Tag Archives: lessons learned

Race Preview Update: Darlington

Jamie McMurray took the pole in Friday's qualifying. (Photo Tom Whitmore/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The NASCAR Sprint Cup teams completed two eventful practice sessions and qualifying in some serious spring heat yesterday afternoon at Darlington. A lot of cars bounced off the wall, my rankings underwent a significant reshuffling, and us NASCAR fantasy players and handicappers gained a lot of clarity, but before we get to all that, let’s quickly update some of the predictive factors.

The Weather
As of this morning, Weather.com says Darlington might get some afternoon thunderstorms, but the skies should definitely clear by late afternoon. There’s a chance rain will de-rubber the track, then, and the track temperature will definitely be lower when the green flag waves tonight than it was during Friday’s preliminaries. That gives the preliminaries less value as a predictive factor than they’d have if the track condition was the same tonight as it was yesterday. On the bright side, it looks like there’s no chance of a rain stoppage tonight.

Tires
The Goodyear Tire Notes on Jayski’s “Darlington Race Info” page (scroll to the bottom) indicate the teams are running a different tire package at Darlington this year than they did last  year. That decreases race predictability at bit. Continue reading

Race Recap: Texas

The 24 prepares to blow past the 48. (Photo John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR.)

On Sunday shortly before the race, I spent some time in the “Texas picks” thread in the “Who are your picks for this week’s race?” forum on FantasyNascarPreview.com. The discussion prompted me to revisit my picks, particularly my evaluation of Jeff Gordon. In my Race Preview Update: Texas, I’d bumped Gordon out of my top six due to his relatively poor showing on the Practice 1 speed chart and in qualifying, but I learned in the forum that while he wasn’t particularly good in qualifying trim, he was great in race trim. So, if I’d posted an update to the update, my top seven would’ve looked like this:

1. Tony Stewart
2. Jeff Gordon
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Kyle Busch
5. Greg Biffle
6. Clint Bowyer
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Continue reading

Race Preview Update: Phoenix

Kyle Petty leads the field under the sun in last spring's race. PHOTO PIR/GETTY IMAGES

What the… ? Phoenix is supposed to be a relatively predictable race, but the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams have finished with practice and qualifying for tonight’s race in Phoenix, and the results were, shall I say, fairly wacky. A.J. Allmendinger, Scott Speed and Sam Hornish Jr. qualified first, second and third, respectively, while favorite Mark Martin was way off the pace all day.

The cooling track undoubtedly contributed at least a little to the unexpected qualifying results—the drivers who ran late in the afternoon/evening (e.g., Allmendinger, Speed and Hornish), tended to run faster than the guys went out early. Practice and qualifying were run in sunny, hot-track conditions but the race will finish under the lights in the cool desert evening, and that adds to the uncertainty for us NASCAR fantasy players and handicappers. Finally, maybe the spoiler is shaking things up? Continue reading

Race Recap: Martinsville

I rated Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon the clear favorites for today’s race, and that assessment was pretty close. I’d say Martin and Gordon had the third and fourth best cars at the end of the race, respectively. Martin was doomed, though, by a pit-stall penalty about halfway through and then a blown right-front tire after he’d clawed his way back up to seventh with 40 laps to go. Gordon had the lead for a green-white-checkered finish thanks to a questionable pit stop by Denny Hamlin, but Matt Kenseth bumped him out of the lead on the restart, and he finished third.

I rated Hamlin #3 before the race, and he exceeded those expectations. His car came in as the track rubbered up, and on long runs he clearly had the top car. His day was seemingly shattered when he gave up the lead to pit during a caution with roughly 10 laps left and only Kyle Busch came with him. But then he shoved his way to 4th in just a few laps, and after the final caution, he slipped through for the win when Kenseth roughed up Gordon.

Juan Pablo Montoya never really was a factor today. Early on, he got banged on a little back in traffic, then had tire trouble. And like practice suggested, Jimmie Johnson had only a top 10-ish car, and he and crew chief Chad Knaus never really got it better, at least not relative to the other front runners.

Surprises
I wasn’t surprised to see Jeff Burton running in the top five given his excellent performances during practice, but I didn’t foresee him having the best or second-best car. He had the top car on short runs, but was probably the second-best car on long runs to Hamlin’s 11. His right-front tire went soft with 17 laps to go and he decided to stay out on the track and try to hobble to the finish, but the tire blew on lap 10.

My big surprise today? Ryan Newman. The 39 didn’t show much in practice, but come race time he had a good car that steadily moved forward. By the end of the race, he was a top five car.

My Yahoo! Fantasy Picks
Group A
Mark Martin had an excellent car, but he was snake bit once again.

Group B
Clint Bowyer produced a solid return. He had a top 10 car all day and brought it home safe and sound in seventh.

Dale Jr. had a pretty good car early, but true to recent form, he and/or his team seemed to struggle in the pits a bit (or at least not excel), and the 88 didn’t improve as much throughout the race as his competitors. He probably should’ve had a top 10 but meandered home 15th.

Group C
A.J. Allmendinger was caught up in a wreck early and finished back with the go-or-go-home’ers.

Lesson Learned
When Martinsville’s surface goes from green to rubbered in, the change has a big impact on suspension performance. At the beginning of today’s race, the track was clean due to heavy rain the day before, and Tony Stewart’s car ran fantastic. As the track rubbered in, however, Stewart fell like a stone back through the field and ended up a non factor despite numerous pit stops to change the setup.

Race Preview Update: Martinsville

Carl Edwards navigates turn 4 in practice for the October 2008 race.

Rain washed out qualifying, but we did get to see three solid practice sessions, and I’m ready to fine-tune my Race Preview picks from earlier this week. There were a few surprises for me, but for the most part my preliminary read on this race was on the money.

Handicapping the Race
I tabbed Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon as my favorites, and they’ve lived up to the billing so far. In happy hour, they were both fast and happy with their cars, and I think they are the clear favorites. It’s pretty much a tossup, but I’ll give a very slight edge to Gordon because he starts 11th while Martin is back in 16th.

Denny Hamlin and Juan Pablo Montoya look strong, too, but surprisingly, Jimmie Johnson was not quite as fast as expected, and the TV announcers suggested during happy hour that he is not in love with his car. I’d still rate him in my top 10, but he’s no longer in my top 5.

Ryan Newman and David Reutimann were not as fast as I expected, and Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer all elbowed their way into my top 10.

Here’s my updated ranking:

1. Jeff Gordon
2. Mark Martin
3. Denny Hamlin
4. Juan Pablo Montoya

Betting Lines
At press time this afternoon, Bodog has Martin at 16-1, and that’s good bet even with the threat of rain looming tomorrow. Montoya is also worth considering at 18-1. Bodog has Gordon at 6-1, and I don’t see much value there.

The lines are currently closed everywhere else, but I’ll see if some reopen later and try to post an update before race time tomorrow.

Edit: An hour after I wrote this, Bodog’s lines on Martin and Montoya shifted to 14-1 for both. They’re both at 15-1 on The Greek and WSEX.

My Yahoo Fantasy League Picks
Group A
As discussed, I think it’s just about a dead heat between Martin and Gordon. I might go with Martin just because I think everybody else will be running Johnson, Gordon or Hamlin. Regarding Johnson: If you have the 48 paired with Gordon, Martin, Hamlin or Montoya on your roster, I recommend taking the opportunity to sit Johnson and save one of his starts.

Group B
As I mentioned above, my two “locks” in Group B, Reutimann and Newman, have been off the pace. I’m sitting them in favor of Dale Jr. and Clint Bowyer, and I’m very happy with those two picks given what I saw and heard in practice. If you’ve got Jeff Burton on your roster, you’ve got to start him—he looks stout.

Group C
I’ve got AJ Allmendinger and Paul Menard on my roster, and the ‘Dinger looks significantly faster, so he gets the nod. If you have Sam Hornish Jr. available, give him strong consideration—I score him tops in Group C through the three practices.

Lessons Learned
In my Race Preview, I said the chance of equipment failure at Martinsville was higher than on other tracks due to the heavy brake usage at the end of each straightaway. In light of some info I gleaned from one practice broadcast and a pre-race article, I’m going to retract that. It appears that the braking systems the teams run at Martinsville are so well engineered and beefy now, they are no longer a weak link.

I also learned that Martinsville is not as susceptible to temperature changes and sun-vs-cloud changes as I thought. The straightaways are asphalt, but the corners are concrete, and concrete does not absorb nearly as much heat (or absorb it as quickly) as does asphalt. The teams therefore don’t have to chase the track as much with their suspension setups as they would if the corners were asphalt.

Race Recap: Bristol

I rated Jimmie Johnson the clear favorite at Bristol, and lo and behold, he came through! It certainly was touch-and-go, though, because Kurt Busch was fast all day. He was leading late, and it looked unlikely Johnson (running second) could get him if the race stayed green. But a late caution threw the race to the pits. Johnson and Busch took four tires, and when the other front runners took two, the 48 and 2 took the green flag in sixth and fifth, respectively. It looked grim, but the champ surged to the front in a few laps and ran away with the race over the last six or so laps.

Unfortunately, my #2 pick, Juan Pablo Montoya, did not fare so well. He had a strong car early, running up front for much of the day (he led 29 laps). But then he slipped back a bit, got dinged in a big pileup at lap 342, and finished 26th.

My Yahoo! Fantasy League Picks
Group A: Johnson came through, woo hoo!

Group B: Kenseth used some pit strategy to get track position and finished 5th. Reutimann was very strong early, running 3rd and surging toward the lead. But then his engine failed—sigh.

Group C: Scott Speed was motoring toward a decent finish of around 20th with with maybe 30 laps left (?) when he suffered a flat tire and smacked the wall. He got back out and finished 31st.

Lessons Learned
I learned a couple things about Bristol yesterday. First, drivers aren’t pounding their brakes nearly as much as I thought they were, and that reduces the chance of equipment failure. Second, despite the extension of the SAFER barriers in turns 2 and 4 (which tightened the track slightly), Bristol just isn’t the bang-’em-up track it used to be. Put both of these lessons together, and it’s clear Bristol has more predictability than I thought. Not as much as, say, Las Vegas, but more than Martinsville.

Which is where we go next!