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Instant Analysis from Tom Jensen
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It wasn't a great race today, but it was a good one, much like the season. Congrats to Greg Biffle on three victories in a row here, to Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team for a great stretch run.
Thank you everyone for all the e-mails and questions.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!!!!
Kari from River Falls, Wisc.: What happened to Elliott Sadler, he was in 5th and then just disappeared!?!
Tom Jensen: Kari: Sadler, I think had an engine failure, though I'll have to double-check.
Ed from Peoria, Ill.: If Hamlin finishes 3rd or better in points, will his rookie campaign be considered more of a success than that of his teamate Stewart's '99 season, even though he will have one less win?
Tom Jensen: Ed: I'd certainly put Stewart's and Hamlin's rookie seasons on the same level.
JIMMIE JOHNSON CLINCHES THE TITLE BY FINISHING NINTH.
Lap 268: Biffle wins, Truex is second. Then it's Hamlin, Kahne and Harvick.
Lap 267: Green flag. Hamlin lunges for second but can't make it stick. Truex passes Kahne.
The restart will be single file and it will be a green-white-checkerd finish. Lap 266: Yeley apparently is out of gas on the backstretch. A tow truck pushes him behind the wall.
Lap 264: Under yellow, the order is Biffle, Kahne, Hamlin, Yeley, Truex, Earnhardt, Harvick, Kenseth, Menard and Johnson.
Caution 11Lap 262: Caution No. 11. Mears blows his motor. Johnson is eighth, right behind Kenseth.
Lap 261: Biffle's lead over Kahne is 1.083 seconds as Hamlin passes Yeley for third.
Lap 259: Harvick passes Johnson for seventh.
Lap 258: Kahne passes Yeley for second. Johnson is seventh. Ryan Newman summoned to NASCAR hauler after the race for wrecking Montoya.
Lap 257: Green flag. Yeley leads, but Biffle passes low and takes the lead.
Lap 254: Red flag has been withdrawn aftter 7 minutes and 58 seconds as the field now circulates under yellow. Paul Menard gets the Lucky Dog. It looks like the track will go green on Lap 257, which will leave 11 green-flag laps.
Lap 254: The race has been red flagged for Montoya's crash. Here's the order: Yeley, Biffle, Kahne, Hamlin, Kenseth, Johnson, Truex, Stremme, Edwards, Bowyer, Sorenson, Harvick, Burton, Riggs and Martin. Then it's Stewart, Mears, Nemechek, Earnhardt, Wimmer and Raines, the last car on the lead lap.
Lap 252: Green flag. 16 laps to go and Yeley is in front for now.
Caution 10Lap 248: Caution No. 10. Montoya has a hard crash in Turn 1 and he becomes the second Ganassi driver in two nights to have a fiery, scary looking crash. But he emerges unhurt.
Lap 252: Green flag. 16 laps to go and Yeley is in front for now.
Lap 248: The 21 lead-lap cars all pit for the last time. Kenseth takes two tires, so do Hamlin and Johnson. Junior takess four. The order off pit road is J.J. Yeley, who didn't pit, then Biffle, Kahne, Hamlin, Kenseth and Johnson.
Caution 9Lap 246: Caution No. 9. Ryan Newman spins on the backstretch coming out of Turn 2.
Lap 243: Johnson is eighth and looking like a lock for the title. He has enough gas to make it to the end. Kenseth is fifth and has plenty of gas, too. Lap 227: 40 laps to go and Biffle leads Kahne by 2.716 seconds, followed by Riggs, Hamlin, Sadler, Kenseth, Harvick, Truex, Johnson and Burton. If the order stays this way, Hamlin will move up to third in points, a remarkable performance for a rookie.
Lap 226: Earnhardt brushes the wall in his DEI Chevy, but saves it.
Lap 220: The Biff has sped away to a 1.588 second lead. Riggs is third, then Hamln, Sadler, Kenseth, Harvick, Truex, Johnson and Earnhardt.
Lap 218: In his very first Cup race, Juan Pablo Montoya is up to 13th, a fine performance for the Colombian.
Lap 214: Biffle takes the lead for the first time. He's on four fresh tires, the Evernham cars on two. Kenseth is fifth, Johnson ninth.
Lap 213: Biffle takes second and sets off after Kahne.
Lap 212: Biffle passes Kenseth and challenges for second.
Lap 211: Kahne repasses Riggs for the lead.
Lap 210: Green flag. It's starting to get dark, as the sun has gone down. The leaders will be close on fuel. Riggs passes Kahne to lead for the first time. Lap 207: Leaders pit. Most cars take two tires. Kahne retakes the lead, followed by Riggs, Kenseth, Biffle, Hamlin, Harvick, Earnhardt, Sadler, Johnson and Burton. Kenseth still hasn't led a lap today. Only 60 laps left on the season.
Lap 206: Caution No. 8. Mike Bliss lost a motor. Tony Stewart gets Lucky Dog.
John from Springfield, Vt.: What happened to Sterling Marlin? Is Kyle Petty now locked into 35th in owners points?
Tom Jensen: John: Marlin lost a motor, which should lock Petty into the top 35.
Meg from Euless, Texas: What happened to Jeremy Mayfield? Why is he so many laps down?
Tom Jensen: Meg: I believe Mayfield lost a motor, too.
Lap 200: With 67 laps to go on the 2006 season, the order is Sadler, Burton, Stremme, Truex and Nemechek, an unlikely top five if there ever was one. Kenseth is 11th, then Hamlin, Biffle, Harvick, Johnson and Earnhardt.
Lap 197: Johnson has fallen to 15th as a big wad of cars start to sort themselves out. Johnson just needs to stay out of trouble for the final 70 laps.
Lap 194: Green flag. The top 5 cars did not pit.
Lap 191: Leaders pit. The order out is Sadler, Burton, David Stremme, Nemechek, Reed Sorenson, Truex, Martin, Casey Mears, Carl Edwards and Kahne. Kenseth is 12th, Johnson 13th.
Caution 7Lap 188: Caution No. 7. Robby Gordon crashes coming out of Turn 4. Wow, Gordon spun alongside Johnson.
Lap 183: Kenseth retakes the position as Bowyer also passes Johnson, who falls to seventh.
Lap 182: Johnson passes Kenseth for 5th.
Lap 179: Green flag.
Lap 176: The top 10 is Truex, Kahne, Biffle, Kenseth, Riggs, Johnson, Bowyer, Harvick, Earnhardt and Sadler. So far, Johnson and the No. 48 bunch have done everything they've needed to do today. If they can hold on for another 90 laps, Johnson will be the champion.
Caution 6Lap 174: Caution No. 6. Gilliland, who'd had an excellent race up to this point, bounces off the wall in Turn 1, ending what by far has been the best race of his Cup career to date.
Karin from Sidney, Ohio: Hey Tom, is Larry Carter going back to Penske if Matt Borland moves up to Director of Competition? Two more things, thanks for doing this and GO GILLILAND GO!!
Tom Jensen: Karin: I've not heard anything about Larry Carter lately. Thanks for the kind words. I love doing this!
Robert from Amherst, Nova Scotia: How long before we see the real thing north of the border? Also, in golf, the greats design courses. Is there such a thing as great drivers designing tracks?
Tom Jensen: Robert: I know Rusty Wallace was heavily involved in the design of the new track that opened this year in Iowa, so, yes, drivers can be involved in track design.
Lap 166: Green flag.
Burton is 11th, Martin 18th, Hamlin 19th, Gordon 24th and Montoya 30th. Hamlin had to pit a second time for loose lugnuts.
Lap 163: Earnhardt had a bad pit stop and surrendered the lead to Truex, who takes over the lead for the first time today. Kahne is second, then Biffle, Riggs, Kenseth, Gilliland, Earnhardt, Bowyer, Johnson and Harvick. Earnhardt had a lugnut stick on the right-rear tire.
Lap 161: The 21 lead-lap cars all hit pit road.
Caution 5Lap 160: Caution No. 5. The yellow flag flies, after Dave Blaney blows a tire and litters the track with debris.
Lap 160: With just over 100 laps left on the season, Earnhardt's lead is 4.963 seconds.
Lap 155: Earnhardt, who has never had a top 10 at Homestead, said earlier this week he's running a vastly different setup today then he's ever used here before. His teammate, Truex, is holding steady in third, so whatever the DEI crew found, it seems to be working.
Lap 150: Earnhardt's lead over the Biff is now 3.612 seconds, with Truess, Gilliland and Kahne next. Riggs is sixth, then Bowyer, Kenseth, Harvick Hamlin and Johnson.
Lap 146: So far, Kahne has led 84 laps, most of anyone, but he's been stuck back in fifth, and once out of clean air, his Dodge is only OK.
Lap 146: Johnson is up to 11th.
Lap 145: Earnhardt is stretching out his margin - it's now 2.464 seconds over Biffle.
Lap 140: It's Earnhardt, Biffle, Truex, Gilliland, Kahne, Riggs and Kenseth up front. Harvick is 10th, Johnson, 13th. Glare is starting to be an issue. When the cars drive into Turn 1, they're looking straight into the setting sun.
Lap 135: Challenges for the lead, but can't get it done.
Lap 134: Halfway - the race is official. Your top 10 is: Earnhardt, Biffle, Truex, Gilliland, Kahne, Riggs, Kenseth, Bowyer, Burton and Harvick. Johnson is 15th and still in control.
Lap 131: Biffle, who has won this race two years in a row, takes over second from Truex.
Lap 126: Stewart, Gordon and Montoya are all 1 lap down. Gilliland in 7th and Wimmer in 12th continue to shine.
Lap 125: There's a mad scramble in the middle of the field. Up front, it's DEI: Earnhardt leads Truex by 1.041 seconds, followed by Biffle, Riggs and Kahne.
Michael from Lewisburg, W.V.: Tom, Dale Jr. is certainly making it interesting running that high line two feet from the wall. That should make fans excited.
Tom Jensen: Michael: Yep.
Kenny from Fremont, Calif.: Tom, As you write this Instant Analysis, what other information sources do you have besides watching the race itself?
Tom Jensen: Kenny: I have the NASCAR live leaderboard feed.
Lap 121: Green flag.
Lap 118: Leaders pit. Kenseth takes fuel only and leaves in 7.9 seconds. Johnson has a long pit stop after his team misses a lug nut on the left front. The order now is Earnhardt, Truex, Biffle, Kahne, Kenseth, Riggs, Bowyer, Wimmer, Gilliland and Burton. Johnson falls to 16th.
Caution 4Lap 117: Caution No. 4 . Busch bounces off the wall again in Turn 1.
Lap 116: Busch bounces off the wall.
Lap 111: With the green-flag stops cycled through, Kahne leads Biffle, Earnhardt, Busch, Kenseth and Gilliland.
Lap 109: Johnson picked up 5 bonus points for leading a lap before he pitted. Now, all he has to do is finish 13th or better to win the title.
Lap 108: Earnhardt goes in.
Lap 107: Burton and Hamlin pit.
Lap 106: This time around it's Kahne and Riggs.
Lap 105: Harvick is in now.
Lap 104: Green-flag pit stops begin. Stewart is in, then Kenseth and Biffle.
Lap 101: Kahne leads Biffle by 2.193 seconds. Then it's Busch, Earnhardt and Gilliland.
Lap 99: Earnhardt has now gone around Gilliland and Kenseth for fourth.
Lap 94: Earnhardt is up to 6th place and moving up. Jeremy Mayfield has parked James Finch's Dodge and apparently will finish 41st.
Lap 90: Kahne's lead is 2.518 seconds. No change in the top 10. Hamlin is 15th, Martin 22nd.
CJ: Kurt Busch should watch what he says about Rusty in the future, i.e. Trackside Friday night. : ) Benny Parsons mentioned the No. 2 was running an experimental setup. Do you know what was experimental about it?
Tom Jensen: CJ: No, I'm afraid I don't know. Teams will tell you they are running an experimental setup, but they don't usually say what it is.
Scott from Grafton, Wisc.: Any indication from 2007 ticket sales that the car of tomorrow is not a fan favorite?
Tom Jensen: Scott: Advance ticket sales, like experimental setups, are a closely held secret.
Earnhardt said last week that the middle part of the races were boring and when everyone just sort of rode around. That would be now.
Lap 80: Kahne leads Busch by 1.598 seconds. Biffle is third, in front of Gilliland, Kenseth, Riggs, Yeley, Burton, Johnson and Wimmer.
Tony Stewart has crushed the field at the last 1.5-mile tracks,but he's been awful today and is 24th.
Lap 70: No changes at the top 5: Kahne's lead is now 1.392 seconds.
Lap 65: Harvick complains of being down on power. Kahne has opened his lead to 0.994 seconds.
Lap 60: Kahne leads Busch by 0.469 seconds. Biffle is third, then Gilliland, Kenseth, Riggs, Yeley Harvick, Burton and Nemechek. Wimmer is an impressive 11th, four spots ahead of Johnson.
Lap 46: Leaders all pit. The order out is Kahne, Busch, Biffle, Kenseth - who picks up 3 spots thanks to the Killer B's - Gilliland, Harvick, Riggs, Nemechek, Yeley and Burton. Johnson is 15th, Hamlin 18th, Earnhardt 20th, Gordon, 21st, and Martin 25th.
Lap 45: Caution No. 3. Debris on the backstretch. Expect the lead-lap cars to all pit.
Lap 41: Johnson is 19th.
Lap 40: Busch leads Kahne by 0.240 seconds. Then it's Biffle, Riggs, Burton, Gilliland, Truex, Kenseth, Nemechek and Harvick.
Lap 32: Johnson is back up to 21st.
Lap 30: Busch leads Riggs by 0.170 seconds . Then it's Kahne, Burton, Gilliland, Biffle, Truex, Kenseth, Nemechek and Newman. Johnson is moving smartly through the field and is 26th after restarting 40th during the last yellow.
Lap 26: Johnson is up to 29th.
Lap 25: Kenseth is up to 8th, Johnson to 32nd.
Lap 22: Montoya's left-front tire is rubbing and smoking.
Lap 19: Green flag. Kyle Busch takes the lead for the first time and Riggs moves to second.
Lap 18: Kahne leads Busch, Riggs, Burton, Gilliland, Sadler, Newman, Truex, Biffle and Yeley. Kenseth is 12th, Hamlin 23rd, Earnhardt 32nd and Johnson 40th.
Lap 17: Johnson, Earnhardt and others pit. Johnson has a hole in his nose after hitting a piece of debris from Busch's car, which his crew repairs under caution. Is this a foreshadowing of things to come?
Caution 2Lap 16: Caution No. 2. Kurt Busch crashes again coming out of Turn 4 and heads for the garage.
Lap 13: Kenseth restarted 18th, while the top 17 didn't pit. Kyle Busch passes Riggs for 2nd.
Lap 11: Green flag.
Lap 9: Harvick, Gordon, Burton, Stewart, Kenseth, Montoya, Hamlin are among the 23 cars to pit. Kenseth takes just 2 tires. The top 10 is Kahne, Riggs, Burton, Harvick, Kyle Busch, Earnhardt, Sadler, Gilliland, Newman and Johnson.
Caution 1Lap 8: Caution No. 1. Kurt Busch hits backstretch wall and Bobby Labonte hits back of Busch.
Lap 5: Kahne leads Riggs, Burton, Busch, Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Sadler, David Gilliland, Ryan Newman, J.J. Yeley and Johnson. Kenseth is 15th.
Lap 2: Busch falls back to 4th. Johnson is 13th.
Lap 1: Green flag. Kasey Kahne takes the early lead from teammate Scott Riggs, who falls to 3rd behind Kyle Busch. Jeff Burton is 4th, then Elliott Sadler and Kevin Harvick.
Clint Bowyer and Robby Gordon will go to the back of the field for engine changes today.
Regardless of where he finishes today, Denny Hamlin will be the Raybestos Rookie of the Year and has had a remarkable season. His goal today? Beat teammate Tony Stewart's rookie season in 1999, when "Smoke" finished fourth in points.
One first I omitted earlier: This is Scott Wimmer's first Cup race in Richard Childress Racing's fourth car, the No. 33 Chevy.
HAVE A GREAT AFTERNOON EVERYBODY!!!
3:02 p.m.: Cars rolling on pit road.
2:58 p.m. Engines fired.
2:55 p.m. Showtime! Someone needs to tell Taylor Hicks that the lyrics of the National Anthem don't include "yeah, yeah!" Sheesh.
Jo from Rock Hill, S.C.: Hi Tom! Thanks for all the insight this season and can't wait for 2007! I was sad to hear that PPI is expected to shut down after today's race and to see the struggles of teams like RYR and the Wood Brothers. Tony George in the IRL often seems to step up and help struggling teams find sponsorships to keep going. Why don't the billionaire Frances do something similar to keep these deserving owners in the sport? If they truly want to limit the multicar juggernauts, isn't it in NASCAR/ISC's/the France family's interest to keep teams like these in business and able to compete?
Tom Jensen: Hi, Jo! I was wondering if we were going to hear from you today. There are plenty of cars already committed for next season, and as long as that's the case, NASCAR will not intercede. In all fairness to NASCAR, there's a certain amount of "churn" to teams every year, and this year will be no exception.
Tim from Mccoll, S.C.: Who do you think will be the driver for the No. 88 car? If it's Johnny Sauter as rumored, will crew chief Bootie Barker join him at Yates?
Tom Jensen: Tim: Thanks for the question. Yes, it's looking more and more like Johnny Sauter will be the driver of the No. 88. I've not heard anything so far about a crew chief.
Dee from Crawfordsville, Ind.: How old does a racer have to be to race in the Nextel Cup Series?
Tom Jensen: Dee: Thanks for the question. The minimum age to racee in the Nextel Cup Series is 18. That said, you also have to have experience and be approved by NASCAR prior to competing.
Today's Ford 400 is Race No. 36 in the NASCAR Nextel Cup season, the final event of 2006.
The race will be 400 miles and 267 laps around the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway. It will begin under bright sunshine and end under darkness.
The championship is Jimmie Johnson's to lose, as all he has to do is finish 12th or better to win. So far this year, he's done that 26 times in 35 points races.
Some milestones todayLast race for:
Mark Martin at Roush Racing
Dale Jarrett at Robert Yates Racing
Brian Vickers at Hendrick Motorsports
Casey Mears at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
Joe Nemechek in the No. 01
GM Goodwrench as full-time primary sponsor for Kevin Harvick
Nextel Cup race for NBC
First Nextel Cup race for Juan Pablo Montoya
With the final race of the season upon us, I'd like to take just a minute and share my profound thanks to each and every one of you who is a loyal, or even a casual, reader of FOX's NASCAR Instant Analysis.
Interacting with the fans and answering your questions is one of the very best parts of what I do and something I enjoy more than I can tell you.
So again, thanks so much one and all for the questions, comments and e-mails!
Enjoy the race today, and have a great Thanksgiving holiday.
I've had a lot of fun this year and look forward to covering the banquet in New York and then getting started again at Daytona next February.
So, one last time this year, let's get 'er done at Homestead and have a great afternoon everbody!
OK, fans, the question of shortening races was just put to NASCAR Chairman Brian France in the garage here at Homestead. Here's what he had to say:
"We're not looking at that right now. We have shortened a couple in the past, Dover is one that has come to mind, so were not opposed to that. But I think, by and large, there's complications with that with TV partners and everything else. Race fans like a longer race, believe it or not. Some of them will argue that maybe they're a little bit too long but on balance, it's pretty good."
Marco from Pocatello, Idaho: As far as I know, if Jeff Gordon doesn't win today, it will be the first season in ages (since he won two in 1994) that he hasn't won at least three races in a season. That's a really good streak. Has anyone else ever gone that many seasons with three wins, or even two?
Tom Jensen: Hello there, Marco! Richard Petty won at least three races every season from 1962 to 1977, a record that surely will never be broken. Darrell Waltrip won at least three every season from 1977 to 1986.
Ed from Peoria, Ill.: Hey Tom! Great job this year. I love your columns and hearing you on Wind Tunnel. My question stems from Reed Sorenson's fiery engine failure in the Busch race. I watch a lot of other racing series and the majority of the racers there wear Nomex hoods under their helmet as well as Nomex undersuits. I notice that a lot of the drivers in NASCAR do not wear this. Is there a reason for this, and why hasn't NASCAR mandated it? Also, what is the purpose of the helmet skirts some drivers like Harvick and J. Gordon wear? Thanks!!
Tom Jensen: Ed: Thanks for the kind words, bud! The reason that NASCAR drivers don't wear Nomex hoods is that NASCAR doesn't require it. Why, I'm not certain. The helmet skirts keep dust and debris from blowing up under the bottom of the helmet, which is the last thing the drivers need.
Kevin from Wilmington, Mass.: Hi Tom! Thanks for the excellent work you do. I'm in agreement with the length of the season and most of the races being too long. But my question is, does NASCAR hear the fan sentiment? And do they care? We all know its about the $$$ but if they lose fans, will they make a change?
Tom Jensen: Kevin: You raise a great question. Honestly, I don't expect a shorter schedule anytime soon. What I'd like to see is a lot of two-day or even one-day shows. Unload and practice one day, race the next day, or even unload and practice in the morning, qualify and practice in the afternoon and race at night. That would be a lot more humane on the poor crew guys who are away from home so much.
A couple of other notes:
I just went out in the garage and talked with one of the Hendrick Motorsports team members, who told me the mood on the team is much different and much better than in the past two seasons as Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 gang looks to seal the deal today. One guy who's really struggled this year is Ryan Newman. Apparently, though, his crew has found something in the setup and should be much better today than they've been for most of the season. Car owner Cal Wells (Travis Kvapil No. 32) just told me that back in June he'd signed the best sponsorship deal of his NASCAR career for 2007, but since then his sponsor hit financial trouble and the deal never materialized. He said he'll know within the next week or so whether or not his team will be back for an eighth season next year.
Steve from Toledo, Ohio: Has any mention been brought to the fact that each week the Cup races seem to start at different times? In years past, you could count on the races being on at the same times. I really enjoy watching races on Sunday afternoon, not until 11 p.m. or midnight EST on Saturday night.
Tom Jensen: Scott: Welcome to FOX! I agree. It's a huge problem, and in addition to some of the other reasons we've mentioned this weekend, yet another factor contributing to the woes of NASCAR's TV ratings.
David from Ridgway, Pa.: Two comments: First, the Chase. I really don't care for it. I know that no one guy outside of the top 10 has ever won the Cup, but where would Stewart be in points without the Chase? Second, I'm a fan of the No. 43 car always, and there are fans of other cars who feel that a lot of the cars are ignored during the race, and even worse during the last 10 races. Thank you for letting me express myself.
Tom Jensen: David: Thanks for joining us. Under the old points system, Tony Stewart would be in fourth place, 406 points behind Jimmie Johnson. Of course, Matt Kenseth would only be 11 points behind Johnson, not 63, under the old system. That would mean we'd have a real, honest-to-goodness title fight today instead of Johnson having a comfy lead. I agree that over the final 10 races, non-Chase get little exposure.
William from Morristown, Tenn.: How do people like Derrike Cope get a ride? Don't they lose money! With 50 or more full-time cars in 2007, will he and others in his position have a hard time making fields next year?
Tom Jensen: William: Thanks for the question. There are going to be a lot of teams who'll have terrible problems making races next season. I think it's going to be a huge story and a huge problem.
Michael from Lewisburg, W.V.: Hello Tom! As the NASCAR season concludes today, I would like to say thank you and the great job on your Instant Analysis and SPEEDTV columns this year. They are always informative, direct and opinionated as any columnist should be. This week in one of the WV newspapers, a sports columnist gave his view of declining NASCAR viewer ratings. His take was the season was too long, some races to long and the obvious, too many commercials. I am an avid NASCAR fan, but I would have to agree. While watching last week's race, listening to NASCAR Raceday scanner and getting your updates on Instant Analysis at the same time, I found myself clicking channels to NFL. I would like to know your opinion on how NASCAR could increase viewer participation. Thanks again and we look forward to next season.
Tom Jensen: Michael: Thanks for the kind words! Yes, there needs to be changes to fire fans up. Better racing, for one thing. In the two prior races before Homestead, Kevin Harvick led 252 of 312 laps at Phoenix, and Tony Stewart led 278 of 339 laps at Texas, two of the most boring races in recent memory.
In more than half the Chase races so far, one driver has led about half the laps in the race or more. And even though Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are great drivers and spokesmen for the sport, neither is exactly a riveting personality. You need heroes and bad guys for people to get emotional about racing. Dale Earnhardt brought swagger and cockiness to NASCAR. Tony Stewart brought attitude and feistiness. Even Jeff Gordon inspired reaction, strong love-him-or-hate-him reactions. Johnson and Kenseth bring good manners.
That's not enough to get fans fired up, and the fact that so many early Chase races were marred by crashes, engine failures, etc., didn't help either. And as you pointed out, there are way too many TV commercials, and the races are too long.
PBumpers from Chicago: Hey, Tom, Jacques Villeneuve has not made it a secret that he would like to race in Nascar. What puzzles me is Roush and Yates are in tough situations right now with the #6 and #88. Roush had the choice between multiple rookies: Ragan, Kleuver, O'Quinn and Darnell. It appears he may have chosen wrong. If it were me (which, of course, holds no weight in the matter), I would have at least chosen O'Quinn or Darnell (ROY in Busch and Trucks, respectively) because they have shown more consistency in each of their series. However, if the performance of Darnell and Q'Quinn didn't sway him, why doesn't he split time in the #6 and let all 4 rookies "try out" during 2007 for the permanent ride in 2008 (like Gibbs did with Hamlin and Yeley in the #11)? For Yates, he has a long road ahead getting his cars back up-to-speed. He has a rookie in one of his cars and probably needs a veteran in the #88. What about Rudd, Ward Burton, or Johnny Benson? Maybe Park or Todd Bodine (along with his truck series crew chief) would be valid alternatives. All of this brings me to my central question. Villeneuve, a past Formula 1 champion, would be a great alternative for either ride. It seems like either owner should jump at the chance to sign him, especially given the hype and progess of JPM. Why doesn't either owner take a chance on Villeneuve? What a sponsorship dream for either car! He is a proven talent and has expressed the desire to be in NASCAR. I just can't believe he is sitting there available, and no one has signed him! Thoughts?
Tom Jensen: PBumpers: Glad you could join us here at FOX. Here's my take on Villeneuve, and this is strictly my own opinion. Yes, he is a great talent. But ever since he left Williams, he doesn't seem to have any fire in his belly, and it seems to me he wants to come to NASCAR, not out of love for this type of racing, but for a lack of better options. If I owned a team, I'd want to know he was passionately committed to NASCAR before I signed him. He has to understand, just because he was successful in open-wheel racing, he still has to earn a place here, too.
Maxey from Hendersonville, Tenn.: I am a fan of Michael Waltrip. Is there any hope for him to run better in 2007? Can he make it on his own?
Tom Jensen: Hi, Maxey: Here's the deal: Can Michael Waltrip make it on his own? Absolutely not. Can he make it with Toyota's backing? Absolutely yes. That said, it'll take time for his organization to come together, so I'd have modest expectations for 2007, but he should get better as the year goes on.
Sunday morning: A couple of quick updates from Homestead
The weather is absolutely gorgeous, without a cloud in the sky and temperatures around 70 degrees.
The sale of up to 50 percent of Roush Racing to Fenway Sports Group, one of Boston Red Sox owner John Henry's companies, should be completed by no later than February and possibly before the end of the year, according to Roush officials.
The IROC series will not run next year unless a new title sponsor can be found to replace Crown Royal, according to a report in scenedaily.com.
Johnny Sauter has emerged as the front-runner to drive the No. 88 Robert Yates Racing Ford next season, according to multiple sources in the garage.
Ryan from Fowler, Mich.: Hey Tom. I recently read a quote from Dale Earnhardt Jr, saying that the season was too long. I have to agree with that 100 percent. Going to tracks twice in a season is crazy, when there are so many other great tracks to go to (Iowa, Milwaukee, expansion, etc.). I understand that there are economics involved in the decision, but wouldn't this help NASCAR's exposure in different parts of the country? And wouldn't it allow for more variety of tracks? I get burned out of NASCAR by about the 30th race or so. What do you think? Thanks!
Tom Jensen: Hello, Ryan. I guarantee you that if you walked through the garage this morning and asked the first 100 people you saw if the season was too long, at least 99 of them would say yes. The sheer physical toll that racing 38 weeks a year from South Florida to Northern California takes on crewmen, officials and others who work in the sport is unbelievable. That said, as long as the France family owns both NASCAR and a majority stake in International Speedway Corp., which owns most of the tracks, NASCAR is going to race at ISC tracks and isn't going to take races away from them.
Lenora from San Luis Obispo, Calif.: Tom, why are we starting to see so many defectors from other speed related sports like, Villeneuve, Montoya and Carmichael heading to NASCAR? Is the money that much better? And as a side bar I would like to comment on NASCAR's obvious push to shed it's southern roots. I am not from the South, but I am an American and quite proud of all things with a strong American heritage. If anything, NASCAR would do well to promote the original spirit of this sport. Those brazen, bad boy moonshiners of yesteryear that were the true inspiration of Big Bill France. We should be proudly tauting the likes of those southern bad boys like Henry "Smokey" Yunick. It was truly the brillance of Big Bill France and Bill Jr. that put this sport on the map, but they did it always holding steadfast to their roots. Can't the current family regime find a way to rake in those big bucks without denouncing and neutralizing the true heritage of stock car racing? Just a thought.
Tom Jensen: Lenora: You raise a great point and a complicated one. The simple part is why drivers like Villeneuve, Montoya and Carmichael are coming to NASCAR. It's for exactly the same reason Willie Sutton gave when asked why he robbed so many banks in the 1930s and 40s: "That's where the money is." These drivers aren't stupid. They see the money that the NASCAR drivers are making and realize it's a lot more than they could make in other series. It's also a much safer form of racing than open-wheel is and more prestigious in the U.S. than IRL or Champ Car, certainly. What it isn't, is an easier form of racing, as Juan Pablo Montoya and Sam Hornish, Jr. are finding out.
As for the heritage issue, that's one that saddens and angers a lot of loyal, longtime race fans. It's important to know who you are and where you came from, and when deny your roots and your history you're basically telling a lie, and telling the world you are ashamed of your heritage. Personally, I think NASCAR has an awful lot to be proud of in its Southern roots. Why did the late Dale Earnhardt inspire such passionate loyalty? Because he was a blue-collar guy who came out of a small North Carolina mill town and never changed who he was despite the riches he amassed.
Scott from Grafton, Wisconsin: Some people are complaining about the CUP guys racing in BUSCH....I attend BUSCH races as well as CUP races for this reason. If NASCAR changes the format of allowing the same level of competition we have today for the upcoming years, I don't think I'll attend the BUSCH races. Am I wrong to think I wouldn't be alone? Have you heard about any limits being placed on CUP drivers racing in Busch?
Tom Jensen: Scott: We will tackle the subject of the Busch Series Sunday morning at 10 a.m. ET on a special editon of "Wind Tunnel" on SPEED. The bottom line is that it's a complex subject. Fans want Cup drivers in the Busch races. Track owners want Cup drivers in the Busch races, too, because they sell tickets. You're proof of that. My feeling is this: They are so far down the road that there's no quick fix for the Busch Series. And, no, I've not heard of any limits on Cup drivers in the Busch Series.
Chris from Latham, N.Y.: Let's say that Kasey Kahne crashes and is the first car out of the race. Jimmie Johnson's engine blows up and is the second car out of the race. Denny Hamlin finishes 23rd, five laps down. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishes 20th. Matt Kenseth finishes 17th. Kevin Harvick finishes third. Tony Stewart finishes second and Juan Montoya wins the Ford 400. Who wins the Nextel Cup?
Tom Jensen: Chris: That's easy: Harvick.
Karin from Sidney, Ohio: Hi Tom. Any more news on Past Champ Provisional changes for 2007? Any more news on the status of Ricky Rudd? Dang, I am a happy camper today, looks like I may still have a car (88) to root for next year!! I'm so happy I could eat a can of Pedigree...LOL.... Thanks :)
Tom Jensen: Hi, Karin and welcome back! I've not heard anything definite on the status of Ricky Rudd. After I got your question, I walked into the garage here at Homestead and spoke with NASCAR Vice President of Corporate Communications Jim Hunter about the past champion's provisional. His answer was, "We haven't done anything yet, but it's definitely on our radar screen for next year."
V. from Prineville, Oregon: After Friday night's truck race, Mark said he was going to drive a truck for the Woods Brothers next year. Also mentioned the # 21. I try to follow his career closely but must have missed any articles about this. Could you fill me in? One last thing, I think Roush Racing treated Mark pretty shabbily. Thanks.
Tom Jensen: V.: Welcome to FOX, V. Mark Martin will indeed run some limited number of truck races with the Wood Brothers next season. Details remain to be finalized pending a sponsor agreement.
Theo from Mountain Home, Texas: Do you think the supposed (which fell through) merger of RYR & RG would have been a good thing? I agree that RYR not seling to DEI is a good thing - for all involved. Big question is: what does the future hold for RYR with good sponsor, no sponsor, possible sponsor, no driver, possible driver, pretty darn good driver (David G. has not been shabby), losing sponsor, losing two drivers, etc.?
Tom Jensen: Theo: Thanks for the question. Honestly, I think both Robby Gordon and Robert Yates will be happier doing their own deals. You need to have one person in charge and things get messy when two people are in charge. Yates said yesterday that he has a sponsor for the No. 88 next year - believed to be a sister candy brand to M&M's - and he's fired up about 2007.
Prerace notesThis is the 36th and final points race for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. Sunday's race is the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where all three of NASCAR's top series are competing.
Todd Bodine clinched the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title Friday night, in a race won by Mark Martin in his final NCTS appearance for Jack Roush.
Kevin Harvick already has clinched the NASCAR Busch Series title and on Saturday will be looking to tie Sam Ard's all-time record for Busch race victories in a season, which stands at 10.
Over on the Cup side, the only drivers still mathematically eligible to win the championship are:
- Jimmie Johnson
- Matt Kenseth (-63)
- Kevin Harvick (-90)
- Denny Hamlin (-90)
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-115)
There's lot of news this weekend at Homestead:
Robert Yates said at long last he has a deal put together to keep his team intact for 2007 and will campaign both the No. 38 with David Gilliland and the No. 88 with a driver to be named later, as well as his No. 90 Busch Series car with Stephen Leicht.
Obviously for all the Yates fans, this is great news, as the No. 88 is one of NASCAR's most storied cars and Yates one of its longest-tenured owners. I'm told that Robert turned down huge sums of money from one of the Toyota teams to buy the number so it would have his owner points and therefore a guaranteed spot in the field during the first five races of 2007.
Yates, who twice this year has been hospitalized for stress-related ailments, has endured a nightmare 2006, losing both his Cup drivers, both his crew chiefs, his general manager and one of his sponsors. But Friday at Homestead he seemed genuinely optimistic for the first time in a long time.
Former Formula 1 star Juan Pablo Montoya qualified for his first Cup race on Friday and NASCAR is making a huge deal out of it, because Montoya's presence assures NASCAR of attracting new fans, which is a priority as TV ratings have slumped badly this season.
There are a lot of goodbyes this weekend: Sunday's Ford 400 will be the last NASCAR race on NBC, which next year will be replaced by ESPN. Sunday's race will also be the final one at Roush Racing for Mark Martin and at Robert Yates Racing for Dale Jarrett. Best of luck, everyone.
Also gone after this race, is Goody's as the official pain reliever of NASCAR, a position its held in the sport since 1977, before a lot of today's drivers were even born. Why? Goody's is too Southern, so NASCAR replaced it with Tylenol, which has more of a national image. You may recall that tracks were told earlier this year not to book country music acts in pre- and post-race shows trackside, because again, NASCAR wants to distance itself as much as possible from its rural Southern roots.
Both points leader Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, insisted it's business as usual this weekend at Homestead, but you can tell how badly they want this championship, which is to be expected of a front-running race team. After several years of near misses, these guys are hungry to wrap up the title. Given that the championship has only changed hands in the final race twice in the last 30 years, the odds are in their favor. And they certainly dont want to lose a huge lead now.
There continues to be a ton of controversy, if not outright hatred, in the Nextel Cup garage for NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow, which debuts next April at Bristol. Among the complaints: Tolerances are so tight on the body templates 0.0060 of an inch that crew chiefs are openly wondering how they will get their cars through inspection. The COT does not fit in the current trailers, either, which means teams either have to buy new trailers or take off the race tires and put on inner liners when the load the cars up. Owners, drivers, crew chiefs, team executives nobody has anything good to say about it. One owner told me his budget is going up $8 million next year, just on COT stuff. Of course, if the car is a success on the track, all the complaining will go away, so time will tell whether these gripes are legitimate or not.
Now, on to the Ford 400.
Evernham Motorsports took three of the top four qualifying spots, with Kasey Kahne on the pole in his Dodge Charger at 178.259 mph, Scott Riggs second and Elliott Sadler fourth. Kyle Busch was the lone non-Evernham in the top four, as he qualified 3rd in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy. Jeff Burton rounded out the top five.
Among the Chase contenders, qualifying broke down like this: Kevin Harvick, 7th; Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 14th; Jimmie Johnson, 15th; Matt Kenseth, 19th; and Denny Hamlin, 33rd.
Robby Gordon blew an engine in qualifying and Dale Jarrett wrecked in practice and will start in the back of the field. Juan Pablo Montoya qualified 29th.
This is Kahne's 12th career pole in 108 Nextel Cup Series races and his sixth of 2006, tying Kurt Busch for most poles this season. Kahne will win the yearly Bud Pole Award based on the tiebreaker of two second-place starts as to Busch's one.
Kahne is the seventh different Bud Pole winner in eight races at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
This is the 16th pole for Dodge in 2006. Chevrolet has 13 and Ford has five.
Bill Elliott used a past champion's provisional to make the field.
The 56 drivers that entered the Ford 400 is the largest entry number of drivers to attempt to make a race since Daytona in February (58).
Thirteen drivers failed to qualify for the Ford 400: Ward Burton, Brandon Whitt, Casey Atwood, Kenny Wallace, Todd Kluever, David Ragan, Michael Waltrip, Mike Skinner, Derrike Cope, Kevin Lepage, Carl Long, Chad Chaffin and Shepherd.
Average Homestead finish for the Chase drivers.
- Kevin Harvick, 9.400
- Jeff Gordon, 9.571
- Mark Martin, 11.571
- Jeff Burton, 13.714
- Jimmie Johnson, 15.600
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 19.166
- Matt Kenseth, 25.500
- Kasey Kahne, 27.000
- Denny Hamlin, 33.000
- Kyle Busch, 41.000
None of the 10 Chase drivers has won at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Mark Martin leads all Chase drivers with four top-five finishes in seven starts at Homestead.
Jeff Gordon has scored six top-10 finishes in seven races at Homestead.
Five of the 10 Chase drivers posted top-10 finishes at Homestead last November.
Jeff Gordon has scored four straight top-10 finishes at Homestead, the longest current streak.
Matt Kenseth will make his 250th consecutive Cup start on Sunday.
Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray will each make their 150th career Cup start Sunday.
Twelve drivers have started in all seven races at Homestead.
Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart lead all drivers each with two Homestead victories.
Tony Stewart has the best finishing average among the 12 drivers that have competed in all seven races at Homestead. Stewart's 9.25 finishing average at Homestead is the best among all drivers with more than two starts there and ranks third overall.
Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs lead all car owners, each with three victories at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Ray Evernham has the other Homestead victory.
Jimmie Johnson was eighth in points after the first four races in the Chase (after Talladega), then 156 points behind then point leader Jeff Burton.
Johnson has gained 219 points in the last five races, the result of a victory and four second-place finishes and is the point leader for the second week.
There have been seven changes in the second-place points position in the nine races since the Chase began at New Hampshire. Five different drivers have ranked second during the Chase: Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick.
Since 2004, non-Chase drivers have won nine of the 29 Chase races (31 percent).
Chase drivers have won five Chase races in 2006: New Hampshire (Kevin Harvick), Dover (Jeff Burton) Charlotte (Kasey Kahne), Martinsville (Jimmie Johnson) and Phoenix (Kevin Harvick).
Non-Chase drivers have won four Chase races in 2006: Kansas, Atlanta and Texas (Tony Stewart) and Talladega (Brian Vickers).
Mark Martin is the only driver among the top 10 yet to score a victory in 2006.
Tony Stewart has led 1,360 laps in 2006, the most of all drivers.
At least one rookie has scored a top-15 finish in every race this season. In 28 of the 35 races a rookie finished in the top 10. In 11 of the 35 races two or more rookies finished in the top 10.
Chevrolet clinched the 2006 Manufacturers Championship at New Hampshire, and has now won 30, including the last four.
Nick from Wisconsin Dells, Wisc.: I noticed that Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin were at the top or close to it in both Busch and Nextel Cup. No one has ever won both in the same year. What's the closest anyone has ever come to winning both in the same year?
Tom Jensen: Nick: Greetings. By my reckoning, the closest anyone has come to winning the Busch and Cup championships in the same season will be this year, as Harvick has already clinched the Busch title and will finish in the top five in Cup points. Prior to Harvick, believe it or not, the closest anyone came to winning both titles in the same year was just last season, when Carl Edwards was third in both Cup and Busch points.
And by the way, if you want some indication of dominant Harvick has been in the Busch Series this year, consider this little nugget. Harvick's lead in the Busch Series is now 844 points. If the Cup points were scored the old, pre-Chase way, Harvick would now have a bigger lead over the second-place Busch driver (Edwards) than Jimmie Johnson has over the 12th-place Cup driver (also Edwards).
Regardless of how Harvick fares on Sunday - whether he wins the Cup title or blows a motor on Lap 1 or anything in between - he has had one of the most remarkable seasons any stock-car driver has ever had, winning a total of 14 races combined in the two series, crushing the Busch field and finishing in the top five in Cup points.
Colton from Omaha, Neb.: Who has won the Daytona 500 and the Championship in the same season?
Tom Jensen: Colton: Thanks for the question and welcome to FOX. Near as I can tell, only three men have won the Daytona 500 and the Cup championship in the same year during NASCAR's modern era: Richard Petty (1971, '74 and '79), Cale Yarborough (1977) and Jeff Gordon (1997). Mike from Auburn, Wash.: With the possiblity of DEI buying out the number 88, is Paul Menard going to be driving that ride or is there another Cup driver who would take his spot? Also is the No. 15 car not coming back at all? Finally, would there ever be a merger of DEI & RCR making it possible for Dale Jr. to drive the No. 3?
Tom Jensen: Mike: Thanks for the questions. Based on what Robert Yates told us at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Friday, he is not selling his No. 88 team to DEI, which is a good thing for Robert and a good thing for NASCAR, too. Paul Menard will drive the No. 15 in his Nextel Cup Rookie of the Year campaign next year. DEI wants to eventually expand to four cars. As far as a DEI-RCR merger, that is extremely unlikely. Not impossible, but extremely unlikely.
Austin from Toledo, Ohio: What would the points standings now look like if the points system was reverted to that of old, not the Chase format? Thanks in advance.
Tom Jensen: Austin, here's what the points would look like if there were no Chase:
- Jimmie Johnson (5,015 points) +1
- Matt Kenseth (5,004 points, -11) -1
- Kevin Harvick (4,683 points, -332)
- Tony Stewart (4,609 points, -406)
- Denny Hamlin (4,560 points, -455)
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (4,530 points, -485)
- Jeff Gordon (4,476 points, -539) +1
- Jeff Burton (4,414 points, -601) +1
- Mark Martin (4,375 points, -640) +1
- Kyle Busch (4,362 points, -653) -3
- Kasey Kahne (4,327 points, -688)
John from Chicago: Can you do an analysis of each driver who still has a chance? What would have to happen for each to win the Cup?
Tom Jensen: John: Thanks for the question.
Jimmie Johnson wins if any of the following occur:
Matt Kenseth wins if all of the following occur:
Kevin Harvick wins if all of the following occur:
Denny Hamlin wins if all of the following occur:
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. wins if all of the following occur:
Cheryl from Virginia Beach, Va.: I was talking to Dave Despain and Ed Hinton on Wind Tunnel last week and got cut off. Besides splitting the Chase into two different races being the most boring thing I've heard of, i.e. the IROC races, if the point system was changed so the drivers in it had their own separate points, it would not matter if one of the non-Chase drivers did something to affect one of them badly. It wouldn't make the point loss insurmountable. How exciting would that be? I would love to see where the numbers would be this year if there had been a different system in place. Do you have a computer that could do that?
Tom Jensen: Cheryl: It's your lucky day today and mine to spend an hour doing math. If the point system applied only to Chase racers and the 10 Chasers were awarded points on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis for each of the nine Chase races so far, here's what the points would look like:
- Johnson - 64
- Harvick - 58
- Hamlin - 55
- Gordon - 51
- Earnhardt - 50
- Kenseth - 49
- Burton - 46
- Kahne - 42
- Martin - 40
- Busch - 40
The only real impact this system would have this year is Matt Kenseth would have been punished for his mediocrity (only two finishes higher than 10th) rather than rewarded for his consistency (only one finish outside the top 20).
Rusty from Lincoln, Neb.: If RYR sells to another team, like DEI which is affiliated with Chevy, what happens to Doug Yates and the entire Ford racing engine program? What will Roush and the Wood Brothers do for power plants?
Tom Jensen: Rusty: Welcome to FOX and the final race of the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup season. If RYR sells, presumably, the family would keep its engine business separately and continue to provide power for the Ford teams. But until we know for sure what's going to happen with his organization, that's just an educated guess.