Friday, August 16, 2013

The shiny gleam of newness: Five Questions for Michigan and Mid-Ohio

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Owen Kelly and AJ Allmendinger posted fast times Thursday at Mid-Ohio - Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Last week I got a new car. OK, so it wasn’t straight from the dealer new, but it’s new to me. A new car, a new job, a new opportunity is something we all enjoy. It’s shiny and with it comes the attitude and feeling that everything is going your way. It’s refreshing and rejuvenating.

This week in NASCAR has been about shiny new things that come with opportunity and the chance at recognition in a highly competitive industry. This weekend we head to a new track for the first time and with that comes the chance to show our sport to those who have never experienced the thrill of racing. FOX unveils FOXSports1 as a replacement for SPEED. Brian Vickers inked a deal to drive the No. 55 full time in 2014 and Austin Dillon was tapped to fill in for Tony Stewart at Michigan.

Here’s what’s on my mind..

Can Kasey Kahne and Joe Gibbs Racing play nice? Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne have tangled multiple times this season. Last weekend at Watkins Glen, Kenseth set off a chain reaction that saw Kahne and Dale Earnhardt  Jr. involved. After the race, Kahne took to Twitter expressing his annoyance with the JGR teams. During this week’s teleconference Kahne said of Kenseth, “He texted me, I don't know, five to eight times apologizing, trying to explain what happened, how he felt really bad about how it happened and all that stuff. I understand and I appreciate the texts. At the same time, we're trying to get in the Chase. It hurts when you get wiped out when you're minding your own business. It's happened enough this year that I don't know what I can do about it, but I definitely am not pleased. It's really annoying and upsetting.” Sounds like Kahne is ready to stop playing nice.

How will Austin Dillon handle the pressure of driving the No. 14? Dillon may have a big seat to fill this weekend as he plays relief driver for the injured Tony Stewart, but it’s doubtful Dillon will buckle under the pressure. He’s a champion in the Camping World Truck Series and won Rookie of the Year honors in both the Trucks and Nationwide Series. Some may write him off because of his lineage, but he’s an obvious choice to drive the No. 14 and it will be interesting to see what he can do with a championship-winning team behind him. Dillon isn’t going for a title in the Cup Series (though he may be within the next year or two) so the pressure should be minimal.

Can the hometown favorite finally find Victory Lane?  There’s no doubt Brad Keselowski is a winning driver; unfortunately his wins this season aren’t coming in the series where it matters the most. Heading into Michigan he’s near the bottom of the Chase qualifiers and has a goose egg in the wins column. It’s not the Keselowski we’ve seen the last two seasons, though everything could turn around this weekend. The second half of the season has been more consistent for the driver of the “Blue Deuce” and solid finishes at Pocono and Watkins Glen have his momentum on the upturn. A win in front of the hometown crowd is always a little sweeter, and let’s face it, MIS is home to the blue oval brigade.  

How will the transition from SPEED to FOXSports1 impact our racing this weekend? Hopefully not at all! Since the news was made public earlier this season, people have been up in arms about it. Can’t we just give FOXSports1 a chance before we call it an inferior product to SPEED? Will there be kinks? Without a doubt, but I for one am willing to overlook a few minor problems as long as I can still see quality racing on the track. We are lucky that our sport is televised as widely as it is and isn’t subject to blackouts like other major sports. Dish Network, Time Warner Cable and DirecTV customers can expect to see the newly branded network appear on their lineups this weekend with the launch on Saturday. (Check out our TV Schedule for all of this weekend’s racing action.)

Who will win at Mid-Ohio?  For the second straight weekend the Nationwide Series will be making both left and right hand turns. This weekend NASCAR makes its debut in Lexington, Ohio, at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a 2.258-mile road course. It’s no surprise that AJ Allmendinger was one of the fastest in Thursday’s practice sessions and given his win earlier in the year at Road America he’s worth watching this weekend. Other fast times included McDowell, Papis, Hornish, Piquet, Ambrose, Kligerman and Owen Kelly.

Kristen Schneider is on assignment this weeekend so I’m filling in for her. Don’t worry, she’ll be back next week with her perspective and maybe a few notes from Mid-Ohio. - Katy

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