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NASCAR OPINION

OPINIONS ON THE CURRENT STATE OF NASCAR AND CURRENT ISSUES IN THE SPORT.

Hello to all of my #NASCARfamily! I know it has been a while since I have posted, but the wait is no more! In addition to no longer waiting for a new blog, NASCAR fans no longer have to wait to find out who will make the 2016 Chase for the Championship. In this post, I will analyze all 16 drivers/teams (from 16th-1st) and give my take on whether or not they have the ability to make a run for the championship! Before I get going, I just want to thank all of my followers on Twitter and anyone who reads this post! You all are the reason I continue to do blog posts!! Lastly, I want to congratulate the teams of Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray, on making the NASCAR playoffs. Now let's get to it!

16. Jamie McMurray: 0 Win's, 1 Top-5, 9 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 15.0

First, I want to congratulate Jamie Mac on making 500 Cup starts! Feels like it was only yesterday that he filled in for Sterling Marlin and won at Charlotte in 2002! From the past to the present, McMurray and his #1 team are very intriguing. This team reminds me of Newman's team in 2014, but not quite as competitive. McMurray has kept his team in contention, but has yet to battle for a win in 2016. The #1 team has scored 6 top-10's in the last 9 races, but this won't be good enough to make a deep run into the playoffs. Mac's team will have to battle from the start. Ganassi has picked up the pace, but not enough to assure McMurray can skate through to the 2nd round. Being as realistic as possible, I believe the #MacAttack could expand into the 2nd round, but making the final 8 is out of the question. McMurray's only hope will be to win, which is not out of the question at Talladega where he has won twice.

15. Austin Dillon: 0 Win's, 4 Top-5's, 10 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 14.7

Austin Dillon will be one of 4 drivers making his Chase debut in 2016! As the only RCR car to make the playoffs, Dillon will have all team resources, but this won't last very long. Dillon has shown flashes of brilliance during the season, but has yet to prove if he can be a legitimate championship contender. Much like the McMurray at Ganassi, I believe this team could point their way into the 2nd round, but if I was a betting man, I would put money that the 3 team will be eliminated after Dover. Either way this team has nothing to be ashamed of. Dillon has shown progress in 2016, but RCR has to make changes to keep up with top-tier Cup teams moving forward.

14. Chase Elliott: 0 Win's, 7 Top-5's, 13 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 16.9

Clyde Elliott will finally earn his name by qualifying for his first Chase for the Cup! Don't be confused by seeding, this team can definitely make noise in the playoffs. The #24 team has been the most competitive Hendrick team in the later part of the season, but has been plagued with bad luck or rookie mistakes. A rough summer cost this team valuable points, but fans knew this team was going to be a Chase contender. With a new slate, it will be interesting to watch the young rookie handle the pressures of running for a Cup title. I believe this team has many possible outcomes. If Chase can finally put his 24 car in victory lane, the sky is the limit! Just imagine Chase becoming a real life Lightning McQueen and running for the title as a rookie. On the other hand, if this team continues to have bad luck, the 24 team could find themselves on the outside looking in early. If I were to make a pick right now, I say this team definitely makes it into the round of 12, but Hendrick's lack of power may keep this team from making it further.

13. Chris Buescher: 1 Win, 2 Top-5's, 2 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 26.7

The 2015 Xfinity Champion is the biggest underdog in this year's playoff! With a rain shortened win at Pocono, Buescher and Front Row Motorsports (FRM) found themselves in a prime position to make the organizations first Chase appearance. After solidifying their top-30 points position, the 34 team can finally focus on competing for a title. Realistic NASCAR fans know this team is truly the 16 seed in this year's Chase, but let's not forget that anything is possible in round 1. Buescher has shown speed at times, which could put other teams on watch in the first round. I say this team will not make it out of the first round, but crazier things have happened! Honestly, this season has already been a win for FRM, so an early elimination shouldn't taint what this small team has been able to accomplish in 2016.

12. Kurt Busch: 1 Win, 6 Top-5's, 17 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 12.1

Kurt Busch is the perfect guy to make or break everyone's Chase bracket. While Busch has completed over 97% of all laps run, this team seems to lack the speed to win week in and week out. Kurt did snag a victory at Pocono in the Spring, but Busch has finished outside the top-10 in 7 of the last 10 races, which could be trouble for the 41 team. With the current elimination style Chase format, Kurt will need to compete for wins to be a true contender. This team has what it takes to make a deep run, but my guess is that Kurt's chance for a championship will end before Homestead. The 41 team should easily make it to the final 12, but making the elite 8 could be a challenge for a team that has no momentum heading into the playoffs.

11. Tony Stewart: 1 Win, 5 Top-5's, 7 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 17.2

Smoke is one of the most confusing drivers to pick in this year's playoff. On one hand, his performance leads fans to think he won't make it out of the first round. On the other hand, his run in 2011 shows that anyone can put wins together and win a championship. Fans would love for Stewart to go out in style with a championship, but Smoke only rises so far before it disappears. Stewart has the potential to make it far, but it is probable that Stewart will be done after Dover. The 14 team has continued to lack speed on aerodynamic tracks, making the task of winning a championship even harder. Momentum is also not on Stew's side considering he has finished 30th or worse in 3 of the final 4 races before the Chase.

10. Kyle Larson: 1 Win, 7 Top-5's, 10 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 15.5

Finally! Kyle Larson finally entered victory lane in 2016 and locked himself into his first Chase! The 24-year-old has found something late in the season which could lead to a deep run into the playoffs. Finishing in the top-3 in the last three races showcases the true potential of Chip Ganassi Racing. While Ganassi needs to find more speed for 2017, having both cars in the playoffs is great, especially when the 42 team could become a contender. Now, before we go crazy over the three year veteran, the likely hood of Larson winning the championship is slim, but he is one driver everyone seems to have a feeling about. Sports fans know how it is, when you just have a random feeling about something happening, and NASCAR fans have that about Larson right now. I could see it now, Larson running up high at Homestead fighting for a championship. Though a title run could happen, look for this team to make it no further than the elite 8.

9. Joey Logano: 1 Win, 10 Top-5's, 18 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 11.7

Joey Logano enters the Chase in a peculiar situation. Logano who has been a championship favorite in both 2014 & 2015 has been less than flashy in 2016. Sliced Bread did find victory lane at Michigan earlier this season, but has been relatively quiet in the month ahead of the Chase. Regardless of his regular season results, there is no doubt Logano will again be a threat to win week in and week out, but I don't believe this will be the year Logano reigns supreme in November. The 22 team has every ingredient it needs to make a run for the championship this year, but this team is not ready to win a title this season. Look for Logano to make the elite 8, but fall short ahead of Homestead. This team could very well find a spark, but if the title is coming home to Penske this years... The Captain (Roger Penske) will be filling his tank with Miller Lite instead of Pennzoil.

8. Jimmie Johnson: 2 Win's, 7 Top-5's, 10 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 15.3

Good Ole 6-time looks to tie the all-time championship record of most championships won with 7 (would tie Richard Petty & Dale Earnhardt Sr.). Johnson has not shown is true Superman capabilities this season. Scoring only ten top-10's through 26 races, Johnson is in the middle of his worst statistical season of his career. It is worth noting that Hendrick Motorsports has under-performed as a whole, but Johnson has yet to compete for a championship in the current Chase format. The 6x Cup champion is very hard to judge coming in to this year's playoff, and the outcome could range from hoisting a 7th championship trophy to being eliminated after the first round. I will not make my prediction on this team yet, but don't be surprised if Johnson is sent packing after the second round.

7. Matt Kenseth: 2 Win's, 4 Top-5's, 11 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 15.4

If as there weren't enough wishy washy teams heading into this year's Chase, add Matt Kenseth to the list. Kenseth has been through it all in 2016. From being attacked by karma early in the season to winning two races (Dover & Loudon), Kenseth has done it all this year. Unfortunately, it seems as though this team is still not ready for a magical run for the title. There is no momentum or special feeling about this team at all. Kenseth undoubtedly played a role in last year's championship battle when he took out fellow competitor Joey Logano, but the 20 team will be rather quiet in the next 10 weeks. Kenseth may be able to rattle off a win, but I don't see this team making the final 4 at Homestead. Kenseth just lacks the flash and momentum I would like to see out of driver looking to win his 2nd championship.

6. Martin Truex Jr: 2 Win's, 5 Top-5's, 12 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 13.1

Martin Truex Jr., is having a career defining season. For the first time in his 11-year Cup career, Truex has scored multiple wins within the same season. Winning the Coca Cola 600 and Southern 500 showcased the speed of the 78 team, but before jumping on the Furniture Row bandwagon, let's look back to last season. The 78 team has undoubtedly performed better this season, but the results are much of the same. Though Truex has seemingly competed for wins each week, he has only managed to score five top-5 finishes. This reminds me a lot of last year's Furniture Row team. Just like 2015, Truex started the year competing for wins but falling short. In addition to starting strong, he also started to struggle mid-season. Of course that same team did make the final 4 last year, but Truex has still shown problems with consistency. It will be interesting to see what this team has in store this year. I would look for this team to make the elite 8 and potentially the final 4... but let's be cautious when thinking this team is the favorite.

5. Carl Edwards: 2 Win's, 7 Top-5's, 15 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 12.7

Cousin Carl has been quietly efficient in 2016. With back-to-back wins in the spring, Edwards became a title favorite early, but has cooled off since. Even without a third victory on his 2016 resume, Edwards has managed to find consistency all season long. Already matching his statistical totals from last season, it will be interesting to see how Edwards performs in the final 10 weeks of the season. My guess is that Carl will once again be on the outside looking in at Homestead. This team has what it takes to make a run, but I think other teams will beat out the 19 in the second to last round. This is a team that could be out as early as round 2, or could go all the way! This could be the most underrated Gibbs team heading into the Chase, I guess we will find out come November.

4. Kevin Harvick: 2 Win's, 13 Top-5's, 21 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 8.5

Kevin Harvick enters this year's Chase leading all Chasers in top-5's, top-10's, and average finish, meaning the 4 team will once again be a force to be reckoned with. Harvick picked up right where he left off last season... running second. The 4 team has managed to run well nearly every week during the regular season, but has one major issue that could hold them back from winning their second championship in three years. Anyone who has watched the majority of races this year knows that Harvick's team has struggled on pit road. Stewart-Haas Racing made changes to Harvick's crew before Richmond which seemed to pay off, but it will take a few weeks to determine if this change could be a championship winning decision. I believe this team can very easily make the final 4 for the third year in a row, but on the other side of the coin... pit road mistakes could cost this team their season. If Harvick can manage to gain spots on pit road, his talent can get him all the way, but unfortunately his fate could be out of his hands.

3. Denny Hamlin: 3 Win's, 10 Top-5's, 15 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 12.2

Denny Hamlin has emerged as a title favorite after scoring 8 consecutive top-10 finishes, including a win at Watkins Glen and the regular season finale at Richmond. After winning his first Daytona 500, Hamlin struggled during the first half of the season. With a rocky summer stretch, Hamlin turned around his fortunes after finding victory lane at the Glen. The 11 crew is sitting pretty entering the Chase, with the potential to go all the way this year. My biggest concern with this team is that their momentum may have started too early. I am a firm believer that momentum is king in racing, but not when it comes too early. For years Jeff Gordon would pick up momentum in the months leading up to the Chase, only to fall flat in the playoffs. For Hamlin to contend for the title, he will need to string together another solid 7-10 weeks, meaning the 11 team will have to run top-10 for nearly 15 weeks in a row... which is a bit too much to ask for. No matter what your thoughts on Hamlin's recent consistency, I have no shame in picking this team to run for a title Homestead. After all, they say you have to lose a title to win one... and we all remember 2010.

2. Brad Keselowski: 4 Win's, 12 Top-5's, 17 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 9.7

I have had a special feeling about Keso since early in the season. Keselowski has been competitive all season long, and has had a traditional championship season. A positive sign of a true champion is a balanced season, which Keselowski has put together so far. What I mean by this is that he has had much success sprinkled in with a few bad races. Basically, instead of being good or bad for a few weeks in a row, he has been up and down. Even with the bad, 'Bad Brad' has been in contention every week, showcasing the true relevancy of this team heading into the playoffs. I look for this team to go all the way this year, but nothing is guaranteed. A finish outside the top-8 will be a disappointment for this team, so don't be afraid to pick the 2 for number two.

1. Kyle Busch: 4 Win's, 11 Top-5's, 16 Top-10's, AVG Finish: 13.1

Shrub is hard to read heading into the Chase this season. After starting off his 2016 campaign in championship fashion, Busch ran into hard times during the month of May. With a solid summer and his second consecutive Brickyard 400 victory, Busch looked to give a legitimate defense to his 2015 title win. What makes Busch hard to predict heading in, is that in the 6 races since his last win in Indy, he has finished outside the top-10 three times. Prior to the season I said there was no way this team could make it back, but I have changed my mind since. Look for the 18 team to go far in this year's playoffs, with a chance to win back-to-back titles. It will be interesting to see if Busch goes back to his misfortunes in the Chase or proves he has truly mastered this difficult Chase format.

Well there you have it! Let me know what you think about drivers heading into the playoffs! This year will be an amazing 10 week battle, especially when you realize 1/4 of the contenders are in their FIRST Chase! Remember to follow me on Twitter at @nascar_opinion and never be afraid to tweet, retweet, or message me with any thoughts or opinions! Also, if you are wanting to know my Chase grid predictions, I will releasing another post this weekend on who I think will win it all! Thanks for reading, I hope you have a great rest of your day! Don't be afraid to share and comment on this post!

(Statistics via Jayski.com) (Images: knowhow.napaonline.com, sbnation.com, diecasthunters.com, sportingnews.com, cupscene.com)

© 2016 SportsBlog.com. All rights reserved. Interactive One Millennial
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This weekend was a unique one on the NASCAR schedule.  With the Cup series taking a week off, the lower divisions had the opportunity to main event the racing weekend.  In addition to watching the next generation showcase their talent, one underrated racetrack became a star for a weekend.  Opening in 2006, Iowa Speedway has hosted the Camping World Trucks and NASCAR Xfinity Series since 2009.  Eight years later, the 7/8 mile speedway has become a tradition on the Truck and Xfinity schedules, leaving fans with one major question... When will Iowa host a Cup race?  In this post I will not be able to say when Iowa will run a Cup race, but why the track deserves one.  In the next few paragraphs I will highlight three reasons why this young speedway belongs on the Cup schedule.  Before we get going, remember to follow me on Twitter at @nascar_opinion, and let me know your thoughts on Iowa Speedway and this post!  Now, let's get to it! 

1. Great Facility.

Iowa Speedway has everything any other racetrack already has.  The 7/8 mile speedway has a sizable pit road, garage and media booth, providing plenty of room for Cup teams and the necessary media.  In addition, Iowa has experience in hosting major events.  The speedway has hosted 9 IndyCar races along with 13 Xfinity Series and 8 Truck races.  The biggest question at hand would be the seating arrangement.  With only 30,000 seats surround the 0.875 mile speedway, NASCAR executives may hesitate to grant the racetrack a highly coveted Cup race.  It is understandable that the small number of seats could keep the Cup series away, but with small renovations more seating could come quick.  When looking at a map of the speedway, additional seating should be very doable with the right funding.  Even if seats weren't added, it's not like bigger tracks are selling out.  Perhaps NASCAR should stick with the 30,000 seats and see if a smaller seating arrange leads to more success in terms of ticket sales and selling out a venue.  While the winner's purse may be smaller, allowing a limited amount of seats may be the secret to creating another valued tradition on the Cup schedule.  Leaving the current seating would also lead to less parking and traffic frustrations on race day.

2. Fans want it.

If you ask any race fan to name a track that should get a Cup race, Iowa is near the top of every list.  Fans have been questioning why the speedway hasn't hosted a Cup event for years, and each season just fuels the fire.  In a decade where it seems money is more important than fans, this could be NASCAR's opportunity to satisfy the people who drive the sport (fans) and add Iowa to the Cup schedule.  Fans enjoy new facilities, just look at the success of Kentucky Speedway.  Kentucky has now become a staple track on the Cup schedule, drawing fans in since the inaugural event in 2011.  Iowa also provides a unique form of racing, part short track, part speedway.  The closest comparison would be Richmond International Speedway, but Iowa is a tenth of a mile longer and has slightly lower banking, providing a multi-style form of racing.  The fact of the matter is, fans want something new on the schedule to lower the staleness of the Cup series... which leads me to my third and final point.

3. Cup series can become stale.   

Daytona, Phoenix, Martinsville, Texas, Bristol, Richmond, Talladega, Kansas, Dover, Charlotte, Pocono, Michigan and New Hampshire are all tracks the Cup series visits twice on the current schedule.  Most die-hard fans agree with many of these facilities hosting multiple events, but the same fans have a hard time understanding why tracks such as Michigan, Pocono and New Hampshire deserve more than one annual event.  Adding a new track on the schedule could kill two birds with one stone, giving fans a new track to enjoy, and eliminating one of the more 'boring' races of the season.  It's important to understand that these facilities may need the revenue from a second event, but tracks such as Darlington, Chicagoland and Homestead have survived for years hosting just one Cup race.  It's no lie that the Cup series can become stale during the 40-week season, and adding a 24th track to the schedule could add a bit of freshness to the 10-month long season.  New tracks are exciting to drivers, the media and most importantly the fans.

Thanks for reading!  Honestly, I do believe Iowa will host a Cup race in the future. The new track agreements may force fans to wait a bit longer, but I foresee a future Cup event rolling in to Newton, IA.  Remember that NASCAR purchased the track in late 2013, so any decisions will be made by NASCAR officials.  Let me know what you think!!! Feel free to comment on this post and as always remember to follow my Twitter account (@nascar_opinion)!  NASCAR Opinion will also start hosting live and recorded podcasts and videos!  Follow @nascar_opinion on Periscope & NASCAR OPINION on SoundCloud!  Have a great rest of your day, and happy late Father's Day!  

(Track stats: Wikipedia) (Photocredits: forshiggles.wordpress.com, sportsbusinessdaily.com, maxracingxperience.com, nascar.com)

© 2016 SportsBlog.com. All rights reserved. Interactive One Millennial
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The Sprint Cup Series is nearing the half way point on the 10-month long schedule.  With just 11 races until the Chase begins at Chicagoland on September 18th, drivers are scrambling to punch their ticket into the 2016 playoffs.  While names such as Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Dale Earnhardt Jr are all in the hunt for one of just 16 highly coveted Chase spots, one former champion is attempting to battle the odds in his final season.  In this blog post, I want to lay out three reasons why fans shouldn't give up their hopes for Tony Stewart to make the Chase in 2016.  Before we start, I want to acknowledge that this article is not stating whether Stewart will or will not make the Chase, but rather the understanding that the three time champion is far from being out of contention.  With that being said, let's get to it! 

1. Better Performance.

Tony Stewart scored his second top-10 finish of the season in last weekend's FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan.  Smoke's 7th place finish isn't worth freaking out over, but it's a sign that the 3-time Sprint Cup champion is showing improvement.  Starting last weekend at Pocono, Stewart showed his fans and competition that the 14 team is capable of making a run for the playoffs.  After qualifying 6th at the Tricky Triangle, Stewart ran solidly in the top half of the field before getting lose and colliding with teammate Danica Patrick in the closing stages of the race.  Stewart's 34th place finish didn't help his points situation, but showed that the 14 car is picking up the pace.  As a follow up to Pocono, Smoke qualified 3rd at Michigan while keeping his #14 Chevy inside the top-10 for all 400 miles.  Stewart and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz still have a ways to go, but it's important to understand that in order for Smoke to rise there has to be fire, and every fire starts with a spark.  Let's see if Michigan is the spark Stewart needs to emerge as a Chase contender.

2.   Summer Stretch.

For fans that have followed the sport for years they know that Tony Stewart is known for his success during NASCAR's annual 'summer stretch'.  For new fans, the summer stretch is a string of about 7 races that span from Sonoma (June 26) to Watkins Glen (August 7).  These races are ran during late June, July and early August, all playing a pivotal role in deciding who will qualify for the Chase.  So why is this a sign of hope for Tony Stewart fans?  Well here's why... Tony Stewart has scored 15 of his 48 career wins (31.25%) in this stretch of races.  Taking a deeper look, I wanted to research Stewart's resume at a few of the upcoming tracks, starting off with the series next stop on the schedule, Sonoma.  Stewart has scored 2 wins in his 17 career starts, with the last one coming in 2005.  Altogether Stewart has five top-5's and nine top-10's in wine county, giving him an average finish of 12.41.  In addition to Sonoma, 14 fans can look forward to this years Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.  In 17 starts Stewart has scored four wins, six top-5's and eight top-10's.  His average finish of 15.11 may not sound special, but long time fans know that Tony Stewart is always a threat at the 2.5 mile superspeedway come July. 

Next, let's focus on Indianapolis.  Tony Stewart is a two time Brickyard 400 winner, taking the checkered's in 2005 & 2007.  In 17 Brickyard starts, Stewart has scored seven top-5's and eleven top-10's, resulting in a 9.65 average finish (his best avg finish in the summer stretch).  Stewart's experience at Indy goes back to his days in the Indy 500, and could help him score his 49th career win.  The fourth and final track to look at is Watkins Glen.  Stewart has just 15 starts at the 2.45 mile road course, and his results speak for themselves.  Smoke has scored a series record five wins at the Glen, and has amassed a 10.27 average finish, scoring seven top-5's and ten top-10's finishes during his career.  Overall, there is plenty of reasons as to why Smoke could very well score a win in the next seven weeks, and these four tracks are proof of his success.

3. Closing in on 30th.

Tony Stewart's quest to make the Chase won't stop with a win, Smoke must also earn enough points to land inside the top-30 in the drivers standings.  Per NASCAR rules, a driver must be inside the top-30 to become Chase eligible, which means Stewart still has plenty of work to do.  No need to worry though, Smoke is working his way through the standings one week at a time.  Having started just 7 of the first 15 races, Stewart has already climbed from 40th to 35th in the standings.  His performance at Michigan helped his cause as he earned 34 points, pushing him from 36th to 35th in points.  With 11 races left before the Chase, Stewart is currently 45 points behind the 30th place driver, Brian Scott.  Stewart needs to gain roughly 4 points a week on the 30th place driver to become Chase eligible, something that is very doable considering his level of talent.  In fact last weekend at Michigan, Stewart gained a net total of 26 points on the 30th position.  If he can maintain this level of competition Smoke will be in the top-30 in no time.

Well thanks for reading!  It will be a long road ahead for the 14 team but with a combination of fast cars and some of Stewart's favorite tracks, the 3-time champ may find himself in the post season after all!  Make sure you follow me on Twitter at @nascar_opinion & tweet me your thoughts on this article!  Also, follow NASCAR OPINION on Instagram and @nascar_opinion on Periscope.  Feel free to comment below and share with your friends and fellow NASCAR fans!  Have a great week and rest of your day! 

(Statistics are from racingreference.com & driveraverages.com) (Photocredits: @MonteDutton/chickenbonealley.com, Getty Images/ Sportingnews.com, @jeffowens_SN sportingnews.com)

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