Friday, August 1, 2008

Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 Preview

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

This week: Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500
ESPN 1:00pm EST (Sunday)
Location: Pocono Raceway (Long Pond, PA)
Distance: 500 miles/200 laps
2007 winners: J. Gordon (summer race); Ku. Busch (later-summer race)

*Tires, racing passion and the trade deadline*

Now that some time has elapsed since the tire clusterfuck in Indianapolis, perspective is in order. Across the board, accusations were spewed and blame was placed, but the overwhelming sentiment was that the situation was properly handled and will never happen again. Great. Sweet. Happy for ya.

Problem: that does nothing for the folks who bought tickets to that shit and had to watch racing that was dwarfed in both excitement and sheer watchability by any go-kart, jalopy, or legends' race across the nation. We've been to autocross events that were more fun to watch than that last Sunday's shit parade. Alright, so the race was bad. That has happened before (see every Pocono race for the past five years). But Indy was not just bad, it was defective. It should have never taken place. If that race was a regular consumer product, it would have been returned to the manufacturer faster than a teenager in the sack with Shannon Spake. It didn't work; it was broken during shipping, it was a sweater ravaged by moths in the back of a FedEx truck, it was a bootlegged DVD copy of The Ring II bought in Battery Park that toasted your laptop when you tried to play it. It was broken, busted, inoperable and should have been returned-to-senderd back from where it came. To the determent of the fans in attendance and those watching on TV, that didn't happen and the show went on. This would be like Louisville Slugger shipping off a batch bats that dissolve when swung hard. Instead of postponing the ball game until functional bats arrive, MLB forces every batter to attempt to bunt their way on. That makes absolutely no sense and is exactly how Goodyear effed themselves and 200,000 fans at 16th and Georgetown last week.

By know, most people (correctly) see this problem as solely that of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Anyone (ahem, Rusty Wallace) who thinks the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has one iota of responsibility for what happened last Sunday is ignorant to how sports (and likely reality) work(s). The track surface at IMS is abrasive. This is common knowledge. The onus is placed on equipment suppliers and teams and adapt to this known characteristic. NASCAR teams are placed in the unfortunate position of being held hostage by suppliers who monopolize the items which they supply. Since Goodyear is the only show in town, everyone is at the mercy of the schlock they bring to the track. When they shit the bed, they shit the bed. IMS, the teams and NASCAR have nothing to do with it.

This is not indictment on having a sole supplier provide products to a motor racing series. Firestone provides tires for the IRL IndyCar Series and does a fine job. This is an indictment on having sub-par suppliers. Goodyear is quickly solidifying themselves as sub-par. Get your shit in a line or get out of big time motor racing.

In the meantime, the Goodyear brass need to stage a free event as a sorry-we-fucked-up-your-weekend apology. Doesn't matter what, just make it big and awesome. Give the fans something in return. We're thinking race of champions dirt track event or Journey concert.

-Tony Stewart is a rather polarizing character. He is overweight, boisterous, beer-swilling and pushes people like it's going out of style. These are the reasons we have a huge man-crush on the one called Smoke. He is a racer who doesn't appear bothered by anything aside from that endeavor. His latest escapade involves pushing a USAC official when a call went against his team's driver. Forget that shoving folks is considered uncouth, and that the action cost him $10,000 in fines. Forget that. How cool is it that a current Cup driver cares enough about short track racing to bust a dude's ass over it? That is the kind the passion that makes motor racing fun.

-The MLB trade deadline has passed and yielded some monster deals. Manny and Griffey have been liquidated by their former teams, while some prospects no one -outside of the editorial staff at Baseball Prospectus- has ever heard of have also been moved. NASCAR doesn't have a trade deadline per se, but "silly season" is certainly in full swing. Some big moves have already been made (Newman to Stewart-HAAS, Martin to Hendrick...) but looking forward, those could be the only big moves before next season. That sucks the fun right out of the NASCAR off-season, as all of the moves were done long in advance. Institute your own trade deadline, NASCAR. Make
a start and end date (all in the off season) where all driver deals must be initiated, negotiated and signed during. Now that's what we call drama.

On to this weekend's race.

*What to know:

Rain, fill my barrel: Both Saturday practice sessions have been canceled because of rain in the Poconos. (We're not sure if this is actually precipitation, or just the tears from nearby honeymooners who have realized they married a skeeze.) This lack of practice plays into the hands of those who had their cars figured out by Friday's qualifying session. The top-five qualifiers (Johnson, Martin, Gilliland, J. Gordon and Kenseth) are clearly in good shape with the handling and speed of their cars. (Full starting lineup.) The teams starting near the rear are going to be in a bad place unless they figured out something post-qualifying. (Big names starting near the tail: McMurray, Mears, Bowyer, Sadler.) It's not impossible to work your way from the back to the front at Pocono, but if your race setup is trash because the rain washed your only chance to work on it away, well, you could be screwed until the first pitstop.

Avoir le casque voyagera: Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, David Reutimann, David Ragan and Greg Biffle, are all competing in both the Sprint Cup event in PA and the Nationwide race in Montreal. All of these guys (with the exception of Reutimann) have a better than average shot at making the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Keep an eye on the performance of these guys on Sunday, as the hectic travel schedule could toss a wrench into their plans for Cup triumph. All these guys are pros and are used to competing in different events on the same weekend. We know. But the contrasts of Pocono Raceway and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve are vast. Add to that the whole international travel ordeal, and the real possibility that the Nationwide race will be staged in the rain, and suddenly the idea of two stockcar races on the same weekend seems less than stellar.

Pocono is pretty boring: Pocono Raceway gets two Cup dates/season. They are spaced apart by about six weeks and neither event is in the Chase. The track configuration in not terribly conducive to close racing and 500 contested miles of racing is at least 100 too many. Pocono Raceway is a family owned and operated facility (something of a dying breed) and would likely by forced to close its doors if they lost their Cup dates. They wont loose their dates as the Mattioli Family has been fiercely loyal to the France family and vice-versa. This means, love it or hate it, Pocono Raceway will be on the schedule (two dates, 500 miles apiece) for the foreseeable future. If they could just figure out a way to make the races not boring...

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*Who to watch:

Denny Hamlin: The favorite FedEx driver to all will start Sunday's race from the 14th position. He showed decent speed during qualifying in that regard, but we can't help to think he was running a quasi-race setup. His average finishing position at PR is 2.8. That's pretty impressive. Add two wins from the pole and a lowest finish of sixth and you have the favorite to win the race. (Vegas has him 7/1 to win).

Carl Edwards: "Hot" Carl sits sixth in the points standings and has one career win at PR, plus three top-10s. He is pulling double duty this weekend in Montreal, but we don't really care. he starts 15th and is 6/1 to win according to bodog. That's good enough for us.

Kasey Kahne: He started from the pole and won at this track six weeks ago. As defending race winner, he will start seventh and try to notch his third 'w' of the year. He has three career top-10s at PR and should be the best bet Dodge has at winning this weekend.

*For those heading to the track: Pertinent tailgating information is here. Enjoy the scenery of the one of the sleaziest parts of the country. Try to avid any and all heart shaped jacuzzis. The official Ridebuyer drink of the race is Yuengling Lager, brewed in nearby Pottsville, Pa.

They claim to be the oldest brewery in the country and its pretty tasty (and cheap in PA) to boot.

*Series' points:


Next race: Centurion Boats at The Glen (Watkins Glen International). Road racing, again? Wow, that's like twice in a year. Sweet.

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