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A Look Back At My 2011 Season Predictions

Posted by chadmusselman on November 28, 2011

Each year, before the season starts, I make my NASCAR predictions on who will win the championship, the most races, etc.  Sometimes the predictions come true and sometimes they are way off.  Let’s take a look at this year’s and see how they turned out.

Champion: Prediction: Jimmie Johnson   Actual: Tony Stewart
What can I say?  I went with the safe bet and was wrong.  Jimmie had his “worst” year ever in NASCAR with career lows in point standings (6th) and wins (2).  His average starting position of 12.9 was his worst since 2002.  To my defense, I did say that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone like Carl Edwards won the championship.  He tied for it, so I guess that doesn’t really count.  Congrats to Tony Stewart and his great run in the Chase.  Maybe we should have known he would break Jimmie Johnson’s streak since he was the driver that won the championship back in 2005, before Johnson’s amazing run began.

Most Disappointing: Prediction: Clint Bowyer
I was pretty close on this one.  Bowyer did not make the chase, and finished 13th in points.  I thought he may be further down in 15th – 20th, but overall it wasn’t a good year for Bowyer.  He had 16 top ten finishes in 2011.  The only time he had fewer in a full season was 2006, his first one as a full-time driver.  Bowyer will have to work hard to get back in the chase.

Most Surprising: Prediction: A.J. Allmendinger
I think my prediction of Allmendinger’s season was a darn good one.  He didn’t have to make the chase to be surprising, but he almost did it anyway.  Also, finishing 15th is a good accomplishment for Allmendinger.  He’s improved each season of his career, and should be a legitimate contender to make the chase next season.

Rookie Of The Year: Prediction: Trevor Bayne    Actual: Andy Lally
Winning the Daytona 500 is a great way to start off your career!  Officially, Bayne wasn’t a rookie in 2011, but how can you say he wasn’t the best first year driver out there?  NASCAR has recognized Andy Lally as the 2011 Rookie Of The Year.  He won by default since he was the only official rookie racing in the Sprint Cup Series.  Lally averaged a 30.8 place finish in 2011 while Bayne averaged a 25.8 place finish.  Both have a ways to go, but Bayne got the big win and shows a lot of promise.

Comeback Driver: Prediction: Brian Vickers    Actual: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
It can be hard to judge the comeback driver of the year, but it’s safe to say that , although Vickers does have a great story with his comeback, his performances on the track weren’t good enough.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the other hand, really stepped up in 2011 and proved that he is still a good driver and can contend with the elite.  Earnhardt made the chase and finished 7th, right in between his teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

Most Wins: Prediction: Tony Stewart     Actual: Tony Stewart
Nailed it!  Five wins for Stewart gets him the award for most wins this season.  The amazing part is that he did this in the Chase, propelling himself to the championship.  Stewart really is a great driver, and I guess we can now call him a pretty good owner.

Posted in Front Story | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Proved Me Wrong

Posted by chadmusselman on November 21, 2011

Back in January of this year I asked the question, “Will 2011 be Dale Earnhardt Jr’s year?”  I emphatically said “No”, and that Earnhardt has already peaked and should hope the rest of his career doesn’t end up like Kyle Petty’s.  I also said the changes Hendrick was putting in place to get Earnhardt back into the chase would hurt the rest of the team.  Boy was I wrong about Earnhardt.

The 2011 season has easily been the best for Earnhardt since 2008.  He showed that he can still run with the elite drivers, staying in the top ten in points almost all season and making the chase.  Sure, he didn’t make much noise in the chase, but that’s not the point.  The point is that he made it and finished 7th in points, by far better than I ever thought.  Earnhardt didn’t get that elusive win, but he did finish in the top five 4 times and in the top ten 12 times.  That’s the most since the 2008 season.  His 14.6 place average finish in 2011 is also his best since the 2008 season.

To add to the success on the track for Earnhardt, he signed a contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2017 season.  Rick Hendrick was talking about the contract extension at the beginning of the season, at which time I said he should be looking to let the current contract expire and dump Earnhardt.  Well, if this season is any indicator of what’s to come, Rick Hendrick once again made the right decision by finalizing Jr’s contract in early September.

One member of the Hendrick stable that could have been negatively affected by the changes that Hendrick instituted was Mark Martin.  In the pit crew and team shuffle, Earnhardt got Jeff Gordon’s 2010 team, Jeff Gordon got Mark Martin’s 2010 team, and Mark Martin got Earnhardt’s 2010 team.  Mark Martin easily had one of his worst seasons in recent years.  Martin finished 22nd in points (worst since 2008), has only 2 top five and 10 top ten finishes.  You would have to go back to the mid to late 1980’s to find a season that Mark Martin had fewer top five and top ten finishes.  His 18.2 place average finish was his worst since 2003.  Not a good season for Martin no matter how you look at it.

Maybe this helps answer part of the question, is it the driver, the car, or the pit crew that wins championships?  This shows that Earnhardt was probably working with an inferior team for a couple years before getting Jeff Gordon’s old team.  Mark Martin may be getting older, but he’s still a quality driver and the drop-off from 2010 to 2011 was significant.  I guess we know who Rick Hendrick can let go at the end of the season.  I wouldn’t want Kasey Kahne to inherit a team with that bad of a record.

Earnhardt has to be very happy about 2011, looking forward to making more strides in 2012 and getting his first win since the 2008 season.  Dale, I promise you one thing; I won’t write anything stating 2012 will be a bad season for you and that you’re washed up.  You definitely proved this year that you don’t have to get by on your popularity and you are a true contender for the championship.

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Richard Petty Motorsports Climbing Back to Relevancy

Posted by chadmusselman on October 1, 2011

Back in January I posted about how Richard Petty regained ownership of his race team and was going to lead the day-to-day operations.  The question was, would he make a difference, and would his cars win?

The quick answer is, yes he has made a difference, and his cars have won.  Neither of Petty’s two cars made the chase, but Marcos Ambrose has won a race, and A.J. Allmendinger is sitting 15th in points.  Now, these aren’t earth shattering performances by the Richard Petty Motorsports drivers, but it does show improvement and that The King is making an impact.

This is the 5th season for Allmendinger in the Sprint Cup Series and he’s improved each season.  In 2007 he finished 44th in the standings, and last year was up to 19th.  With eight races left in the chase Allmendinger is 15th in points; only four points out of 12th.  It is a realistic goal for Allmendinger to get up to 12th place and build some momentum and hype for the 2012 season, when he should have a very good shot to make the chase.

Through 28 races in 2011 Allmendinger has eight finishes of 21st or worse.  If he could have turned four of those finishes into 20th place or better he would have received about 14 more points and been a serious contender to beat Denny Hamlin out of the last spot for the chase.  If Allmendinger can get a few more top twenty finishes next season he will be a contender for the chase.

Marcos Ambrose has won a race this season along with four top five and eight top ten finishes, but finds himself down in 23rd.  He has been way too inconsistent to say he’s close to contending to make the chase in 2012.  With those top ten finishes Ambrose had had some bad races as well.  After 28 races in 2011 Ambrose has nine finishes 25th or worse, and thirteen finishes outside of the top 20.  He really needs to find a way to cut those numbers in half before we talk about him making the chase and giving Richard Petty a strong second driver.

Can Ambrose make the improvements?  This is his fourth season in the Sprint Cup Series and his best season, points wise, was in 2009 when he finished 18th.  His one win, four top five and 8 top ten finishes are all career highs, but overall it appears that he hasn’t figured everything out that’s needed.  I don’t see him becoming a challenger any time soon, or ever.

Petty is making strides to becoming relevant again, mostly with Allmendinger, but it’s obvious more work needs to be done.  I’m sure they will be working hard for the rest of the season, and in the off-season to get both drivers more consistent and have Allmendinger contending for the chase.  Richard Petty knows how to race, so if there is anyone that can help coach up drivers, it would be him.

Posted in Front Story | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

NASCAR Silly Season 2011

Posted by chadmusselman on August 17, 2011

Every year around July and August people in NASCAR start talking about what drivers have expiring contracts, where they will race next season, and will they leave their current team early to go to the new team.  It seems the talk hasn’t been as prevalent in 2011, but there are some drivers signing with new teams and other drivers that have re-signed with their current teams.

Let’s take a look at some drivers that we know have signed new contracts, some that may sign new ones, and a few crew chiefs that have been let go in 2011.

J.J. Yeley & Front Row Motorsports
It was announced in mid-July that Yeley will drive for Front Row Motorsports for the remainder of the 2011 season. 

Kasey Kahne & Mark Martin
We already know that Kasey has signed to race for Rick Hendrick in 2012 and beyond, taking Mark Martin’s spot.  Mark Martin has already said that he’s not ready to retire after the season, so who will sign Martin for the 2012 season, and will be still be a full-time driver?

Brian Vickers & Red Bull
Sort of related to Kasey Kahne is Brian Vickers and the Red Bull sponsorship.  With Kahne leaving after this season, and Brian Vickers’ contract up at the end of the year, Red Bull will supposedly reduce their involvement in NASCAR and not sponsor the 83 and 4 cars next season.  Now the question is, where will Brian Vickers end up?

Clint Bowyer & RCR
Bowyer is working with Richard Childress Racing to re-sign with the team.  He seems confident that a deal will be done, and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to finalize it as he’s focusing on making the chase this season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. & Hendrick Motorsports
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has proven me and others wrong by turning in a very solid performance week in and week out.  At the beginning of the season Rick Hendrick said he wanted to sign Earnhardt past 2011 and the two sides are working on that now.  Earnhardt has his sister Kelley doing the negotiating for him.   The two sides said that they expect the talks to be finalized in early September.  When this deal is finished Hendrick will have three of the sport’s most popular drivers, and two of the most successful of all time locked up for long-term deals.  I would imagine other owners couldn’t help but be jealous. 

Carl Edwards & Roush Fenway Racing
In early August Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing agreed to a new multi-year deal that begins in 2012.  Edwards has been with Roush since the beginning and it looks like he’ll be staying there for quite a while longer.

Juan Montoya & Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Montoya has agreed in principle to a contract with EGR for the 2012 season.

David Ragan
Ragan’s contract is up at the end of the 2011 season as well, but there has been no word of extension talks or him negotiating with other teams.  Undoubtedly he is in talks with someone, but nothing has been reported yet.

Joe Gibbs Racing
It’s no secret that Joe Gibbs Racing wants to add a fourth team and could do it in 2012.  They were pressing pretty hard to get Carl Edwards, but weren’t able to.  I don’t know if they’d be willing to sign Mark Martin since he’s up in age and already “retired” once.  David Ragan or Brian Vickers could be a possibility although JGR would probably like to get a higher profile driver that could contend for championships immediately.

Crew Chiefs Get The Boot
Among drivers that are changing rides, there have been several crew chiefs that have been relieved of their duties with their teams already this season.  Here are a few of them:

Todd Berrier has been let go from Richard Childress Racing and Jeff Burton’s 31 car.  Luke Lambert has taken his place.  This is the first stint as a Cup series crew chief for Lambert.  You can’t blame Richard Childress for making this decision.  Burton has been very disappointing this season, sitting 24th in points, and something had to change.

Brian Pattie has been released from the No. 42 car of Juan Montoya for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.  He has been replaced by Jim Pohlman.  After making the chase with Brian Pattie in 2009 Juan Montoya has leveled off as a driver missing the chase in 2010 and not in position to make it this season either.

Greg Erwin was let go in mid-July by Roush Fenway Racing.  He was the crew chief on the No. 16 car driven by Greg Biffle.  Erwin has been replaced by Matt Puccia.  Erwin has been Greg Biffle’s crew chief since 2007.  Puccia was Paul Menard’s crew chief in 2010 for the Nationwide series.

Mike Shiplett was out as crew chief for the No. 43 car of A.J. Allmendinger, owned by Richard Petty Motorsports, in late July.  Greg Erwin didn’t stay unemployed long after being let go by Roush Fenway Racing.  He replaced Shiplett as crew chief for Allmendinger.

So, there it is, the 2011 edition of the silly season; so far anyway.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings.  Have you heard other stories or more details about the contract talks going on?  Leave a comment and let everyone else know.

Posted in Front Story | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

NASCAR Missed Their Chance to Fix the Schedule

Posted by chadmusselman on March 16, 2011

A couple of weeks ago NASCAR announced that they will start the season a week later in 2012, eliminating the off-week after the third race of the season.  They’re doing this for two reasons.  One is to add a week to the off-season.  As it is, they race until the week before Thanksgiving and only have 12 or 13 weeks until the season starts up again in Daytona.  The other reason is anticipating the NFL going to an 18 game schedule.  NASCAR wants to avoid having the Daytona 500 too close to the Super Bowl.    This is a smart move by NASCAR and definitely the right thing to do, but they really missed their chance to fix the schedule.

Everyone knows the NASCAR season is way too long, and many of the races are too long as well.  Even some drivers, like Dale Earnhardt Jr, have voiced their displeasure with the schedule and length of races.  Back in late January Earnhardt said, “The Pocono races are entirely too long.  I think NASCAR should shoot for a three-hour or three-hour and 15-minute televised event, and try to fit into that sort of time frame. But it can’t be done at all times. I understand. I think you’ve got to have races like the 600-miler [Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte] and the Daytona 500 and things like that — but there are certain events [that should be shortened].”  Amen, Dale!  I’ve said it before in previous posts, and I’m going to say it again.  NASCAR needs to shorten the season.

Schedule History
In 1996 there were 31 races on the schedule.  It expanded to 32 races in 1997 and 33 in 1998.  As recently as 2000 there were 34 races in the schedule and things seemed to be working out just fine.  The sport was as popular as ever.  Of course, this wasn’t good enough for NASCAR and they had to keep expanding, trying to make more money.  They added two more race dates to the schedule for the 2001 season giving us the ultra-short off-season we have today.

Baseball has a 5 month off-season.  Football has about a 6 month off-season.  Why does NASCAR think they need 36 races spread over 40 weeks?  Isn’t the saying, leave them wanting more?  After the marathon NASCAR season is over does anyone really want more?  I know after the NFL season fans can’t wait for next year and are always excited about it.  Heck, NFL fans can’t wait for the draft each April.  NASCAR fans seem to give a sigh of relief when their season is over.

Changes for 2011
Late in the 2010 season NASCAR announced that the Atlanta Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California would lose races.  Why reward these race dates to other tracks and not shorten the season?  They gave Kansas a second race, and are going to the Kentucky Speedway for the first time in 2011.  Why?  Why not stay with one race in Kansas, and take a date away from Texas or Phoenix and give it to Kentucky if they want a race there?  This time NASCAR missed a golden opportunity to actually shorten the season.

If your sport is losing viewers and attendance is down across the boards, is it smart to keep with the norm, and not shake things up a bit?  I understand that there are TV contracts in place and revenue streams they’re depending on, but sometimes you have to trim dead branches off a tree to allow it to grow.   Look at what happened to the NHL a few years ago.  They were close to folding and had to make some major changes to survive.  Now they’re doing better than ever.  I’m not suggesting NASCAR is nearly as bad off as the NHL was, but why chance it?  NASCAR should have taken action when they had the chance.   I’m sure they could have negotiated with ABC and FOX to get the TV contracts modified.

A 34 race schedule with an 8 race chase could be ideal for NASCAR.  This would eliminate two weeks of competing with the NFL at the end of the season, make their “playoffs” two months (and more in line with the traditional sports’ playoff length), and give them a 15 week off-season, allowing everyone to catch their breath and give time to actually want more.

Do you think NASCAR will ever take the hit and drop two or more races from the schedule to help fix what’s wrong with the sport?  Do you think the number of races is part of the problem, or is it something else?  Leave a comment and let everyone else know what you’re thinking.

Posted in Front Story | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

NASCAR Should Let Trevor Bayne Race For The Sprint Cup Championship

Posted by chadmusselman on March 7, 2011

So NASCAR made a rule to protect the “regulars” in the Nationwide series and prevent a Cup Series driver from winning their championship.  Drivers now have to declare which championship they’re driving for, and they won’t accumulate points in the other series whenever they run in it.  That sounds like a good idea, and probably is, but who would have thought the rule would protect the Cup Series drivers from a 20-year-old Nationwide driver?

Trevor Bayne threw a wrench in the system.  There’s no way a kid that just turned 20 should be able to compete with greats like Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and a slew of others.  At Daytona he did more than compete with them, he won and showed that a kid with skill and a good team behind him can win any race he enters, even the largest most prestigious race of the season.

It wasn’t a fluke win either.  The race wasn’t shortened by weather or bad track conditions.  There wasn’t a huge wreck that took out all of the top contenders, and no one ran out of gas.  Bayne won the race because he had a great car and showed that right now he’s a driver that can win any time.

The kid does the unthinkable by winning the Daytona 500 and gets a whopping 0 points in the Sprint Cup standings for the effort.  Why, you may ask?  Because, before the season started his Sprint Cup schedule was going to consist of 16 or 17 races to get experience.  He declared he’d be racing the full Nationwide Series schedule and running for that championship. 

Now that he won the Daytona 500 and raced in the other two Cup races this season he should be tied for 18th in points.  How can NASCAR allow the Daytona 500 winner not be eligible for the championship?  I know what the rules are, but come on.  Bayne is obviously ready to take this on and probably contend to make the chase.

What about sponsorship you may be asking?  Really?  He has a sponsor for 16 or 17 races.  I don’t think it would be hard to have Motorcraft pony up for the other 19 or 20 races.  If they don’t I’m sure there are other companies out there that would live to sponsor the Daytona 500 champ.  If given the opportunity I can’t imagine Bayne turning it down.  You’d be a fool not too.

What are your thoughts?  Should NASCAR have considered allowing Trevor Bayne to race for the Sprint Cup championship and not the Nationwide?  Are there other issues that doing this could have brought up?

Posted in Front Story | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

2011 NASCAR Predictions

Posted by chadmusselman on February 6, 2011

There are still a couple of weeks until the NASCAR season gets under way, but why not take a stab at some predictions for the 2011 season.  Each year I take a guess at who will win the Championship, most races, etc. and this season will be no different.  Last year I got two of them right, was way off on two, and pretty close on one.  Maybe I can do better in 2011.

Champion: Jimmie Johnson
Five championships in a row; are you kidding me?  Until he gets beat, you simply can’t bet against Jimmie Johnson.  His championship in 2010 was easily the most difficult of the five, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, or someone else got hot at the right time and broke Johnson’s streak.  That alone isn’t enough to scare me away.  There’s no reason to think he can’t win a 6th championship in a row.

Most Disappointing: Clint Bowyer
I don’t say this thinking Clint will have an absolutely horrible season, but he is one of the 2010 Chasers that may not make it in 2011.  Bowyer has made the chase three of the last four seasons, but 2010 wasn’t anything special for him, finishing 12th in the standings, and having six finishes of 30th or worse.  Bowyer finishing 15th – 20th in the 2011 standings would be a big disappointment, which is where he may end up.     

Most Surprising: A.J. Allmendinger
Don’t ask me why, but I have a feeling that A.J. Allmendinger is on track to have a break-out year.  In his four seasons in Sprint Cup he’s made a steady improvement in the standings going from 44th place in 2007 to 19th place in 2010.  Now that Richard Petty has control over RPM again maybe it will be what’s needed to put Allmendinger over the hump and get him contending for a Chase spot.  He may not make the chase, but if he can finish 13th or even 14th in the standings, that would be a great season.

Rookie Of The Year: Trevor Bayne
Trevor gets this award by default since I haven’ t heard of any other rookies in 2011.  He did alright in one race last season, so maybe he’ll do well in his limited schedule this year.

Comeback Driver: Brian Vickers
Vickers had health issues in 2010 with blood clots in both lungs and his left leg.  He was forced to sit out a majority of the season, missing all races from May on (11th race).  Vickers made the chase in 2009, and even though he missed 25 races in 2010 he had enough points to finish 40th.  Brian has proved that he’s a good driver and can collect top ten finishes.  Now that he’s medically cleared to drive again he should be contending for top ten finishes on a weekly basis.

Most Wins: Tony Stewart
Denny Hamlin had the most wins in 2010, and Jimmie Johnson had the second most, but Stewart has the skill and equipment to win a lot of races and could compile more wins than both of them in 2011.  Stewart only won two races in 2010, which is a low number for him.  He’s averaging just over 3 wins per season with 39 in 12 years.  His high-water mark is 6 wins in the 2000 season when he finished 6th in the point standings.  2011 is his third year of being the owner/driver of the No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet.  He should have all his ducks in a row and be ready for a great 2011.

Have predictions of your own?  Leave a comment and let everyone know.

Posted in Front Story | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Is NASCAR’s New Point System a Good Thing?

Posted by chadmusselman on January 30, 2011

NASCAR has finally quit talking about changing the point system and actually done something about it.  Last week they made the announcement that they will now award drivers 43 points for first place, and decrease down to 1 point for 43rd place.  Drivers still get bonus points for leading a lap, and leading the most laps in a race, but it’s only 1 point for each instead of 5.  NASCAR is also giving 3 bonus points for winning a race.

NASCAR also made a change to qualifying for the Chase.  The top 10 are guaranteed a spot, but the 11th and 12th chasers are “wild-cards” and will be the two drivers with the most wins inside the top 20.  Last year this would have been Jamie McMurray (2 wins) and Greg Biffle (wins a tiebreaker against 3 other drivers with 1 win.)

Is the new point system good, and what effects will it have on the season?
First of all, this is a good thing.  The old system was just that; old.  It never made sense to me why the top spots were separated by 5 points, then 4 points for some, then down to a 3 point difference for the bottom feeders.  At least now every fan can know that there’s only 1 point separating each finishing position.  Less confusion is always a good thing.

The most obvious effect it will have on the season is that the points chase will be a lot closer now.  In the old point system there could have been as many as 161 points separating the race winner from the 43rd place car.  In the new system 48 points is the most it can be.

It should have the biggest effect on the Chase for the Cup, keeping more drivers in contention for the title for more races.  Last year was exciting with three drivers having a legitimate chance to win the title.  Think about how 2011 could shape up.  There’s a chance that going into the final race or two of the season up to 5 drivers will have a shot at being the champion.

I also like having the “wild card” drivers qualify for the Chase.  That gives a fighting chance to a driver that has a rough start to the season, but makes a comeback in the summer with a couple of wins.  Giving automatic entries to the top 12 in points was just too many guaranteed spots.  I hope the effect of this is that mid-tier teams get more aggressive and take chances to win the race instead of settling for a top 10 or 15.  We’ve seen too many teams be conservative over the past five years.  I want to see people battling it out to win races again.

How would the 2010 season have played out with this format?
2010 was an exciting year with Jimmie Johnson winning his 5th consecutive title in a very close points chase.  Imagine how much more exciting it would have been with the top three only 7 points apart at the end of the season.  Jimmie still would have won the championship, but Denny Hamlin would have been in 2nd by only 5 points, and Kevin Harvick in 3rd only 7 points behind Johnson.  Below is what the final 2010 standings would have looked like with the new point system.

1st Jimmie Johnson
2nd Denny Hamlin -5
3rd Kevin Harvick -7
4th Carl Edwards -63
5th Matt Kenseth -89
6th Jamie McMurray -94
7th Greg Biffle -110
8th Tony Stewart -113
9th Jeff Gordon -124
10th Kyle Busch -127
11th Kurt Busch -132
12th Jeff Burton -171

 

With the wild card format Jamie McMurray would have been rewarded nicely for his two earlier season wins, made the chase, and fared pretty well.  He actually did well enough that he would have finished in 6th place. 

What’s your take?  Should NASCAR have made even more changes to the point system or Chase format?

Posted in Front Story | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The King is Back in Control…Now, Will His Team Win?

Posted by chadmusselman on January 23, 2011

The King, Richard Petty, is back (in a way) to NASCAR.  In the off-season Richard Petty took back ownership and will lead the day-to-day operations of his team, Richard Petty Motorsports.

It was almost two years ago that Richard Petty had to sell his team to George Gillett due to financial troubles.  After he sold the team he lost control over the day-to-day operations and was merely a figurehead for the team.  He had no power or decision-making ability.  Richard Petty had to watch the team get run into the ground and into insignificance in 2009 & 2010 by ownership that didn’t really have an interest in NASCAR.

Now, Petty has his power back after partnering with a pair of investment companies to buy out George Gillett.  The question is, will he make a difference, and will his cars win?

Let’s look at the cars and drivers first:

Richard Petty Motorsports will field two cars in the 2011 season; No. 43 to be driven by A.J. Allmendinger and No. 9 to be driven by Marcos Ambrose.  They will drive Fords with chassis provided by Roush Fenway Racing and engines provided by Roush-Yates Engines.  Those are solid shops, and should give RPM the equipment it needs to stay competitive, but can the drivers get it done?

A.J. Allmendinger finished 19th in the 2010 point standings, a career best, with two top five and eight top ten finishes.  2011 will be his 5th season in NASCAR Sprint Cup, and he’s improved in the standings each season, so he should be poised to have an even better 2011.

Marcos Ambrose finished 26th in points in 2010, which was a step back for him.  He finished 18th in points in 2009.  He did have two top five and five top ten finishes in 2010, but fourteen finishes of 30th or worse really killed his chances of having a good season.  If Ambrose is going to improve in 2011 he’ll have to learn to finish races and salvage top 25 finishes.

Can Richard Petty Make Them Better?

The simple answer is, of course he can!  He’s The King!  Granted, Petty is getting up in age and the racing in his era was much different from today, but he still has limitless knowledge of the sport, and is respected by everyone involved.  If he says something, people listen.  He’ll be able to teach Allmendinger and Ambrose some things.  He’ll also have to ability to run the team how he wants, and ensure the focus is on finishing the races and collecting top 20 finishes.  Collecting top 20 finishes can get you a top 15 finish in the point standings.  (Ryan Newman, who finished 15th in points in 2010, only averaged a 15.7 place finish.)

RPM has the technical resources needed to field a competitive team.  They may not battle for the championship, but they’ll have the potential to finish in the top 20 each week.  If they get some things to go their way, maybe a finish in the top 15 of the 2011 point standings is possible.  With one voice telling the teams how to run in 2011 it’s possible that RPM will start to become significant again.

What do you think?

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Will 2011 Be Dale Earnhardt Jr’s Year?

Posted by chadmusselman on January 16, 2011

Dale has been bad, real bad, lately.  He missed making the chase in three of the last four seasons, finishing in 21st (2010), 25th (2009), 12th (2008, in the Chase), and 14th (2007).  He also hasn’t won a race since the 2008 season, and that win was two years after the one before it.  That’s right, in the past 4 full seasons Dale has only managed one win.  In the last 6 full seasons he only has three wins. 

As you probably already know, Rick Hendrick has instituted some changes in an effort to get Dale Earnhardt Jr. back in the winner’s circle and into the Chase.  Hendrick is basically putting Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Jeff Gordon’s car with Jeff Gordon’s crew chief and team.  Now Earnhardt’s crew chief will go over to Mark Martin, and Mark Martin’s crew chief will move over to Jeff Gordon.  Seems like a lot of change to solid teams just to hope you can make a bad driver a little better.

Another change to take place is to have Earnhardt share a shop with Johnson.  Jeff Gordon and Jimmie  Johnson were sharing one shop and Mark Martin and Earnhardt the second shop.  Now Gordon will be paired with Martin at the second shop.  I guess Rick Hendrick thinks that Earnhardt will learn from osmosis or something by bumping elbows with Jimmie Johnson, who knows.  It sure can’t hurt to be able to pick Jimmie’s brain, and maybe since they’re closer in age they’ll be able to communicate better than Martin and Earnhardt did.  I don’t see that happening though.  Jimmie will be focused on winning his 6th in a row and Earnhardt may hinder that.

A change is needed, but maybe the change shouldn’t be Rick Hendrick moving drivers around to try to help a bad driver.  Maybe the change should be letting Dale Earnhardt Jr’s contract run out after this year, and not sign the extension that they’re talking about.  I’ve said it before.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a good guy, and I like him, but he’s not a good driver.  He’s passed his peak.  Now he has to bank on being popular with the fans and hope he can win another race or two before his career ends up like Kyle Petty’s.  So, will 2011 be Dale Earnhardt Jr’s year?  No, not even close.  Let’s just hope that these changes don’t totally mess up the chemistry that Hendrick Motorsports had.

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