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Monday, September 20, 2010

Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart both gamble, with mixed results

Anyone who’s ever played poker knows that every hand is a gamble. Just because you have a flush, you might not want to go all in, as the other guy might have a full house.

You have to calculate what risks are worth taking, and when it’s best to toss your hand, even if you think it might win.

Racing is no different, with a million decisions made every race that determines your fate. Both Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart stopped early and stayed out, setting up the always intriguing “will they run out of gas” moment at the end of the race.

Count me in the camp that though they would both run out. As I was watching them and thinking this, it turned out I was only half right. Stewart ran out, and Bowyer took advantage, getting to the finish somehow ahead of a charging Denny Hamlin.

So as you see, the gamble doesn’t always work out the same for two different players, even if they have the same cards. Stewart gambled and got destroyed in the process, tumbling to 11th in points and 124 points out of the lead. That’s not insurmountable, but it’s a bad way to get your Chase going.

Bowyer gambled, and he’s now the Cinderella of the Chase, hoping to improve on his surprise run in 2007, where he ended up 3rd in the standings come season’s end. Having jumped 10 spots in the standings to the No. 2 position, only 35 points behind Hamlin for the series points lead, Bowyer’s gamble paid off and now he has to prove he belongs up that high in the points.

Did they make the right move by gambling? I say yes. This is the Chase, and you have to win a couple races if you want to be champion. If you get into the mode of points racing and not taking any chances,

Just like Mark Dantonio’s gutsy call for a fake field goal in overtime earned Michigan State a win over Notre Dame Saturday night, Bowyer’s gutsy call to stay out got him the win, and other drivers are probably kicking themselves for not doing it too. Even Stewart made the move, in my opinion, though he would do a better job of conserving fuel if he had to do it all over again.

Great racing to start the Chase
New Hampshire has never been one of my favorite tracks, but it’s clear that the presence of the Chase has made it more interesting. All the contenders were bumping and banging, racing three-wide and going at it no-holds-barred all day, making for one of the better races I’ve ever seen at the track – all without anyone doing anything too stupid and wrecking the field. If this is any sign of how the Chase is going to go, I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.

Tune-up for Danica
At Dover, a notoriously tough track even for veteran drivers, Danica Patrick will race in the Nationwide series, and it could be ugly. To tune her up, it was announced this week that she will run the K&N Pro Series support race as a tune-up. Given her lack of stock car experience, this is a great idea, and something she should do more often if possible. If you don’t do something a lot, you’ll never master it, so the more races the better for Danica (who, by the way, had a really good finish in the Indycar race at Japan this weekend, something that must have made her feel good after a terrible year so far in both Indycar and NASCAR.)

Great to see Brad get the pole
While Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski will likely be your Nationwide champ this year, his Cup season has been rough and he sits 26th in points. So when I saw he had won the pole for Sunday’s race, I was happy to see it. The kid has a ton of talent and the ability to run well in Cup if the equipment is there.
He ended up finishing in 18th, but he was still on the lead lap at the end (something that’s not usually the case this year), and stayed out of trouble to get that decent finish. Showings like this point to a brighter future for Brad, who will drive the Blue Deuce next year for Penske.

#88 up front
No, your eyes did not deceive you. That was Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishing 4th on Sunday, and he actually looked happy after the race. Fun stat: His only other two top-5s in 2010 have come at Daytona in restrictor plate races. And there are only 3 other finishes between 6 and 10 … the last one prior to Sunday coming at New Hampshire in June. Needless to say, it’s been a rough year for Jr., and for once he doesn’t have to figure out what went wrong. When he wins again, and it will happen someday, I’m guessing it will be a pretty popular victory.

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