A Short NASCAR Sprint Cup Field is Healthy for the Sport

This week the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the Kentucky Speedway for the fourth time. There are only 42 cars entered for the race, which typically has a 43 car field. The last time there was a short field was in 1997 when only 42 cars ran because the 43rd spot was reserved for a former Cup Champion that didn’t qualify. There was also a shot field for the New Hampshire race that was rescheduled in 2001 due to what happened the week of 9-11.

It is being said that having a short field is a reflection of problems in NASCAR, the economy and racing in general. In reality it might actually be healthy for the sport.

The past five or more years there have been many “Start and Park” teams. These teams qualify for the race; start the race, then after sometimes as few as one lap they park in order to earn the last place money. This is not very exciting for the fans and in fact somewhat insulting. This and this alone has been unhealthy for the sport. Sure some of those teams used the money to further their Nationwide programs, but it just doesn’t look good and is not in the spirit of competition.

Having a spot open in the field leads to opportunities for other teams to concentrate on the bigger picture, not just qualifying for the race. Since they are all but guaranteed to make the race, they can attract a sponsor since that sponsor will know that the car will be in the race.

Many of the lower teams have been caught in a Catch-22 of only being able to work on qualifying in order to make the race instead of working on racing. Their on-track performance has suffered due to not being able to get their cars up to speed in race conditions. This is a big opportunity for them to step it up and be able to better compete.

If some of those teams can better compete, then the overall racing will be better and that is what we as fans want more than anything.

If you cannot get to Kentucky Speedway for the Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts it will be broadcast on TNT on Saturday Night, June 28th at 6:30 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 287476 Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images

 

Jeff Gordon Wants to Check Kentucky Speedway off his List

Last week NASCAR and Jeff Gordon were at the Sonoma Raceway for some road course racing. Jeff Gordon was running down Carl Edwards but couldn’t catch him and finished second. This week Gordon and NASCAR are back at Kentucky Speedway for some more traditional racing. It is possible both drivers will pick right back up where they were. This week is the Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway.

The Kentucky Speedway is a D shaped oval. You might hear people refer to it as one of the cookie cutter speedways. That is true to a point except some of them have much more banking than others. This track has some of the least banking of all of them, more similar to Chicagoland Speedway. The fact that this speedway is also well weathered and bumpy should make for some interesting racing.

Each week we look at the driver ratings to see who might be good at a particular track. The problem with driver ratings is that they are not as telling if there are not many races in this statistic. Since the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has only run at Kentucky three times, the stats that look compelling might not be so.

According to the driver ratings, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch have ratings of 125.9 and 125.2 which are phenomenal for a 1.5 mile speedway. These are the product of only a few races but that doesn’t mean they are not good here. Consequently Jeff Gordon’s rating of 91.8 isn’t as bad as it looks considering he has all top ten finishes.  It takes about seven races before any one race doesn’t dominate the driver rating stat.

Since those stats are not as reliable as they normally would be, that leaves us to fish. One only needs to look to one of the similar 1.5 mile speedways. At Kansas Speedway Jeff Gordon led only nine laps over Kevin Harvick to win. Joey Logano also led a whole bunch of laps. Rounding out the drivers who were good were Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne. Other drivers to watch are previous winners; Kyle Busch—who is trying to win all three races this week, Brad Keselowski, and last year’s winner Matt Kenseth. Carl Edwards, who won a Nationwide and Truck Series race, is also a threat.

Gordon said, “Kentucky is a very challenging track that is tough to win on. The transitions are tricky – it’s pretty flat from the back straightaway into to Turn 3 plus there’s a huge bump going in there.”

Since this track is relatively new to the schedule Jeff Gordon has never won here, nor has Jimmie Johnson.

“Winning at all the tracks would be something that I would be very proud of.” Gordon added “But it seems every time we get close to accomplishing that goal, another track is added! But I think winning at all the tracks would be a pretty awesome feat.”

Jeff Gordon and his team led by Alan Gustafson have been having the best season in years. They are poised to add to their win and be solidly in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

If you cannot get to Kentucky Speedway for the Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts it will be broadcast on TNT on Saturday Night, June 28th at 6:30 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 298001 Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Kentucky
Jimmie Johnson…………………… 125.9
Kyle Busch…………………………. 125.2
Matt Kenseth……………………….. 109.3
Brad Keselowski………………….. 104.8
Kasey Kahne………………………… 98.2
Denny Hamlin……………………….. 98.1
Carl Edwards………………………… 94.5
Jeff Gordon………………………….. 91.8
Martin Truex Jr………………………. 90.7
Kurt Busch……………………………. 90.6
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (three total) among active drivers at Kentucky Speedway.

Jeff Gordon and Team Will Put it Together at Sonoma

Last week NASCAR was at the large two mile Michigan International Speedway for some very fast D shaped oval racing where Jeff Gordon led 36 laps but fell victim to the pit strategy of his teammate Jimmie Johnson. This week NASCAR and Jeff Gordon visit a much different speedway. This week is the first road course race of the season at Sonoma Raceway.

The Sonoma Raceway is in Sonoma, California and is a 12 turn road course that is 1.99 miles in length. Road courses are all but impossible to describe in words. The race is 110 laps, 218.9 miles or 350 Kilometers.

Every road course race win requires a great driver who can out brake and out corner the other drivers. It also requires a team that can perform flawlessly since any loss of track position in the pits is terminal. If a team can put that together they also need great pit strategy. The crew chief literally runs the race backwards in his head to figure out what lap would be the earliest they can pit the last time. Then they make their bed, pit and stay out regardless of if a caution flag flies or not. This is where races are won or lost.

Historical driver ratings are a great way to dial into the driver that will do well at any particular race. Road course races are no exception. This week the top of the driver ratings is Marcos Ambrose with a rating of 108.0 followed by Kurt Busch 107.8, Tony Stewart 102.4, Jeff Gordon 101.6, Jimmie Johnson 97.3. Also add in Clint Bowyer at 95.2. Juan Pablo Montoya is not entered into the race.

Each and every one of those drivers would be a great pick to win this race but since you can’t pick them all how do you sort them out? Winning this race requires a great team, not just a great driver, so we need to look deeper. We just so happen to have come from the last three races (Dover, Pocono, Michigan) that sometimes get settled by pit strategy similar to that required at a road course.

The average finish of our selected drivers the past three weeks are Marcos Ambrose 21.6, Kurt Busch 11.3, Tony Stewart 10.3, Jeff Gordon 9.66, Jimmie Johnson 2.66, and Clint Bowyer 8.33.

This is where Jeff Gordon has the edge over everyone except Jimmie Johnson. His low average finish and high driver rating shows he and his team have the edge. He also leads all drivers in wins at Sonoma with five. Only Tony Stewart comes close with two wins.

“I grew up in Vallejo – which is a few miles from the track in Sonoma – but I was always racing on ovals or dirt tracks as a kid. It was much later before I turned my first lap at Sonoma while in a driving school preparing for my first Cup start there.” Gordon added, “I immediately saw the challenges and the fun of racing at Sonoma and on road courses. We’ve worked hard as a team to be competitive on road courses and we’ve had a lot of success at Sonoma. But it’s not an easy track to conquer.

We started the season with there being talk about Jeff Gordon retiring, but the reality is Gordon isn’t driving like he is going to retire. He is having one of the best seasons he has had in a long time. He currently leads the standings in points and has already won a race and will be in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Look for Gordon to be the first repeat winner at Sonoma in nine years.

If you cannot get to Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota/Save Mart 350, it will be broadcast on TNT Sunday, June 22nd at 2 PM ET. Green Flag is 3 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 287292 Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Sonoma
Marcos Ambrose………………….. 108.0
Kurt Busch………………………….. 107.8
Tony Stewart……………………….. 102.4
Jeff Gordon………………………… 101.6
Jimmie Johnson…………………….. 97.3
Juan Pablo Montoya………………. 95.5
Clint Bowyer…………………………. 95.2
Kyle Busch…………………………… 88.0
Ryan Newman……………………….. 88.0
Carl Edwards………………………… 86.8
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (nine total) among active drivers at Sonoma Raceway.

This is Why Kyle Busch Will Not Win a Championship

Last week in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Race at Pocono Raceway, Kyle Busch was racing Kasey Kahne with 18 laps to go. Busch ended up wrecking himself and Kahne. He finished the race 12th while Kahne finished 42nd.

With 18 laps to go Kasey Kahne had passed Kyle Busch and was working on another car. This brought Kyle Busch back to try and pass again. Better to let Kahne explain it.

This is just when one guy in on the inside and one guy is on the outside and a wall is coming, the car on the outside is going to hit the wall first if he doesn’t…. you know, when you run out of space.  The guy on the inside wants to use the entire exit of the corner to carry his speed down the next straightaway. My whole opinion, and my whole point on that was I had already passed Kyle (Busch) the reason he passed me back was because I was passing Ryan Newman and two cars, with no one in front of us-the next car was way up-going down the straightaway side-by-side gave Kyle the opportunity to get a big draft, and stick his nose in there when we got to turn one. So suddenly he is back and he knows if he didn’t clear me there, that we would be a position behind. So he just floored it, and if it is close someone is going to lift. So that is the way I look at it. You just put someone in that position, and it’s all up to the guy on the inside. His spotter was telling him outside, outside, outside.

If you watch NASCAR week in and week out this is exactly the type of racing we want to see. Side by side racing in order to get the position on the other driver; side by side racing in order to win the race. This is the dream of every race fan and every driver.

Here is the problem: the only way to get that side by side racing we want is for the driver on the inside to feather the petal enough to not get loose and run up into the driver on the outside. The driver on the outside needs to do the same to maintain his position and keep off the wall.

What Kyle Busch did was force the issue by driving too hard, expecting to intimidate the driver on the outside to lift and simply let him by. This might be a great strategy if you’re racing Mark Martin or Jeff Burton, but at the end of a race even that strategy will fail. This is what we saw from Kasey Kahne.

Sure this was just one race but Kyle Busch does this more often than not. He over drives his car near the end of a race and puts himself in a position that takes himself out of contention. In this race he did manage to bring the car home twelfth, but other times he has taken himself out.

As for Busch winning a Championship, he cannot race every driver like this. It might work in the Nationwide or Truck Series but there will always be one driver who isn’t intimidated. It will only take one to keep him from winning, or worse yet, ruin his day. In the Chase for the Sprint Cup a bad or even mediocre race will keep you from a Championship.

Kyle Busch is one heck of a driver. The only problem is he has to reserve the move he made on Kasey Kahne for coming off of turn four on the last lap at “Enter Name of Speedway Here”. That will make him a great driver and create the kind of racing we all want to see.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 298968 NASCAR Via Getty Images

Michigan International Speedway is Greg Biffle’s Favorite Track

Greg Biffle has been in the NASCAR Silly Season rumor mill the last few months. It has been reported that he has resigned with Roush Fenway Racing and an official announcement is coming. With that Monkey off his back what a great time to return to his best track on the circuit the Michigan International Speedway.

The Michigan International Speedway is one of the biggest D shaped ovals that NASCAR runs on. It is a 2 mile speedway. It has been super fast since its most recent repave and the focus on much discussion on slowing the cars down. It is a wide race track with 18 degrees of banking in the corners, 5 degrees on the front stretch and 2 degrees on the backstretch. It is not uncommon to see four wide on a restart.

Every week we look at the driver ratings for the race track that NASCAR is racing at. This week Greg Biffle leads all drivers with a rating of 110 followed by Matt Kenseth 105.6, Carl Edwards 101.4 and Jimmie Johnson at 101.4.

Who gets it done at Michigan. Greg Biffle leads all active drivers with four wins including this race last year. Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards each and two wins. This track is one of Jimmie Johnson’s nemesis. He has never won here.

Last year was the best Father’s Day ever, 1,000th win for Ford and to have my daughter there for her first victory lane.  I’m not sure how to top that, but hopefully something spectacular will happen.” Biffle added, “Michigan is one of my favorite tracks; it’s a big fast place and has lots of room to race.  There is always a lot of strategy going on.  Fuel mileage and pit stops are very important.

This track has in the past been referred to as the “House of Roush” because Roush Fenway Racing has the most wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup as any other team. They have 13 wins which include those of Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards above plus four from Mark Martin and one from Kurt Busch.

Greg Biffle has won two of the last three races at Michigan finishing ninth last august. He loves this speedway and has put his contract issues behind him. Look for him to win the Quicken Loans 400.

If you cannot get to the Michigan International Speedway for the Quicken Loans 400 it will be broadcast on TNT Sunday, June 15th starting at 12 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 287151 Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Michigan
Greg Biffle …………………………….. 110.0
Matt Kenseth …………………………. 105.6
Carl Edwards …………………………. 104.7
Jimmie Johnson …………………….. 101.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ……………………. 97.0
Tony Stewart …………………………… 95.9
Kyle Busch ……………………………… 92.0
Brian Vickers …………………………… 91.5
Jeff Gordon …………………………….. 89.8
Denny Hamlin ………………………….. 89.7
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (18 total) among active drivers at Michigan International Speedway.