News & Media

Track Smack: The Chase, The Favorite and The Hall

May 31, 2012, ,

Crew covers Chase contenders; handicapping Dover; Hall winners and losers

1. Kasey Kahne broke through at Charlotte with his first victory in the No. 5 car. Now, what are his chances of getting into the Chase?

Joe Menzer: I'd say they're pretty good. He's up to 15th in points and has six consecutive finishes of eighth or better -- so he easily could get into the top 10 before the September Chase cutoff. Plus, now he's got the one race win in his pocket. One more and he'll be a virtual lock to get in as a wild card even if he can't crack the top 10 in points by the cutoff.

Jarrod Breeze: I think they are pretty good. Of the three drivers not in the top 10 who have won, I like Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne over Ryan Newman. Kahne is a more consistent driver than Newman, and Kahne probably has another win in him. If he gets another victory, he becomes a lock.

David Caraviello: As well as he's run the past six weeks or so, there are still no guarantees. He's 42 points out of the 10th and last guaranteed Chase berth, and while that's not an insurmountable deficit, it's not automatic either -- particularly with five guys between him and that last position. Of course, another win changes things, but I think last year taught us that you can't assume anyone will make it on wins, given how much the landscape is altered as the season goes on.

Joe Menzer: So it looks like two educated "yes" answers, and one negative "no." You know who I'm with, right JB? Here's the way I look at it with Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis and that No. 5 team: they've had horrible luck, and in addition to that they've struggled a little to find their way at their new Hendrick Motorsports home. But I felt all along that once they hit their stride, they'd be about as good as anyone out there. And they are beginning to hit that stride now, obviously.

*Video: Kahne scores third 600 win | Victory Lane: Kasey Kahne

David Caraviello: That wasn't a no -- it was a maybe. Guys, there's no question Kasey Kahne has run exceptionally well since Texas -- six finishes of eighth or better -- and there's no question he's capable of winning races in bunches. But he still has a lot of people to leapfrog, and we cannot assume anyone will get in on wins. Goodness, how many times last year did we think David Ragan was in; and then Paul Menard is in; and then everything changes. What if Ryan Newman wins at Dover? Suddenly things aren't so automatic anymore.

Jarrod Breeze: I do agree with David on one aspect, however: there are no guarantees. I don't put too much into momentum in NASCAR -- too many outside variables outside a driver's control. So, while Kahne has been on a roll recently, remember how his season started out. If those types of things rear again, then he's in trouble

Always Chase-ing

The current points standings show tight competition heading into Dover
2.M. Kenseth-1016
3.D. Hamlin-1626
4.Earnhardt Jr.-1804
5.J. Johnson-4815
6.Truex Jr.-4904
7.K. Harvick-5502
8.Ky. Busch-6215
9.T. Stewart-6524
10.C. Edwards-8102
11.Keselowski-852 4
12.C. Bowyer-8701
13.R. Newman-11612
14.P. Menard-11600
15.K. Kahne-12313
16.J. Logano-13900
17.J. Burton-15301
18.J. Montoya-15700
19.A. Almirola-16200
20.M. Ambrose-16600
21.J. McMurray-16700
22.J. Gordon-17401
23.R. Smith-18800
25.Ku. Busch-19800

Joe Menzer: I'm going to go on record now. I don't think Kahne will need the wild card. I think he'll get inside the top 10. Thirty-seven points with what, 14 races left to go before the Chase cutoff? While that's not maybe ideal, it's certainly doable. I think he gets there.

David Caraviello: They have had horrible luck, Joe. Their cars have indeed been fast all season. Kahne is extremely capable, as we saw Sunday night. But that doesn't change the position they're in, and the fact that they still have some work ahead of them. All I'm saying is, it's still relatively early, and the fight for those wild cards will probably get more crowded rather than less as we go along, and the only sure way to make it is on points. And in that regard, there is still a lot of work left to be done.

Joe Menzer: Well, we can agree on that, I guess. There is much work left to be done. But I'm saying I think Kahne and the No. 5 bunch will rise to the task.

Jarrod Breeze: Is Kahne this year's Brad Keselowski? BK got on the late run last year, piled up a couple wins and by the time all was said and done had the wild card sewn up. But if Kahne can make it on points, then who falls out of the top 10? The first obvious name is Martin Truex Jr. He has fallen back after a quick start, but is his lead too insurmountable? Edwards is currently in 10th, and not exactly setting the world on fire, but he's still one of the most consistent drivers out there. Hard to see him dropping out.

David Caraviello: Brad showed last season that a rather sizeable springtime deficit could be made up. But, like Tony Stewart's championship run, I don't know if we can expect that kind of thing every year. And also remember -- the 12 guys who made it in last year were ultimately the top 12 drivers in points. Listen, I think Kahne has everything going for him right now, and is extremely capable of getting this done. But, again, you can't assume it. How many guys did we have ticketed for the Chase on wins last season before everything played out?

Joe Menzer: I was just looking at the standings. I have to admit, that's where it gets difficult. Who's out if Kahne's in? I have to say that right now, as we stand here today, the guy who looks most vulnerable in that top 10 isn't Truex -- but rather Carl Edwards. I almost can't believe I'm saying that, but it's true. He not only sits 10th and has yet to win a race, but he's not even leading laps or running up front. He could be in trouble.

Jarrod Breeze: With two wins, wild card-leading Keselowski is in, but he's in a good position to creep into the top 10, too. Things are getting tightly bunched around the cutoff mark.

David Caraviello: Truex has been rock-solid all season. He's not dropping out of the top 10. I'll tell you the guy who's shown some weaknesses lately, and it's your defending series champion. Tony Stewart has been all over the place as of late, and he's down to ninth after his horrid Coca-Cola 600. Yes, he was driving with that knot on his noggin after hitting his head on the bottom of a lake, but he's been rather unpredictable in recent weeks.

Jarrod Breeze: If Tony drops, that makes Kasey's job tougher -- he will have to get another win, then climb over either Stewart or BK in points, assuming all three are out of the top 10. And I guess we can't forget about Clint Bowyer, here. He seems to be the forgotten man in the Chase talk. Only six points out of 10th, but winless. He'll certainly have a say in how things shake out.

David Caraviello: You're absolutely right, JB. Tony, with those two wins, has a safety net and if he drops out of the top 10, that takes a wild-card opportunity from Kahne. The flip side would be Edwards, who's lingering in 10th and doesn't seem to have the magic he did last season. He drops out of the top 10, and there's an opportunity for Kahne. The great thing is, we still have half the regular season left to see how it all plays out.

Joe Menzer: The thing I will disagree with DC about here is Stewart. I don't think he's as vulnerable as the rest because he's already got the two wins. He's already virtually a lock to get in the Chase because of those and they've got plenty of time to figure out how to finish more consistently. Heck, they can afford to experiment on stuff now. No way he's not going to be in the Chase.

David Caraviello: Joe, we were talking about falling out of the top 10, making room for the driver of a certain 5 car to get in. But that's OK -- you were probably too busy watching the Reds or redecorating your "Man Cave" to pay attention.

Jarrod Breeze: You can never be too busy watching the Reds.

Joe Menzer: Thank you for bringing some civility and sanity to Track Smack, JB.

2. Carl Edwards owns the best average finish among active drivers at Dover but, with six wins, Jimmie Johnson is the active victory leader there. Who's the favorite this week on the Monster Mile?

Joe Menzer: Well, it's not Carl. He's led laps in exactly two races this year -- 206 at Richmond and one at Kansas. You have to prove you can consistently run up front before you're ready to win races, and he hasn't done that yet.

David Caraviello: It's got to be Five-Time, who with one more victory at Dover could become Seven-Time at the track and tie Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for most wins ever at the Monster Mile. Not bad company, I'd have to say. And, as for Edwards, like we mentioned earlier, there seems to be a spark missing. Maybe Dover is where "Concrete Carl" finds his footing again and gets on track. But it's hard to argue with Jimmie's history there, as well as what he's done in recent weeks.

Jarrod Breeze: Well, it's not Kasey Kahne, either, although he is coming off his best finish at the track in his 16 starts, and his first top-five when he finished fourth here this past fall.

Joe Menzer: I'll tell you two guys who run well at Dover who may have their coming-out parties: AJ Allmendinger and Martin Truex Jr. They both love the place, and maybe they break through here.

* Video: Dover Preview | Fantasy Showdown: Dover

Dover and done with

Dover winners -- past six races at Monster Mile
YearRace #Winner
201111Matt Kenseth
201028Jimmie Johnson
201012Kyle Busch
200928Jimmie Johnson
200913Jimmie Johnson

Jarrod Breeze: While I am not a big believer in momentum, I do go on gut feelings (maybe it's because I have such a big one). And that gut says Jimmie-yes, Carl-no. You just don't get the feeling Edwards can win right now. But Johnson can, heck, I am starting to believe it's just a matter of time for Dale Jr. wins. That's what I'm seeing these days.

Joe Menzer: That's probably just gas ... wait, are you saying this could be a fuel-mileage race?

David Caraviello: Dover is the site of Truex's lone Sprint Cup victory many moons ago. He's from New Jersey and considers this kind of his home track, so there's plenty of motivation -- even if his win is his lone top-five at the place. And 'Dinger has had some very good runs at Dover as well, though I don't know how close that team is to a victory now. They showed speed at Charlotte, though, and AJ is a gritty driver who might have won at Dover in a Red Bull car a few years ago if not for a mistake on pit road. So, who knows.

Joe Menzer: Once again, leading laps is a true indicator of who's running well and the ones who eventually will get to Victory Lane the most. Five-Time has led multiple laps in almost every race this season.

Jarrod Breeze: And can we please stop saying this is the week A (no periods) J (again, no periods) Allmendinger breaks through. No, it isn't. I honestly don't know what people see in him to make them think that.

David Caraviello: JB evidently missed the Sprint Showdown.

Jarrod Breeze: Sprint Showdown? Are you kidding me? What does that prove, when the upper echelon of the series wasn't in that race?

Joe Menzer: Or Bristol, where "No Periods" led for 54 laps ... Or Kansas, where he led for 44. He's looked strong at times, and is beginning to get more consistent. The dude can drive, I'm telling you.

David Caraviello: Guys, it's Jimmie Johnson's world right now, and we're just living it. Had he not dragged his gas can (and gas man) out of the box in the 600 he could be going for four wins in as many weeks. But I'm going to tell you the guy to watch at Dover, and it's your Cup points leader. Under the radar as always, Greg Biffle has two wins, 10 top-10s, and a nice meaty driver rating of 105.4. That 16 car is running very well right now. And, as much as the focus continues to be on other drivers, Biffle keeps finding a way to stay on top.

Jarrod Breeze: Joe, you said yourself about leading laps is a prerequisite of winning. Besides the two aforementioned races, how many more laps has Allmendinger led this season? That's right ... one.

Joe Menzer: AJ also has three top-10 finishes in his last five Dover starts. He's with a new team, in the best equipment he's ever had the pleasure of driving. You watch, JB. I think you're wrong on this one. He will win at least one race before this season is over, and he likes Dover. He's the one who could be this year's BK.

Jarrod Breeze: To further my point, he's finished on the lead lap just four times in 12 races. Now, you might be able to steal a win leading only a couple of laps, but you can't do it if you aren't on the lead lap.

Joe Menzer: I will concede that's a good point. But I still think the guy is a talent, and the team, which is still learning to work together, will only get better as this season progresses. Plus two of the races where he failed to finish on the lead lap were at the aforementioned Bristol and Kansas, where he had a strong car and had some stuff go wrong late. Bad luck, more than anything.

Jarrod Breeze: I'm not saying he isn't a talent; not saying he can't drive. All I'm saying is every week his name gets mentioned about breaking through -- and he's 24th in points. Not a sign of consistency.

Joe Menzer: Well, I'm saying he's good enough to win a race or two. This year.

David Caraviello: Oh, goodness. Joe is back to predicting multiple wins for a driver again. Didn't Elliott Sadler in 2010 teach you anything?

Joe Menzer: Hey, I was only off by a year!

3. Rusty Wallace, Leonard Wood, Cotton Owens, Buck Baker and Herb Thomas were elected to the newest class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Who got snubbed, and who should get in next?

Joe Menzer: Well, the obvious "snub" if you can even say there was one -- was Fireball Roberts. I had him in my top five, and he ended up losing out to Buck Baker in a tiebreaker. So I figure Fireball heads up the next class, for sure, and I believe he should have been in this one.

Jarrod Breeze: I was shocked Wallace got in on the first ballot (remember, 35 names were nominated before his), but a closer look at the numbers shows his selection was warranted. Wallace was the only eligible driver in the top 10 in career wins not to be already inducted. But I figured a multiple champion, such as Joe Weatherly, would have made the cut before Wallace.

Joe Menzer: Let me tell you guys why I thought Fireball Roberts should have gotten in. Sometimes you have to forget the numbers, or at least only give them a certain amount of weight. Along with Curtis Turner, Fireball was arguably the first true superstar the sport had. He did a lot to advance the sport in terms of popularity. Fireball Roberts was a dang good driver before meeting his way-too-early demise.

David Caraviello: It's a good class. It's a balanced class. Is it a perfect class? No, but I don't think there will be one from here forward. There are no more automatics -- at least until some current multiple-time championship drivers start retiring -- and the next few years look as tough to figure as this one. But we have a backlog of drivers that need to get in, many of them deceased, and I think the voters did a good job of making sure some of those guys were included.

Kids in the Hall

Rusty Wallace led a quintet of legends that were inducted as the newest NASCAR Hall of Fame class. Here is another look at the greats elected.

Joe Menzer: This was a good class, though. It's hard to argue very hard against anyone who made it. I do think it was very important to have Rusty included to give it sort of a modern-day balance. Plus, he deserved to get in based on what he did not only as a driver, but also since then as a fine ambassador of the sport.

David Caraviello: Yeah, I don't know if the voters were thinking this way, but you almost need a face of every class -- and Rusty is it for this one. Listen, the guy was going to get in, sooner rather than later. Fifty-five wins is nothing to sneeze at. Putting him with a pair of deceased drivers, one elderly driver/owner, and the ageless Leonard Wood -- that's a nice mix. A little bit of everything.

Joe Menzer: I believe what you are going to start seeing, and sooner rather than later, is the addition of an old-timers' vote -- where when we start getting to more of these modern-day guys, you have a separate vote where one or two old-timers are either added to each class or get in via their own ceremony on a different date. I believe the baseball hall does it, don't they?

David Caraviello: Don't know if you noticed last week, Joe, but a few old-timers got in. And there are a few old-timers on the induction panel. The induction voters aren't the issue ... now, don't know if the same can be said of the nominating panel.

Jarrod Breeze: Let's face it, they are all going to get in. Five a year for a sport that only goes back 60-plus years? It's just a matter of time. As far as next year, you think Weatherly and Tim Flock should merit consideration. And how about teaming Red Byron and Raymond Parks for induction in the same class?

David Caraviello: I don't know if we can say that, JB. A few years ago there was a big push to get in Raymond Parks, the sport's first really modern car owner. He didn't get in, he's passed away since, and you don't hear much argument for him anymore. I think Parks serves as kind of a cautionary tale -- we really can't assume in every case.

Joe Menzer: Speaking of Raymond Parks, I had him on my list of five for this year. But you are right, DC. It seems like the push to get him in may have passed, and this is where they need that aforementioned old-timers' committee, where they could try to get one or two of those guys in each year along with the rest.

David Caraviello: Joe, basically three old timers got in this year. I think Tim Flock and Fireball Roberts get in next year. Maybe somebody like Curtis Turner. I also think Jerry Cook gets in. He's been close two years in a row, and those modified folks seem to vote in a block -- perhaps helping to explain why Richie Evans got in so relatively quickly, why Cotton Owens got in, and why Cook has been on the verge now two years in a row.

*Thomas, Wood top vote-getters for 2013 | Wallace joins pioneers in class | No overlooking Owens

Jarrod Breeze: I don't think Parks will get in next year (in fact, Childress and Hendrick will make it in before he does) ... Heck, a deserving guy from yesteryear might be Smokey Yunick. But he isn't even on the 25 member list of nominees.

Joe Menzer: I think my five for next year would be Fireball, Curtis Turner, Jerry Cook, Raymond Parks (again) and .... hmmm, if you need a modern face who would really shake up the induction ceremony, how about finally nominating and voting in none other than Bruton Smith? Love him or hate him, it's a joke he hasn't at least been nominated at this point. Though that's the first time in a long time the eighty-something Smith has been linked to a sentence where he was the "modern" element.

Jarrod Breeze: How about Joe Weatherly? In 1963, Weatherly drove for nine different teams and won the championship. Different day, I know, but that is impressive. Those guys weren't together 24/7 like they are now. That tells me something about a guy's driving prowess.

David Caraviello: Let's be real, guys. If they're not on the nominating list, they're not getting in. And who knew Menzer was a big modifieds fan? Anyway, from a voting perspective, guys like Childress and Hendrick seem to be off the radar screen. In Hendrick's case especially, I don't get it. What else does the guy have to do? Are they waiting for him to retire? Are they holding it against him that he's still active, even though he's nominated within the rules?

Jarrod Breeze: I think that's a fair issue, David. Why would current owners be eligible and not drivers? I'm not quite sure how a person gets nominated, but seems to me there's a good class out there -- none of whom are on the current list of 20 persons eligible.

David Caraviello: Well, drivers have a more finite career than owners, who are entered into many different halls of fame while they're still active. Late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, for instance, was elected to the NFL's hall in 1992. So, the rules are different. Competitors have limited careers; car owners don't. They can't he held to the same eligibility standards.

Jarrod Breeze: If that's the case, there's no logic as to why Hendrick isn't in. Could the legacy of Dale Earnhardt be hurting Childress, though? Hendrick has won titles with three different drivers; Childress' ownership career to this point -- fairly or unfairly -- has been defined by one driver. I'm not saying that's the reason, I am just throwing it out there. Joe Torre oftentimes didn't get a lot of credit for winning all those World Series with the New York Yankees.

Joe Menzer: I'll go out on a limb here and say that Hendrick and Childress, and I'll even throw out the seemingly forgotten Jack Roush here ... all those guys, I think, would rather see others go in first and then as they begin to wind down their ownership careers, then you consider putting them in. I say it's too early for all of them.

Jarrod Breeze: What about Sam Ard? Does Jack Ingram have a chance next year? To me, though, it's hard to separate Ard and Ingram when it comes to the Busch/Nationwide Series. Most of the records Kyle Busch has been breaking in the past two to three years in the Nationwide Series belonged to Ard.

Joe Menzer: I see your Sam Ard and raise you one Red Byron! Humpy Wheeler is another one who deserves to at least be on the nomination list.

David Caraviello: OK, so if I'm following things correctly ... Joe Menzer now has Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Jack Roush, Sam Ard, Red Byron, Humpy Wheeler, Bruton Smith, Raymond Parks, Fireball Roberts and AJ Allmendinger in his class for 2014. Good thing he limited it to five guys!