The countdown to the opening night of racing season at the Bullring is officially under way. Thanks to the work of our blog art director (who wishes to remain anonymous), we have installed a running clock that lets you know how many dours, hours, minutes and seconds until 5:30 p.m. April 4. Check it out at the right.
Is there really that big of an advantage to starting on the pole at a short track like we have at the Bullring?
That depends on how you define success:
– Last week in this space I illustrated how few pole-sitters have actually won races. The count is now three out of 23 this season, two victories coming from Mark Burgtorf in late models and one from Robbie Reed in modifieds. That’s a 13 percent success rate.
– Eight winners have come from the front row, including five of six in the late model series.
– Only seven pole-sitters have finished outside the top 10.
– Concerning those drivers who have won features this season, 15 of the 23 have started no farther back than fourth — or the second row. That’s 65 percent of the winners coming from the first two rows.
Obviously, a good starting position has its merit. Exactly to what degree is up for debate.
Here’s where this year’s feature winners have started the race:
April 12: Mark Burgtorf, 2nd
April 23: Mark burgtorf, 3rd
April 26: Keith Pratt, 2nd
May 3: Jason Frankel, 2nd
May 10: Mark Burgtorf, 1st
May 17: Mark Burgtorf, 1st
April 12: Michael Long, 6th
April 26: Michael Long, 10th
May 3: Robbie Reed, 1st
May 10: Michael Long, 10th
May 17: Steven DeLonjay, 3rd
April 12: Jeff Mueller, 8th
April 23: Kevin Tomlinson, 4th
April 26: Kevin Tomlinson, 7th
May 3: Abe Huls, 5th
May 10: Andrew Griffin, 4th
May 17: Chris Larson, 5th
April 12: James Leffew, 2nd
April 23: Jim Powell, 2nd
April 26: Jim Powell, 4th
May 3: Jim Powell, 8th
May 10: Wes Mayfield, 4th
May 17: James Leffew, 4th
Here’s an updated breakdown on how the pole-sitters have fared:
April 12: Jerry Weisenberger (finished 4th)
April 23: Terry Schlipman (finished 6th)
April 26: Matt Bailey (finished 2nd)
May 3: Ron Elbe (finished 5th)
May 10: Mark Burgtorf (WON)
May 17: Mark Burgtorf (WON)
April 12: C.J. Ostrander (finished 17th)
April 26: Shawn Deering (finished 9th)
May 3: Robbie Reed (WON)
May 10: Ben Huff (finished 20th)
May 17: Ryan Meyer (finished 4th)
April 12: Steve Steinkuhler (finished 4th)
April 23: Terry Houston (finihed 3rd)
April 26: Andrew Griffin (finished 11th)
May 3: Jeremy Buss (finished 7th)
May 10: Jerry Jansen (finished 9th)
May 17: Jerry Jansen (finished 4th)
April 12: Jim Powell (finished 10th)
April 23: Mike Wiley (finished 11th)
April 26: Travis Booher (finished 2nd)
May 3: Larry W. Powell (finished 2nd)
May 10: Nathan Anders (finished 13th)
May 17: Nathan Anders (finished 11th)
Drivers are awarded one point for each position they improve their original starting spot on the feature grid.
Late models: Lonnie Bailey 24, Justin Reed 24, Jason Frankel 17, Keith Pratt 16, Bill Genenbacher 11, Robby Warner 11, Ron Elbe 9.
Modifieds: Vance Wilson 30, Michael Long 23, Steven DeLonjay 21, Justin reed 17, Dave Wietholder 16.
Stock cars: Kevin Tomlinson 29, Abe Huls 22, Chris Wibbell 21, Jeff Mueller 20, Doug Huls 19.
Hobby stocks: Travis Booher 20, James Leffew 15, Jim Powell 15, Steve Carlin 14, Wes Mayfield 14.
Total: Mark Burgtorf 5, Lonnie Bailey 3, Joey Gower 3.
Features: Mark Burgtorf 4, two others with 1.
Heats: Jerry Weisenberger 2, many with 1.
Dashes: Ron Elbe 2, Joey Gower 2.
Total: Michael Long 8, Steven DeLonjay 3, Tony Dunker 3.
Features: Michael Long 3, Robbie Reed 1, Steven DeLonjay 1.
Heats: Michael Long 3, Tony Dunker 3, Ryan Meyer 2.
Dashes: Steven DeLonjay 2, three others with 1.
Total: Andrew Griffin 3, Kevin Tomlinson 3.
Features: Kevin Tomlinson 2, four others with 1.
Heats: Sarah Woodhurst 2, Levi Long 2, Andrew Griffin 2, Doug Huls 2.
Total: Jim Powell 4, Steve Carlin 3, Wes Mayfield 3, James Leffew 3.
Features: Jim Powell 3, James Leffew 2.
Heats: Steve Carlin 3, dam Scott 2, Wes Mayfield 2.
I looked at the calendar today and realized the Daytona 500 was roughly a month away. For any self-respecting race fan that's great news, especially after the last few months of this ecnomic mess.
It's been a difficult offseason for NASCAR with numerous teams folding, merging or selling out. This may have been little more than the tip of the iceberg. How many cars will we see fall by the wayside as the season progresses? The majority of the top 35 Sprint Cup teams still lack full sponsorships for the entire 36-race schedule, and we haven't even mentioned the Nationwide and truck series.
But, hey, let's leave the gloom and doom in the pits for awhile. We'll have to deal with it soon enough.
Today let's have some fun and rank the top 10 drivers for 2009 and the top 10 drivers who will likely disappoint:
2. KYLE BUSCH: He's only driver/team that can realistically unseat the 800-pound gorilla in the No. 48 car.
3. CARL EDWARDS: Edwards is THAT close to being recognized as an elite driver. All he needs is a championship asterisk by his name — but it's not coming this year.
4. DALE EARNHARDT JR.: He faded miserably late last season. He needs to prove himself once and for all, because there are no more excuses about not having the equipment or other resources. The "overrated" whispers in the pits are growing louder.
5. GREG BIFFLE: He has the uncanny knack of being in the right place at the wrong time and getting T-boned or sideswiped in the most unusual incidents. The man has no luck at all. If that ever changes, he could be a champion.
6. JEFF GORDON: If No. 24 stumbles out of the gate, look for crew chief Steve Letarte to get a pink slip. There is no earthly reason for Gordon not to have won a race last year. He's actually No. 3 on the Hendrick depth chart right now, and that's a crime.
7. DENNY HAMLIN: Hamlin is another driver plagued by poor performances from the rest of his team, but he's also a loudmouth who has to learn when to keep his yap shut. It's one thing to criticize your teammates behind closed doors, but it's quite another to air your dirty laundry on national television.
8. DAVID RAGAN: Here's my semi-sleeper of the year. Ragan and crew chief Jimmy Fennig have meshed very well and should maintain the momentum they built in 2008.
9. MARK MARTIN: His last hurrah. The nicest guy in NASCAR makes one final push for a championship with Hendrick resources behind him.
10. MATT KENSETH: We've seen this picture before. Slow start. Great second half. He'll make the Chase, even though you won't notice him until about August.
TOP 10 DISAPPOINTING DRIVERS
2. RYAN NEWMAN: Stewart's new teammate has an even lesser chance of succeeding. Long, long season for those two boys.
3. CLINT BOWYER: Great person, but his 15 minutes of fame might have come in 2007-08. He's ripe for a major tumble.
4. KEVIN HARVICK: "Happy" has been running a lot of people the wrong way in recent years. Both his on- and off-track demeanor have taken turns for the worse in recent years, and so has his performances. He (barely) qualified for the Chase in 2008, logging only seven top-five finishes.
5. MARTIN TRUEX JR.: DEI has merged with Ganassi, which means even more confusion will be surrounding this once-budding star.
6. KURT BUSCH: His career continues a downward spiral in the shadow of brother Kyle's success.
7. KASEY KAHNE: At one time, I thought he could be a Cup champion. I don't think that way anymore.
8. JEFF BURTON: Methinks Mr. Burton's career has started to reverse itself again. By the way, whatever happened to Ward Burton? I sure do miss his post-race interviews.
9. JOEY LOGANO: So much is expected of this rookie, it will be impossible for him to deliver.
10. BOBBY LABONTE: He's now with the No. 96 team and has no more chance of winning than he did with the Pettys.