Tuesday, March 17, 2009

NASCAR News and Notes (St. Patrick's Day Edition - March 17, 2009)

This is a quick post to let everyone know that your "track reporter" is heading to Bristol on Friday (probably arriving at the track by mid-afternoon), and I will file my report as soon as I return home on Monday, March 23rd.

While I typically try to make my NASCAR Report more "observational" and less "subjective", this entry will be very subjective in nature. I have found significant fault with the start of the 2009 season, mostly because it has been filled with boring racing, bad (preventable) accidents, and numerous mistakes on pit road that make me wonder if these guys are truly the best drivers in auto racing. I am impressed that a true professional like Jeff Gordon has reemerged to take the top spot in the standings ... and not at all surprised to see him rebound from a very disappointing 2008 season in doing so. Whether we still see him at the top at season's end remains to be seen. I am also VERY confident in the Chase prospects of guys like Matt Kenseth (who hasn't missed one yet) and Tony Stewart, who has shown a great ability in running strong even with a new team.

There are a few drivers who haven't exactly impressed so far. Dale Earnhardt Jr. would probably be number one on the short list. His Daytona accident was mind-numbing, his pit road mistakes have been inexcusable, and his on-track performance has been mediocre at best. While I think he can still make the Chase and rebound with some great races ahead (including this weekend at Bristol), he has dug himself an gaping hole to begin the season. The worst performance with the highest expectations is easily ... Mark Martin. Coming into a seat that so many claimed Casey Mears was ruining seems to be a slanderous remark at this stage of the game. Martin is the drivers' driver without a doubt, and most guys look up (figuratively, not literally) to the diminuitive driver from Arkansas. Mark will be the first to admit this "comeback" is looking worse and worse with every bad race so far. Wonder what might have been had he run the whole season two years ago ... I do. Speaking of Mears, he isn't exactly lighting the world on fire ... but expectations for him are pretty low anyway. Jeff Burton, on the other hand, is struggling out of the gate, but I truly see him rebounding before this is over. He is too good to be outside looking in by September ... but Bristol will be a test for the cagey veteran.

Bristol will rock the standings like no other race can. The "demolition derby" as many drivers view it will commence on Sunday afternoon, and a number of the aforementioned drivers get their last Top 35 exemption with this race. By Sunday night, I anticipate some positions will have changed ... and some will stay the same. Here are some "fearless predictions" for Sunday's race in the "bullring" of Bristol:

Jeff Gordon - statistically speaking, it's time to break the winless streak. I saw him do it in August 2002, and I think he just might do it again. The #24 team is cruising on all cylinders in the early going ... and this is one of his best.

Kurt Busch - Wow, is all I can say after his dominating Atlanta win. I guess we all forgot that the 2004 champion was still racing after younger brother Kyle decided to go crazy with victories in 2008. His switch from Roush Racing to Penske Motorsports took some "growing pains" to say the least ... but Bristol is like an "old friend" to the elder Busch brother. I've seen him win here twice before (in 2003), when he swept the Spring and Fall races ... don't be surprised to see him go back-to-back in 2009.

Matt Kenseth - The driver from Wisconsin started off so well (two straight victories) that most of us were shocked and awed. He hasn't really left our consciousness yet, but Atlanta (and Las Vegas' disaster before it) brought him back to Earth a bit. Kenseth is still dangerous, particularly at this track, where Roush Racing has been dominant in recent years.

Carl Edwards - The two-time defending champion of the August race, "Cousin Carl" still hasn't notched a win in the March Bristol clash. Could this be his first win of 2009? Odds are in his favor for a good finish, if not the victory itself.

Best of the rest ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. (loves Bristol ... needs a good showing), Jeff Burton (won here a year ago ... ditto the thought for Junior), Kevin Harvick (solid running in the early going if not spectacular), and Kyle Busch (he's the favorite a lot these days)

"Worst" of what's left ... Jimmie Johnson - let's be realistic ... this just isn't his track (yet, anyway); Joey Logano - Welcome to the big leagues, kid ... the learning curve is steeper than you probably expected; Ryan Newman - I hope the Indiana native has figured out how to drive his new ride ... or he'll be qualifying on time in Martinsville for sure.

It's Bristol, baby! Racin' the way it was meant to be ...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Early Season NASCAR Headlines

Matt Kenseth - (1) Back on top ... Reunion with spotter the key to return?
- (2) Is a championship in play? Is another Roush title imminent?

Jeff Gordon - (1) Is the winless streak destined to end? Possibly by today (Las Vegas)?
- (2) Has fatherhood mellowed the California "Kid" who has to reflect on an excellent career to date?

Jimmie Johnson - Remember "three-peat"? Where is he hanging out after two races? Probably right where he wants to be ... the "underdog" again ...

Tony Stewart - (1) This ownership thing isn't so difficult ... when you're the driver, too
- (2) Can Stewart-Haas fix the #39 team with Ryan Newman?

David Ragan - Growing pains? Accident in Nationwide race leaves some doubts for Sunday's Cup battle ...

The Brothers Busch (Kyle, Kurt) - Is the "hometown track" an advantage ... or disadvantage ... while driving in Las Vegas?

Joey Logano - Is he really "sliced bread" ... or are the expectations just unrealistically high (i.e. he's "toast" before he gets a legitimate shot)? [Casey Atwood anyone? Even Reed Sorenson fits in this camp to an extent ...]

Any other early headlines, folks? If you are reading the Rentz Racing Report for the first time (or a repeat visitor), we value your feedback and storyline input. Leave your comments and feedback following the links provided. Thanks!