Dropping the Hammer: A Preview of This Weekend's NASCAR Races

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IJune 19, 2009

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 19:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, drives during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the Infineon Raceway on June 19, 2009 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

NASCAR fans will be delighted to a double dosage of racing action in the form of traditional oval-racing, trading paint-style, at the Milwaukee Mile and the twists and turns of Infineon Raceway.

For the Nationwide Series agents, it's their last Saturday night showdown of the month at the one-mile facility in West Allis, Wisc., where the young and cagey veterans have had their moments to shine in Victory Lane.

On the Sprint Cup tour, Infineon will be their version of "Dancing With The Cars," having to establish some rhythm with their toes as they accelerate, shift, decelerate, and mash the gas pedal for 300 kilometers of racing.

Where's a NASCAR fan to start? Even if these aren't the most prestigious of races for the NASCAR ranks, the action and potential of these bouts are definite "must see" TV material.

So without further ado, let's take a look at this weekend's Nationwide and Sprint Cup races!

Writer's Note: On an aside, Ben Bomberger did a wonderful job establishing this particular racing column for each Nationwide event. When I adopted the series, I retained the same format by Ben, but I felt like my "voice" was not there.

So for the rest of the season, I will preview all the major NASCAR races of the weekend, Dropping the Hammer style! We can't forget about the Camping World Truck Series either! If you like this new format or want me to go back to the old one, feel free to leave a comment! And thanks Ben for handing the reigns of the N'wide weekly column to me, it's been a pleasure to do these for sure!

On Your Side: Nationwide Goes Wild At The Milwaukee Mile

Last season, Brad Keselowski was beginning to show his worth in the Nationwide Series, with his debut win as an agent in Kentucky. He followed up that triumph in the Bluegrass State with a pole at the tricky and tight corners of the Milwaukee Mile.

Poised for a follow-up victory, Keselowski had the dominant car, leading for 145 of the 250 circuits at The Mile. He was seemingly untouchable. Do you sense that "but" moment here?

Because there is. As the race wound down, Joey Logano made contact with Keselowski's front fender, effectively ruining No. 88's aerodynamics and handling, and, most importantly, BK's chance at his second career win.

Meanwhile, Logano, who was starting in his fourth N'wide event, had a busy time "unfriending" the competition, banging fenders on his way to a runner-up finish in the No. 20 Gamestop Toyota.

With the agents having a hard time cooperating with each other, the race was "stolen" by Cup star Carl Edwards, who piloted his No. 60 Ford to another "fraud" win—or a victory at the hands of a Cup regular.

This year's NorthernTools.com 250 may be a sequel to last year's dramatic action, save Logano's no-show this Saturday night. Electing to focus on his road course schooling efforts at Sonoma, Joe Gibbs Racing prospect Brad Coleman takes the reigns of the No. 20 Toyota at Milwaukee.

Surefire Claims To Victory Lane & Race Info

Edwards and Keselowski look to recapture their magic of a year ago, as both drivers had the strongest cars at the Mile.

For Edwards, he hopes to put on some acrobatics for the fans at West Allis, making his annual cross-country dip first in the No. 60 Ford.

Using the "right place, right time" strategy in 2008, Edwards hopes to have a BK-like showing, minus the fender flare-up at the end that cost Keselowski so dearly in Milwaukee.

Keselowski must feel like The Mile owes him one. Like a movie where you've already seen the outcome, but you're watching it again in the hopes that it'll change on your 23rd viewing, BK hopes that he has the same dominant performance—with a catch.

This time, the driver of the No. 88 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet looks to seal the victory in a week marred by news of General Motor's cutback on its NASCAR efforts.

Joe Gibbs Racing's best chance for a win Saturady night comes at the hands of Kyle Busch, who's probably licking his chomps for both races.

If Busch looks to keep good on his goal for 200 total NASCAR wins (from all three series), a win at this one-mile paperclip-shaped oval is a start on what looks to be a promising weekend for the 24-year-old.

Don't forget about N'wide regulars like Jason Leffler, Jason Keller, and Mike Bliss, who are consistent, reliable drivers, for a solid top-10 finish.

Leffler may be rough around the edges with his driving style, but his aggression merits praise in a series struggling to establish its "iconic face" much like its counterparts in the Cup and Truck ranks.

Though he's a distant fourth place in the championship standings, Leffler and his No. 38 Great Clips Toyota team look poise for a victory. On the strength of six consecutive top-10 finishes, maybe Milwaukee will be this Long Beach native's turn to shine.

Keller is a veteran and sentimental favorite of Nationwide fans. With skills deserving of a Cup ride, the South Carolinian has remained loyal to this particular series. Running in a solid seventh place standing for the title, the driver of the No. 27 Kimberly-Clark Brand Ford Fusion looks to upstage those Cup "frauds" with an "Agent Acclaimed" win.

Last but not least, Bliss has driven his way to the checkers, albeit due to the rains of Concord, NC. A win at the Mile, a track which Bliss has won at in the Truck Series, would give car owner James Finch a third reason to smile in this eventful 2009 racing season.

Will the agents fend off the advances of the frauds? Or will we see Cousin Carl repeat his "treachery" of a year ago for Roush Fenway Racing?

Watch the storylines unfold for the 2009 Northerntools.com 250 at the Milwaukee Mile, this Saturday night, live on ESPN2. Coverage will begin at 7:30 p.m. with NASCAR Countdown, followed by the pre-race ceremonies and the green flag at 8 p.m. EDT.

Top 10 Standings

1) Kyle Busch:           2211
2) Carl Edwards:        2074
3) Brad Keselowski:    2003
4) Jason Leffler:        1993
5) Joey Logano:        1860
6) Justin Allgaier:      1628
7) Brendan Gaughan: 1620
8) Jason Keller:         1613
9) Mike Bliss:            1599
10) Steve Wallace:    1543

Sprint Showdown: NASCAR Cup Wines It Up At Sonoma

Since 1989, the 1.99-mile Infineon Raceway has delighted fans with close finishes, dramatic developments, and highlight-reel moments for the "Thrills and Spills" enthusiasts in all of us.

From Ricky Rudd's spirited victory over Rusty Wallace twenty years ago to Kyle Busch's resounding, come-from-behind win last season, there are a myriad of exciting races to choose from for the NASCAR fan.

Drivers will have to find the rhythm of shfiting and accelerating more than any other race this season, tip-toeing their way around their pedals as they negotiate around the 11-turn road course.

The speeds are still fast, the excitement level is still prevalent as in any other event, and the desire for the checkered flag is still the No. 1 priority for all 43 competitors.

Perhaps adding on to the excitement factor for the drivers, teams, and fans for this Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 (Live, Sunday at 3:30 p.m. EDT on TNT) is the two-week old double-file, shootout style restart rule.

On the ovals, it's an acceptable practice as there are ample passing opportunities for the leaders to race their way into the first corner.

However, this particular aspect merits some caution for the competitors, as Infineon does not offer the most spacious of corners for cars to race side-by-side.

Case in point: Jerry Nadeau, who was tickled to qualify on the outside pole for this event in 1998, overshot the second corner of the newly-configured then Sears Point Raceway.

As a result, the No. 13 First Plus Financial Ford Taurus went from racing along side the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet to playing dodgeball with the other 41 competitors who had to swerve their way around the freshman driver.

It may be one of the shortest races of the season, but competitors must not be fooled by that fact. Physically, it is one of the most demanding races of the year, so patience and a cool head under fire are a must for these drivers if they look to leave this road course in one piece.

Fuel mileage will be another factor in determining the contenders versus the pretenders. Again, Nadeau must be the example for this particular storyline for Sunday's race.

Four years after his goof-up in the second corner of Infineon, Nadeau's best shot at capturing the flag at Sonoma came in an unlikely car and team: the No. 44 Georgia-Pacific Dodge by Petty Enterprises.

Recently fired by Hendrick Motorsports, Nadeau was a freelance racer looking for any ride. Following Gordon's transmission problems which saw the No. 24 team fall by the wayside, Nadeau suddenly found himself in a position to steal the race.

Unfortunately, the No. 44 Dodge was running on fumes, and Nadeau, being the hard-charging racer he was, just did not save up enough fuel to make the distance.

As a result, the Petty team saw their best chance at the checkers disappear, with Rudd taking the win home for Robert Yates Racing and the No. 28 Havoline Ford team.

You can have a fast car, great coordination, and stellar pit stops. But if you don't have the fuel mileage to make the distance, what becomes a surefire victory becomes a gamble for the ages.

Contenders Versus Pretenders

It's become a custom to choose between these two racers when it comes to the road course events on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. And why not? These two drivers combine for 15 victories at these tracks.

Jeff Gordon is the undisputed "King of Road Courses," having won at total of nine races (five at Infineon, four at Watkins Glen) at these facilities. A great short-track racer, his mindset with this particular facility suits Gordon's driving style, where patience and rhythm are the facets that make this 37-year-old driver a perennial pick for fans at any stop on the circuit.

Tony Stewart has been the man to beat as well when it comes to the series stops in Wine Valley, rising to the occasion to beat his "rival" Gordon by equipment or when the No. 24 team's equipment beats them.

Sweeping the road course races in 2005, the owner/driver looks to pad his slim 47-point advantage over Gordon with his second win of the season.

Kyle Busch has emerged as a road-course racer, perhaps prompting his name into the candidates list for the US Formula One ride he was rumored to be in contention for earlier in the season.

Pulling off the sweep at Infineon and Watkins Glen last year, the driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota looks to duplicate those efforts with style. Needing to get back to his winnings ways, Busch has been in a bit of a slump since his win at Richmond.

Sitting ninth in the points standings but with those three victories at his disposal, another victory at Sonoma may spell trouble for the rest of his competitors, as well as Shrub having another day in the spotlight with fans and the media.

Dark horse picks include Carl Edwards, who finished in the top 10 at both races last year, as well as Ryan Newman, Mark Martin (hardly a dark horse, but with the road ringers and the aforementioned three contenders, he falls into this category), and Marcos Ambrose, who all have the potential to upstage the favorites for Sunday.

The road ringers are also another group of drivers to keep an eye on. Led by Ron Fellows and Boris Said, these guys look to capture their one-of-two chances at "their Daytona 500." If you think they don't take these races seriously, think again.

Fellows has come agonizingly close to a win in the Cup ranks, particularly at the road courses. Driving cars from the once-powerful Dale Earnhardt Incorporated to NEMCO Motorsports, the Canadian leadfooter will be piloting James Finch's No. 09 Chevrolet.

Finch, whose team won at Talladega at the hands of Keselowski, looks to have another upset moment with his Cup team as Fellows looks to one-up the regulars with a win.

Said, who has become somewhat of a media and fan darling, is a tenacious and determined driver when it comes to these races. Displaying aggression and that killer instinct in taking no prisoners when he's up front, Said looks to drive his No. 08 No Fear Ford to the checkers in his home state track.

These are but a few of the faces who will make up the 86 stories to follow with Saturday night's Northerntools.com 250 at Milwaukee and Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350.

They may rise to the occasion, or they may fall by the wayside due to a plethora of reasons.

Top 10 Standings

1) Tony Stewart:   2189
2) Jeff Gordon:      2142
3) Jimmie Johnson: 2047
4) Kurt Busch:       1961
5) Ryan Newman:   1934
6) Carl Edwards:    1927
7) Greg Biffle:        1913
8) Mark Martin:      1868
9) Kyle Busch:       1860
10) Denny Hamlin:  1849

Oh, by the way...

Whatever happens this weekend, what's certain is that we'll be treated to two spectacular races that we'll be talking about come Monday morning. So race fans, put the tube on if you're not at the track.

Or if you're one of the hundreds of thousands of fans who plan to flock to either facility on the grandstands or in your RVs, take in the sights and sounds into the world of NASCAR racing!

I'm feeling rather sympathetic for those in the automobile industry. I'm not talking about the drivers or car owners with the millions of dollars at their disposal.

Those blue-collar workers, who work at the assembly lines to make these gas-guzzlers that we see on the streets of America are the ones who'll be feeling it most in their wallets and on the dinner table.

It's a sad and dark time for the hard working American. But with bleakness comes hope, even when it seems like all the doors that once were opened for opportunity have been closed and locked up.

Show your support to these workers. Help out your fellow American in these troubling times, as well as yourself.

Because in the end, when you're falling, who's going to pick you up?

And on a last note with word coming out about a sportier, sexier COT, NASCAR, it's too late to make amends with that. You've implemented this boxy beast on the track, and it's one of the real reasons why the fans haven't flocked to the track like in years past.

Sell us these die-casts, or race-used memorabilia, but those won't compare to the once-exciting action on the track.

You may not take this fan's words for what it's worth, but if NASCAR is truly a sport that listens to its fans, take it from one who's been watching it since 1991: admit you're wrong this one time, then make improvements.

Who knows? We may even see the massive pilgrimages that once happened at the 36 stops of the Cup circuit.