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Storylines Heading to Loudon 

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Sunday 1pm TNT

This may be one of the weaker tracks on the schedule we have already had an interesting week for NASCAR in Loudon. There is quite a bit of drama heading into the weekend which is especially odd being that this track provides maybe less drama than any other on the circuit. Us fans have already gotten our money's worth. There are plenty of storylines to catch up on this week before we get into how to win money here so let’s get to them...

PS. Internet people I’m disappointed once again. In a world where every trade rumor in sports is immediately followed by a superimposed picture of whatever player rumored in a trade wearing the other teams uniform. Kevin Harvick has officially been announced as the driver of the 2014 #4 Budweiser car and I can’t find a single fake picture of it? Maybe I should learn how to do that myself but who has the time to learn something like that? The people that work for the internet are slacking. Let’s get it together fella’s.

First the roof flap fiasco at Daytona, where 16 Cup teams and 15 Nationwide teams had their roof flaps confiscated due to an illegal spacer that made the cars lighter. It was however determined that there was no competitive advantage to gain in a restrictor plate race so there were no penalties handed out.

Then we have 71 year old Morgan Shepherd. This weekend he will make his regular once a decade start in the Cup Series. He raced at 41, 51, 61, and now at 71 years old he will become the oldest driver to compete in a Cup race breaking Jim Fitzgerald's age record of 65 years old when he raced in a now defunct road course in California back in 1987. Shepherd has four career Cup wins and competes in the Nationwide Series semi regularly. Shepherd’s last Cup win was back in 1993 at Atlanta. His first Cup Series race was back in 1970, two years before it was the Winston Cup series, when NASCAR’s Cup Series was called the Grand National Series. In fact Greg Biffle the only driver inside the top 20 in points right now that was alive when Morgan Shepherd made his debut at Hickory Motor Speedway, a ½ mile short track in North Carolina. I even saw an interview with him in which he said the pair of boots he was wearing were over 20 years old, likely making his boots older than Joey Logano.

Morgan hasn’t been able to crack the top 35 in any of his four Nationwide starts this year but don’t think that is going to stop him from trying to drive the #52 machine to a record setting day. In all likelihood we won’t hear much from him after the drop of the green flag but in case you were wondering the current record for oldest driver to win a Cup race... Harry Grant won at Michigan at 52 years 7 months and 6 days old... so yah he could smash that record. For the record Mark Martin is also trying to break that as he is currently 54 years old.

The next big story to come out this week is the future of Stewart-Haas Racing. We knew Kevin Harvick was making the move from Richard Childress Racing to racing for good friend Tony Stewart. What we didn’t know were the details, now we do. Harvick will be driving the #4 Budweiser Chevy starting at Daytona in 2014. Unfortunately for Stewart’s current teammate Ryan Newman and the #39 machine is the odd man out. The SHR team has fallen behind the eightball, this year, getting these new Gen-6 cars tuned up right after making the switch to being a three car team, so making another quick move to a four car team just won’t work. Stewart said this about having to let Newman go...

“Unfortunately, this will be the last year we have Ryan. That’s probably what’s made this a bittersweet day. I’m bringing in another one of my friends to the organization, but I’m also... losing a friend at the end of the year to the organization.”

That leaves a big hole to fill in the RCR team that is becoming less competitive, especially now when Harvick leaves. I won’t get into free agent stuff yet, maybe later on today with another column. But possibilities for Newman would be to replace Harvick, join Michael Waltrip Racing which is going to have an opening to run the #55 full time. Newman could also find himself in the #78 Furniture Row car if Kurt Busch opts out. There also should be some seats open for smaller teams but I want to wish good luck to Newman and I hope he finds a full time ride he is too good of a driver to not.

Finally, maybe the biggest story of the week despite the Harvick move... Jimmie Johnson. As qualifying neared the #48 was struggling to pass initial inspection. They were put on a 5 minute clock to get their car in order and assume their position on the track. They managed to get past that first road block and went out and ran the fastest lap putting them on pole with several drivers remaining. However that high didn’t last very long when Brad Keselowski went out next and ran a quicker lap grabbing the pole from the #48. Johnson did however finish with the second fastest lap which would have put him on the front row at the drop of the green but then the #48 failed post qualifying inspection for having the front end too low to the ground. That means Jimmie Johnson and the #48 car will start in dead last, 43rd, at the drop of the green.

What does this really mean? Nothing... yet. Remember this is a race, that is only 301 miles, and on a flat track where track position is by far the most important thing, so starting 43rd is going to be awfully tough to come back from. Regardless of how his Sunday in Loudon ends he is going to have the points lead and at worst will be sitting just 10 Chase bonus points back of Kenseth, if he were to win. This will likely be just another speed bump in a rather crazy season for the #48. He probably should have won eight times already this year, and that’s not including the domination that could have ensued from him starting on the front row in Loudon, where he won three times prior. He’s been so good this year that I’m starting to think regardless who wins the championship this year we will end up remembering the #48 as being the best of 2013. That strategy worked for the Blackhawks, only time will tell with Jimmie but Vegas sure agrees. On SBG he is going off at +165 to win the Sprint Cup Championship, Bodog has him at +140 and BetUS has him at just +120. That’s silly. Maybe you're thinking to wait for after this weekend since he’s starting 43rd but would it really surprise you if Chad Knaus and that #48 crew find themselves in Victory Lane again this weekend? Me neither. Get in while the odds are still in your favor and not -150 or something, which they could be soon.

Check back later for the betting section of this weeks race preview and if I’m feeling good maybe a little 2014 free agency preview.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

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