Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Old Vs. New Points: 2009 Final Report

There is one thing I should have probably explained before I embarked on this series of old vs. new points.  Strategies can and will change depending upon the way NASCAR hands out points.  All we're dealing with here is raw data, and I can't even begin to guess how strategies would have changed if this year's crop of drivers had been racing under the old points system.  Obviously, had we been under the old points system in 2009, teams would have tried different things to grab points.  In other words, the following is for comparison purposes only, and no one, especially me, can predict how certain teams would have run had the Chase system not been in effect.

That being said, let's get to it!

Under the old points system, or under the current Chase system, the final outcome would have been the same.  Jimmie Johnson wins the 2009 Sprint Cup championship either way.  The main difference is that it would have been closer under the old points system, and 2nd place would have been different as well.

Under the Chase system, Jimmie won by 141 points over second place Mark Martin.  Under the old points system, Johnson still would have won, but by only 66 points over second place Jeff Gordon.  Also under the old points system, Mark Martin would have finished in fifth place, 394 points back.  In third place under the old points system, we would have had Tony Stewart, only 4 points behind Jeff Gordon.  Stewart instead found himself finishing in sixth place, 243 points out of the lead under the Chase system.

Under the old points system, fourth place would have gone to Denny Hamlin, 350 points out of the top spot.  Under the Chase system, Denny finished in fifth place, 317 points back.

I do these comparisons mostly because I think it's fun, not to suggest that NASCAR has blundered by instituting the Chase system.  The powers that be, in this case NASCAR, have decided that this is the way that points will be awarded, and that's the end of it.

Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, Rick Hendrick, and all the crew that prepares and services the 48 Lowes Chevrolet each and every week of the racing season.  Congratulations to Hendrick Motorsports for a superb job in winning yet another championship, and making history with Jimmie Johnson's fourth consecutive championship. 

Congratulations also go to Kyle Busch, winner of his first NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, and to Ron Hornaday, winner of the Camping World Truck Series championship.

I want to personally congratulate the fans that stuck it out through tough economic times, who bought tickets, paid ridiculously high prices for motel rooms and for a tank of gasoline, and parked their butts in the seats in the grandstands for 2009.  You, the fans, are what make this sport what it is, and without you, there would be no NASCAR.

Here's to 2009, and here's to getting for the start of the 2010 season.  I'll be here throughout the off season, and can't wait until we hear them rev 'em up again at Daytona in February!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Joy of NASCAR

I watch the TV shows on SPEED TV and other networks, and see the fans in the background while the talking heads, namely John Roberts, Kenny Wallace, and Jimmy Spencer talk about the racing that is to take place this weekend.  If you look closely, in the background, you can see kids.

Kids will be wearing shirts and hats featuring their favorite driver's picture or number.  Maybe it's not even their favorite driver, because it could be their parent's favorite driver.  It's hard to say.

On race day, during the race itself, the camera often pans into the crowd and you see kids there.  You see grandparents.  You see people who look just like you and me, in other words, young and good looking.  You see people of every color, of every ethnic group, of every religion, of literally every background you could think of.

Sports often bring families together, for many different reasons.  NASCAR is one sport that can be a common point for families that span many generations.  Take Bristol for instance.  Some fans there inherited their seats from their grandparents.

Grandpa might have been a Petty fan.  Not Richard, but Lee.  Yeah, that far back.  Lee won championships and was one of the first legitimate stars of NASCAR before anybody had ever really ever heard of Richard.  Ned Jarrett came along and won.  Pearson, Yarborough, Allison, and a guy named Earnhardt came along.  Don't forget about guys like Waltrip, Bodine, Irvin, and a host of others.  We've been blessed as NASCAR fans.

Why have we been blessed?  We've had some of the best, and most entertaining people in the world become our heroes in a sport that literally can be either win or lose, but more importantly, life of death.  Yes, people do die doing this for a living.  A lot of good people have died doing this for a living.  A lot of good people have lived to tell about after it was all over, thank God.

I see kids on race day, eyes wide, fingers in their ears as 43 impossibly loud race cars rumble by on the pace laps.  When the green flag drops, fingers won't do it for 500 miles, much less 400.  (Parents, ear protection is important.)  They're watching cars go so fast that it seems impossible that they can possible stay on the track.  These cars are often reaching speeds of 200 miles per hour and even more, and they're racing only inches apart from each other.  That's pretty exciting for any kid to watch.  Heck, it gets my heart racing, but I've only been watching this sport for 35 years.

When the green flag drops, my heart almost stops for just a second or two.  As the cars come up to speed, I'm watching, seeing who got a good start, who didn't, who's going into turn 1 with the advantage.  No matter how long I've watched this, I get goosebumps when those cars rev it up and go for it.  They are 43 warriors with only one goal, and that is to be the first car to take the checkered flag. 

For me, racing is an ultimate high, the ultimate joy, the highlight of my week.  Even in the off season, it's fun to see who goes where, who signed with whom, and what paint scheme changes will be coming next year.  Racing is not for everyone, but for those who become enchanted by it, racing is nothing but pure joy.

NASCAR is freedom.  NASCAR is doing the seemingly impossible.  NASCAR is, above all, fun.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

One and Done: NASCAR's Season Comes to a Close

Congratulations to Ron Hornaday, who already knew he was the 2009 Camping World Trucks Series champion coming into Friday's race at Miami.  Congratulations are in order as well to Kyle Busch, who will win the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship just by virtue of starting today's race.

It would appear that Jimmie Johnson will be crowned with his fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship on Sunday, and it appears that unless he has the most horrible of races, Johnson will make history by becoming the first driver to every win four Cups in a row.

It's impossible to say that Johnson is a lock for the championship, because, as he well remembers from his third lap crash at Texas, anything can happen before the checkered flag falls on NASCAR's 2009 season.

Jimmie Johnson has succeeded in performing one important duty this weekend:  He has won the pole for Sunday's Ford 400 at Miami-Homestead Speedway.  Starting at the front of the pack was one of crew chief Chad Knaus' main concerns going into the last race of the season.  It's a lot more difficult to get caught up in someone else's accident if you're way out in front of everyone else.

Mark Martin must be thinking that yet another chance for that elusive championship is slipping away, and he can only hope for the very worst luck for his teammate Jimmie Johnson.  I doubt that Mark is doing that, but somewhere, deep down, he must be thinking it.  Mark has come so close before, yet has never grabbed the Cup.

Sunday's race will be the last NASCAR race of the season, and before the end of the day, a new Sprint Cup champion will be crowned. 

If that champion's name isn't Jimmie Johnson, the entire racing world, including this fan, will be shocked.

Shocked, I tell you!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The End of the Season for Some and a New Beginning for Others

The 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup racing season is nearly over, and for me, it seems like the year has flown by.  With only one race to go, it appears that Jimmie Johnson will most likely win his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup, and make history in the process.

For many fans, this is somewhat of a sad time, a time to reflect back on what could have been, what maybe should have been, and to know that we won't see the cars back on the track until February, 2010.

For many, this can be an exciting time though.  The end of the 2009 season marks the beginning of one of the most frantic times for the teams; the off season.

Much of the usual silly season silliness has shaken itself out, with a few drivers going to new teams for the 2010 season.  Now is the time for drivers and crew chiefs to begin to feel each other out, to get to know each other.  For many owners, now is a time for finding a new sponsor for next year's races, hopefully a sponsor that will keep the team running the entire year.

For many fans, now is the time to begin to dare hope that 2010 will be a better year for our favorite drivers than 2009 was.  I know, because I speak from experience as a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan.

Dale Jr. was not the only driver that seemed to have only one kind of luck in 2009, which of course was 'bad.'  Fans of Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch and many others understand that 2009 just wasn't the greatest of years for certain drivers.  Jeff Gordon fans must be wondering if indeed Jeff will ever win that 'Drive For Five' that has eluded him thus far.

There are teams that won't win the Cup in 2009 that I am impressed with, however.  The 14 and 39 cars of Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman come to mind.  Basically, this team was completely overhauled in the last off season, and both teams have performed superbly in 2009.  The 47 car of Marcos Ambrose was another pleasant surprise this year.  Bobby Labonte, who just announced that he would be driving the underfunded 71 car next year, pulled off some amazing qualifying efforts and finishes in that car this year. 

From now until that last few minutes before the drop of the green flag at Daytona in February, this so called off season will be one of the busiest of the year for many NASCAR teams.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Johnson On The Verge Of Making History

With only one race left to go in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, it appears that Jimmie Johnson all but has a lock on an unprecedented fourth consecutive championship.  Love him or hate him, Jimmie Johnson is the real deal.  He's a great race car driver, with a lot of talent, and he's fortunate to be driving for probably the best crew chief in NASCAR.

Would the 48 Lowes Chevy team won even one championship without Chad Knaus calling the shots from on top of the pit box?  It's hard to say, and we'll never know, obviously, but I would find it hard to believe that Jimmie could have achieved so much success without the brainiest crew cheif in the sport calling the shots.

Obviously, it doesn't hurt having a team owner like Rick Hendrick providing excellent equipment and personnel for the team either.  Jimmie could have been driving for a third tier team for his Cup career, and it's possible that no one would be talking about him right now.

With only one race to go, it appears that Jimmie has this Cup in the bag, but don't forget what happened to him at Texas.  He's not, and neither should you.  Anything can happen in this sport, and it won't be over until the checkered flag waves at Homestead on Sunday.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fans, Drivers Frustrated. Is This Talladega?

Following NASCAR's announcement that there would be no bump drafting allowed in the corners on Sunday, virtually all of the drivers had to change their strategy, and a lot of fans weren't very happy about it.

Several drivers opted to drop to the back of the field for most of the race, running at only half throttle for many of the 500 miles which made up the AMP Energy 500.  There's nothing new about drivers being conservative in the early stages of long races, but many of the fan's favorites never made a move to reach the front of the pack until less than 20 laps to go in Sunday's race.

Points leader Jimmie Johnson ran most of the day in 30th place or so, but managed to survive the late race crashes and finish 6th.  Johnson's decent finish practically guaranteed his fourth Cup championship.

For much of the race, the majority of the drivers were content to play follow the leader, apparently not wishing to take a chance on incurring NASCAR's wrath by touching another car at any point on the track other than the straights.  The racing predictably began to get interesting in the closing laps, which resulted in two rather spectacular crashes that left Ryan Newman upside down in the infield, and Mark Martin also turning turtle briefly during the resulting green-white-checker finish.

Newman's car was spun across the track, colliding with several cars, including Kevin Harvick's car.  The 39 Chevy of Newman then turned backwards, and went airborne, landing upside down on the hood of Harvick's 29 Chevy.  As Newman spun into the infield on his lid, he nearly collided with Harvick's car a third time.  Harvick, who led several laps earlier in the race, must have felt like his yellow and red Chevy had a bull's eye painted on it.

I've had a theory about the so-called new car, which used to be known as the car of tomorrow.  My theory has been shared by other fans and various media types alike, as well as, I'm sure, more than a few drivers.  On a race track where speeds of 190 plus miles per hours are the norm, that huge wing on the back does exactly what it's designed to do, when the car is moving in a forward direction, which is provide down force to keep the car on the track.

When the car is moving rapidly in a backwards direction however, the wing acts just like the wing on an airplane, creating lift, and resulting in the spectacular airborne flight that Ryan Newman took on Sunday.  Obviously, it appears that the new car is not the perfect solution for keeping not only the drivers safe, but ensuring the safety of the fans as well..

Fans get injured when cars fly up into the air, landing in the catch fence, or in what would be an absolutely horrible scenario, flying over the catch fence.

Fortunately, Newman's car went airborne on the low side of the track, not up against the outside wall, as did Carl Edward's car in the April race at Talladega.  Had Edward's car not caught air under it's wing in April, that brave young lady we saw on Sunday's pre-race show would  likely not have suffered injury.  If nothing else, I would ask that NASCAR reexamine the safety aspects of the wings on the rear of the cars.

As regular readers of this site know, my race day routine involves not only watching the race itself, but following several message boards, and lately, of course, following Twitter closely.  The fan comments I have been reading since Sunday's race have been rather predictable.  I don't think any race fan wants to see cars simply stay in line and follow the leader for the majority of any race, especially Talladega.  "Boring" was a race used by many fans on Sunday.

Unfortunately, quite a few of the drivers expressed their feelings of boredom as well, and several drivers quite frankly apologized for putting on a boring race, at least for the most part.  The crashes, though spectacular, were unfortunate, especially when the entire NASCAR world is watching the rescue workers first have to lift Ryan Newman's race car back onto it's wheels, and then cut the roof off the car to extract him.  Fortunately, none of the drivers were seriously injured in Sunday's race, though I imagine that Newman will be feeling rather stiff and sore for the next several days.

Talladega has been the site of some of NASCAR's greatest racing in the past.  I hope we see it there again soon.