Nascar Stuff

Contenders & Pretenders

Case Of The Chase

This article was formulated prior to the Dover race but my feeling haven't changed much. The thing I haven't really investigated is performances at individual tracks. Which is something I would need to look at if I wanted to take myself seriously. Maybe I'll get that done before the chase is over. In the meantime here are my observations based on my race scores tossed together with my highly subjective and prejudiced view. It's like a big green salad with lots of veggies and whatever is left in the fridge tossed in.

Evidence

The table that follows narrows my chase expectations to the names I would give if you forced me to give an opinion. If I were a betting man I would need to step out further. But I am merely narrowing it down here in keeping with the axiom that the tyrannical mistress of luck, that bitch, is gonna have the final say. The left column contains the drivers that I would give the biggest edge. The middle column belongs to those that I just can't quite make my mind up on; the arrows indicate which way I was leaning when I made the table. Looking at it now (after Dover) I wonder why I didn't feel more strongly for Jeff Gordon than Kyle Busch. But my original explanations are below and so I leave it as is with all its flaws. The right column provides the names of those that I feel most strongly will not be the final champion. When you read my driver summaries below you may want to refer to this spreadsheet. It contains all my "evidence", the race point system that guided me to my conclusions. It also has the graphs so that you will know what the hell I'm talking about when I mention trend lines.

    Yes          ?     No
Kenseth < Burton Earnhardt
Harvick    Johnson > Martin
Hamlin < K. Busch Kahne
   Gordon >

Matt Kenseth

Does this guy ever run a bad race? Not really. But everyone, and I do mean everyone, has had one terrible race over the course of the year. Matt is no exception. His worst race was the 10th race of the season (Richmond) where he finished 38th. And the 6th race (Martinsville) wasn't very good either. But you take those two races away and he becomes the robot that the old commercials went on about. You look at his linear trend line for the year (on the chart) and it's as close to horizontal as any I've ever seen. This guy is so good that I don't see how you can fail to appreciate him. I think it would be sad if Nascar increased points for a win to such a degree that it stripped him of his elite status. I know I was one who thought originally, when Kenseth was cruising to a championship, that if it wasn't exciting enough all you needed to do was increase the value of a win. You don't need a chase, just award the winner a bigger share of the points. But I sure would hate to see a driver like this robbed of his due. Not exciting enough? I have this theory that doing your job should look easy. I try to use this principle in the workplace--I don't want anyone to think I'm struggling to do my job. Why make it look harder than it is? Professionalism is what pushes my buttons these days.

Kevin Harvick

Well my feelings about this driver are pretty obvious if you read my previous article. But the numbers and the trend lines support me here--he has picked up more momentum over the course of the year than anyone; Denny Hamlin is a close second. Their arcs are different though. Kevin's line looks like a fighter jet taking off and Hamlin has an overhead arc (as if he were leveling off in flight). I wish I knew what it meant. Obviously the engine failure at Dover was unsettling but it wasn't a race where Harvick was going to storm to the front anyway. It was pretty obvious to me throughout the race that a top ten finish would be a gift. The thing is, no one has had as many 100-point races (4) as Harvick this season. Does he have any more of them? I wouldn't bet against him. And he knows how to get to the front when the car is there.

Denny Hamlin

Talk about growing into the job. Pretty amazing rookie. And the fact that he has used NR2K3 to help him along the way gives him more creds as far as I'm concerned. (see article). Eighteen straight races that he's finished better than 20th including one where he started from the 40th position. He is dangerous, if for no other reason than he doesn't know what he's not supposed to be able to do. What amazes me is that after his 8th or 9th race he continued to be aggressive but he just hasn't been involved in incidents. Seems like he's so strong at times that it's not a matter of side-by-side racing for position--he just drives right by and says "see ya".

Jeff Burton

Yeah, I'll admit it. I wanted to get all choked up when he took the checkers at Dover. Just seeing the emotions on his wife's face was enough. I've been rooting for him and hoping that he'd get a win this year. And despite the fact that his trend line has gone steadily up this year he had one race that went about as bad as you can go using my points scale. Out at Michigan after 18 laps, from the pole to 41st place left him with a score of -1.95. And he still places 4th in my overall rankings. I wouldn't mind at all if he grabbed the championship. He and Kenseth are known as good, clean racers and if you watched them battle at Dover you saw what racing should be. I had to stand to watch them after awhile and I began to admire both of them so much that I hated to see either one lose. It sure was nice to see Burton get it though--I can think of no one on the tour who deserved it more.

Jimmie Johnson

There was a time, as recently as last year, when I didn't care that much for Jimmie Johnson. I thought that I heard too much whining and I was also blaming him for a number of wrecks. But this year he has impressed me and against my better judgment I find myself liking him. Maybe the fact that he took that wilderness trip to Alaska increased my respect. I didn't get any sense of whining this year; he has taken responsibility for mistakes and shared credit for triumphs. The problem is, his race score trend has gone down precipitously. I don't know if his confidence has taken a hit at this point or if it's just been dumb luck. Sometimes I wonder if he just needs to quit being so PC and get dirty and ugly and start shoving people around the track to get his spots back. I've seen him on the wrong end of some stuff this year and no real retaliation. Maybe it's time for him to do some paint swapping. It's not like he's in terrible shape (I have him 3rd in average race points) but he needs a top-five finish in the worst way right now.

Kyle Busch

These guys are so well coached these days: "I really have to thank my team and my wonderful sponsors and the owner who gave me the opportunity and Nascar for showing me the error of my ways". Hmmph. I still see him as a time bomb. I still think he's a punk that's just learning to say the right words but that's my own personal problem. The weird thing about Busch is that his linear and polynomial trend lines follow a nearly identical incline and I haven't seen that with a single driver besides him. I don't know what it means so don't ask. He's had 5 races (now 6) where he's finished 32nd or worse and he's also had the highest score for a single race (137.2). He talks about making friends but at least twice this weekend I saw wrecks that he caused. Maybe he's saving his respect for the chase drivers and the others are just not good enough to race cleanly. Or maybe he's used to racing better drivers and he over-estimates the ability of those running at the back. What's my problem? Maybe I don't like it when he wears shades indoors for an interview. Maybe I hold it against him when it's really his brother's snow angels that irk me. Maybe the Busch brothers just seem condescending to me when I hear them talking on their radios. We can't all like everyone, even if they do say the right things.

Jeff Gordon

His scoring trend has been going up but he's been so up and down this year that I just wouldn't want to predict a championship for him. I'm pretty sure you can chalk this up to a team learning curve--I know the man can drive from watching him in all his great years and I was once even a fan. My reasons for not being a fan anymore? I have 29 of them. And some other little things. Maybe I was just tired of seeing Hendricks cars on top every week. If the team has actually solved the inconsistency problems and they make the right changes during the race he can still be a dangerous foe. But in 8 different races this year he fell more than 10 positions from the start to finish. And Dover was a good race for him but it's only been a couple of weeks since I saw him limping around the track in a car that couldn't race anyone in the top 20. I was surprised that he was able to stay upbeat after that. It had to have been a real letdown to drive that crap after all those years of being fastest on the track. Maybe his optimism is well-founded. At least it shows that he still believes that he will be back on top.

Dale Earnhardt

He's another one who says the right words but I just don't see that he believes it himself sometimes. He says "my team" a lot and he's exactly right--his team can win it. But while DEI fired a driver this year who didn't have enough competitive spirit, I don't see the fire or confidence in Junior's eyes. He won one race this year but Harvick dominated the race and Greg Biffle actually led more laps. Undoubtedly he's a top 10 driver; I just don't happen to think he's a championship driver this year.

Mark Martin

We're going to hear him thank the fans eight more times this year but he's not going to say it from the victor's stand. I get the impression he's hanging on as opposed to hanging in. Yes he's consistent. Truthfully though, he hasn't been that strong. He says the pressure is off now that he's made the chase but I don't see it. Not from someone who likes to win as much as Mark does. I have him ranked 6th in race points average and that sounds about right. Not to be mean but does racing have to age you this much? I've always heard that Martin is a fitness freak but he looks 20 years older than he should at 46 or 47 or whatever his age is. Just an observation. And I'm not saying his skills have deteriorated; for all I know they are as strong as ever. I just don't think he has the stuff to take it all the way.

Kasey Kahne

I know he's everyone's darling but I heard some whine from him and it does nothing for me. In the past I've heard him call a car "junk" but the big one to me was when I heard him saying (after Fontana) something to the effect that "no one has had five wins and not made the chase". This was before he actually made the chase. The fact is my points system would have put Tony Stewart in and left Kasey Kahne out. Some people are great when the car is great and they are out front. When the car isn't great they just implode. Kasey has had seven finishes of 31st or lower this year and his lines just reek inconsistency.