Friday, August 22, 2008

Sharpie 500 preview

Each week Ridebuyer delves deep into the misunderstood, oft terrifying, world of American saloon-car racing known as NASCAR.

This week: Sharpie 500
TV: ESPN 7:00pm EST (Saturday)
Location: Bristol Motor Speedway (Bristol, TN)
Distance: 266.5 miles/500 laps
Past winners: Ky. Busch (3/07); C. Edwards (8/07); J. Burton (3/08).

*Rusty Wallace, the Chase is nigh, and cheating*

ESPN loves putting microphones in front of ex-sporting stars for them to prognosticate about the sports in which they excelled. It must be company policy to hire the biggest recently-retired star and toss them into a studio or booth as quickly as possible. (See Smith, Emmitt.) The likelihood of one of these quasi-commentators saying anything insightful (or coherent, for that matter) whist "on-air" is about as likely as a RB-editor sticking a midget on pole at Winchester. It's just not going to happen.

That brings us to Rusty Wallace, who was a stud behind the wheel of a stock car, but suffers from debilitating verbal diarrhea in front of the camera. His storied career as a broadcaster started the year after his retirement with an oft hilarious stint as third booth-man during IRL IndyCar Series events on ABC/ESPN. This was merely to give Rusty some booth-time before NASCAR made its return to the Disney family of networks the next year. He added nothing to the IRL-casts and referred to the 'Indy 500' as the 'Daytona 500' with 10-laps to go during the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Ouch.

Rusty has not progressed much since his humble TV beginnings. He does sound a bit more authoritative now that he is strictly a NASCAR analyst. He also has been mercilessly moved from the announce booth to the studio, to play the host/analyst role alongside Allen Bestwick and Brad Daugherty. But still:

We tell you this because Rusty happened to be one of the quickest and most successful drivers at Bristol Motor Speedway. Ever. He had nine Cup series wins and seven poles at BMS. This means Saturday night's coverage is going to be extra thick with Rusty-speak. His made-up phrases, subject-verb disagreements and constant references to "cats" will be off the chart. Rusty is at home at BMS; so God knows what will come out of his mouth. Keep a tally of how many references are made to his nine victories. We are thinking the over/under will be around 18.

Oh. Joy.

After Saturday night's race there will be only be two events until the field is set for the Chase. Here's a Chase refresher via the folks at Jayski:

After Race 26, the top 12 drivers in the points will qualify for the Chase. All 12 drivers will have their point totals re-set to 5,000; each will then receive a 10-point bonus for each race victory they had during the first 26 races. Race winners throughout the Chase (and the whole season, for that matter) receive 185 points. Counting the five-point bonuses available for leading at least one lap and leading the most laps, a race winner can earn a maximum of 195 points, creating a possible maximum of 25 points between first- and second-place finishers

Look for the drivers very much on the bubble of making the Chase during the next three races. Barring some sort of catastrophic paints-shitting event, these are those drivers: Harvick, Gordon, Kenseth, Kahne, Hamlin, Bowyer, Ragan. At this point in the season, the point's strategy implored by bubble drivers is pretty simple. Have good finishes, make the Chase. Have bad finishes, don't make the Chase. Racing is simple.

Joe Gibbs Racing got nailed with huge penalties after their Nationwide teams were caught cheating in Michigan post race tech. It is yet to be seen if this event will somehow transcend the series and impact the JGR Cup effort. We kind of doubt it though. This is the team's first major brush with NASCAR tech officials, and all indications point that this was not the work of any high-level team directives, but the isolated doings of a few. At least that's what Kenny Wallace is saying. But, he is related to Rusty, so take that for what it's worth.

*In Kenny's piece on the subject, he says Joe Gibbs has won four Super Bowls. As the sharp commentator at the bottom of the piece correctly states, that's not true. Coach has only won three. We guess Kenny had a Rusty moment.

About this race:

*What to know:

Bump and grind and run: The track surface has been repaved at Bristol and the result is a track that is more conducive to two-wide racing. You no longer have to get into the rear (hehe) of the guy you're trying to pass to make a move. While it's quite possible to pass cleanly at BMS, still expect some hip-hop dance club grinding to take place, especially as the laps wind down. Just because you can pass clean, doesn't mean you will. With about 50-to go the track will resemble a junior prom with an Jeezy song playing.

Here come the Fords: Ford teams, or Roush-Fenway Racing to be more exact, have been a tear of late. This sport is all about streaks and getting hot at the right time. It looks like the Roush guys are hitting a stride at the opportune moment. "Hot" Carl Edwards has four straight top-10 finishes and, in the last six races, has only finished outside of the top three twice. His teammate David Ragan is coming off of a career-best third at Michigan last week and has three top-10s in the last five events. He is also flirting with the top-12 as the Chase nears. Expect the Roush guys to be strong this weekend, as they could have three teams in the Chase if things play to their favor.

*Who to watch:

Jeff Burton: Won the spring race at BMS and has been consistent in his last four starts in the hills of TN. He is a lock for the Chase, sitting p5 and is the best shot Chevy has at finding victory lane. Should Burton win, it will be the first season sweep of Bristol since 2003.

Carl Edwards: "Hot" Carl's streak of success continues as he put his Ford on the pole for Saturday's race. He has had success at BMS in the past with three top-10s and a win. His average finish is 15.4. Almost more important than starting at the front at Bristol is getting to pick the pit stall of your choice for the race. We're sure he picked a good one.

Jeff Gordon: In dire need of a good run to solidify his spot in the Chase, Gordon will start p3 Saturday. Gordon is consistent as shit at Bristol with 18 career top-10's to go with his five wins. His average finish at BMS is just outside the top-10. He is winless this season, but could break that slump on Saturday. Bodog has him 5/1 to win. We'd take that.

*For those heading to the track: Pertinent tailgating information is here. If you are interested in tailgating/camping/having an orgy in the BMS infield, chances are, you've been at the track since last Tuesday, so you don't need the details spelled out here. For the indoctrinated, here is the first hand account of a Bristol campground during race weekend. It is horrifying, yet comforting to know people still engage in such activity.

The Ridebuyer cocktail of the race is anything that involves Tennessee whiskey. Jack and water will work just fine.

Next race: Pepsi 500 (Auto Club Speedway). The middle race of three consecutive night races, leading into the Chase. Sweet.

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