Look Who’s Back

Rest assured race fans, Jimmie Johnson isn’t hard to find.  Especially when sporting his new rainbow wig for the Madagascar 3 movie promotion.

The first part of the 2012 season heard whispers of the five-time Cup champion looking less than spectacular.  A carry over from last year where questions of team chemistry were asked aloud after the five-time champ collected a career low two wins for the season.

His competitors are now seeing the familiar numeral 48 atop of the scoring pylon in recent weeks.

Now those same whispers are asking if Johnson and Knaus are back to their winning ways.

Johnson continued to deliver his Dover dominance, winning for the seventh time this past weekend on the concrete oval.  The closest threat to spoiling his dominant run on Sunday was his teammate, Jeff Gordon.

Hendrick Motorsports in-fact have actually collected a victory in the last six NASCAR events, beginning with Johnson’s win in Darlington.  His team also won the Pit Crew Challenge along with the Sprint All-Star Race.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Sprint Showdown and Kasey Kahne took home the trophy from the Coca-Cola 600.

Other owners in the garage will now wonder if the entire Hendrick organization will continue their run until the season ending race in Homestead.  Momentum has certainly spread since the 200 win milestone culminated less than a month ago.  Gordon and Kahne will need to continue building on some recent momentum and collect wins to see Mr. Hendrick earn a chase spot for all four of his teams.

Each of the Hendrick teams seem to have the right combination between drivers, crew chiefs, and crew members.  The thought of seeing each driver make the chase doesn’t seem far-fetched.

One group already has the look of mid-season championship form.

The Lowes 48 team was looking very cohesive in victory lane at Dover, all wearing multicolored wigs while posing for the cameras.

Sighs and deep breaths from the competition because it looks like they’re indeed back again for another run.

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Driven With Diversity

It’s time for your close-up, Darrell Wallace Jr.

NASCAR fans tuning in to the Nationwide series race this weekend will see a new name on the television crawler.  Darrell Wallace Jr. is set to make his Nationwide début for Joe Gibbs Racing at Iowa Speedway.

No, this isn’t a relative of Rusty or Kenny Wallace, but his name lends credence to a mix-and-match of famous NASCAR names.  The Wallace name has entrenched itself in racing for years and Darrell is synonymous with three-time Cup champion, Darrell Waltrip.  Goes without saying who the most popular Jr. in all of sports is, especially in NASCAR.

Once the green flag waves, “Bubba” will look to make a name for himself.  He has already proven he can win in the NASCAR K&N East series.  He now wants to show everyone he can run towards the front with the Nationwide stars in a 250 mile race.

Wallace Jr. should have plenty of car underneath him.  The no. 20 Gibbs Racing Nationwide team are frequent visitors of victory lane.

For fans watching the race on Sunday who are not familiar with Wallace Jr., they may use a double-take.  Yes, Wallace Jr. is African-American.  An African-American driver in NASCAR is about as rare as Kurt Busch leading a public service announcement on the topic of good sportsmanship.

If Wallace Jr. has a good run in his first Nationwide start it shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Success and winning has already accompanied the 18-year-old young man with multiple wins in the K&N East series.  He has also finished top three in the standings the past two years.

Iowa Speedway will witness history as Darrell Wallace Jr. looks to further his journey through the ranks of NASCAR.

Get ready for the cameras Mr. Wallace Jr.  It’s your time to shine.

Still Rising

Still having success in 2012

The hot streak for Smoke continues.  A calmer and more controlled Tony Stewart is still carrying momentum from last year, already collecting a couple of trophies for himself in 2012.  His two wins so far likely guarantees him at least a wild-card spot in this year’s Chase.  Ryan Newman, Stewart’s teammate and employee who is looking for a long-term contract, has also claimed a piece of hardware with a somewhat surprising win at Martinsville.  Stewart-Haas Racing has consumed eight wins since the beginning of last year’s Chase and there’s still a hunger for the organizations newest driver to join into the feast.  Danica Patrick has been introduced as somewhat of a seasonal menu item this year, with a full-course schedule baked into her 2013 plans.  Stewart appears a little bland as an owner, but he has set the table very well so far for his entire organization.  He may also possess a key ingredient towards the recipe for another championship this season as well.

NASCAR’s modern era began in 1972, and since then, each season the eventual champion has usually won a race within the first six events.  There have been some exceptions to this rule.  Firstly, Tony Stewart didn’t win last year until the initial Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway.  During his 2005 championship year, it took him until Sonoma, race 16, before he found victory lane.

Terry Labonte was also a somewhat of a late bloomer during his two championship seasons, not winning until the 13th race in 1984 and the seventh race in 1996.  Darrell Waltrip in 1985 and Dale Jarrett during 1999 are two other champions who didn’t have a win within the first six races, with both waiting until race eleven before celebrating in victory lane.

Benny Parsons won the 1973 championship by only winning one race all year.  Parsons’ win at Bristol in July was the 18th race of the season.

The only other driver who waited until after the sixth race to collect a win was Jimmie Johnson in 2008.  Mr. Five-Time grabbed the checkered flag in Phoenix, which was then the eighth race on the schedule.

If winners of the first half-dozen races are indeed a good indicator for a potential champion, we are in-line for some sort of history this season.

Tony Stewart can become the first driver/owner to win back-to-back championships.  Ryan Newman could also make history for Stewart-Haas racing by becoming the first teammates since Jeff Gordon and Terry Labonte to win consecutive titles.

Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth could become the first multi-championship winning driver under Jack Roush.  A championship this season would also mark only the ninth instance a Daytona 500 winner went on to win the title.

Phoenix winner, Denny Hamlin, could help aide NASCAR’s first championship for a foreign nameplate if he can hoist the Cup trophy with his Joe Gibbs racing Toyota.

Roger Penske is still waiting for a reserved seat at the head-table during the season ending awards banquet.  Brad Keselowski hopes to deliver The Captain his first NASCAR championship and what could be the last for Dodge, unless the auto-manufacturer finds a new team beginning in 2013, with Penske reuniting with Ford.

Statistically speaking, those are the five driver’s in-line to win it all this year.  There are other hungry teams in the garage who are still starving for a win.  If they do not get moving soon though, they may not even have a table for the post-season awards banquet.

Other Notes

Kasey Kahne dreamed of joining Hendrick but is now in the middle of a nightmare.  He and crew chief Kenny Francis couldn’t’ have envisioned a 31st place showing in the standings going into the Easter off-weekend.  They will need to pull a rabbit out of the hat if they want to turn this season around.

Michael Waltrip Racing has shown early they may have some staying power this year in the standings.  Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer are both currently residing within the top-ten spots. Truex has already posted two top-five finishes after only accumulating three last year.  Bowyer almost had a win at Martinsville before the mêlée in turn one began.   Waltrip’s shared ride has seen the consistency of Mark Martin and the resurgence of Brian Vickers at Bristol.

Speaking of another Bristol makeover, if Bruton Smith had his way, he would add ramps with fire-rings and an obstacle course in hopes of seeing more fans enter the gate.  Hopefully the changes he intends to make won’t result in a circus when they race under the lights in August.

Daytona Finally Ends, So Let the Season Begin

The Daytona 500 marked the first leg of the season long NASCAR marathon.  The season opening race usually will act as a warm-up lap though for the rest of the year once the engines are unleashed from their restrictor plate captivity.  For some fans the real season starts with race two on the schedule as the series will now travel to Phoenix.

We have been introduced to the new faces in new places.  Some of the new paint schemes and sponsors may take some getting used to.

One newer face may not need an introduction.  The mania behind the girl with the flag-on-her-lower-back tattoo has been initiated and we are now all left to wonder if Danica will have the endurance to sustain a full year in a NASCAR series.  Fans and media should have no trouble locating the bright-green hue as she travels to new places this year.  Everyone will have an opinion as to how she will fare.  She along with her competitors will learn soon enough.

The usual suspects will also soon discover if their off-season work will pan-out in hopes to raise the trophy NASCAR awards at the end of the year to the champion.  It’s been seven years since someone not named Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart has claimed the championship.

Another former champion is already building momentum in 2012.  Matt Kenseth claimed the first win of the season in Daytona.  The Gatorade bath in victory lane was a welcome sight for all involved.

Weather tried to damper NASCAR’s crown jewel of racing.  Fans though were treated to an unusual race event in Daytona.  The race was postponed for the first time during its 54 years of existence to a live Monday primetime audience.  Those who tuned into the initial green flag saw action within the first few minutes.  Multiple cars were victims of some early over-anxious racing, leaving many machines limping to both pit-road and the garage.  Once the race restarted though there were many bouts of the pack-racing the fans and some analysts of the sports have been yearning for once again.  There were indeed glimpses of the tandem-racing fans have been accustomed to the past few years on the two plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega, but for the most part cars were leading a charge without the push from behind.

There was also more intrigue as the race moved forward.  The leader at the scheduled halfway point of the race would earn an award of $200,000.  Martin Truex Jr. would claim the prize after crossing the line first on lap 100.  NASCAR I suspect may have also celebrated once Truex completed the lap, knowing the race would become official by reaching the midpoint, regardless if there were any more delays due to weather.  What NASCAR didn’t expect though was a delay of another kind when Juan Pablo Montoya was involved in a wreck under caution.  Montoya was experiencing car issues and found his car crashing into the rear of one of jet dryers on the track.

In what NASCAR refers to their version of football’s Super Bowl, everyone was being treated to an impromptu halftime show at lap 160.

Brad Keselowski had a front-row seat for the performance as safety workers extinguished the flames.  During the unexpected break, Keselowski took time to tweet both messages and photos of the incident.  Both the concern and curiosity of those on Twitter were flooding his profile page to the tune of 50,000+ followers gained during the two hour span.  Some observers asked not only how Brad was able to carry a phone, but also why he had the device with him in the car.  The reaction from some may have prompted a response stating NASCAR should fine a driver for having a phone with them during a race, but after all, isn’t the series titled Sprint Cup?  I’m sure the executives from Sprint were delighted to see a driver explain on camera during the biggest race of the year how they were managing some of the apps of their phones.

Once the show in turn three was over, the real show resumed.  Many of the drivers were surprisingly ready to finish the race after the constant waiting they endured from the original starting time on Sunday.

Some late race incidents prolonged the event but a white flag finally waved on the race weekend.  It’s finally over.

For those watching at home and also the spectators still at the track may have been singing a familiar James Taylor chorus line.  I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain…but I always thought that I’d see you again.  The checkered flag being the friend from this year’s inaugural event we all were waiting to see.