Making the Grade- Martinsville Spring Edition

After each NASCAR Sprint Cup race weekend I hand out one grade for each letter grade and a review of the television broadcast and event too. Race fans seldom agree with my opinion but it is hard to get 10 race fans to agree on whether it is partly cloudy or mostly sunny most days. Let’s get the red marker out and grade the race at Martinsville Speedway.

And now on with the show…

Race Grade: A-

This might not have been the most artistic race in the history of NASCAR with 16 cautions for a total of 112 laps but this was old school NASCAR racing all the way. Martinsville never allows the leader to get away for long because sooner or later the leader will be mired in traffic as the slower cars fight to stay on the lead lap. There is only one fast way around the “Paper Clip” and taking some power away from the cars just accentuated that this year. There were 15 green flag passes for the lead which is the highest for the season. Please do not think about shortening this race part of what makes winning the Ridgeway Clock so special is that a driver has to survive 1000 turns!

Television Broadcast: B

The Fox Sports 1 cameras seemed to get infatuated with some battles back in the pack and occasionally they were late showing us the battle up front although in their defense they seldom missed a lead change. There is so much going on at a tight ½ mile track like Martinsville we can give them the benefit of the doubt a little. But the announcers were not on their best game missing when a few drivers suddenly started falling back in the pack after being strong earlier in the race.

F for Ricky Stenhouse Jr

NASCAR might need to impose a three spin rule like that at short tracks all over the country! Sometimes a driver fails to get into the rhythm at a track like this and gets in the way and gets smacked out of the way. This time around with Danica’s guy he was very good at spinning on his own too.

D for Matt Kenseth’s Restart Decision

Tune into the Thunder Crew on Tuesday night at 8pm ET to hear Mike “SOZ Man” Harper go off on how yet another NASCAR driver is being too nice to letting someone have an advantage on the race track. When Kenseth lined up on the outside on a restart with just 65 laps to go I thought I was wrong on who was leading the race. Yes Jeff Gordon was going to let you in but that was THE car to beat at the time and hanging him on the outside in traffic was the correct move. Stop being so nice or you will lose the “Matt the Brat” monicker!

D for Jeff Gordon’s Speeding Penalty

Was Chase Elliott already in the 24 car? Jeff Gordon getting caught speeding on pit lane with just 40 laps to go was one of the worst mistakes I have seen in years by a NASCAR driver. This was a rookie mistake by a driver who is on the short list of “Greatest of All Time in NASCAR.” Maybe in the old NASCAR he would have gotten away with this but in this day and age of computerized timing down to the millisecond it doesn’t make sense to take a chance like that when you are leading the race.

C for Tony Stewart

Has the greatest “All Around” racer in our generation suddenly become a middle of the road driver? The only way we saw Tony Stewart out front at a track he is always great was when they decided to stay out during a caution flag on old tires. We got to see our man Smoke stay up front and battle hard for a few laps before inevitably fading back to where he was hanging out all day from 15th to 20th in the running order while one of his company car’s was finishing 7th with Danica Patrick driving.

B for Danica Patrick

Martinsville Speedway has always been a good track for Danica Patrick. Here first race here when she was struggling every where else she finished on the lead lap in 12th place. But this time around she not only held on for a strong finish but she was moving forward at the end of the race even in the middle of the chaotic restarts that usually cost her positions when she starts driving too conservatively. Even more impressive is that she beat her teammate Kevin Harvick who had a record tying streak of top two finishes going!

A for Denny Hamlin

This might have been the most impressive of the twenty five wins in Denny Hamlin’s NASCAR Sprint Cup career. First the team was penalized for yet another uncontrolled tire violation that sent him to the back of the pack about one third of the way into the race. After battling back to the front his pit crew had a somewhat slow stop at the mid point in the race that cost him several spots. Instead of becoming overly “Fustated” and forcing the issue with too many dangerous passes Hamlin took his time to make his move. After getting back to the front again with 100 laps to go the team had another somewhat slow pit stop and Denny brake checked to maintain an inside slot for the restart. His final dash to the front was quite thrilling and he closed out this impressive win in style. His drifting style burnout was one of the best in years too!

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Fantasy Insight- Martinsville 1-Replacement Hot Dog Syndrome

Handicapping a NASCAR race is very similar to handicapping a horse race. Some drivers are “Horses for Courses” performing better at certain lengths or styles of tracks. By incorporating three basic ingredients in a special formula based on statistical analysis of 15 years of racing data the Pro Power Ratings have been developed. Just like Beyers Figures in horse racing the best pick is not always the highest rated competitor but reaching threshold values narrows the competition down to the most likely picks to click on race day. Each week I will give you my picks for the top three positions shown in horse racing terms as Win, Place and Show along with a longshot and sleeper pick.

Martinsville Notes- The last time a hot dog other than Jesse Jones was served Jimmie Johnson won the race. Cup is running the same tire they ran here last October. There was no tire test prior to this event.

Threshold Qualifiers- 20 drivers qualify for being a contender by meeting the 80 pt minimum with only 11 reaching the minimum of 85pts to qualify as a potential winner.

Top Tier 90 or More

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr

  2. Joey Logano

  3. Kevin Harvick

Second Tier 85-89.99

  1. Jeff Gordon

  2. Jimmie Johnson

  3. Matt Kenseth

  4. AJ Allmendinger

  5. Brad Keselowski

  6. Paul Menard

  7. Ryan Newman

  8. Kurt Busch

Third Tier 80-84.99

  1. Clint Bowyer

  2. Greg Biffle

  3. Austin Dillon

  4. Denny Hamlin

  5. Aric Almirola

  6. Carl Edwards

  7. Jamie McMurray

  8. Kasey Kahne

  9. Martin Truex Jr

Win Pick- Jimmie Johnson- Could start his own winning streak this weekend

7 to 2 Odds

Place Pick- Dale Earnhardt Jr- Will be in the hunt but not as motivated since his girl friend doesn’t have room for the second clock

10 to 1 Odds

Show Pick- Kevin Harvick- How can you bet against this guy being in the top 3 when he has finished in the top 2 all season?

5 to 1 Odds

Longshot Special (20 to 1 Odds or Greater)

Tony Stewart- Yes I know he has been in a poor performance funk but he got grouchy last week after the race and always does great at Martinsville and a great bet at the odds

40 to 1 Odds

Sleeper Pick (C Group in Yahoo Fantasy Racing)

David Ragan- Should again out perform the group.

75 to 1 Odds

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Odds and Ends: Manufacturing Excitement Edition

Manufacturing Excitement

The racing at Auto Club Speedway has gone from a cure for insomnia to some of the best speedway racing on the circuit with the weathering of the pavement and the switch of the stand alone race date to March. The weather is ideal to insure great racing and the pavement is so worn that there is no fast groove from the start to finish in a tire cycle. But a funny thing happened on the race around Auto Club Speedway this year. The change of rules this season has been figured out by one team better than all the rest. Kevin Harvick has been so Freaky Fast and now with the return of Kurt Busch the folks at Stewart Haas Racing have a 1-2 punch to dominate on speedways. In the opening laps of Sunday’s race this dynamic duo was five seconds faster than the rest of the field in just 10 laps. Now I am not accusing NASCAR of trying to get these guys to lose what I am suggesting is that NASCAR was trying to manufacture excitement. Five of the seven cautions that flew were for debris and only one piece of debris was large enough to be noticed by the naked eye. When the first debris caution of the day flew there were only 21 cars left on the lead lap after just 50 laps of green flag racing after the first caution when David Ragan spun. The first caution of the day came after the conclusion of green flag pit stops so the lap leader and lead change statistics could be padded. The last two debris cautions with 18 and 2 laps to go respectively looked particularly curious. NASCAR says their hands are tied and that everything is all about safety. They can argue all they want about debris flying into the stands, which is funny since there aren’t any stands where the debris was found, but they can’t their move has the appearance of making the racing more exciting. Restarts are absolutely nuts at Auto Club Speedway with cars fanned out in up to seven different paths on this super wide and super fast oval. But the idea of an auto race is to determine which car and driver are the fastest. If a large piece of metal debris is in the racing groove and stays there it makes sense to throw a caution. But if you can’t see the debris without the help of the Hubble Telescope from the spotter’s location in the infield you need to let the race run to its logical conclusion. There is too much riding on a win in today’s NASCAR to risk throwing a caution in the closing laps unless the track is covered. Let the racers decide the winner on the track! Manufacturing excitement makes NASCAR look less professional than the WWE.

Fall of Roush Racing

Let me quote that famous philosopher in an old Mel Brook’s movie, “What in the wide wide world of sports is going on here at Roush Racing?” Turn back the clock just a few years and you could win your Fantasy Racing league every week by loading up on Roush Racing drivers. But this year the equipment can’t out run many of the second tier teams in the sport! No wonder driving talent is fleeing Roush faster than a rat off a sinking ship. After five races Roush drivers are ranked 21st, 26th and 27th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points. They can’t blame the poor performance on the engine department because Ford engines are ranked 2nd, 5th and 10th in points. Have the folks at the Fenway Group that owns the controlling interest of the team decided to spend their money on the Boston Red Sox instead of their NASCAR teams? Greg Biffle didn’t forget how to race and this champion of the old Busch and Truck Series also earned a spot in the Chase in Cup last year. Yes I know we are only five races into a thirty-six race marathon season but Roush has spotted the field a huge advantage. Forget wins Roush drivers are barely cracking the top ten with only 1 top ten finish among their trio of drivers and that came at Daytona with Biffle. Roush drivers have only led 2 of the 1316 laps run so far at the Cup level and they are averaging a 24th place starting position for the season. The fall of Roush Racing has been difficult to watch over the last few years and it is only getting worse this season.

Will Smoke Rise Again

The other painful performance of 2015 is watching Tony Stewart struggle to stay in the top 20 every week. It seems like a better bet that Stewart will get lapped than lead a lap in any given race. Entering the 2015 season Tony Stewart was saying all the right things and appeared ready to make a huge comeback. But while his team cars of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have been dominating the competition each week Tony continues to struggle. Currently 32nd in points this will be a long season for Stewart unless he gets things turned around quickly. Last weekend at Auto Club Speedway we saw a glimpse of the old Smoke on the track and on pit lane after the race. His 14th place finish was his best since an 11th place run at Texas last year. Now comes the true test whether Smoke will be rising this year or fading away from NASCAR soon. His best finish of the season came last Fall at Martinsville Speedway. Stewart has won 3 times at the historic half-mile nicknamed the Paper Clip and has scored a top five finish at a 32% clip. Will Smoke rise again this season? Stay tuned this week for a clue.

Did you miss Tuesday night’s best entertainment in NASCAR radio? Check out the replay of the FOO FOO FREE Thunder Crew at https://soundcloud.com/racetalkradio/thunder-crew24mar15

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Making the Grade- California: Race Calls Detrimental Edition

After each NASCAR Sprint Cup race weekend I hand out one grade for each letter grade and a review of the television broadcast and event too. Race fans seldom agree with my opinion but it is hard to get 10 race fans to agree on whether it is partly cloudy or mostly sunny most days. Let’s get the red marker out and grade the race at California Speedway.

And now on with the show…

Race Grade: C-

Sometimes when I am scoring a race the ending can affect the grade by one full letter grade or more. When the officials manipulate the outcome of a race with a poor decision on a caution flag just to set up an exciting sprint to the finish “Made for Television” ending that drops the race grade by one full letter grade. Hiding behind the concept of “Safety” is the cowards way out! Take a look at the timing of caution flags all day and tell me how safety only became a concern after green flag stops (Which pad the lead change statistics) when the field got strung out? I was even more insulted that not a single driver publicly called NASCAR out for their race manipulation. NASCAR has convinced these millionaires to never speak the truth including the usually out spoken Kurt Busch who was robbed of a victory! Now I am not suggesting that NASCAR didn’t want Mr. Busch to win the race because he was being treated like a conquering hero all week on NASCAR regulated media. What I am saying is that in their effort to get a thrilling “Made for Television” highlight reel ending to an average race that they robbed Kurt Busch of a victory that he deserved! When the referee decides the outcome of a sporting event instead of the participants we all lose. The poor officiating might even have reached the level of violating the famous Section 12-1-A in the NASCAR rule book.

Television Broadcast: C+

When I tune into any other sporting event I hear the announcers question calls made by the officials all the time. This even happens on the NFL Network or the MLB Network where the sporting organization owns the media outlet! The Fox Sports announcers are insulting our intelligence by never questioning a controversial call. The only announcer willing to question a NASCAR call all day was Andy Petree when it came to the uncontrolled tire penalty on Joey Logano. Hopefully the NBC announcers will be more honest with fans the second half of the season.

F for NASCAR Officiating

The new “Eye in the Sky” officiating system was designed to call pit road penalties consistently. As we saw on Sunday with the penalty against Joey Logano there is still a gray area in the rule but now I wonder if the human officials in the trailer are afraid to over rule software. (Hey Fox Sports can we see some statistics on that please?) Debris cautions that are designed to manufacture excitement while hiding behind safety as the reason make the sport look as scripted as professional wrestling. While I was glad to see NASCAR let the drivers decide the event by racing back to the checkered flag, the inconsistency of the call versus past calls adds fuel to the conspiracy theories.

D for Roush Racing

The mighty have fallen! Each and every week the teams from Roush Racing were mortal locks to finish in the top 10 unless they got in a wreck. After four non restrictor plate races the drivers from Roush have not scored a single top ten finish. Not a single Roush driver is in the top 20 in points right now. Their lack of performance at California Speedway is even more of a concern because there are the types of high horsepower and low drag tracks they used to dominate back in the day.

C for Chris Buescher and Brett Moffitt

Brett Moffitt didn’t know he would be driving the 55 car and Chris Buescher didn’t know he would be racing in the Cup event until the last minute. Both drivers took cars that have not been very competitive this season (With the exception of a strong run by Moffitt at Atlanta in the 55) and finished solidly on the lead lap in 20th and 22nd place respectively. We keep seeing the same drivers in the seat every year because there is a lack of talent being developed in the Xfinity Series but both of these youngsters have shined and out performed expectations at California Speedway.

B for Brad Keselowski

This is only the second time in the history of “Making the Grade” that the race winner has not earned the top grade. But when a tire call after a bogus caution flag with two laps to go sets up your win you deserve a high grade for surviving the mayhem that comes with multiple “Green White Checker” attempts but you do not deserve the top grade. This still counts as a win in the record book as it should but they should add an asterisk to this win and give the assist to NASCAR officiating.

A for Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick

The first 198 laps of the scheduled 200 lap event showed the complete dominance of the top two cars at Stewart Haas Racing. The 4 and 41 took turns leading and often built a lead of five seconds on the rest of the field. If NASCAR had not re-racked the cars with frequent debris cautions Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick would have lapped all but the top 10-15 cars in the race. Pit strategy after the bogus caution flag at lap 198 combined with a legitimate caution during the first “Green White Checker” finish was the only thing that could beat this dynamic duo in the end. Kurt Busch was robbed of a well deserved win!

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Fantasy Insight- California

Fantasy Insight- California

Handicapping a NASCAR race is very similar to handicapping a horse race. Some drivers are “Horses for Courses” performing better at certain lengths or styles of tracks. By incorporating three basic ingredients in a special formula based on statistical analysis of 15 years of racing data the Pro Power Ratings have been developed. Just like Beyers Figures in horse racing the best pick is not always the highest rated competitor but reaching threshold values narrows the competition down to the most likely picks to click on race day. Each week I will give you my picks for the top three positions shown in horse racing terms as Win, Place and Show along with a longshot and sleeper pick.

California Notes- Kyle Larson was here for tire testing along with Trevor Bayne, Brian Vickers and Martin Truex Jr. This is the first time the left side tire has been run but the right sides are the same as the Cup series has run at California in the past.

Threshold Qualifiers- 21 drivers qualify for being a potential winner by meeting the 80 pt minimum with only 12 reaching the minimum of 85pts to qualify as a potential winner.

Top Tier 90 or More

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr

  2. Kevin Harvick

Second Tier 85-89.99

  1. Ryan Newman

  2. Jimmie Johnson

  3. Kurt Busch

  4. Matt Kenseth

  5. Kasey Kahne

  6. Jeff Gordon

  7. Martin Truex Jr

  8. Joey Logano

  9. Denny Hamlin

  10. Brad Keselowski

Third Tier 80-84.99

  1. Tony Stewart

  2. Carl Edwards

  3. Brian Vickers

  4. Clint Bowyer

  5. AJ Allmendinger

  6. Paul Menard

  7. Kyle Larson

  8. Greg Biffle

  9. Jamie McMurray

Win Pick- Dale Earnhardt Jr- Should bounce back after tire woes last week and be in the hunt

Odds 8 to 1

Place Pick- Kyle Larson- Ride the high side little Kyle

Odds 15 to 1

Show Pick- Jimmie Johnson- Chevy has been dominant so far this year and 48 is still best Chevy team

Odds 6 to 1

Longshot Special (20 to 1 Odds or Greater)

Ryan Newman- Team is super consistent and just needs a break to win

Odds 30 to 1

Sleeper Pick (C Group in Yahoo Fantasy Racing)

David Ragan- Sounds like Kyle Busch will return this season so load up on Ragan now

Odds 75 to 1

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Odds and Ends: Kurt Flunked PR 101 Edition

Kurt Flunked PR 101

Dear Kurt Busch,

Apparently you were absent the day they tried to teach you the basics of public relations.

Everyone understands that you think you were abused and mistreated by your former girl friend Patricia Driscoll. You are upset that she made your life a living hell with her accusations of domestic abuse. Your legal bills probably ran into the tens of thousands of dollars because hiring the best attorney at getting people out of trouble is expensive. But turn back the clock to last year and you were telling us how wonderful this woman was and how much she had done to help you as a person and professionally.

Whenever a relationship ends there is animosity. The urge is to lash out about how evil that person was to you especially when there is the annoyance of legal issues to sort out between the former lovers. But when your past includes confrontations with people where you lost your temper you might want to ease off the hostility that you showed in your interview last weekend when you were returning to the driver’s seat. People also read the testimony where you admitted to “Cupping her face in your hands” and the police report where you admitted that her head hit the wall albeit inadvertently in your opinion.

The fact that her head hit the wall is evidence that something happened in your RV at Dover so the whole story was not totally fabricated as you claimed. It was simply two people having a different opinion of what went on and the legal process was there to define if intent to harm was there or if this was simply a case of two people disagreeing on what happened. Your open hostility towards your former girl friend who you praised less than 8 months ago publicly in the press will only win over the bitter men who think they have been done wrong by a woman in their past. It will do nothing to help your reputation with other fans you might want to win over some day in order to secure the sponsorship needed to support a race team. (Gene might not fund you forever out of his own pocket)

Even though I was concerned about what your actions might have been that fateful night I do feel that a 3 race suspension was plenty under these circumstances. I wish you the best in your return to NASCAR because you are one of the more exciting racers in the sport. It doesn’t matter how much you felt you were screwed over by your ex girl friend, the smarter move is to turn the page and move forward. Slamming her over and over in interviews will not help your reputation at all and it certainly won’t convince a new sponsor you are worth $10 million or more a year to support.

While you certainly flunked PR 101 on your recent interview I wish you well in the future.

Sincerely,

DMIC

Not Going Important Places

Things are going so bad at Toyota this year I almost expect to see someone get out a ceremonial sword soon! The Toyota brand joined the ranks of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing back in 2007 and improved their performance each year through the 2010 season when they won 10 races. After a brief drop off in 2011 the Toyota brand once again discovered the winning formula and visited Victory Lane 10 times in 2012 and 14 times in 2013! Last year was another off year for the brand but this year hope sprung eternal with the hiring of Carl Edwards at Joe Gibbs Racing. Media outlets all over the NASCAR world picked Cousin Carl to have a break out season and be one of the favorites for Toyota’s first Sprint Cup championship ever. But a funny thing happened on the way to the head table at the NASCAR banquet. Toyota has taken a step backwards. How bad has it gotten to open the 2015 season? The best ranked Toyota driver is 10th in points. The entire collection of Toyota drivers have led a total of 36 of the 1107 laps completed this season. David Ragan has the best qualifying record of any Toyota driver with an average starting position of 18th. Keep the sharp objects out of reach of the leadership at Toyota because there is a tradition that dates back centuries! When it comes to NASCAR Toyota is not going to important places so far this season.

Headline Writers Wanted

This week on the Thunder Crew on RaceTalkRadio we discovered something that is lacking in the mainstream NASCAR media. Where did all the great headline writers go? Every week Mike Harper (SOZ) attempts to find the four best titles in NASCAR reporting and have a showdown with the Thunder Crew picking the winner. While the NASCAR writing skills have not diminished there seems to have been a cut back on hiring great headline writers. In the past it was often difficult for SOZ to narrow the competition down to just four article titles. This season he has struggled to find one good one in the mix. Mike Neff from Frontstretch.com won this week’s award among the weakest field of cliche laden headlines ever seen. Before the race last weekend every driver said they were racing for second place against eventual race winner Kevin Harvick. Maybe that same defeatist attitude is plaguing the headline writers at every NASCAR website! Headline writers need to apply immediately or the weekly competition on the Thunder Crew might need to be replaced soon.

Did you miss Tuesday night’s best entertainment in NASCAR radio? Check out the replay of the FOO FOO FREE Thunder Crew at https://soundcloud.com/racetalkradio/thunder-crew17mar15

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Fantasy Insight- Phoenix 1

Fantasy Insight- Phoenix 1

Handicapping a NASCAR race is very similar to handicapping a horse race. Some drivers are “Horses for Courses” performing better at certain lengths or styles of tracks. By incorporating three basic ingredients in a special formula based on statistical analysis of 15 years of racing data the Pro Power Ratings have been developed. Just like Beyers Figures in horse racing the best pick is not always the highest rated competitor but reaching threshold values narrows the competition down to the most likely picks to click on race day. Each week I will give you my picks for the top three positions shown in horse racing terms as Win, Place and Show along with a longshot and sleeper pick.

Phoenix Notes- New right side tire this year at Phoenix is supposed to race more like the tires at Richmond

Threshold Qualifiers- 20 drivers qualify for being a potential winner by meeting the 80 pt minimum with only 11 reaching the minimum of 85pts to qualify as a potential winner.

Top Tier 90 or More

  1. Kevin Harvick

  2. Brad Keselowski

  3. Dale Earnhardt Jr

  4. Joey Logano

Second Tier 85-89.99

  1. Denny Hamlin

  2. Matt Kenseth

  3. Ryan Newman

  4. Greg Biffle

  5. AJ Allmendinger

  6. Kurt Busch

  7. Martin Truex Jr

Third Tier 80-84.99

  1. Carl Edwards

  2. Kasey Kahne

  3. Jeff Gordon

  4. Jimmie Johnson

  5. Aric Almirola

  6. Jamie McMurray

  7. Kyle Larson

  8. Paul Menard

  9. Clint Bowyer

Win Pick- Kevin Harvick- Nobody does it better than Happy in the Valley of the Sun with four wins in six starts since the reconfiguration.

Odds 3 to 1.

Place Pick- Denny Hamlin- This is a great track for a driver who needs a great finish.

Odds 12 to 1

Show Pick- Dale Earnhardt Jr- Hard not to like the Hendrick cars any week at any kind of track

Odds 8 to 1.

Longshot Special (20 to 1 Odds or Greater)

Ryan Newman- Has a win here and a great price on the betting board

Odds 25 to 1.

Sleeper Pick (C Group in Yahoo Fantasy Racing)

David Ragan- Great time to use this car and driver again this week

Odds 40 to 1.

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Odds and Ends: Kurt is Kured Edition

Kurt is Kured

It’s a miracle! Not even the great preacher Ernest Angley could lay hands on Kurt and bring such an instant cure. Hallelujah! The Road to Recovery has done an amazing job. Just 20 days ago a Family Court Commissioner in Delaware said the preponderance of evidence suggested that Kurt Busch perpetrated an act of domestic violence on his ex girl friend and NASCAR immediately suspended him indefinitely. NASCAR told us that Kurt Busch applied for reinstatement and they had designed a special Road to Recovery program for him. NASCAR told us that Kurt had some emotional issues to take care of and that he would get the help he needed while being suspended indefinitely. Now we find out that there are 20 days in an indefinite. The Delaware District Attorney handling the case said it would not be likely to get a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt so they would not be pressing charges against Kurt Busch. They NEVER said they didn’t believe the account of that night given by Patricia Driscoll just that they didn’t have enough evidence to convict him. Reading the testimony given by Kurt Busch himself even he admitted that he made physical contact with Ms. Driscoll. Now NASCAR has not only reinstated him to race this weekend at Phoenix but they are giving him a waiver to compete for the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup. Maybe three races is long enough to sit out to learn a lesson but based on what was said today on the NASCAR Teleconference I doubt it. Kurt told the world today that the whole story by Patricia Driscoll was a fabrication and not a single reporter asked him how that applied since even he admitted to the police that he made contact with her face and her head made contact with the wall. “I understand why NASCAR took the actions they did,” said Kurt Busch. “I appreciate the process NASCAR established for my Road to Recovery and I wish I had gone through this sooner.” Huh? If this whole story was a complete fabrication then why did you need counseling sooner? Kurt Busch is not guilty of Domestic Abuse according to Delaware law but that doesn’t mean he is innocent of causing “Actions Detrimental to NASCAR” and now he is eligible to compete for the NASCAR championship. Maybe NASCAR was scared to hold the line against Kurt Busch because his very talented attorney would sue the sport. NASCAR did the right thing by suspending Kurt Busch when the protective order was issued against him. They even did the right thing by letting him come back to race after missing three races. But they blew it by giving this man a chance to win the Cup title this year. This was a man who gave NASCAR a black eye with his actions, which he even admitted to himself. But of course thanks to a great lawyer Kurt is apparently Kured.

Are New Rules Actions Detrimental?

Tony Stewart must be feeling 100% better this season because he is at his grouchy best over the new rules package in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup division. When I first heard about the changes I was a bit surprised because I didn’t see the need for changes. The Gen Six car was developing quite nicely and the racing last year was some of the best we have ever seen in the modern era of NASCAR. If NASCAR wanted to slow the cars down taking away down force seemed like the smartest way to do so. When it comes to racing having more throttle response allows one competitor to pass the other. Whether the need to get off the throttle is because of a loose handling car or worn tires doesn’t matter when one driver lifts if the other driver can lift later there will be a passing opportunity. Likewise when one driver can get back on the throttle faster than the other drivers there will be a passing opportunity. But if the gas pedal stays on the floor then the only way one car will pass the other is if the right drafting opportunity comes along. Adding a tapered spacer to an engine to rob it of power seems a little strange to me. Teams spend millions to gain a few horsepower and then NASCAR takes away over 125 horsepower by adding a plate. Tony Stewart was very mouthy on his radio but every driver is saying the right things in front of the camera. They know they can avoid a fine from NASCAR by saying the right things. NASCAR and the media have been bragging about the number of lead changes but those only occurred because of green flag pit stops. Only one lead change happened at Las Vegas more than 10 laps after a restart! After one of the best seasons in NASCAR history last year would the big wigs at NASCAR be guilty of “Actions Detrimental” if the new rule package makes racing worse this year?

Did you miss Tuesday night’s best entertainment in NASCAR radio? Check out the replay of the FOO FOO FREE Thunder Crew at https://soundcloud.com/racetalkradio/thunder-crew10mar15

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Making the Grade- Leave that in Vegas Edition

After each NASCAR Sprint Cup race weekend I hand out one grade for each letter grade and a review of the television broadcast and event too. Race fans seldom agree with my opinion but it is hard to get 10 race fans to agree on whether it is partly cloudy or mostly sunny most days. Let’s get the red marker out and grade the race at Las Vegas.

And now on with the show…

Race Grade: D

They always brag that “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas” and when it comes to this style of NASCAR racing I hope they are right. The official NASCAR box score tells us there were 18 lead changes and bragged that number was up from last season. Take away the green flag pit stop sequences and there were only 7 lead changes all race. Take away the restarts many issued for debris and the number of lead changes drops to 1. The combination of less engine power and this aero package made clean air worth more than new tires. The racing at other similar tracks such as Texas and Charlotte might be equally average or even below average with this rule’s package.

Television Broadcast: A-

Thank you Fox Sports for not even trying to pretend there was debris during the debris cautions. The announcing crew did a good job of trying to make that race sound more interesting. As usual the camera crew did an amazing job bringing us great views of the track. When the racing is poor the job of the broadcast network is tougher and Fox Sports did a good job of trying to make this race look and sound more exciting.

F for Rascal Flatts Anthem

I always thought it was a joke that every song of theirs sounded a bit like “What Hurts the Most.” But after their ear drum shattering performance of the National Anthem on Sunday I came to the conclusion that “What Hurts the Most” is listening to musical acts butcher the National Anthem on a regular basis. There is no need to make this song “Your Song” this is the Nation’s song.

D for Kasey Kahne

What in the Wide Wide World of Sports were you thinking Mr. Kahne? Yes Carl Edwards ran you very hard but your move bouncing into him on purpose at over 180mph was one of the most idiotic moves I have seen in a long time. Only through dumb luck did you end up not taking out more cars. In horse racing when a jockey or a harness driver makes a move like the move you made they get suspended for a week worth of races.

C for Brian Vickers

It was great to see Brian Vickers back in a NASCAR race so soon after his latest health issue. Fifteenth place might not have seemed like a great performance but it sure is when you have not been in the car yet this season. Michael Waltrip Racing doesn’t appear to have improved much from last season which might be the only thing that holds Vickers back this year.

B for Martin Truex Jr

Last year watching that 78 car struggle made me wonder if Kurt Busch who piloted that car the year before was that much better than Martin Truex Jr. But after watching three very strong races for team and driver this season I am now convinced that last year’s drop off was more on the team than the driver. This set of rules seems to be helping the “Little Team that Thinks it Can” race back to the front of the pack this time with a second place finish at Las Vegas.

A for Kevin Harvick

There might never be another NASCAR car sponsor with a slogan better than Jimmy Johns “Freaky Fast.” If Kevin Harvick ever learns how to qualify with this rule’s package the competition could be in serious trouble. Racing his way up from an 18th starting spot is the only thing that kept Harvick from leading more laps on Sunday. Once he reached the top nobody was going to knock him off that top spot leading an amazing 142 of the 267 laps. Looking at the statistics in another way…once he made it to the top Harvick led 142 of the remaining 177 laps.

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Fantasy Insight- Las Vegas

Fantasy Insight- Las Vegas

Handicapping a NASCAR race is very similar to handicapping a horse race. Some drivers are “Horses for Courses” performing better at certain lengths or styles of tracks. By incorporating three basic ingredients in a special formula based on statistical analysis of 15 years of racing data the Pro Power Ratings have been developed. Just like Beyers Figures in horse racing the best pick is not always the highest rated competitor but reaching threshold values narrows the competition down to the most likely picks to click on race day. Each week I will give you my picks for the top three positions shown in horse racing terms as Win, Place and Show along with a longshot and sleeper pick.

Las Vegas Notes- Ever since the switch to progressive banking this place has been super fast and raced more like Texas than before.

Threshold Qualifiers- 21 drivers qualify for being a potential winner by meeting the 80 pt minimum with only 9 reaching the speedway minimum of 85pts.

Top Tier 90 or More

  1. Jimmie Johnson

  2. Dale Earnhardt Jr

  3. Joey Logano

  4. Kevin Harvick

Second Tier 85-89.99

  1. Carl Edwards

  2. Matt Kenseth

  3. Ryan Newman

  4. Martin Truex Jr

  5. Denny Hamlin

Third Tier 80-84.99

  1. Paul Menard

  2. Tony Stewart

  3. Kasey Kahne

  4. Jeff Gordon

  5. Clint Bowyer

  6. Greg Biffle

  7. Brian Vickers

  8. Brad Keselowski

  9. Jamie McMurray

  10. Regan Smith

  11. AJ Allmendinger

  12. Aric Almirola

Win Pick- Joey Logano- Was very fast last week and this week will be more normal weather

8 to 1 Odds

Place Pick- Jimmie Johnson- Two in a row wouldn’t surprise me, actually five in a row would be no surprise either 6 to 1 Odds

Show Pick- Dale Earnhardt Jr- Was less than a gallon of gas away from victory last year 8 to 1 Odds

Longshot Special (20 to 1 Odds or Greater)

Martin Truex Jr 40 to 1 Odds

Team and driver were unexpectedly strong last weekend

Sleeper Pick (C Group in Yahoo Fantasy Racing)

Regan Smith 100 to 1 Odds. Use his starts up early and often in the “C” slot because nobody knows how long this car will keep racing this season or if Kurt Busch will be back soon.

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