by Jason Ferris - 07/14/2005
Last Week's Recap - USG Sheetrock 400 ReviewI never thought that eating crow would taste so good. Dale Earnhardt proved me wrong in more ways than I choose to recognize, but I shall point out a few in this article. First would be that he won in Chicago after I put him in the "Steer Clear" category. Secondly, he ran a patient race, which I didn't think he could do on a non-restrictor plate track. Thirdly, and certainly not lastly (but the last that I will discuss), Junior's crew worked as a team.
Yes, Junior did do a lot of the work, moving up into the top 10 with less than 20 laps to go, but his car wasn't good enough to climb up to the front. That's where the team came in. With 11 laps to go, Junior, along with the rest of the field, pitted due to a caution. Junior took two tires and fuel when most of the field, including Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart running first and second respectively, took four tires. That put Junior first out of the pits and eventually helped him to victory. All week long, crew chief swore that track position and clean air were the keys to victory. Obviously Steve Hmiel, Junior's crew chief, was the only one who took his own advice.
Junior won the race, but the drivers with the best cars were quite obviously Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart. Kenseth dominated most of the race, leading 176 of the 267 laps. He took the lead from teammate Greg Biffle early in the race, and didn't have serious competition until the last 11 laps. Kenseth's team decided to take four tires in the last pit stop, which was their eventual demise. Kenseth went into the pits in first place and came out in eighth. He moved up to second with four laps to go, but catching Junior is one thing, passing him is another. He couldn't do the latter and ultimately extended his winless streak to 51 races. After the race, Robby Ryan (Kenseth's crew chief) said "when you have the best car, you take four tires." He was wrong.
Stewart had a much different day than Kenseth. Stewart crashed in practice and had to be taken to the hospital. Therefore, he didn't have the chance to qualify, but his backup driver did qualify the car. When Stewart was cleared to race, he was forced to start from the back, in 43rd place. He proved that his recent success was no fluke. Stewart steadily moved up the pack, running closely behind Kenseth for a good portion of the race. He also chose to take four tires and was unable to catch Junior.
This Week's Preview - New England 300New England is a track much like Chicagoland. These two tracks are often compared to each other because they are both relatively new and it is incredibly difficult to pass. Well, where Chicagoland hasn't changed, New England has. A newly paved track allows for a faster track with two grooves, where there used to be only one. This should open the track up, but I still do not expect great leaps and bounds, unless it is a great drive (see Stewart last week).
This is another week where I don't recommend taking a flyer on a driver with limited experience on this track. One reputable Web site is comparing Kyle Bush and Travis Kvapil to Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace at this track. This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. They talk about Martin and Wallace winning the pole and the race here in their first attempts. Well, they were already seasoned veterans when this track opened while Busch and Kvapil are rookies (Kvapil isn't even that good). Busch is usually a good longshot, but Kvapil hasn't earned anything. The same website talks about Kvapil's success here in the truck series, but that is the truck series. This is the Nextel Cup Series.
Winner's Circle for the New England 300
Ride to Victory in the New England 300
Tony Stewart (8/1) This guy has just been lights out in every race for the last month. He has overcome every obstacle put in front of him. And the most amazing thing is that he has done it with his mouth shut. Even if he doesn't win this week, he is my early choice to win the championship.
Jimmie Johnson (7/1) Johnson has only given up the points lead one time this year and I don't see him giving it up again without a fight. He fought back last week from a lap down to finish in the Top 5 and I don't see the spirit in him fading. Oh, he has also won here twice.
Ryan Newman (8/1) Newman has had a good car the last few weeks and I expect him to improve upon that. He has finished in the Top 5 in all three of his starts here. He also has won at this track, just not this specific race. I look for him to get his first win of the season here.
Kurt Busch (7/1) He has been good this year, just not great. The fact that he is the defending champ here is the only reason he got into this category this week.
Greg Biffle (8/1) Roush has won six races here and Biffle has won five races for Roush this year. Together that equals a good chance for a win.
Carl Edwards (40/1) Carl is my flyer this week. He got knocked out of contention the last few weeks and that has taken him from fourth in the points standing to 14th. He has a great car and great crew. I expect them, and his will, to push him to the front.
Matt Kenseth (12/1) The Roush thing comes into effect here. Also, he had the best car last week. If he brings the same car and the same intensity, I expect a good finish. Couple that with a bad loss and he could end the drought at 51.
Steer Clear in the New England 300
Michael Waltrip (30/1) It seems like all of the bad luck from Junior has pored over to Waltrip. It is almost like they can only handle one driver at a time. It seems like all attention is on Junior now. That's not good news for Waltrip.
Elliot Sadler (25/1) Consistency can win you the cup but it can't win you a race. That is the philosophy that Sadler seems to be following this year. He finishes races and that gets him points. Don't confuse that with contending.
Jamie McMurray (30/1) Why would Chip Gannasi put all of his resources into a driver who is leaving him? I wouldn't. I see great things out of McMurray, just not until he gets to Roush.
Kasey Kahne (15/1) Kahne's line is way to low for a bet here. Yes, he had two finishes in the Top 10 last year (his only starts here), but his success this year is limited. He has yet to finish in the Top 10 since his win at the Chevy American Revolution. He just has not been competitive enough for this line.
Jeff Gordon (8/1) Gordon is the new Junior. Nothing seems to be going his way. Whether he blows a tire or is an innocent bystander in an accident, he isn't racing well. Until he turns it around (and he will), he isn't worth your money.
Jeff Burton (25/1) You may see that Burton has won four races here and think he is a good bet. The thing is that he hasn't won since 2000, and has only finished in the Top 10 once since then. He also has only one Top 10 this year.
Travis Kvapil (100/1) This is just incase you skipped over the article above. I don't care what other sites may suggest; don't bet Kvapil, unless it is the Busch race.