pole earlier this year at Charlotte Motor Speedway, another mile-and-a-half track. The No. 43 team has not set the world on fire this season, but with crew chief Mike Ford now calling the shots they have steadily improved.
Do not expect this team to get up there and battle Johnson, Gordon, et al, for the win, but they could score a solid finish and give you the fantasy points you need as the season winds toward its home stretch.
Five Undervalued Picks: Mark Martin, Aric Almirola, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard
Have you ever seen a kid trying to eat an ice cream cone when it is about 100 degrees outside? Typically it’s a losing battle. That's where Carl Edwards currently finds himself with only two races left before the Chase field is set.
For the past few weeks, Edwards has been our darkhorse pick of the week. Each week, he has proved why. A sixth at Michigan was a solid finish, but not what the team needed to make the Chase. Last weekend at Bristol, Edwards was out front leading, but made a mistake late in the race, bypassing a fuel stop under caution. The resulting 22nd-place finish was the result when the tank ran dry.
With only two top 5s and 11 top 10s, Edwards has rarely been in contention to win races this season. After losing last year's championship battle to Tony Stewart by virtue of a tiebreaker, the driver of the No. 99 has struggled to bounce back.
Admitting there is a "real sense of urgency" at the moment, Edwards also pointed out earlier in the week there are a lot of talented drivers in a similar situation.
"It’s almost hard to put into words how close the competition is and any loss you have, there are gonna be a ton of people who capitalize on it, and any gain you have it’s really hard to have a real positive gain over the field technically or competitive-wise, points-wise," he said. "I don’t think that it could be any more competitive. Misery likes company and right now we’ve got a little bit of company back there, but I don’t know if it makes me feel any better, but it is good to see that it can happen to anybody.”
Once again, though, Edwards heads to a track where he is very capable of winning. The Roush Fenway Racing driver has three wins, eight top 5s and 10 top 10s on the 1.5-mile track, finishing second in the September 2010 race and fifth last season.
Although his last win cam in 2008, if he and crew chief Chad Norris can put together a strong setup under the car, stay out of trouble both on the track and in the pits, as well as play the strategy right, this could be the weekend Edwards finally gets out and does his signature backflip — and then the wild card battle really gets crazy. If not, you can pretty much write off his Chase hopes for 2012.
Five Darkhorse Picks: Carl Edwards, Landon Cassill, Jamie McMurray, Regan Smith, Danica Patrick
Best Average Finish at Atlanta (Wins/Starts)
Jimmie Johnson — 10.0 (3/20)
Tony Stewart — 11.2 (3/25)
Jeff Gordon — 12.2 (5/38)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 12.8 (1/24)
Matt Kenseth — 12.9 (0/23)
Carl Edwards — 13.6 (3/14)
Greg Biffle — 16.1 (0/17)
Jeff Burton — 16.6 (0/34)
Juan Pablo Montoya — 16.9 (0/9)
Mark Martin — 17.3 (2/51)