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Pro Sports Wrap - by Sam Ruesler

Pro Sports Wrap - February 2009

NASCAR heads to Vegas

February 25th 2009 18:31
Last week in this space we semi-predicted back-to-back wins for Matt Kenseth and also said to watch out for Jeff Gordon. Kenseth won and Gordon finished second and the finish wasn't that close.

Jimmie Johnson had a rough day on the track, never finding the right car set up, but still held on for a top 10 finish.
Jimmie Johnson seems to have found his groove and should be a factor this week.

As we also predicted, Michael Waltrip wasn't a factor, finishing 15th in the race. It's safe to look for him about this spot or lower every week.

AJ Allmendinger is still looking for a full-time sponsor, but didn't do much to gain any confidence in any potential ones with his 29th place finish. He was driving fine and should have been a top ten finisher, but a pit stop penalty for a lugnut issue cost him a lap, and in a fairly caution free race, that's a killer. He still has a solid ride and good ownership with Petty, but unless he can bring home a couple more top 10s, hopefully starting this week.

And if you watch NASCAR for the wrecks, you were extremely bored last week. Kevin Harvick hitting the wall was the only yellow flag for an accident, and it wasn't even a big deal.

Looking at this week's Shelby 427 in Las Vegas, Kenseth will be trying to make history. No driver has won the first three races of the year. In fact, Kenseth is just the fifth driver to win the first two races. Strangely, none of those drivers went on to win the season championship

I don't think Kenseth will win in Vegas, but he should put up a strong showing, and it won't surprise me at all if he does win. He does have two wins in Vegas and a handful of top 10 finishes.
But this is about the race teams start figuring out what they need to do better with their cars, and start making some key adjustments.

So other than Kenseth, here's who to look for:

Johnson loves Vegas. And the defending NASCAR champion seems to be getting it together after a forgettable Daytona. He's won here twice and has five top 5 finishes.

Jeff Burton hasn't looked good so far this year, with an average finish of 30th, but Vegas is good to Burton. He has two wins and 7 top 10s here, and averages a top 10 finish here.

The Busch brothers. One, if not both, should be major players. Kyle is the smart pick with a couple of to p5 finishes here. But the Busch brothers are native Nevadans and they'd love to win in Vegas.

And finally I think Greg Biffle may have an impact here. He's ran here five times and has three top 10s.

I also like Brian Vickers as a wild card. After qualifying first last week, but having to move to the back of the field, Vickers still finished 10th. Not a bad finish, especially after being a lap down for a good portion of the race before getting the lap back under a caution.

And if you like wrecks, Vegas has em. There were 11 cautions last year and the race has seen at least six cautions since 2001.


Can Kenseth add to Daytona win?

February 18th 2009 06:22
Even though it was shortened due to the weather Matt Kensethís win at the Daytona 500 was huge. While itís just one race, Kensethís 17th career win puts him in good position to possibly knock down Jimmie Johnson and claim the 2009 Sprint Cup championship.
Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500 and should make a strong bid to win in California

Yes I know itís rare that the Daytona 500 winner rarely wins the Sprint Cup championship, and you have to go back to 1997 (Jeff Gordon) to find a driver who won the first two races of the season, but Kenseth loves the races out west, and he loves the second race of the year. Four of his wins have been in the second race of the year.
And in California, he has finished inside the top 10 in seven consecutive races, including two wins. He has an average running position of 8.3.
If he can hold of Johnson in this race, he will be well on his way to a championship. The reason being is that Johnson also excels in California. Johnson has three wins, four runner-up finishes and one third-place finish at Fontana. Last August, Johnson led 222 of 250 laps there.

Another driver who is always dangerous at Fontana is Jeff Gordon. Itís been a while since Gordon has won any Cup race and you have to go back to 2004 since his last win in Fontana. But it is one of the few places he gets a lot more cheers than jeers as the fans here love him ever since he won the initial race at the track. Heíd love to break his long slump with a victory here.

As for some of the other top finishers at Daytona, you canít expect Michael Waltrip, who finished 7th, to stay up. Heís continued to be an inconsistent driver, doing okay occasionally at the Super Speedways (all four of his career wins have been at Daytona or Talladega) but not finishing much elsewhere. Heís never finished in the top 10 in points in his 24 previous seasons.

AJ Allmendinger, who pulled in a third-place finish at Daytona, is a real wildcard. Unceremoniously let go from Red Bull late last year, the young driver was just happy to find rides for the rest of the year, and also glad to find a pretty decent ride after the merger between Petty and Evernham race teams. He only has one other top ten finish in his career ó ironically a ninth place finish at Kansas in his last race for Red Bull. His run at Fontana, where heís been in the top 20 in both previous starts, should be a good indication about how good this kid really is.

The other story that developed a Daytona involved AJís ex-teammate in Brian Vickers. As most race fans are well aware, as Vickers tried to block Dale Earnhardt Jr., their tires clipped and Vickers wrecked, sending him to a 39th place finish. Earnhardt finished 27th. Both blamed the other. But the general consensus was that the wreck was juniorís fault, and some speculate it was an intentional maneuver.

A lot of race analysts say Junior could have avoided it, but Vickers also probably shouldnít have been as aggressive in his block.
The speculation that it was intentional spin by JR. stems back to Talladega in 2006. The final laps, Junior led with Johnson second and Vickers third. Johnson and Vickers were Hendricks teammates at the time and the expectation was that when Johnson was ready to make his move to pass Junior, Vickers would go with Jimmie to give him a push. On the last lap it happened, only Vickers made a terrible error in judgment when he got behind Johnson and clipped Johnsonís tires. Johnson spun up to Junior, wrecking them both and Vickers won the race. The incident caused a lot of friction between Johnson and Vickers, who had been good friends up to then, as well as Junior and Vickers.
Brian Vickers caused a wreck that took our Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the final lap of 2006 race at Talladega

So last Sunday was that in Juniorís mind? Maybe But more than likely it wasnít. Still, for the sport itís definitely nice to have a rivalry developing, and it will be interesting to watch these two this week and all year, as I tend to think both could be contenders in the Chase.


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