Race Weekend Central

Denny Hamlin Hungry for More After Kansas Victory

Prior to qualifying and post-practice at Kansas Speedway this past weekend, Denny Hamlin tweeted the following: “Had a great day at the track today. Our FedEx Toyota should be a contender this weekend.”

Had this been 2010 it would have been expected, when Hamlin was so voracious a tweeter, so bold a prognosticator in just 140 characters that he made Brad Keselowski seem mute by comparison. But these kinds of confident predictions as to his equipment and race day chances have been few and far between for the Virginia native this past year and a half.

Long Term Prognosis Solid for Kahne Despite Tough Start to 2012

Back in April 2010, when Kasey Kahne first signed on the dotted line with NASCAR’s powerhouse team; he knew there would be a couple transition seasons before he finally started piloting Hendrick horse-powered cars. In fact, it would take the better part of 20 months before Kahne finally pulled those belts down tight in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports ride: a journey that included a one-year sabbatical at the now defunct Red Bull Racing outfit as well as more than half a season finishing up his Richard Petty Motorsports contract. 2012, then, was meant to be the year he ignited a sustained and genuine title challenge that had been years in the offing.

Fighting For A Future: Where Brian Vickers Goes From Here

One month ago, the season-opening Daytona 500 entry list lacked a familiar face — Brian Vickers. But Vickers, a mainstay in NASCAR’s top series since 2004, remained optimistic about his plans for the upcoming season, warning fans to not count him out just yet.

“The point of the story is, I plan on being in a race car in 2012,” he said in a video posted on Facebook that February. “Hopefully, in a car that I can win with and contend for championships with.”

Looks like he’s remained true to his word.

Two Drivers to Watch and Three Who Might Need to Watch Out

Three races is a small sample size especially in a season that stretches 10 months and some 36 races. At this nascent stage of the year a poor start is just that, but it won’t take long for a poor start to become a deep hole, and deep holes – unexpected hot streaks notwithstanding – are very hard to climb out from. So with that in mind, here are two drivers to watch and three drivers who might just need to watch out as we head to Bristol Motor Speedway and the high-banked chaos of NASCAR’s coliseum – Thunder Valley.

The Biff is Back!

The 2012 NASCAR season is still very much in its infancy, but after just a couple races of an arduous 36-race, 10-month schedule, trends are emerging. One such trend is a solid start for Greg Biffle, who has a pair of very solid third place finishes to open up the year. The Biff is, in fact, one of only five drivers with a pair of top-10 finishes alongside Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and the ageless wonder himself: Mark Martin.

Phoenix (Hopefully) Without The Flames

About the only thing missing from a mesmerizing 2012 Daytona 500 was a plague of locusts, but given the sheer insanity that transpired this past weekend I wouldn’t have been surprised to see one descend from above. Now though, with the hoopla of the Great American race finally consigned to the annals of NASCAR history, we get down to the serious business this weekend.

But wait, you say. Isn’t the Daytona 500 – the sport’s biggest race – the very definition of serious business? Well yeah, of course it’s serious, but it’s the form of the drivers and teams over the next two race weekends at Phoenix and Las Vegas Motor Speedway that will give us a true indicator as to who is going to make a sustained run in 2012 and ultimately who’ll challenge for the title.

12 NASCAR Wishes for 2012

Wasn’t it good to see the cars back on the high banks of Daytona this past weekend? The NASCAR off-season might be the shortest in all of professional sport, but it sure feels like a long cold time in the frigid weeks of a Northeast winter without the throaty roar of stock car engines each weekend. So, as we head inexorably towards Sunday’s Great American Race, and before I get too caught up in the day-by-day minutiae of the soap opera that is NASCAR, here are my 12 wishes for the 2012 season.

For The Love Of NASCAR

I was going to write a totally different column this week. I’d planned to do an end of year awards piece, but after Sunday’s Herculean tussle between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, it just doesn’t seem right.

To be honest, given this will be my final weekly column of my fourth full year writing for this great site (unashamed bias there), I’d written quite a bit of the column already. Here are, for the record, some of my categories…

NASCAR 2012: A Look Ahead

After ten long months, 35 grueling races and 10,383 laps run, we’re left with just 400 miles (267 laps) to decide if Tony Stewart will win a third Cup crown in nine years, or if Carl Edwards will win a first ever title after eight years of trying. We’ll find out soon enough this weekend; but after the checkered flag flies at Homestead, whoever wins doesn’t deter us from running slap bang into the racing free months of deep winter. So, I figured in one of my final columns of the year, I’d take a quick peek at twelve things that are in store for us NASCAR aficionados in 2012…

Bad Math: The Points System Is Still Fundamentally Flawed

So let me get this straight. One Cup driver (Tony Stewart) has won half the races in the Chase – four of the eight run so far – and he’s still not in the points lead? Yes, I hear you; he had one poor finish (an out-to-lunch 25th-place effort at Dover) plus another ho-hum 15th-place run at Kansas. However, Smoke’s other two finishes were more than respectable: an eighth-place run at Charlotte and a seventh-place effort on the high banks of “two-car tango” Talladega. Put another way, Tony has an average finish of 7.4 in the Chase thus far; that’s not exactly chopped liver. And yet those numbers — those four victories, or 50% of the Chase races run if you’re mathematically inclined — are still not good enough for first place with two races to go. How does that work, exactly?

Six Drivers Who Can’t Wait For 2012

Once again, the venerable old paperclip of a track nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains gave us an absolute gem of a race. After the fiasco that plate racing has become last weekend at Talladega, it was just great to get back to the true roots of the sport and see how racing should be – short track style. It just doesn’t go out of fashion, gentle readers! Now, just three races remain before we crown our first new champion since what seems like the 1970s and then, it’s the interminable, frigid winter break before engines rev up once again at the start of Speedweeks in February.

But while Carl Edwards and Stewart fight for that title, Martinsville’s mayhem was a reminder that for many, the “frigid winter” can’t come soon enough. So with the 2011 season in the final stages, here are six drivers who are probably already looking forward to getting back on the track next year…

The Chase Comes Full Circle

Short of moving the Southern 500 to Fontana, there’s perhaps been nothing more maligned during Brian France’s reign at the top of stock car racing than the Chase.

Back in 2004, when that faithful move was made to put the Southern 500 on the outskirts of Los Angeles, the intent was clear; a more modern facility in a larger TV market would result in bigger money for all involved. And the result? One of NASCAR’s crown jewels died, Fontana found itself back to one Cup race within seven seasons, and the Auto Club Speedway had to cut its race length down to 400 miles as the few fans that actually showed up to the track screamed “Mercy” at the top of their lungs.

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