Sprint Cup Series

NASCAR Horsepower Rankings

Mustache and mullet jokes need not apply

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Jimmie Johnson  Two runner-up finishes in the last three races but no wins since Talladega in April. It’s almost Chase time, though, and Johnson finds himself leading the pack (albeit in a controlled four-wheel drift) as September begins. Surprise, surprise.

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<p> Tropical Depression Lee, meet Jeff Gordon. Gordon won the day in Atlanta, but Jimmie Johnson — who finished second in a four-wheel drift — still sits atop Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>

9. Kurt Busch  Like the little girl with the curl, Kurt can be very, very good or very, very bad. Problem is, that doesn’t translate into Chase success.

10. Kevin Harvick  After back-to-back 22nd-place finishes, Harvick and the boys rebound with a respectable seventh at AMS. Still, something is amiss here.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  He’ll probably make the Chase, but at this rate that’s about all you can expect.

12. Tony Stewart  Finally broke out of a nasty slump with a big third-place showing at Atlanta. More should follow. Should.

13. Martin Truex Jr.   He keeps showing flashes of brilliance but just can’t finish like the big boys.

14. AJ Allmendinger  Somehow ranks 13th in the standings. Probably because that’s about where he finishes each week.

15. Clint Bowyer  If you were at work, YouTube his comments about Juan Pablo Montoya. Classic.

Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Paul Menard

 

Agree with Matt’s rankings? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Matt on Twitter @MattTaliaferro

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The Summer of Brad

Keselowski continues unlikely hot streak, wins Bristol

by Matt Taliaferro

Brad Keselowski had sniffed the lead all night long, but it wasn’t until the final restart of the Irwin Tools Bristol Night Race that he finally grabbed it and took it as his own. Keselowski shot past Martin Truex Jr. on the race’s final restart, and with clean air and a clean windshield, cruised to an impressive win at Bristol Motor Speedway’s famed night race.

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<p> Brad Keselowski recorded his third win of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season with a win at the Irwin Tools Bristol Night Race.</p>

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Here Comes Danica

Danica Patrick comes full circle - literally - heading to NASCAR full-time in 2012

by Vito Pugliese

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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese examines Danica Patrick's decision to move to NASCAR full-time in 2012 and what we should expect from her going forward.</p>

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Kyle Busch Wins in Michigan

Kyle Busch muscles to Win No. 4 of 2011, takes points lead

by Matt Taliaferro

There was no fuel mileage or weather-related strategy involved in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway — only pure, unadulterated horsepower. And Kyle Busch had the most of it, pulling away from Jimmie Johnson on a green-white-checker restart to win his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of 2011, and in the process, take the lead in the championship standings.

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<p> Kyle Busch pulled away from Jimmie Johnson in a green-white-checker finish at Michigan International Speedway to win the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday.</p>

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Brickyard Breakthrough

Paul Menard wins first career NASCAR race in Brickyard 400

by Matt Taliaferro

There are 16 races left in the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, and already it is being remembered as the “Year of the Upset.” And Paul Menard solidified that designation in the Brickyard 400 at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday.

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<p> The results at Indianapolis Motor Speedway followed a familiar trend in the 2011 Sprint Cup season with a first-time winner finding Victory Lane in one of NASCAR's crown jewel events.</p>

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Racin' Vacation

Should NASCAR drivers hit the track on off weekends?

by Mike Neff

During his off-week, Kasey Kahne pole vaulted out of Williams Grove Speedway in Pennsylvania after crashing a World of Outlaws sprint car. While Kahne was unhurt, the wreck brought attention to the fact that race drivers like to race, whether in their “daily driver” or in most anything with two, three or four wheels.

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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Mike Neff examines what NASCAR stars do on their off weekends. Surprisingly, many do what they always do: Go racin'.</p>

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NASCAR on the Wrong Track(s)

New venues fail to attract new fans or retain old

by Vito Pugliese

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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese notes that, while expansion for NASCAR is good, it can come at a cost if its new racetracks don't deliver.</p>

I was on hand at the track formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park in ’07 when Toyota scored its first Nationwide Series victory with series stalwart Jason Leffler and fellow Toyotian David Reutimann in hot pursuit. There was racing throughout the pack, a clear view of pit road from virtually any seat and a full grandstand, to boot. The next day, while at the Brickyard 400, no one could have been aware of what was transpiring between Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick in the closing laps, until Smoke let loose with one of his more memorable post-race interviews that was broadcast over the PA system.

What’s more, that race was one of the few that had a relatively full crowd, and considering the typical margin of victory at a Nationwide race, I fail to see how the move helps anyone.

What is doubly frustrating is that the tracks NASCAR should be at — or looking at visiting — are largely ignored. Since 2000, the margin of victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway — which lost a date to Kentucky — stands at 1.14 seconds, with some of the most memorable last-lap, down-to-the-stripe finishes in the sport’s history highlighting its finishes. The margin in Saturday night’s Kentucky race was .179 seconds, courtesy of a late-race, double-file restart. With the exception of the start of the race and a lap 142 restart, there wasn’t much memorable about the evening with the exception of Jamie McMurray’s smoke show in Turn 2 and the aerial view of traffic backed up for miles on I-71 (not that TNT acknowledged the significance of the shot).

The Nationwide race at Road America last month, which looked like musclecar bumper cars, drew over 50,000 on a Saturday — with half of the track not visible or even having a place to stand and watch. The NNS attendance at Daytona, a track synonymous with stock car racing? 50,000. There are clearly tracks NASCAR should be entertaining to entertain, rather than racing at a venue just because the guy who owns most of the tracks owns it.

Considering NASCAR needs to reach as many fans as possible, racing at as many new venues and in new areas of the country is necessary. Five years ago, I was of the mindset that NASCAR should predominately run in the southeastern United States, but make an effort to visit most every area of the country at tracks at least twice. That was fine. It helped build the sport and NASCAR could reap the benefits.

An attempt to build newer tracks in untraditional markets, however, has run into stiff opposition.

The planned Bristol-esque track that was long-rumored to be built on Long Island fizzled, and when a big push for a track to be built in Washington state in 2007 was broached, the speaker of the house in the state’s legislature accused Richard Petty of having a DUI, while another house member stated publicly that, “These are not the kind of people you would want living next door to you. They’d be the ones with the junky cars in the front yard and would try to slip around the law.”

Considering the precarious position the sport remains in as the economy dictates what survives and what dies, Jeff Burton’s sentiment is right on target: Going to different markets and areas of the country are key, but only if it produces a better product.

NASCAR was arguably at its best in the early- to mid-1990s, with exponential growth, interest, excitement, appropriate coverage to pique curiosity and a lack of over-saturation. Each time a new track was built, a little piece of the past died, though. That will come with any evolutionary step, but is it too much to ask for the old favorites like Atlanta and Darlington to not be substituted for calamities like the tracks in Fontana and Kentucky?

This isn’t to say that NASCAR’s oldest tracks haven’t had issues of their own. I once sat in traffic reminiscent of Kentucky’s going to Michigan International Speedway in the ’90s. When Charlotte Motor Speedway brought the term “levigation” into our vocabulary, it did so by destroying the finest 1.5-mile track that motorsports had ever known. And regardless of how brightly Bruton Smith paints the walls yellow, it is not the same track it once was.

We’ve all watched as chunks of the track at Martinsville and Daytona started flying around, while North Wilkesboro never really looked much different when it hosted its final race in 1996 than its first 40 years earlier. The difference is each of these places provides something special, having been witness to some of the greatest moments in the sport’s history. If they are going to be replaced by new locations, is it too much to ask that they produce something tangible — beyond ROI for ISC and SMI — in return?

New tracks are needed in NASCAR, no question. The problem is, the ones that are awarded new dates continually resemble the same ones that no one cares about in the first place. That points to a downward trend — and at the absolute wrong time for a sport that has some distinct challenges that lay ahead.

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