Jeff Burton

Pennell’s Picks: Fantasy NASCAR Trends at New Hampshire

Favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301
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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkorses for your Fantasy NASCAR team as the series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.</p>
2012

The race may have ended Saturday night, but the smoke has yet to settle following the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway — both literally and figuratively.

Pennell’s Picks: Fantasy NASCAR Trends at Richmond

Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Saturday's race in Richmond
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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway.</p>
2012

This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Richmond International Raceway for some good ol’ fashioned short track racing in the hopes of putting on an exciting race — something many fans are clamoring for after a dull month. Typically one of the more action-packed tracks on the schedule, Richmond has averaged 10.8 cautions since 2007 and last year's September race saw a total of 15 yellow flag periods.

Denny's Win, Bruton's Bristol Plan and Junior's Genealogy

The Long and Short of It
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<p> Following Denny Hamlin's win at Kansas Speedway, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>
2012

If Denny Hamlin can win races now, it makes one wonder what he’ll do later this season as the communication with new crew chief Darian Grubb improves and Grubb puts more of his stamp on the team’s cars being built.

Hamlin is one of only two drivers with multiple wins this season after eight races (Tony Stewart is the other) and Hamlin could be the first driver to win three races this season with the series heading to Richmond this weekend. He has won two of the last five races at his hometown track.

Waiting on Bruton's Bristol Plan and a Return to "The Rock"

The Long and Short of It
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<p> Following a rare off week, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>
2012

THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT

by Dustin Long

Everybody is waiting.

Primetime Thriller: Kenseth Wins Wild Daytona 500

Matt Kenseth edges Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle in Great American Race

by Matt Taliaferro

The 1979 Daytona 500 is considered by many to be the most noteworthy in the event’s 54-year history. A snowstorm blanketed much of the East Coast, providing a captivated audience; a last-lap battle for the win, ending in a wreck and a surprise winner; and of course, an infamous post-race fight in the infield between Cale Yarborough and brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison.

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<p> Matt Kenseth wins the first weeknight Daytona 500 run in prime time.</p>

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2012
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Clint Bowyer Wins Talladega

RCR finishes 1-2; Chase field narrows

by Matt Taliaferro

And then, there were five. So it seems. Maybe. The one thing that is beyond debate is Clint Bowyer’s continued strength on NASCAR’s plate tracks. Bowyer made a last-lap pass of teammate Jeff Burton in the Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday to earn his first win of the 2011.

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<p> Clint Bowyer won the Good Sam Club 500 from Talladega Superspeedway.</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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