[NASCAR] Speed Addicts

Speed Addict calls out Skip Bayless, Million Dollar Baby goes head to head with Rocky in the RaceDay Pulse, Tiger rules over St. Andrews, Danica Patrick tempts fate in Nashville, and a corner of the NASCAR world gets turned into a Hellish nightmare, the likes of which have never been seen. To say we’re pulling out all the stops is an understatement.

Speed Addicts

– Steve Price, the “Speed Addict”
For Inside Pulse Sports

“Wendy, I’m home.” – Jack Nicholson, The Shining.

The machine that is Speed Addict is back, Jack! On a serious note, most of you are wondering why I’m back after three weeks, as opposed to the month I’d spoke of in the last column. Well, to be quite honest, we only made it one week before we called it a trip, which explains why I then took two more weeks off for the heck of it. Three of the four people in the car decided they’d had enough after two (sunburn inducing) ballgames, a trip to the Bronx, Amish fruits hawking outhouses, a disastrous decision to try a buffalo chicken pizza from a hole in the wall spot on South Street in Philadelphia by yours truly, three kidney stones affecting the NASCAR Guy, and a lengthy and painful allergic reaction to something in the hotel room in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Of course, on the way back, we not only encountered the hellhole that was Tropical Storm/Depression Cindy, but also a five and a half hour delay around Fredericksburg, Virginia that spilled over onto Highway 1 as well. There was some sort of accident that tore up the interstate, and thus the brilliant yahoos at the Virginia DOT decided to close down I-95 South until 1:00 AM. The detours given by the woman on the radio (who sounded eerily like former WWE “diva” Jacqueline) were damn-near worse than I-95 itself. To give you an illustration, we hit the first of the traffic at 2:45 PM, and we didn’t get back onto I-95 and moving again until 8:02 PM. Total distance traveled? Just under fifteen miles.

Things didn’t get much better after the traffic, either. The rain first started to fall when we got off of I-95 and onto U.S. 1 near Fredericksburg. It didn’t start to rain hard until after we got to the Paramount King’s Dominion sign, and by this point, the skies were darkening. As soon as we passed by Richmond, we hit the heavy stuff. If you’ve ever driven through one of those gas station car washes, imagine that, except harder, and in the dark with shitty windshield wipers. We were actually lucky; the storm we drove through spawned several tornadoes all across the Eastern Seaboard, including a rather powerful tornado just north of Baltimore through a town which we had just passed through a few hours before (The storm also spawned an F2 tornado in Hampton, Georgia which we’ll discuss in a moment). We arrived back in Charlotte around 1:30 AM, and promptly dodged a maniac N.C. State Trooper that appeared to be legally blind and/or insane. And for the record, for anyone reading from Pennsylvania or New Jersey, allow me to express my deepest sympathies for having to deal with the unofficial spawn of Satan: the “Pennsylvania/New Jersey Turnpike”.

Of course, you all didn’t click on the link to read about my personal life now, did you? Just be glad that I’m here to entertain you while another IP Sports mainstay, Nick Pomazak takes a vacation to Aruba. Lucky bastard. And on that note, let’s kick it like we’re living in an Amish Paradise, Ezekiel.

Inside Pulse’s Official Coverage: Race to the Chase 2005
It’s the last major event to cover in 2005, but man if it isn’t the most important one for NASCAR fans. Say what you will about Danica’s involvement with the IndyCar Series, or the now-controversial Formula 1 group, but America still belongs to everyone’s favorite Southern entity. And beginning in 2004, the Daytona 500 was no longer the lone staple pin of the Nextel Cup. The Chase for the Nextel Cup, like it or not, has become the focal point of the Nextel Cup Season. Everyone wants to win at Daytona, but from Week #2 on, it’s all about the Chase. We’re down to only a handful of races left, with the “Race to the Chase” culminating in September in Richmond, Virginia. Here’s a rundown of the final races remaining until the Chase begins:

Race #20 of 36: Pennsylvania 500
Pocono Raceway – Long Pond, Pennsylvania
Sunday, July 24th, 2005

Race #21 of 36: Allstate 400 at the Brickyard
Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Indianapolis, Indiana
Sunday, August 7th, 2005

Race #22 of 36: Sirius Satellite Radio at the Glen
Watkins Glen International – Watkins Glen, New York
Sunday, August 14th, 2005

Race #23 of 36: GFS Marketplace 400
Michigan International Speedway – Brooklyn, Michigan
Sunday, August 21st, 2005

Race #24 of 36: Sharpie 500
Bristol Motor Speedway – Bristol, Tennessee
Saturday, August 27th, 2005

Race #25 of 36: California 500
California Speedway – Fontana, California
Sunday, September 4th, 2005

Race #26 of 36: Chevy Rock & Roll 400
Richmond International Raceway – Richmond, Virginia
Saturday, September 10th, 2005

As we move closer to the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 in Richmond, we’ll have more coverage on the chase as we go along. Updated, and more thorough track profiles of all ten Chase sites, along with complete driver profiles of the Chase participants, including their history at every track leading up to Miami-Homestead. In addition, we’ll profile the drivers that will make the Chase (and those who wont) over the course of the next month and a half. We’ll offer up predictions, statistics, analysis, and we may even get a round table going. Who knows. But you can count on Inside Pulse Sports for all your NASCAR fixings. Hey, I’m good for something, after all.

Formula 1 Preview: The 2005 German Grand Prix
Date: Sunday, July 24th, 2005 (look for live coverage on the Speed Channel)
Location: Hockenheim, Germany
Circuit Length: 4.574 Km
Pole Sitter: Qualifying Yet to Commence
Laps: 67 Laps (306.458 Km – Total Distance)

Through the first practices at the Hockenheim circuit, the McLaren driven by obscure driver (to Americans) Alexander Wurz, continued to close in on well-known F1 mainstay Kimi Raikkonen’s circuit record during the second practice in Germany. With Fernando Alonso and the aforementioned Raikkonen nipping at his heels, practice times are already running parallel to Michael Schumacher’s top speeds last year (which earned him the pole for this very event). Hockenheim seems to parallel Magny-Cours for the uninitiated F1 newbie like myself, in that it takes both a fast car and a lot of finesse to run well there. We’ll see if Sunday’s Grand Prix ends up like its Nürburgring counterpart.

Although the tyre malfunctions at Indianapolis may be a distant memory by now for most European F1 fans, a new situation may be brewing, and could affect Formula 1 as well as the IndyCar Series. As we’ll discuss in a moment, engine manufacturer Toyota is pulling the plug on its involvement in the Champ Car and IndyCar Series following the 2006 Season. While Toyota has announced the continuation of its plans to spread into NASCAR, there is no word yet as to the fate of the manufacturer’s relationship with the FIA. I can’t imagine that Toyota would pull its program from Formula 1 as well, but it remains to be seen if Formula 1 loses its Toyota teams in 2007 as well. Following the German Grand Prix, we’ll get more in depth coverage on the Toyota situation, as well as a full rundown (and hopeful review) of the day’s action from Germany. Also, for anyone that will be attending the race that cares to send in any information, we’ll gladly use the help. As most of you know by now, Formula 1 is something new to us all, and while we’re doing our best, we’re still far from being knowledgeable. As evidenced in previous columns, we’ve made some mistakes, and we’ll learn from them. So bare with us as we find our sea legs if you will. Will keep you posted on any breaking stories from across the pond as they happen.

Starting Grid – 2005 German Grand Prix
Qualifying yet to commence from Hockenheim. Formula 1 Qualifying can normally be seen on the Speed Channel from 8:00 AM to 9:30 AM, though times are subject to change, as always.

IndyCar Series News & Headlines
With the IndyCar Series still keeping most of the Danica Buzz from May, we’ll continue to cover the IndyCar Series until the end, with the hope that Danica may one day rise to her nearly impossible standards. After all, she’s arguably under more pressure to win than any other rookie in history. Of course, the IndyCar Series features more than just Ms. Patrick, which may shock some of you less astute NASCAR fans out there. Some of the more talented drivers in North America (if not the world) call the IndyCar Series home. And we’ve got the scoop on them, too.

Castroneves, Kanaan, Franchitti the Big Winners – Over the last three races, three of IndyCar’s more promising stars – Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, and Dario Franchitti – have gone to victory lane. Castroneves took his Penske-owned Toyota to victory lane at Richmond; Tony Kanaan drove his way to victory lane in Kansas, and his Andretti-Green teammate Dario Franchitti literally saved the day for the crew by bringing home the Firestone Indy 200 from Nashville last Saturday night. With Danica Patrick taking a lot of the attention given to the IndyCar Series, its really unfortunate to see such talented drivers being left behind in the media blitz. Andretti-Green Racing is the class of series so far, having taken two of the last three races, along with this year’s Indianapolis 500. Three of the team’s drivers find themselves in the Top 3 in points, with Dan Wheldon (the 500 winner) leading Kanaan and Franchitti by a comfortable margin. Marlboro Team Penske representatives Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. sit in 4th and 5th place, respectively.

Toyota Out of Open Wheel Racing in 2007 – Going the way of Pontiac in the Cup Series, Toyota announced recently that they plan on ending their twelve year affiliation with the IndyCar Series, citing a desire to move on to other things. The decision may partly be based on the negative opinions of most Toyota-based teams, who compared the research and development for the Japanese manufacturer to being in a fight while in handcuffs.

“This was simply a decision to move in another direction after having our major U.S. Motorsports emphasis on open-wheel racing since 1994,” Toyota senior vice president of U.S. motor sales J. Davis Illingworth said.

Toyota recently made the jump to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and plans on expanding their operations therein over the next two years. In addition, Toyota may make the jump to the Busch Series as early as the 2007 season, with a potential timetable for their jump to the Nextel Cup set sometime thereafter. For now, though, their primary focus will remain on the Craftsman Truck Series. As for open wheel racing, this will mark the end of an extensive partnership between Toyota and both the IndyCar Series and the Champ Car (formerly CART) racing leagues, which housed Toyota-based teams beginning in 1996. There is no word yet as to where the remaining Toyota teams will end up by 2007.

Danica Tracker – As of July 23rd (ie today), Danica Patrick remains winless in her young career. Her 7th place finish at Nashville was the culmination of a series of bad pit strategies (where she took four tires and fuel, as opposed to using the fuel-only strategy of the leaders (and eventual winner Patrick Carpentier). On Sunday, July 24th, the IndyCar Series tackles the Milwaukee Mile in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the A.J. Foyt 225. As always, check back with Inside Pulse that night for extended coverage from both Milwaukee and the Nextel Cup race in Pocono for more.

[Credit All: ESPN.com]

NASCAR News & Headlines
A couple of noteworthy headlines from the break, and very few of them pleasant or good at that. We’ll hit the big story from this past week in a bit, but there are two pressing stories that should be taken care of first. One is the suspension of driver Shane Hmiel for violating the drug abuse policy in NASCAR, which is bad enough. Not quite as bad as…

Atlanta Motor Speedway Virtually a War Zone – I woke up the first day back from the trip to a piece of paper taped to my bedroom door. There were pictures of what looked like a race track that had been taken through a cheese grater several times over; the place was just a mess. From the first picture, you could guess what track it was (most diehard fans could tell it was Atlanta, but barely). For the uninitiated, the track was nearly unrecognizable. Scoring towers were downed like they were toothpicks. The luxury towers were shredded inside and out; most roofs at the track collapsed, while few windows survived. The grand stand looked like the victim of an explosion.

Twisted metal was strewn all over the place, and there was enough debris littering the track that would make the most lenient track official cringe with disgust. About the only thing that didn’t look damaged was the actual racing surface, which is surprising considering some of the scoring towers had crashed onto the track. The reports had the tornado pegged as an F2, which is kind of frightening coming from a Tropical Storm/Hurricane. While an F2 may not seem as serious as it otherwise would to some of you from the Midwest, hurricanes mostly spawn F0 tornadoes, with an occasion F1 if you’re particularly unlucky. An F2, though, is just about as rare as blizzard in the South; you just don’t see them in hurricanes. Had a tiny tornado blew across the track, a few windows might have been broken, and there probably would have been some debris on the track. But the bowl shaped layout of the track helped spawn a massive tornado that was nearly a half mile wide, according to early estimates.

Track officials have totaled up the damage, and it’s astounding: $40 Million in damage to the track, plus the lost revenues from cancelled events between now and the Nextel Cup race. As is, they’ll be lucky to repair the damage in time for the event; the track’s wasted. The only saving grace is that no one at the track was injured, at least from what we could find in the reports. The same storm did cause two fatalities in the eastern part of the state, and there’s no telling how many more people were killed from the storm during its life.

Hmiel Suspended Until 2007 – Steve Hmiel, crew chief to Dale Jr. and the #8 Budweiser Chevrolet Team, must have breathed a sigh of relief after watching his driver take the checkered flag at Chicagoland last week. There had been nothing but trouble for Hmiel, professionally and personally prior to it. Though his driver’s struggles have been well publicized over the past few weeks, but it was his son, NASCAR rookie Shane Hmiel that provided the biggest blow to his father. Hmiel, a promising rookie on the NASCAR Nextel Cup stage, has been suspended for the remainder of the ’05 season, as well as the entire 2006 Nextel Cup campaign due to violating the organization’s substance abuse policy.

It was his second offense.

It’s really a sad thing to see, because you pray and hope that drugs, whether they be recreational or performance enhancing, will not tarnish your sport. Unfortunately, this serves as a wakeup call to those in and out of the business; racing isn’t clean, and its obvious. You’d like to think that it’s just one or two rookies that have made mistakes in life, but NASCAR has not always been the bastion for good decision makers (witness the story of the late, great Tim Richmond, who made a mistake that wound up costing him his life vis-a-vis AIDS). Here’s to hoping that Shane can clean himself up. At the same time, let’s hope that NASCAR will continue to watch its drivers, and keep this sport from becoming a haven for drug abuse.

Washington Courting NASCAR – In another bit related to the expansion of the sport, NASCAR is looking towards a future that may include Busch, and potentially Nextel Cup Series racing in the Pacific Northwest. Officials from the International Speedway Corporation held a press conference at the end of June to discuss the potential track, with the unveiling of the selected location for the proposed 80,000 seat venue.

Officials of the auto racing development and promotion company [ISC] based in Daytona Beach, Fla., told a news conference Thursday they want to build an 80,000-seat track on 950 acres near state Route 3, south of Bremerton National Airport along the Kitsap-Mason county line.

A racing venue in Washington has been a long time coming. Two of the Nextel Cup’s brightest new stars, sophomore Kasey Kahne and Nextel Cup Championship-hopeful Greg Biffle both came from, and were discovered in the state. ISC executives have attempted to secure a location in Washington for years now, with the most recent bid nearly coming to fruition in 2003 before being shot down.

Financing plans were not released at the news conference, but Grant Lynch, vice president of ISC and project team leader, estimated $120 million in annual economic impact from the $250 million track and said no new taxes would be required to foot the bill.

“This project carries its own water,” Lynch said.

New sporting venues rarely come without a hitch, and this one would be no different. Transportation issues will most definitely arise, seeing as the only major access route to the track site is a two-lane highway. The state’s Department of Transportation is busy working on a new Tacoma Narrows Bridge (while refitting the old one) and contemplating adding additional lanes for traffic to accommodate the surge of cars on race days. But Lynch acknowledged that traffic would be a constant issue at the new site. [Credit: NASCAR.com]

Michael Waltrip/DEI to Split in 2006 – In a news story that falls into the “Only a Matter of Time” category, long-time teammates Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will split following the completion of the 2005 Nextel Cup Season. While no details exist as to who Waltrip will drive for next year (or whether a replacement driver will fill the #15 car next year), we know for sure that Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Inc, whom the 42 year old Owensboro, Kentucky native has driven for since 2001, will be seeking employment elsewhere come Daytona next February. Both sides had been negotiating an extension for the 2006 season, but Waltrip eventually opted out of the deal several days prior to the New England 300 in Loudon, New Hampshire. The split was apparently mutual.

This ends a rather sad debacle in the Dale Earnhardt Inc. camp, and it’s really disappointing as a fan to think that some sort of agreement couldn’t be reached to save such a beneficial relationship. Despite the success (or lack there of) that Waltrip and Junior have had over the last five seasons, there have been few tandems that have stood out more in NASCAR than they. There commercials together were innovative, humorous, and refreshing compared to the same stupid VISA Commercial that always played at least fifteen times a race. No two drivers have dominated the talk of restrictor plate races over the past few seasons than Mikey and Junior, and it isn’t a stretch to say that Junior and Waltrip were two of NASCAR’s favorite sons (Dale, the most popular and Waltrip, the most loveable). On the other hand, it probably serves everyone best if the split goes off. For months now (stemming back to last year at Talladega), Earnhardt Jr. and Waltrip have been at odds with one another constantly, with the uneasiness coming to a head at Charlotte where Junior, plain and simply, put Waltrip in the wall. Tony Eury has criticized his cousin Junior over the past few weeks for the raison d’être behind his actions. Earnhardt has preferred to work with friend Tony Stewart on the track anyways at past restrictor plate tracks, and so Waltrip decided to try his hand elsewhere in 2006.

So, now that we know the split is finally going down, the speculation begins as to where Waltrip will end up. My prediction? Joe Gibbs Racing is contemplating the idea of releasing Jason Leffler (driver of the FedEx Chevrolet) from the team, which could open up a spot on for Waltrip. Michael, like Junior, works well with Tony, and Bobby Labonte works well with anyone. And NASCAR is not exactly like most other sports, in that given the choice between a green rookie and an experienced veteran, most teams will jettison the rookies in favor of the elder statesmen. Nature of the beast, eh? We’ll keep you up to date with any rumors on the destination of Michael Waltrip as the weeks progress.

NFL Hall of Famer to Invest in a NASCAR Team?
Tim Brown, the recently retired wide receiver who paved his way to Canton while wearing the colors of the Los Angeles (and later Oakland) Raiders, has announced his plans for retirement. And they’re rather busy ones at that. Brown announced at his retirement press conference in Oakland Monday that he hopes to partner with Roush Racing in 2006, and become the first majority black owner of a NASCAR-based racing team in the process.

“It’s going to be a big deal to try and get accomplished, but I think it’s going to be great to try,” said Brown, who said he was approached by Roush Racing for the job. “Obviously there’s a diversity issue that needs to be addressed [in NASCAR]. They thought I was a good guy to do it.”

If Brown succeeds in his bid to land a racing team in the ranks of NASCAR, it would be one of the last remaining racial barriers broken in the American sports scene. Unlike baseball or other major sports, racial discrimination has never been a particularly big issue in NASCAR, oddly enough. Unfortunately, the South’s track record with racial issues has been spotty to say the least, and with NASCAR being very much a Southern institution, the desire for African Americans, Latin Americans or other minorities to enter the sport has not reached the level of movements along the line of Jackie Robinson’s tremendous push for equality in Major League Baseball. If Tim Brown succeeds, the last major sport left to field true diversity will see a revolution that has been a long time coming. Will it be as important as Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball? No. But it’s a positive step in the right direction, because the time is right for men (and women) of all different backgrounds to make their mark in the sport. Hoo-rah, indeed!

We have no further details on the latest NASCAR Hall of Fame bids, or the negotiations between NASCAR and the host of networks pursuing its broadcasting rights for 2007. News of the latest broadcasting rights will likely be made within the next two to five months (in plenty of time before next year’s Daytona 500 on NBC), and any NASCAR Hall of Fame news is still weeks away. But if anything goes down in either situation, things will go down in a hurry, and we’ll be right here to cover it for you at Inside Pulse Sports!

[Credit All: ESPN.com & NASCAR.com]

NASCAR Stat Tracker
This is the latest experimental feature here at Speed Addicts, and is pretty much what helped keep me sane these past weeks while my good friend Adam continues to party back home in Jamaica (insert *tear* here). So while he’s sitting fine in Negril getting drunk, I’m here to bring you the feature so hot, it makes Danica Patrick look like the love child of Kurt Busch and Lord Littlebrook (RIP Lord Alfred Hayes!): NASCAR Stat Tracker! Here’s how it works…

Each week, we’ll take a look at a driver or a team of drivers, and track their progress through the course of the week. In this, we’ll be looking for their car performance in the practice sessions, Qualifying position, Happy Hour runs, any and all implementations performed during the week due to accidents or failures, and general buzz from trackside. Hopefully, this will give you an idea as to who to put your money on and who not to, though I’d really watch the SPEED Channel before making stupid choices with your money. Now that you know what to look for, let’s take a look at this week’s victim of the Tracker:

Mark Martin!

Mark Martin
#6 Viagra Ford

Crew Chief: Pat Tryson
Position in Points: 7th Place (High – 4th Place/ Low – 12th Place)
Best Finish: 3rd Place (3 Times – Martinsville, Dover, Michigan)
Worst Finish: 39th Place (Pepsi 400 – Daytona Beach, Florida)
Best Qualifying Position: 3rd Place (Dodge/Save Mart 350 – Sonoma, California)
Worst Qualifying Position: 34th Place (Food City 500 – Bristol, Tennessee)
2004 Finish at Pocono: 2nd Place – Pennsylvania 500 / 36th Place – Pocono 500 (Engine Failure)
2004 Qualifying Run at Pocono: 21st Position – Pennsylvania 500 / 4th Place – Pocono 500
2005 Qualifying Position: 6th Place

Weekly Tracker – Speeds Thru Saturday 07.23
Practice #1: 6th Fastest
164.887 MPH – 54.583 Seconds (-0.576 off Leader)

Qualifying: 3rd Fastest
168.382 MPH

Happy Hour: 6th Fastest
165.032 MPH – 54.535 Seconds (-0.322 off Leader)

Mark Martin, the longtime embodiment of the #6 car in NASCAR lore, is in the midst of what may be his final season in Nextel Cup competition. A veteran of the Grand National/Winston/Nextel Cup since 1981, Martin has come to represent the best principles that auto racing strives to represent: sportsmanship, integrity, and good, clean racing from a true auto racer. Despite being one of NASCAR’s elder statesmen on the Nextel Cup tour in 2005, Mark Martin once again finds himself in contention for the points championship, a position he has been in many times before. With only a month and a half left before the Chase, Mark will seek to continue his consistently good season at Pocono, and do what he has done so often there; finish very, very well.

Analysis: Mark’s week has been very smooth, from a statistical perspective. He hasn’t led the field in any one practice, but he has consistently ranked in the highest group during every single session, which has become Tony Stewart’s strategy for success over the last month. In fact, only one driver has been as consistent as Martin has: Ryan Newman. Looking through the numbers, you’d find typical Martin performances – his 164.887 average speed in the first practice put him at just over a half second behind the leader, Ryan Newman. He was good enough for sixth quickest on the day. In his qualifying run, however, Martin was .042 quicker than Newman, and was only .12 seconds off the pace of pole sitter Jamie McMurray. His third starting position will not only lend him a great chance to make some moves early on in the race, but will help give him a better chance of getting out into clean air, a luxury that the cars chasing him will not have. And in the final practice, Happy Hour, Martin once again logged the sixth best run of the day, clocking in with a top lap time of 54.535 seconds, a mere three tenths off the leader’s pace.

Looking at the numbers, it would seem to indicate that Martin falls off a bit under race conditions. This is not uncommon to see at Pocono (or anywhere else), though. Mark’s speeds are still exceptional for the track, and will help provide him with a tremendous opportunity to get out in front of the field early. Even amidst rumors that Martin will be asked by Jack Roush to return for the 2006 Nextel Cup Season, Martin seems to be taking everything in stride, racing like he always does. And if Sunday’s Pennsylvania 500 is just like any other Pocono race for Martin, then the rest of the field may be in trouble. Discounting the engine failure that ruined a great starting position in last year’s Pocono 500, Martin has ran in the Top Five the last two times out in Long Pond. In fact, had it not been for a failed Green/White/Checker attempt at the Pocono 500 in June, Martin may have notched his first win of 2005. Martin was one of the strongest cars, and was gaining ground on race leader (and eventual winner) Carl Edwards every lap until the end of the race came about.

When push comes to shove, Mark knows how to drive. There are very few instances such as last week at New Hampshire, when Martin makes a critical error that could jeopardize his chances to run well. Because of this, Mark is very proficient and identifying and avoiding trouble spots on the race track. So long as he stays up front, and out of the clustered pack, Mark will be very hard to keep down. While pit strategy may rule the day in the end, there are few drivers who can prolong their tires quite like Mark can. In short, Martin is one of your best bests when choosing a winner this week. Count on the Viagra Ford to be in the big picture at race’s end.

Race Prognosis: Excellent

Track Profile: Pocono
Classification: Superspeedway (2.5 Mile Length – Tied 2nd Overall [Talladega – 1st] )
Banking: 14 Degrees, Turn 1 / 8 Degrees, Turn 2 / 6 Degrees, Turn 3
Date Opened: 1968
First NASCAR Race: 1974
First Pennsylvania 500: 1975 (Winner – David Pearson)
Shape: Tri-Oval
Most Resembles: None.

Pocono Raceway is, perhaps, the most recognizable track on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Schedule. With an insanely long front stretch and three turns in place of the customary four, the racetrack is nestled in the heart of the Pocono Mountains (hence its name). Much like Michigan International Speedway and many other tracks in its day, Pocono fell on hard times early into its existence, and was nearly forced into bankruptcy as a result. Some well timed advice from Int’l Speedway Corporation chairman Bill France Sr. steered them away from the seller’s market; however, and the raceway survived to become the entity in which we recognize it today.

Pocono, despite its size, is more often the “forgotten” member of an elite trinity in NASCAR history. Until the inclusion of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the schedule, Pocono was almost in a class by itself, only looking up to Daytona and Talladega, the largest track in NASCAR. The raceway holds several distinctions that have prevented it from becoming clones of its Southern counterparts. Pocono has little banking at any one point on the track and tighter corners, which requires more break use than at Daytona or Talladega. Cars can draft at Pocono, but with no restrictor plates used, you rarely see the three or four abreast racing for long periods at a time. More common are the “snakes”, or long snaking lines of cars down the front stretch. Having said that, passing is not too difficult at the track, so long as you know when and where to do so. Rumble strips marking the corners at Pocono have been thought to help speed up tire degradation, and with turns at the track already narrow, passing in the corners is a risky proposition.

Executives at the speedway began a massive renovation program at the track beginning in 1990. Today, the track’s “triangle” shape is representative of its location in the United States. Although the actual racetrack is situated in the rural Pocono Mountains of Northern Pennsylvania, the track sits ninety miles from New York City and Philadelphia, as well as being within a 200 mile radius of 60 Million people making it one of the most accessible tracks in NASCAR. There are currently two Nextel Cup races held at the venue: the Pocono 500 in June, and the Pennsylvania 500 in July/August.

Race #20 of 36: Pennsylvania 500
Date: Sunday, July 24th, 2005 from Long Pond, Pennsylvania
Time: 1:30 PM (EST) on TNT
Pole Sitter: Jamie McMurray (168.760 MPH)
Distance: 2.5 Miles (200 Laps – 500 Miles)
2004 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
Busch Race Winner: Jeff Green (Pikes Peak – Colorado Springs, Colorado)

In case you’ve missed it the last few paragraphs, we’re closing in on the 2005 Chase for the Nextel Cup, and the Pennsylvania 500 will go a long way to helping weed out some of the hopefuls. Right now, only ten drivers are eligible to make the Chase, though a poor finish by one of the points leaders can help erase that contingency in a hurry. Of all the drivers entering the race on Sunday, Tony Stewart is by far the one with the most momentum, having won three of four races now. With a sixth place qualifying effort, Stewart has once again placed himself in a prime position to contend for an incredible fourth win in five tries.

On the other hand, there are other Chase hopefuls that want to establish themselves as prime contenders, as well. Mark Martin, fresh off a great run here in June, will look to continue his good test and qualifying runs with another top five finish at Pocono. Rookie teammate Carl Edwards also looks to continue his good luck streak at Pocono; despite finishing poorly over the last few weeks, Carl scored his most recent Nextel Cup win at Pocono in June. He would very much like to sweep ala Jimmie Johnson, who’s looking to score another great finish to solidify himself as the man to beat come Chase time.

Pit strategy, fuel mileage, and tire wear will probably figure into the decision somehow, though the winner of this race will be the one to stay out of trouble. Though the “big one” is a mystery to most Pocono races, drivers run out of room fast from the time they enter Turn 1 to the time they exit. With such a wide-open front stretch, you’ll likely see several contenders get caught up in the bottlenecked traffic that has come to define Pocono Raceway over the years. In the end, whoever keeps his grill clean will find victory.

Predicted Top Five
1. Mark Martin
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Ryan Newman
4. Elliott Sadler
5. Tony Stewart

Bud Pole Qualifying Results from Pocono
01. #42 Jamie McMurray – Texaco Havoline Dodge (168.760 MPH)
02. #97 Kurt Busch – IRWIN Industrial Tools Ford (168.533 MPH)
03. #6 Mark Martin – Viagra Ford (168.382 MPH)
04. #12 Ryan Newman – Mobil 1/Speedpass Dodge (168.249 MPH)
05. #21 Ricky Rudd – Motorcraft Genuine Parts Ford (167.857 MPH)
06. #20 Tony Stewart – The Home Depot Chevrolet (167.532 MPH)
07. #16 Greg Biffle – Post-it/National Guard Ford (167.230 MPH)
08. #25 Brian Vickers – GMAC/ditech.com Chevrolet (167.230 MPH)
09. #48 Jimmie Johnson – Lowe’s Chevrolet (167.072 MPH)
10. #29 Kevin Harvick – GM Goodwrench Chevrolet (167.072 MPH)

11. #22 Scott Wimmer – Caterpillar Dodge (166.911 MPH)
12. #49 Ken Schrader – Schwan’s Home Service Dodge (166.713 MPH)
13. #2 Rusty Wallace – Miller Lite Dodge (166.583 MPH)
14. #01 Joe Nemechek – U.S. Army Chevrolet (166.472 MPH)
15. #9 Kasey Kahne – Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge (166.217 MPH)
16. #19 Jeremy Mayfield – Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge (166.196 MPH)
17. #31 Jeff Burton – Cingular Wireless Chevrolet (165.978 MPH)
18. #10 Scott Riggs – Valvoline Chevrolet (165.951 MPH)
19. #11 Jason Leffler – FedEx Ground Chevrolet (165.853 MPH)
20. #88 Dale Jarrett – UPS Ford (165.801 MPH)

21. #24 Jeff Gordon – DuPont Chevrolet (165.752 MPH)
22. #07 Dave Blaney – Jack Daniel’s Chevrolet (165.673 MPH)
23. #18 Bobby Labonte – Interstate Batteries Chevrolet (165.602 MPH)
24. #15 Michael Waltrip – NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet (165.229 MPH)
25. #40 Sterling Marlin – Coors Light Dodge (165.074 MPH)
26. #43 Jeff Green – Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge (164.953 MPH)
27. #32 Bobby Hamilton Jr. – Tide Chevrolet (164.772 MPH)
28. #5 Kyle Busch – Kellogg’s Chevrolet (164.699 MPH)
29. #7 Robby Gordon – Jim Beam Chevrolet (164.699 MPH)
30. #17 Matt Kenseth – DeWalt Power Tools Ford (164.501 MPH)

31. #4 Mike Wallace – Lucas/Wide Open Energy Drink Chevrolet (164.072 MPH)
32. #66 Mike Garvey – Peak Fitness Ford (164.060 MPH)
33. #45 Kyle Petty – Chick-Fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride Dodge (163.773 MPH)
34. #0 Mike Bliss – NetZero Best Buy Chevrolet (163.464 MPH)
35. #13 Greg Sacks – Sacks Motorsports Dodge (163.449 MPH)
36. #34 P.J. Jones – Mach One Inc. Chevrolet (163.366 MPH)
37. #37 Kevin Lepage – BoSPOKER.net Dodge (163.245 MPH)
38. #8 Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Budweiser Chevrolet (162.528 MPH)
39. #38 Elliott Sadler – M&M’s Ford (161.705 MPH)
40. #77 Travis Kvapil – Kodak/Jasper Engines Dodge (160.809 MPH)
41. #99 Bobby Gerhart – Office Depot Ford (159.388 MPH)
42. #41 Casey Mears – Target Dodge (148.790 MPH)
43. #27 Kirk Shelmerdine – LR Lyons & Son/Salem RV Ford (163.180 MPH)

Inside Pulse’s Official NASCAR Power Rankings [07/17 – 07/24]
01. Tony Stewart
He calls himself fat. Everyone else calls him phat. I call him… the winner at New Hampshire.

02. Greg Biffle
The Miracle on Wheels continues for Biffle and Co.

03. Rusty Wallace
Krusty Rusty is actually looking like a contender! No kidding!

04. Kurt Busch
Wee, Kurt! You rocked in Boogie Nights! Oh, sorry, that was Mark’s tally-whacker, my bad.

Ahem …

Well, that wasn’t gay or … gay in the least! Eh… never mind.

05. Jimmie Johnson
J.J. is as guaranteed in the Chase for the Cup as a shitty burger from McDonald’s.

06. Kyle Busch
In all seriousness, it’s impossible to be serious when talking about the Busch brothers.

07. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
June Bug prospers in July. In other news, hockey is reborn in the middle of summer.

08. Jeremy Mayfield
Making the Steve Miller Band popular again, one day at a time.

09. Matt Kenseth
And, if we move to exhibit B, your honor, it becomes obvious that Kenseth decided to put a good spin on the 2005 Season by spinning McMurray.

10. Bobby Labonte
With nothing better to do, Labonte brought his hot wheels to New Hampshire.

Inside Pulse’s Official NASCAR Bottom Rankings [07/17 – 07/24]
01. Jeff Gordon
Troubled at the thought of missing the Chase for the Cup, Gordon has pledged his allegiance to the Chicago White Sox, only to learn they’re cursed, too.

02. Casey Mears
Casey Mears is a lot like the Disco Inferno of WCW Fame: he points his finger a lot, and can’t stop sucking.

03. Jason Leffler
He doesn’t even have to race to get into this list.

04. Kasey Kahne
Richmond? Good! Everything since? Bah…

05. Elliott Sadler
When I said he lost his rear end, I meant he lost the rear end of his car, guys.

06. Shane Hmiel
Do you know what they call Shane Hmiel in French? They call him “Le Idiot”. Idiot!

07. Michael Waltrip
Poor Michael. First the split from DEI, then being delegated to Ken Schrader’s sparring partner on track?

08. Kevin Harvick
So much for that Busch Series win at Chicagoland. Harvick has been persona non grata since then.

09. Dale Jarrett
We’re still waiting on you to drive the truck, damnit!

10. Jamie McMurray
My pool water is green, much like McMurray’s face was in Loudon when he realized that Kenseth would be his partner next year.

This is a feature that I’ve been working on for awhile now, as you all know. I was planning on adding this in with Know Your NASCAR, but the questions that I was coming up with really deserved their own little section. From now on, readers are welcomed to (and encouraged to) send your questions in, and I’ll answer any and all of them that I get, so long as I don’t run out of questions to answer. This week, we’re breaking from the norm and answering some questions about the Chase for the Nextel Cup, and revisiting an old question from way back when to boot.

Q: If the “Chase for the Cup” is supposed to be the biggest races of the year, then why are some of the Chase races run at less popular tracks like New Hampshire, Kansas and Homestead?
A: The Chase for the Nextel Cup is very much in its infant stages, and so you’ll likely see a variety of changes in the format (and potential track sites) over the next few years. Having said that, it’s my opinion that, if the Chase is going to represent the ten (or more) best drivers in a season, then they should be showcased on the biggest stages of the sport. Unfortunately, this is where tradition actually impedes the sport’s ability to provide the best races for the Chase. No track has more than two races, and it’s hard to wrestle a date from a promoter who runs a track like Kansas, that only has one race. While Talladega, Charlotte, and now Texas hold Chase races, historically reach places like Daytona, Pocono, Bristol and Martinsville do not.

If the Chase is really going to represent the best that NASCAR has to offer, then they should run ten races, divided in this way: two races at short tracks (Bristol, and Martinsville or Richmond), two mile tracks (Dover, Phoenix), two 1.5 mile Quad-Ovals (Charlotte, and Texas or Atlanta), two Superspeedway venues (Daytona, Talladega, California, Michigan, Pocono, Indianapolis) and then the two road courses, Infineon and Watkins Glen. Alternate the ten races every year, so that you can break up the monotony of having the same races every year, and then shake up the Nextel Cup Schedule as a whole. Keep three dates sound every year to hold with tradition: the Daytona 500 in February, the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend, and the Southern 500 on Labor Day Weekend. After that, do something different, like throwing in Talladega in August, and Bristol in May. Once you destroy the normal, then you can reel in the viewers, hook, line, and sinker. It’s not rocket science, kids.

Q: Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. make the Chase?
A: This has been a season that most Junior fans would like to forget. The 2005 Nextel Cup Campaign has been a disastrous one for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Tire failures, crashes, poor qualifying runs, and letdown after letdown have landed the media stalwart far out of the 400-point cutoff line in the overall points standings. Of all the major stars in NASCAR, Junior’s struggles have been the most prolific due to his popularity and the standards that he’s set for himself. For Helton and the NASCAR executives, Junior failing to qualify for the Chase is a fear that David Stern had (and saw realized) with the Lakers not making the NBA Playoffs this past year. Will it affect my enjoyment, or others’ enjoyment of the Chase for the Cup? Depends on who you ask, really. The fact is, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in serious trouble of not making the dance, and here’s why.

Dale has also struggled at three tracks this year in particular that are rapidly approaching: Pocono and California (where he suffered degrading tire failure), and Michigan, where he just cannot run well. With so many hurdles to clear, and so little time left, it’s almost impossible to imagine Junior making up enough ground to enter the Chase from the position he was in three weeks ago. Thankfully for Junior fans, a great run at Daytona, followed by a win at Chicagoland and a solid, if unspectacular run at New Hampshire, Dale is riding a wave of momentum that may carry him far enough.. Can he make it into the Chase? Yes, but it’ll take an incredibly consistent stretch of races without one single mess-up.

Q: Will Jeff Gordon make the Chase?
A: Gordo actually finished well enough at Daytona to get within 400 points of the leaders in the points standings, propelling him into a tenuous spot in the Chase field. Unfortunately for Gordon fans, he has struggled over the past few weeks, this despite a strong start with a Daytona 500 win. Luckily for the Du Pont Chevrolet representative, he’s about to patron a series of tracks that have been very kind to him in the past. Gordon has won at Bristol, Indianapolis, and Watkins Glen, and has run consistently well at places like California and Michigan. Unlike Junior, Gordon is reaching a stretch on the Cup schedule that he races very well. As long as Gordon can avoid accidents ala Richmond and Charlotte, and manage to finish the race, he’s going to have a fighting chance. The question, though, is will he. I’ll let you know after Pocono, but Gordon (like Earnhardt Jr.) is walking a tightrope.

Q: Will Matt Kenseth make the Chase?
A: Some people may think that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having the most disappointing season of all in 2005. I beg to differ, because as popular as Earnhardt Jr. is, he still hasn’t won the Winston/Nextel Cup yet. Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 DeWalt Power Tools Ford has. The 2003 Winston Cup Champion surprised a lot of people by not faring any better than he did in the inaugural Chase for the Cup last year after… well, mucking up at Dover by running into the tire barrier entering pit road. Some people, myself included, tend to argue that Kenseth hasn’t been the same since his Dover troubles, and the statistics tend to agree. In 2005, Kenseth has only logged four top ten finishes (as of New Hampshire), with his best finish coming at Michigan, where he finished fourth. This stands out more for Kenseth than it does for Junior for one specific reason: Junior resembles a Jimmie Johnson type racer, who is a contender to win every time out it seems, whereas Kenseth is the model of consistency.

Over the past five years or so, Matt Kenseth is probably the only Cup Champion that has been under the radar when it comes to favorites to win a given race. In 2003, Kenseth won his only race of the season at Las Vegas. The next week, he’d finish fourth at Atlanta to assume the points lead. Despite not winning another race that year, Kenseth never lost that points lead again. It was his consistent Top Fives and Top Tens that won him a championship, and that consistency is just not there in 2005. Even though he sits 19th in Points, Kenseth averages both a 20th place qualifying run and race finish so far this season, which is a cancer to a driver who thrives on consistency for success. On a somewhat brighter note, Kenseth has been improving in the points standings ever since Pocono. Despite this, he’s been up and down all season, and one just can’t find enough conviction to really believe that Kenseth will turn it around for good. Much like Kasey Kahne, he’s simply too far out of contention to make up enough ground in time. Looks like another bad break for Kenseth. He’s out.

Q: Will Michael Waltrip make the Chase?
A: Of all the drivers that you try to scout when doing something like this, a guy like Michael Waltrip is the most frustrating to try and predict. Mikey is a restrictor plate racer; there’s just no getting around it. He has been for four years now, and he always will be. Aside from Charlotte, Waltrip has not been particularly strong at any one track over his career, which is usually what eliminates him from contention when push comes to shove. This was really brought to light last year, where DEI’s junk cars were pushed onto the NAPA Chevrolet team. His performance deteriorated as a result, though nine top-ten finishes were highlights. This year, though, Waltrip has a new lease on his career and relationship with Dale Earnhardt Inc. Tony Eury Sr. (and Jr. for that matter) has come on board the #15 Crew, replacing Pete Rondeau, who in turn had replaced longtime Waltrip crew chief Slugger Labbe midway through 2004. Rondeau moved over to the Earnhardt Jr. team, and was promptly replaced when Junior forgot how to run.

Waltrip is sitting in 19th Place in the points standings, and has seen his recent good luck streak come to an abrupt end by a disastrous Daytona run last week, followed by a terrible run at Chicagoland and a decidedly mediocre run at Loudon. In all honesty, I’m not sure what will lead to Michael’s downfall this year; his drop off in performance historically, or the escalating tension between DEI’s drivers. Well, if the latter is the case, then we know how much longer that will go on.

Seriously, though, Waltrip is in one of those up and down seasons again. He has seven Top 10 runs so far, complemented by a 2nd place run at Phoenix (damn you, Kurt Busch). Nevertheless, he still only averages a 19th place finish, and what’s more, Waltrip has seemingly struggled to break out of his stalemate in points. After rising in the standings dramatically with his streak of Top Fives and Tens, Waltrip has failed to break through to the Chase cutoff yet, and he’s running out of time to do so. Looking ahead for Waltrip, you have another mixed bag of sorts. Waltrip has run well at places like New Hampshire in the past, but he’s also had terrible luck there as well (remember his 2003 run where he was leading near the end, but got penalized on pit road and finished out of the Top 20 as a result). He logged a fifth place finish at Pocono, a seventh place finish at Michigan, and a ninth place finish at Richmond, all of which are in the final stretch to the Chase. On the flip side, Michael had a disastrous race at California in February, which to be fair was due to engine failure. He’s also fared no better than 16th at Indianapolis since 2000, and his road course racing skills have been suspect for years. It’s almost too close to call, because a lot will be determined by his run today in Chicago. If he has another finish like he did at Infineon or Daytona, Waltrip is pretty much a long shot to make it. If he rebounds and scores another Top 10 finish, he may be able to make a dent in the points standings. But at 19th in the standings, with only seven races left… Waltrip, barring no less than a win and three top five finishes, is out.

Q: Who should be the favorite heading into the Chase? Stewart, Biffle, or Johnson?
A: Well, that’s the $64,000 question nowadays, isn’t it? To be honest, I would feel fairly safe in putting my money on either of the three, simply because of the seasons these guys have had. On the one hand, you’ve got Greg Biffle, a guy that has dominated five of the first 19 races so thoroughly, most people just wrote off this year’s Chase as an automatic win for Biffle. On the other hand, Tony Stewart has won three of the previous four races, at a point where it’s do or die. The fact that he’s won on such different tracks should not be ignored, either; he’s just a Bristol away for knocking out just about every kind of track there is to race on in the Nextel Cup. Momentum is everything in NASCAR; if you have it like Stewart does, then you’re golden. If you don’t, like Gordon, then every little thing that can go wrong, will go wrong. Then again, Jimmie Johnson has seemingly put himself in contention in every single race, and has managed to thwart mid-season pushes by both Biffle and Stewart to retain the overall points lead.

In the end, you may have to eliminate some of the pretenders from the contenders by looking at their past records. Biffle, for all intensive purposes, is in the midst of his breakout year. Unfortunately, Biffle’s season has also been marred by several bad finishes that seem to populate his schedule in between wins. And Stewart, though he’s come on lately, did suffer a long success drought early on this year. Johnson, though he has fallen off since the disastrous Infineon debacle, went absolutely nuts in last year’s Chase for the Cup (somehow managing to finish second to Kurt Busch, despite winning three races in a row at one point). If you have to choose, stay cautious with your money and select Johnson. But you likely wont go wrong with Stewart or Biffle, either.

Q: Will Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin return next year in the Nextel Cup Series?
A: Well, I’m not entirely sure that either Martin or Wallace will retire completely. Martin made it very clear that he would be active in the Craftsman Truck Series, while Rusty maintains a Busch Series team that may move up to Cup in 2006. And while I do believe that both will make the occasional start at places like Daytona and Indianapolis, the only ones that can tell you whether or not they’re returning is them two. Wallace had rumored to others that he was considering coming back for one more year, while Martin said he’d return if Jack Roush needed him to. With Biffle, Busch, and Kenseth in the stable, you’d think they would be able to make do. Nevertheless, if Martin and Wallace remain in contention, however unlikely it may be, until the end of the Chase, then maybe they will come back. Martin seems like too proud a man to backtrack on his word; if he says he wants to retire, than he probably will. Wallace, on the other hand, I don’t know.

Q: Should the FOX Broadcast team have the right to broadcast half of the Chase?
A: Absolutely, under the condition that they would compensate NBC for five races from their original half of the schedule. I was actually shocked to learn that most TV analysts preferred the NBC Crew, which I can barely stand outside of Benny Parsons. Perhaps its because the NBC Crew is far less… Southern than their FOX counterparts. Having said that, the NASCAR on FOX guys are infinitely more fun on race days, and Larry Mac and D.W. are personal favorites of mine from way back when, so I’m probably jaded. What’s unfair about the situation, is that while FOX gets the Daytona 500 every other year and the Coca-Cola 600, NBC gets the entire Chase, along with the Indianapolis race AND the Daytona 500 every other year as well. A little unfair, to say the least, but easily correctable by letting NBC take over after the Coke 600, then giving FOX races #2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 in the Chase. Let NBC have the rest, then alternate that setup every year.

Q: Given the talent of drivers currently in the field for the Chase, can Kurt Busch repeat as Champion?
A: The whole point of the Chase to begin with is to help regroup all the major contenders, so that you could get a more exciting conclusion to the Cup Season. As a rule, it gives the person who starts off the strongest in the Chase a clear-cut advantage, which was proven as a fact by Kurt Busch last year. He ran incredibly well at Loudon, and has been climbing in the standings for weeks now. While I wouldn’t call him the favorite in this year’s field, it is by no means written in the good book of Life that Kurt Busch cannot repeat as the Champ. But he’s still a Cheese Doodle on the Food Pyramid.

Q: At what point will we know who will be in the Chase?
A: That depends entirely on how the leaders in the point standings run from now until Richmond in September. Remember, it’s 1st through 10th, and everyone within 400 points of the leader. If Johnson, Biffle, Stewart, and Busch run poorly a couple of times, then guys like Kenseth, Waltrip, Gordon, and Earnhardt Jr. will make up considerable ground. Last year, the last entrants into the Chase were not decided until the end of the last race (also Richmond). It was a race that solidified Martin, boosted Mayfield, and kept Kahne and Harvick out. With fifteen to go at Richmond, we will probably have our field for the Chase, but don’t take it to the bank just yet. There’s a lot of racing left before then.

Q: You sounded pretty enthused about Sunday’s race at New Hampshire. Have you had a change of heart?
A: Not really, because the same sentiments everyone was echoing before the race were proven true after it. New Hampshire is still a terrible place to pass, which puts the thrill into the chase, as opposed to the race. Unfortunately, you may not always have an exciting chase by race’s end, which kind of makes watching the thing an exercise in futility. That was the case this year, as Tony Stewart was clearly the class of the field, and it was obvious by the halfway point that no one had anything for him. What saved the New England 300 was good battles back in the pack, with Bobby Labonte, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth tangling at just the right points to keep the race from getting repetitively boring. That, and watching anyone make Kurt Busch look like a third-rate impostor behind the wheel is reason enough to put a smile on my face.

Q: Is the Chase for the Cup still a good idea?
A: This would be the question that was answered “way back when”. I also think that, with the way this season has played out, it only helped to prove my point, and the point that most advocates made, all along. So Junior and Gordon are in danger of missing the Chase. Big deal! The way these guys have raced this year, they don’t deserve to be in! It’s guys like Biffle, Stewart, Wallace, Martin, Johnson, and Busch that have gone out and earned their spots in the Chase. Just because Junior moves the merchandise and Gordon is the second coming of Richard Petty does not entitle them to a free pass, and anyone that thinks to the contrary is a giant hypocrite if they also believe that All-Star voting in the NBA or MLB is fair. People that think the Chase is flawed because Junior, Gordon, or Kenseth are not in the big dance are people of the mindset that the biggest stage deserves the biggest stars, as opposed to the most deserving one. Many people have crapped all over the NBA and Major League Baseball for this very practice, where guys like Manny Ramirez and Mike Piazza make the squad when there are clearly better players out there in their same position that deserved the start. Don’t even get me started on the NBA, where they’ve essentially fielded… well, maybe courted the same teams for five years now, only with some key players (ie Shaq) changing sides. The Chase works, and if you don’t like it, then feel free to watch Hockey this fall instead.

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2006

The Return of Lord Stanley’s Cup

The 2006 NHL Regular Season has come to a close. That means that the NHL Playoffs begin, and what a sweet ring that phrase has to it. The road to the Stanley Cup has begun, and sixteen teams of drastically varying backgrounds set out on April 21st, 2006 to attempt a run at hockey’s most prestigious championship.

Western Conference Playoffs

The Western Conference has become the breeding ground for what I like to call the “Bottom Seeders”, in a nod to the San Jose Sharks. The top four seeds – Detroit, Dallas, Calgary, Nashville – all have had a world of trouble during these Quarterfinal series. Colorado, Edmonton, San Jose, and Anaheim have all marched out of the gates strong, looking to make a statement to their higher-seeded opponents. Let’s throw out the seeds and play some hockey!

#1 Detroit Red Wings vs. #8 Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Wins 4-2

It could go down as one of the biggest upsets in recent memory. Steve Yzerman, the legendary Red Wing may have played his last game on Monday, as the Edmonton Oilers shocked the hockey world by defeating the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 in Edmonton to wrap up an improbable series win. Detroit won Game 1 in Detroit, but Edmonton followed with a pair of four-goal efforts against Detroit goaltender Manny Legace to take the next two games, including a double overtime thriller in Game 3. Detroit won’t hold either, evening up the series by cruising to a 4-2 win in Game 4. Edmonton went on the road to Detroit and took Game 5, setting up the climatic Game 6 – Detroit jumped out to a 2-0 lead heading into the third period, but Fernando Pisani brought the Oilers back with the first Edmonton goal of the game, then the equalizer with just over thirteen minutes left in the third. Johan Franzen puts Detroit back up 3-2 shortly thereafter, off assists from Daniel Cleary and Kirk Maltby. Ales Hemsky brings Edmonton back once more with a power play goal to knot the game up three-all. And then, it happened two minutes and forty seven seconds later – Sergei Samsonov managed to find Hemsky down low off a broken play, and a beautiful one timer finds the back of the net, past a diving Legace. Edmonton takes the series, and with it the knowledge that they’ve just knocked off the best statistical team in the NHL.

Game 1: Edmonton 2, Detroit 3 (2OT) (4.21.06 – Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan)
Game 2: Edmonton 4, Detroit 2 (4.23.06 – Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan
Game 3: Detroit 3, Edmonton 4 (2OT) (4.25.06 – Rexall Palace, Edmonton, Alberta
Game 4: Detroit 4, Edmonton 2 (4.27.06 – Rexall Palace, Edmonton, Alberta
Game 5: Edmonton 3, Detroit 2 (4.29.06 – Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan
Game 6: Detroit 3, Edmonton 4 (5.01.06 – Rexall Palace, Edmonton, Alberta)

#2 Dallas Stars vs. #7 Colorado Avalanche

Colorado Wins 4-1

Despite Stars captain Mike Modano’s courageous efforts, the Colorado Avalanche completed the second biggest upset of 2006, ousting the second-seeded Dallas Stars in five games. Jose Theodore logged three overtime wins in the series, which marked the tenth game that Theodore had played in for the Avalanche in the 2005-2006 season. Dallas seemed sluggish throughout the series. Theodore remained strong in the upset over Dallas, whose overtime play in Denver was less than stellar. Avalanche captain Joe Sakic logged three goals and four assists, while Andrew Brunette scored his third goal in the OT session of Game 5 to send Dallas packing. Colorado joins Edmonton and San Jose in the Conference Semifinals.

Game 1: Colorado 5, Dallas 2 (4.22.06 – American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas)
Game 2: Colorado 5, Dallas 4 (OT) (4.24.06 – American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas)
Game 3: Dallas 3, Colorado 4 (OT) (4.26.06 – Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado)

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