It seems like just yesterday Brad Keselowski was hoisting the Sprint Cup championship trophy in honor of his grand performance in the 2012 Chase. But alas, it’s been almost three months now since NASCAR last took to the track, and this Saturday night the stars of the sport will make their glorious return to start 2013, competing in the newly rebranded Sprint Unlimited race (formerly known as the Bud Shootout). There will be a mind-boggling array of changes on display in this event, such as (another) new style of drafting, new rules, new jet dryers, and of course the much-ballyhooed Gen-6 race cars.
It goes without saying that we have lots to cover this week, so let’s get started, shall we?
Well folks, it took 10 months, but we’re finally here. This week the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its final road trip of the year for the season finale in Homestead-Miami, FL. Jimmie Johnson’s tire failure midway through last Sunday’s race in Phoenix essentially doomed his chances for a title, and Brad Keselowski now sits with a comfortable 20 point advantage heading into the season’s final race. And, word on the street is that there was some sort of altercation late in last week’s race, apparently involving Jeff Gordon?
Phoenix International Raceway is the site of the penultimate round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, and with only two races left before we crown a champion, the battle for 1st place in the final standings is white hot. Brad Keslelowski and Jimmie Johnson went toe to toe for 334 laps last week in Texas, culminating in an epic late race battle that saw Johnson emerge victorious. With time running out and tensions rising to an all-time high, can one of the two title contenders strike a final blow to the other’s championship hopes? We answer that and much more in this week’s edition of Four Burning Questions.
After one of the best races of the season last week in Martinsville, the Sprint Cup Series heads west to the uber-fast Texas Motor Speedway for Round 8 of the Chase for the Championship. This race will almost certainly not live up to the ludicrous level of hype that race promoter Eddie Gossage insists on building every year for it, but it should be a decent race nonetheless. Jimmie Johnson has a slim 2 point advantage in the Series standings over Brad Keselowski, and the spotlight will be shining bright on these two drivers this weekend as both have impressively managed to distance themselves from the rest of the Chase. Can one of the two championship contenders steal a win in The Lonestar State? That’s just one of many things to watch for in this week’s AAA Texas 500.
It’s surprising to me to think back to last year’s race at Homestead and realize we are already coming up on one year since that race between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. This year has flown by and already so much has happened, including last weekend at Kansas. Now, we head into Martinsville for yet another chapter in what is turning out to be the same exciting battle – albeit it between two different drivers.
The NASCAR circuit is making it’s second trip of the year to the Kansas Speedway this weekend, and much has changed since they last visited the Sunflower State in April. The track was repaved during the summer months, and new state of the art progressive banking was added as well. The track is now up to 20 degrees in banking and butter smooth, meaning that high speeds and a few tire blowouts will likely be the order of the day. How the Chasers fare during what has been billed as a wildcard round of the Chase leads our list of things to watch heading into this weekend.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is the site of Round 5 of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and as the Chase reaches it’s midpoint, the championship picture is becoming increasingly clear. After emerging from the last lap mayhem at Talladega with minimal damage, Brad Keselowski also emerged from Talladega with a 14 point lead in the Championship over his nearest foe, Jimmie Johnson. Denny Hamlin is still very much in the hunt for the title as well, but a poor finish at Talladega set his number 11 team back a good bit. With this Saturday night’s race looming as another important step in the Chase for the Championship, here are the big stories to watch heading into Charlotte.
Its big. Its fast. Its scary (although not as scary as it used to be). Yes ladies and gents, its Talladega. No other track on the circuit is capable of paradoxically inspiring so much love and hatred at the same time. Of course, whether you love it or hate it, there is no questioning the fact that the Fall race at Talladega is one of the biggest and most drama-filled races of the year. And perhaps most importantly, Talladega is the track that can have the biggest impact on the Chase picture. Thus, without further ado, lets take at the big stories heading into the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500.
Well, New Hampshire came in like a lamb and out….like a lamb. As we enter week 3 of the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, the question that begs is whether or not a dramatic spark will be lit to kick the sport back into gear after two weeks of general malaise. And if recent history tells us anything, Dover is not likely to be a race of high drama either given the rock hard tires that are used for this race. Whether or not the Monster Mile can deliver after a series of C-grade races is high on the list of headlines to look out for this week.
At any rate, here’s what to watch for this week in Dover.
Once the Chase’s first race, NASCAR’s September trip to New Hampshire was bumped to number two in the order just prior to the 2011 season. The powers that be had their reasons why; major market versus small-town Northeast, one-date track that now was provided with some type of unique postseason twist. But the second trip to the Magic Mile will also be second for a reason you won’t expect; we’re still searching for the second on-track pass for the lead, under green this Chase. So for those looking for a gravy train of momentum from the move, leading to increased attendance and excitement surrounding what was a “ho-hum” Chase debut track to begin with – you’re in for a long wait. It’s still at the station.
*1. Can Denny hold his momentum?*
In a Chase that can be defined in simple terms – Hendrick chassis vs. the field – Denny Hamlin stands out as the lone “wild card” capable of dethroning the Johnson juggernaut so many expect. Entering the Chase with two wins in his last three races, the driver of the No. 11 Toyota repositioned himself after a miserable summer and enters this Chase the No. 1 seed, albeit with a scant three-point advantage over his closest competition. The 2010 championship runner-up appears to have learned from that year of “almost,” now paired with a crew chief in Darian Grubb that’s won more Sprint Cup races since the start of 2011 than anyone else. Together, both create a compelling case of redemption and have the full focus of Joe Gibbs Racing behind them.