Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Turning Nothing Into Something

This time last year, Chase Elliot had no plans for the 2014 season after his primary sponsor, Aaron’s, had left. 2013 was Elliot’s introductory season into the premier series of NASCAR, running a handful of Camping World Truck Series races and even collecting a win. 
          In late December 2013, NAPA teamed up with JR Motorsports and Chase Elliot as the driver to run the No.9 fulltime in the Nationwide series for 2014. Many were excited to watch the talented Elliot take on some of NASCAR’s best, but few expected him to be a true contender. Early on Elliot showed his maturity and talent with strong solid finishes, and a statement victory at Texas. No one thought that the week after his first victory that Elliott would be in victory lane again at a track such as Darlington.
            Elliot was proving that he was going to be a contender for the Championship, and he didn’t disappoint. He took over the points lead after Chicagoland and never went back. The team never pushed the edge to be in victory lane each week. Elliott used his talents and maturity to do exactly what he needed to do: stay ahead and finish strong. Chase Elliot entered this previous Saturday’s race at Phoenix only needing to finish ahead of teammate Regan Smith to become the youngest champion in series history. He was able to lock in the championship by doing just that. At a mere eighteen years old, Elliot became a champion, when a year ago he didn’t even have plans for 2014.

-Stephen Appell

The Time Is Now

This weekend’s race at Homestead is the one that sixteen drivers pushed for, and only four achieved. This is the time for those four drivers to race the hardest they have in their career at a track they only see once a year. This race isn’t about who wins, but who finishes ahead of the other three drivers.
            Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman are the Championship  4 and one thing we will definitely have is a first time champion.  Homestead is a tough track because NASCAR drivers only get to race there once a year. Many teams took advantage of testing there just a few weeks ago to gain an advantage.  Three of the four drivers could use the extra practice, as Denny Hamlin has won here twice before and he is the only winner at Homestead in a Gen 6 car. But again, this race isn’t about who wins, but who finishes ahead.
            The best part about the new Chase format is this final race. Even with previous Chase formats, many times the champion had a “no worse than” position to win, meaning to win the championship a driver couldn’t finish any worse than 20th if the driver who was second place in points won the race. Now that this is no longer the case, each driver needs to finish the best he can, as long as that is just in front of the second driver or winning. Every lap you can lead or any car you can pass is going to help. Hamlin has the upper hand only because of his previous wins here, yet Harvick and Logano are two of the best drivers this season on intermediate tracks. And you can never count out Ryan Newman, who hasn’t been doing so well as of late, but he is one who can definitely surprise you. This is the race in which every fan will be on the edge of their seat until the checkered flag drops.
-Stephen Appell

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Perfect Storm

When the new Chase format was announced the hopes, were to create great drama and excitment; they have done just that. Through the first six races of the Chase, there was a Chase contender winning to advance to the next round. We are now entering the last race the eleminator round in the Chase and no drivers are locked in yet. This is the perfect storm.

Who would have thought that the Top Four in points entering the last race of the Eliminator 8 round would be Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, and Jeff Gordon. Now Logano and Gordon were expected to be in high positions, but Hamlin and Newman are surprise contenders. Keselowski and Harvick still find themselves at the bottom of the standings after their tough weekend at Martinsville. The pressure is starting to grow within the storm, and it is getting to the drivers. This is what NASCAR wanted, and it is what they are getting.

With one race left and tempers flaring in a few of the past races we can expect that those same tempers will be present in Pheonix. Keselowski is still in the hot seat with many drivers such as Harvick, Gordon, and Kenseth, which could be an issue for him heading into Sunday's race. Keselowski or Harvick essentially need to win or have a lot of things go their way to advance. The same can be said for Kenseth and Carl Edwards, although this is one of Carl's best tracks. So, as we head into Pheonix, the last race of the Eliminator round, you can expect NASCAR's perfect storm to be at full strength. Do not expect this to be a calm weekend.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Who Will Sneak in the Chase

Everyone is aware of the shadow Talladega is casting on the Chasers right now and how daunting it will be when they arrive. Many people are concerned about who will be eliminated after Talladega is over, rather than being concerned about who will still be in the chase.
Assuming a Chaser beside Joey Logano or Kevin Harvick wins this weekend at Talladega, there will be nine drivers going for the remaining six spots. On many chase grids, all front runners such as Johnson, Junior, Gordon, and Keselowski are expected to transfer to the Eliminator round of the Chase. But if Talladega has its’ way with the Chase, look for sneaks—the unexpected drivers who will knock out a key contender. Now all the drivers left are still contenders but we are all aware some driver’s ratings are higher then other. In my opinion, the two unexpected drivers with the best chance to make it into the next round of the chase are Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards.
Newman has a drive about him this season being with Richard Childress Racing and he definitely wants to leave his mark on the season. Carl Edwards has stated the he doesn’t feel his team is championship capable, but that doesn’t mean he is going to give up without a fight. His great 2011 was not that long ago and Cousin Carl wants to leave Roush Fenway with a parting gift. These are the two drivers that really need to be watched depending on how nice Talladega decides to play.

-Stephen Appell

Seizing an Opportunity

            A few weeks ago, young Alex Bowman asked Dale Earnhardt Jr. for a chance to drive the Jr Motorsport No.5 Nationwide car, to which Junior agreed. Last Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway was the Arizona native’s first night to seize his opportunity. This was Bowman’s first time behind the wheel knowing he could potentially park the car in Victory Lane at nights end.
            Bowman sported a large smile while in the Nationwide garage this weekend, knowing that he would have a chance to win on Saturday night. The Sprint cup series regular, driving the No. 23 for BK Racing, has never really had an opportunity in competitive equipment, but has always made the best of whatever was available to him. Bowman ran the full Nationwide Series last season for RAB Racing in the No.99, with which he managed three poles and a handful of Top Ten’s.
            Bowman made a quite a statement early in the weekend by being the first in practice on Thursday afternoon. He followed up with a seventh place qualifying effort Friday. The momentum followed him into the Nationwide race Friday night. Bowman had the car inside the Top 15 all night and within the Top Ten multiple times. Bowman managed the tire issues well and fought side by side with his Jr Motorsports teammates a few times. When all was said and done Bowman brought the No.5 Dirty Mo Radio Chevy into a solid 12th place finish. Bowman showed everyone last season that he could drive well, but tonight solidified his chances at proving his potential.

-Stephen Appell

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Continually Making A Statement

            Kevin Harvick grabbed the pole position for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, marking his third consecutive pole for this race. During his previous twelve seasons, Harvick only claimed six poles, but in this 2014 season with Stewart-Haas, he has scored eight pole positions and his finishes are a reflection of that. Harvick is making quite a statement.
It’s one thing to qualify well week in and week out, but another to capitalize on it. Now Harvick doesn’t have a large amount of wins this season, but he does have solid finishes. For the first time in a long time, Harvick is being talked about as a viable threat for the championship with good reason. This is by far Harvick’s best season of his career; he is on top of his game. Even with the lack of help of a strong pit crew, Harvick has continuously worked his way into solid positions. How does he do it?
One could say Harvick fell into a rut while over at Richard Childress Racing. Others could argue RCR equipment was not up to par of other strong teams. When he left RCR to join Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick knew he would have to make a strong statement and lead a completely brand new team. Harvick knows what it takes to be a leader; his determination to lead a new team to the ultimate goal of a championship is what is helping him make his statement.