Race Weekend Central

Joe Gibbs’ Title House Of Horrors

20 points down in the title Chase, entering Sunday Martinsville for Denny Hamlin was pivotal. At a place where he’d won four times, more than at any Cup track on the schedule, a fifth would put him back in the throes of title contention. With rival Jimmie Johnson just as successful, the race was a clear case of make-or-break.

So Hamlin heaved a deep breath, took the green and followed the path of so many Joe Gibbs Chase contenders before him.

Perception Creates An Imperfect Reality: Sixth Place vs. Title No. 6

Three races left in the Sprint Cup season. Two drivers left in Chase contention. And one big problem for NASCAR: a title battle fans believe might be over.

Make no mistake; Brad Keselowski is doing everything possible to change that. The Miller Lite Miracle was something special at Martinsville, Kes turning a 32nd-place starting spot into a sixth-place finish, one for the moral victory column. How exceptional was that for NASCAR’s King of the Twitterverse (and perhaps a reconnection to relevancy)? In five previous starts at the paperclip, @Keselowski’s best finish was ninth. Until a last-ditch effort to win, staying out during the race’s penultimate caution, the driver of the No. 2 Dodge had led a grand total of two laps at NASCAR’s shortest track.

NASCAR’s Hidden Gem… For How Much Longer?

There’s a mystery driver these days putting up big time numbers – just without the big time accolades to go with it. He has six victories in the last three years, more than Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, or Kurt Busch on the Cup Series level. During that span, his 53 top-10 finishes collected are greater than all but three drivers: Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, and Kevin Harvick. It’s a collection of stats made more impressive by the fact that A) he’s switched teams the last two years and B) he’s never been the number one driver in any organization he’s been a part of.

When are we going to give Clint Bowyer the credit he’s due?

No Daytona 500 For Earnhardt? NASCAR Plates Pushing Drivers To Edge

_“Wrecking like that is ridiculous. It’s blood-thirsty if that is what people want. I can’t believe that nobody is sensible enough to realize just how ridiculous that was. Everybody is just ‘ho hum’ no big deal… that is not alright. I don’t even want to go to Daytona or Talladega next year, but I ain’t got much choice.”_ – _Dale Earnhardt, Jr._

Chasing Self-Destruction: Ford’s Sprint Cup Title Hopes Fall Apart

Roush Fenway Racing may have lost a truck arm Sunday at Dover, courtesy the No. 17 Ford of Matt Kenseth but in the stands they quickly gained themselves a new fan: Eeyore. How could the famous donkey, known for a need of modern day antidepressants _not_ be attracted to a trio of riveting quotes like these?

“In two out of three Chase races something either fell off or broke, so obviously that’s not good. Our performance hasn’t been very good either, so I don’t know. Today was a struggle. This is probably the worst we’ve run here for as long as I can remember. From the first lap on the track to the last lap on the track we were pretty much junk.” _Kenseth_

NASCAR’s Real “Monster” Lies In The David vs. Goliath Chase Battle Ahead

Monster. What monster? Unless you’re talking Halloween, for Jimmie Johnson Dover’s mythical one-“Miles” oval serves as his killer assistant to help slay Sprint Cup Chase competition. The numbers tell a tale of terror, not for him but everyone else; leading 2,318 career laps on the concrete, more than at any other facility success is not only expected but routine. Adding a fourth-place finish Sunday, his ninth top-10 result in NASCAR’s last ten trips out to Delaware I’d say fear is the last adjective that crosses his mind while driving.

So why did Mr. Five-Time, of all people leave Dover with the descriptors “afraid” and “apprehensive” instead of a typical A+? Three races in to a 2012 postseason quickly coming into focus, that answer is simple: Brad Keselowski equals J.J. Chase kryptonite.

Elimination Station: Whittling Down Title Contenders After Week 1

You can’t win a championship in the first quarter, the first round, or the first pitch. But you can certainly lose it, with a mental error or physical deficit making a comeback so impossible even _Rudy_ would step off the field and surrender. For the best athletes, their curse in learning to beat the best is knowing exactly when the best is about to beat them. When the white flag nears, they project the strength of “never surrender” but the light of the camera sometimes shows a broken spirit with nasty words they cannot speak.

Or in this case… it was a nasty ‘stache.

No Normal Day at the NASCAR Office

Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth: two racing horses of clearly different colors. One loves Indiana and everything in it; the other is obsessed with the Green Bay Packers. “Smoke” will take his temper to your mouth, then buy you a beer; the “quiet champ” of 2003 has the most sarcastic sense of humor nobody ever hears about. One is a self-described bachelor, winning a title on the heels of dumping his girlfriend last September; Kenseth, in contrast, has had two children within the last three years.

Until now, they’ve been tied together by nothing more than a helmet throw, an angry Smoke retaliating for some ill-advised contact that knocked both drivers from a chance of winning Bristol in August. In a few days, perhaps an announcement will leave them loosely connected; Kenseth is poised to take over Stewart’s former No. 20 car, the Home Depot Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing starting in 2013. But as Atlanta’s competition failed to break the “bad news” cycle, these men dominate the NASCAR headlines for another reason no one wants to talk about.

The Bristol Hot Potato

You can say what you want about the competition at Bristol. But Saturday night, a repaved Thunder Valley was a throwback to the great races of years past: unpredictable. From the second the green flag flew, for a pole sitter whose team has start-and-parked in several races (Casey Mears), you had as much of a chance of pegging the winner as predicting the right number on a roulette wheel. Only when the ball landed in Denny Hamlin’s court, tying a Sprint Cup season high with his third 2012 victory, did the race assume some semblance of normalcy down the stretch.

Seizing A NASCAR Window Of Opportunity

Greg Biffle and Rodney Dangerfield have about as much in common as Lindsay Lohan and Barack Obama. One races cars for a living; the other was an actor/comedian. The driver would kill for any type of fan following; Dangerfield spent his career leaving legions of fans laughing. And though Dangerfield died a few years back, Biffle is very much alive and remains in the midst of his NASCAR career.

However, the two men remain tied together, if only through one simple phrase…

“I don’t get no respect.”

Tragedy Overshadows All For NASCAR At Pocono

Lifetime fans of racing are no strangers to tragedy. Safety advancements can only go so far when the goal is to hit a turn at 200 miles an hour; even superstars, driving towards athletic immortality, can only be one broken part from seeing it all stripped away. Dan Wheldon, Dale Earnhardt, Adam Petty… their deaths serve as glass-breaking moments, sobering reminders about how fragile life is for all of us. When fans sit in the stands, they have some faint acceptance that something horrible could happen on-track. The invocation, done every race day, serves as a subconscious reminder that the risk, however slight these days, is always there.