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Bowles-Eye View

Win Just More Proof That Johnson and Knaus Are the Definition of “Clutch”

Win Just More Proof That Johnson and Knaus Are the Definition of “Clutch”

Jimmie Johnson has run under the radar for most of the season. His usual mid-summer swoon that sees him squander a meaningless point lead as he approaches the Chase did not occur. Instead, the No. 48 team slumped from the beginning of 2008. Sans an early win at Phoenix, the two-time defending Sprint Cup Champion and his cohorts at Hendrick Motorsports did not have nearly the edge over other powerhouses, like Roush Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing, that they did in 2007. Kiss goodbye any chance of Johnson becoming the first three-time champion since Cale Yarborough, right? Hold your horses. Sunday night’s dominant win by Johnson at California sends a message to both Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards that they are not the only two horses (not a reference to Mr. Ed) in the championship hunt. Read More »

The Busch – Edwards Rivalry Gains Steam; But Do The Fans Love It?

The Busch – Edwards Rivalry Gains Steam; But Do The Fans Love It?

There were differing opinions on the quality of racing Saturday night; but if we learned anything from the new Bristol that everyone can agree on, it’s that the Kyle Busch – Carl Edwards battle is officially the sport’s newest rivalry. With one angry swipe on the cooldown lap – and one angry slam hit in retaliation – NASCAR’s two most successful drivers of 2008 also decided that they didn’t like each other all that much. But what the sport has yet to understand – and what they’ll be watching – is whether this is the battle fans in the stands are looking to see. Read More »

Edwards Had To Win Duel Against Busch — Now, The Real Showdown Lies Ahead

Edwards Had To Win Duel Against Busch — Now, The Real Showdown Lies Ahead

Carl Edwards was happy as could be in Victory Lane at Michigan; and why not? A weekend sweep at the track left him the toast of the Nationwide and Cup Series garages – at least until NASCAR hits Bristol’s high banks later this week. But once a reporter in the press room asked about his confidence, Edwards’ emotions took a surprising turn -- quickly jumping from his cool, collected self to a statement that was borderline out of character. With a few short sentences, happy-go-lucky Cousin Carl suddenly jumped straight out of the frying pan and into the ego that had just been padded with his 12th win in 144 career Cup starts. “My psyche and mentality is pretty much fixed on I’m the greatest race-car driver that ever lived,” he said, to the awe of friends and enemies alike. “David Pearson told me that if you don’t believe that, you don’t belong in a race car.” Read More »

Wanna Make This Year’s Chase? You Better Be Lucky

Wanna Make This Year’s Chase? You Better Be Lucky

Years from now, NASCAR historians will tell a Pocono tale of one rain delay, two races, and three drivers getting some very lucky prayers answered by Mother Nature – and by their fuel tanks. Is that what’s supposed to be the deciding factor in who plays for the series title and who doesn’t? That’s not an easy question to answer; but right now, all one can tell you is Lady Luck has taken full charge of this playoff race, and she shows no signs of turning back anytime soon. Indeed, the phrase “better to be lucky than good” was never more appropriate than on Sunday for several on the Chase bubble, with Richard Childress Racing lining up front and center to get a magical dose of much-needed good fortune. Read More »

Halfway Through And Nothing’s Changed : Kyle Busch Still A Man On A Mission

Halfway Through And Nothing’s Changed : Kyle Busch Still A Man On A Mission

So much has been written about Kyle Busch these last five months as he’s ascended to the top of the Sprint Cup circuit. But in the midst of all the criticism, the occasional contentiousness, and the challenges that have defined his season, there’s one thing for Busch that hasn’t changed: his success rate. Late on Saturday night, Busch was sipping the bubbly from Victory Lane for a season-high sixth time, capturing his first career win at NASCAR mecca Daytona International Speedway. Closing out the first half of 2008 in style, it was the latest accomplishment in a season that’s seen him dart out to a 182-point lead over the man who replaced him at Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., while coming into his own during his first season driving Joe Gibbs Racing’s famed No. 18 Toyota. Read More »

Mears Almost Had It All … But Almost Doesn’t Cut It

Mears Almost Had It All … But Almost Doesn’t Cut It

One third of the way through Sunday’s race, it looked like a little luck was shining Casey Mears’ way. Just days removed from a crushing blow to his career, he looked to follow up his pending release from Hendrick Motorsports with an upset trip to Victory Lane. He almost had it, too … with the keyword being almost. After a crucial decision by crew chief Alan Gustafson to gain track position by staying out during a lap 87 caution, Mears assumed the lead and wound up pacing the field for a total of 53 laps – 52 more than he’d led the entire 2008 season to date. As the laps clicked off and the No. 5 car held firm, it looked for an instant that Mears would pull the shock of the year. Read More »

Road Course Ringers Running Short On Wins

Road Course Ringers Running Short On Wins

Max Papis. Brian Simo. Ron Fellows. This weekend, some of the most accomplished road racing veterans will once again descend upon Infineon Raceway in a stock car, looking to translate success from other series into an upset victory on their biannual tour around the Sprint Cup circuit. There’s just one problem; barring a miracle, every single one of them will come up short. But that doesn’t stop the same continuous cycle of hope turned hopeless, as each one embarks on a quest for a rather unlikely trip to the top rung of stock car’s highest ladder – complete with an assist from NASCAR teams willing to hire them. Or are they? In looking at the entry list this week, I’m noticing a trend; slowly but surely, the number of ringers is dwindling significantly with each passing year. This weekend, just four will attempt to qualify on the 1.99-mile twists and turns of Infineon Raceway: Boris Said will join the three listed above, taking a stab at qualifying with his single-car No. 60 No Fear Ford operation. That number of just four ringers is 43% less from last year’s total of seven, and down 56% from the 2006 total of nine. It's a downward spiral that -- based on the current system -- I don’t expect it to go up again anytime soon. Read More »

Kahne Leads Charge, But Chase Hopefuls Vickers, Busch Steal Headlines

Kahne Leads Charge, But Chase Hopefuls Vickers, Busch Steal Headlines

This weekend at Pocono began with the Sprint Cup point leader front and center, as Kyle Busch attempted the vaunted “tripleheader” – three races, three cities, three days – with Sunday’s 500-miler the biggest crown jewel of them all. But by the end, it was Busch who was pushed to the back pages, his late Spring momentum all but stopped in its tracks after an in-race wreck left him stumbling down to 43rd by the finish. Busch left the track with his point lead all but evaporated; instead, it was the Chase’s bubble driver – Kasey Kahne – who stole the show. Welcome to the season’s second half. While the gap at the top of the standings shrunk, the storylines from Pocono ballooned around Kahne and four other potential Chasers who finished their weekends in the Top 11: Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Bobby Labonte. It’s all part of a shifting of focus from the best to the better: while drivers like Kyle Busch, Burton, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. begin fine-tuning towards a run at the championship, the attention diverts towards those looking to simply get a “playoff” invitation over these summer months. Read More »

For Two NASCAR Champs, A Little Game Of Perception Versus Reality

For Two NASCAR Champs, A Little Game Of Perception Versus Reality

Coming off of Dover, the latest buzz continued to center around the budding Kyle Busch – Carl Edwards rivalry -- and rightfully so. Finishing 1-2 on Sunday (with Busch on top) proved rather appropriate considering both driver’s perch on top of the Sprint Cup wins ladder -- halfway through the regular season, they’ve combined to capture seven of 13 trophies so far in 2008. But underneath the hoopla surrounding those two hard chargers, there’s plenty of other drivers still gunning for the biggest trophy of all. With a points format that resets the Top 12 drivers to virtually identical stats for the final ten races, we’ve learned through experience you need to merely put yourself in position to succeed in the regular season – not necessarily dominate it. With that in mind, there’ve been several drivers who’ve been bounced around by the critics for disappointing seasons; but as their Sunday performances reminded us, two former champions in particular make two great examples that perception is often different from reality. When twelve drivers make the playoffs, most everybody in that group will experience a “down” portion to their season – but the key is to show enough strength to be up at the right time. Read More »

Bad Luck Bug Still Keeping Stewart From Closing The Deal

Bad Luck Bug Still Keeping Stewart From Closing The Deal

Come Monday morning, Tony Stewart might well be lobbying NASCAR to change the mileage of the Coca-Cola 600. For if it were the Coca-Cola 595 … Stewart would have won. Up to that point, the veteran of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable had played his poker hand to perfection. Struggling during the first 300 miles, Stewart spent most of the race’s first half mired in 20th place. But as a veteran team and driver know, it’s not how you handle at the start of this 400-lap marathon; it’s how you handle at the finish, once the sun goes down and nighttime shines on the 1.5-mile oval. Read More »