Monday, March 7, 2011

NASCAR Storylines During an Off Week

The USAF Thunderbirds got the party started 
There’s much to chew on heading into an open-week for two of NASCAR’s three national series.

But first, there’s some top-flight racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, at one of the sport’s toughest – and historic – tracks, Darlington Raceway. That race – the Too Tough To Tame 200 --- runs Saturday.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes a short break after three storyline-filled weeks. Its next race is at Bristol Motor Speedway, always a fan favorite.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series joins the NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors on an open week before heading to Bristol for its fourth race of the season.

Storylines for all three series follow…


Series Heads To Break With Strong Opening To The Season
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has started strong, with some record breaking numbers in the first three events. Here are some statistical bullets going into the break:
· Three different winners – first time since 2007 there hasn’t been a repeat winner in the first three races.
· Two of the first three races (Daytona/Phoenix) broke records for lead changes. Las Vegas featured 21 lead changes, the most since 2007’s track record of 28.
· There has been an average of 16 leaders per race – most ever through three races.
· There has been an average of 41 lead changes – most ever through three races.

Edwards Leads Charge In Continued Roush Fenway Threat
Though out of the championship hunt for most of last season’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Roush Fenway Racing drivers did finish 4-5-6 in the final standings thanks to an end-of-season hot streak.

The momentum has thus far carried over into the first three races of 2011.

Edwards won – again – at Las Vegas, taking home victories in three of the last five events. The win moved Edwards up to third in the points, seven behind leader Tony Stewart.

Teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle had a tough-luck day in Las Vegas. After winning the pole, Kenseth battled early-race tire issues, eventually finishing 12th. Biffle suffered through pit-stop problems throughout the event, finishing 28th despite a Driver Rating of 105.3.

Stewart led the most laps in Las Vegas
Stewart, Edwards Realize Importance Of Winning
Tony Stewart finished second, and inherited the points lead. But that was of little concern to the two-time champion post-race at Las Vegas. He wanted that win, and after dominating much of the race – he led a race-high 163 laps – wasn’t thrilled about having lost it.

After the race, Carl Edwards talked about earning bonus points for the victory – and possibly using this win to get into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

“I hadn't thought of the bonus points in the Chase, but I did think a lot about the wild card position,” Edwards said. “When you look at it from the wild card perspective, the bonus points in the Chase, those two things alone make winning extremely important right now.”

After race No. 26, the top 10 drivers will be locked into the Chase. Spots 11 and 12 will go to those drivers who have the most wins, provided they are in the top 20 in points.

Wins, Loss A Total Team Effort
Sunday’s race highlighted the team aspect of NASCAR – so much so, it may have been the difference between winning and losing for two different drivers.

On lap 151, Tony Stewart was penalized for “removing equipment from the assigned pit area.” Specifically, Stewart dragged the air hose while leaving the pits. That wiped away what was the race lead.

More than once, Greg Biffle’s team struggled fueling the car during pit stops. That led to shorter pit windows, and an eventual 28th-place finish. His car was strong, as his robust 105.3 Driver Rating would suggest.

Points Standings’ Top 10 Filled With Interest
Dale Jr. ran a great race in Las Vegas finishing 8th
There are some interesting stories up and down the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings – especially in the top 10. For instance…

The points lead is shared by two past champions – Tony Stewart (2002 and 2005) and Kurt Busch (2004).

Two 2009 Chasers are enjoyed resurgent years after missing in 2010 – Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Some surprise success stories from Paul Menard in sixth, Martin Truex Jr. in seventh and AJ Allmendinger in ninth. Can they keep continue their early-season strength?

Eight-time defending NASCAR Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back in the top 10 for the first time since April of last season.

And a couple of “usual suspects” are in there too – Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin. Both made the Chase in 2010.

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