Archive for Phoenix

The Grand Finale

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2011 by Jordan Anders

So the most bittersweet week of the year is here for me and millions of race fans. “Ford Championship Weekend” in Homestead begins tonight with the Camping World Truck Series finale and runs through Sunday’s sure-to-be-thrilling finish of the Sprint Cup season. With all the excitement surrounding the crowning of three brand-new champions, it always sort of clouds the sad fact that once the weekend is over, there won’t be any cars on the track in actual competition for three months.

But that’s to be worried about on Sunday night, when the lights are shut off at Homestead. For now, we can look ahead to the weekend’s three events and the probable champions:

Trucks: Austin Dillon needs to finish 17th (give or take) to clinch his first Truck Series title. While that may sound simple enough – especially given how strong that team has been – let’s not forget 2003, when Brendan Gaughan went into Homestead with a similar lead. He was collected in an accident and finished 29th, losing the championship to Travis Kvapil. So Dillon still has to be on his toes, or James Buescher and Johnny Sauter will be hot on his heels.

Barring something major, though, I would expect Dillon to wrap it up and hoist the Truck title high above his black #3 truck in what should prove to be an emotional celebration.

Nationwide: This title hunt had all the potential to be just as exciting as the Trucks, but Jason Leffler took care of that when he punted Elliott Sadler into the fence last Saturday in Phoenix. Whether intentional or not, Leffler’s blunder made it essentially a one-horse race heading to sunny Florida, as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. now has to basically just take the green flag and not hit anything and he will be crowned champion. While the finish of the year will be anti-climatic, Stenhouse has earned this title. He won twice on the year – sweeping the races at Iowa – and has consistently been one of, if not the best Nationwide-only driver in the field all year.

Roush Fenway has, astonishingly, still struggled to put sponsors on that car even with it seemingly destined to be a champion. Here’s hoping that Stenhouse’s presumed clinching of the title will help that.

Cup: Of course, the main course of this weekend’s three-course motorsports meal is the Sprint Cup Ford 400 on Sunday. Carl Edwards enters with the slimmest of slim leads, holding a scant three-point advantage of a surging Tony Stewart. Time and time again in this Chase, I have looked for Stewart’s team to falter, and they have done anything but. The momentum is clearly in his favor right now, although Edwards showed with a strong performance at Phoenix last week that he’s not just going to roll over and allow Stewart to steal what would be Edwards’ first title without a fight.

Even with all the momentum Stewart has, I can’t help but feel that at Homestead, it’s still Edwards’ title to lose. His 5.6 average finish at Homestead is far better than any other active driver, and while he has played into the light banter and lighter prods of Stewart this weekend in the media, he has also shown that he is as driven as ever with the title so close at hand. It won’t be easy, but I think Edwards walks out of Florida with his first Cup crown.

We’ll see how the weekend plays out, but regardless, it’s going to be a banner one for NASCAR, and will hopefully be a great way to end what has been a fantastic season of competition.

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Smoke still rising

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2011 by Jordan Anders

At the beginning of the day Sunday, the talk of the Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway was NASCAR’s decision to park Kyle Busch as punishment for intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday in Friday night’s Truck race.

By the end of the day, though, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was all but forgotten, and a former JGR star had stolen the show with a dominant performance, part of a resurgence that could propel him to a third Cup title.

Tony Stewart spanked the field Sunday, leading over half the race on his was to his fourth win in eight Chase races. I have tried to find every excuse to not jump on the Smoke bandwagon, namely because he had not been able to show the consistency needed to capitalize whenever he had put up strong performances earlier this season.

Stewart won the first two races of the Chase, then followed up those performances with a dismal 25th-place showing at Dover in race 3. But Sunday was the first time since March that Stewart has been that strong over the course of an entire event.

He shaved five points off the lead of Carl Edwards, who finished right on Stewart’s heels at TMS is second spot. Edwards was strong at Texas, but never showed the strength that Stewart had as he raced off for his fourth win of the season.

These last two races could possibly rival last season’s ending, when three drivers battled it out to the end in Homestead. This year’s race will be a two-horse race (assuming nothing catastrophic happens at Phoenix next week) but promises to be just as exciting with both drivers performing at such high levels.

Phoenix will be pivotal for Stewart, who is heading into a race having won two straight for the second time in less than two months. But for him to have any chance of stealing the title from Edwards at Homestead, he’ll have to make sure not to repeat that Dover performance. That dreadful 25th-place run is the only thing that is keeping me from fully jumping on board Stewart’s team, as I still think it’s Edwards’ title to lose.

But Stewart’s performance Sunday at Texas was more of a statement than anything he’s done all year, given that it was Edwards’ best track and was seen as a chance for Edwards to gain some breathing room between he and the pack. Stewart not only saw to it that that didn’t happen, but he narrowed the gap heading to Phoenix, a major unknown given the repaving and reconfiguration that has happened there since the Cup race in April.

This is the ending of the year that NASCAR had to be clamoring for: a close race with a guarantee of a champion not named Jimmie Johnson. Edwards and Stewart are almost assuredly going to put on a great show for the next two week, and the 14 team’s performance at Texas, Edwards and his team better be on their A-game when they roll into the desert.