The Frontstretch: The Big Six: STP 400 by Amy Henderson -- Sunday June 5, 2011

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The Big Six: STP 400

Amy Henderson · Sunday June 5, 2011

 

Who…gets my shoutout of the race?

It’s really only a matter of time now. Often when a team is just behind the curve and finds that certain something that makes them a threat, when the win does come, it can trigger a string of top finishes. That’s exactly where Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is sitting these days. A win eluded him by less than a gallon of fuel at Charlotte, and Earnhardt came up swinging at Kansas, getting stronger throughout the race, and even after spinning the car on his own on lap 152, made it clear that he was going to be a factor in the race. Earnhardt’s second-place run was his best finish since Martinsville and his career best at Kansas.

He’s finished outside the top 14 just twice this year, while in 2010 he finished in that group just 12 times…one more than he has already done this year. Earnhardt was also the top-finishing Hendrick Motorsports driver on Sunday, something he’s done four times this year. At Charlotte last week, Earnhardt expressed his desire to be relevant in today’s NASCAR…oh, yeah, he’s relevant. And it’s for his prowess on the track, not just his popularity.

What… was THAT?

By now fans have heard all about the altercation in the garage between team owner Richard Childress and driver Kyle Busch after a Camping World Truck Series race. After Childress driver Joey Coulter raced (and beat) Busch for fifth place in the race, Busch caught up with Coulter after the checkered flag and rammed the side of his truck. During the on-track battle, Coulter raced Busch cleanly, but did get loose under him, rubbing the No. 18 slightly, but unintentionally.

Perhaps Childress felt he was doing what NASCAR won’t in punishing Busch for his post-race actions. Busch is on probation for ramming another Childress-owned car after the checkered flag, yet NASCAR determined that Busch did not violate his probation. Huh? A guy is on probation for hitting a car intentionally after a race, goes out and hits another car intentionally after a race, and it’s all okay? For the second week in a row, that leaves a bitter question that should never have to be asked: what if Harvick had been the one going after another driver after a race? Would he not be in violation of his probation either? No matter the answer, there should never even be a question-but yet again, NASCAR’s non-action has left that question to be asked.

Where…did the polesitter wind up?

Kurt Busch was in form that hasn’t been seen from the No. 22 team since Daytona Speedweeks at Kansas, leading 152 laps and contending for the win till late on Sunday.

After a tumultuous couple of months that saw the No. 22 of Kurt Busch on a backwards skid down the points chart, Busch snared the pole at Kansas and looked to be a strong contender for the win early in the day. Busch’s Dodge would fade at the beginning of a run, but when the race wore on, he’d be right back at the top. The car was clearly among the class of the field, something which hasn’t happened for Busch in some time.

Unfortunately for the No. 22 team, the fuel filling system didn’t want to cooperate, and there was trouble getting fuel into the car on pit stops, costing Busch valuable track position that he then had to gain back. The issue may also have contributed to Busch running low on fuel late in the race. While the team knew they’d have to pit for fuel, Busch ran dry earlier than expected, and the car stalled exiting pit road, costing spot after spot as the field went by. Busch was able to rebound to ninth as others were also forced to pit, while teammate Brad Keselowski took his Dodge to Victory Lane.

When…will I be loved?

It was another tame race this week-cookie cutter tracks will often ensure that, but there was a villain. It wasn’t a driver getting hotheaded or even a crewman making a bad decision. In this case, it was Mother Nature who made things difficult for the race teams. The heat in Kansas was brutal, with the sun beating on the track surface all race long. Last week at Charlotte, temperatures inside the racecars approached 130 degrees, but the race ran into the night, where the track cooled off, keeping drivers and crews cooler.

This week there was no such relief from the relentless sun, and it definitely took its toll on the drivers. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was vocal about it on the radio before the race hit the halfway point, and both Earnhardt and race winner Brad Keselowski looked a bit worse for the wear on Sunday. It’s yet another reason that the sport is so difficult, and why winners win. But it wasn’t just drivers. There were several reports of fans needing medical assistance due to the extreme temperature as well, and that’s not good for anyone, or for the image of the sport. But it does beg the question…

Why…isn’t this a night race?

One of the newest improvements at Kansas Speedway is track lighting. So why on earth wasn’t this weekend’s race a Saturday night special? A night race would have been a better choice for the fans in attendance. Between the heat and air quality, lots of fans were forced to seek medical assistance, which most likely resulted in some of them not being able to watch the race they bought tickets for. Considering that tracks aren’t exactly breaking the record books on ticket sales, can they really afford for fans to miss the event or to possibly decide not to renew their tickets next year because they were miserable in the heat? Bottom line, better scheduling on the part of NASCAR and Kansas Speedway would have made the STP 400 a more enjoyable and safer race for the fans. And isn’t that the point?

How…is the Chase shaping up halfway through the regular season?

Nothing is set in stone, of course, but with 13 races left until the championship field is set, the picture is getting clearer. It’s probably safe to call the top 5 (leader Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch) virtual locks to make the cut. The picture is still cloudier for sixth through tenth (currently Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, and Ryan Newman). Among that group, only Kenseth has a points win (Kenseth has won twice this year), and Busch, Stewart, and Bowyer have just five top 5 finishes among them. Denny Hamlin in 11th and Greg Biffle in 12th aren’t safe yet either, as NASCAR made changes that will give those spots to the two drivers in 11th to 20th with the most wins. Right now that would mean Biffle being left out in favor of Jeff Gordon, who won at Phoenix. If Brad Keselowski can gain just one points position, it would put him in the Chase mix as well with his win at Kansas. Looking down the road to Richmond, the usual suspects appear to be in position to make a championship run…but a few surprises are waiting in the wings.

Contact Amy Henderson

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Bill S.
06/06/2011 10:50 AM
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Oh Amy, get off your high horse. Assault and battery is not praiseworthy, even from a hyporcrite like you. Joey Coulter cut Kyle off and caused Kyle to check up to avoid wrecking. Kyle bumped him gently (ramming?) on the cool down lap to say “I noticed that.” Coulter was fine with it. NASCAR was OK with both the on-track action of Coulter (which was only unintentional if you can read minds) and the routine off-track acknowledgment from Kyle. Childress lost his cool, as did all the rest of you Kyle-bashers.

Assault and battery is a significant crime in all states. Obviously, Kyle is not going to press charges, but he would be within his rights to do so. Maybe if you learned that hatred is a toxic emotion, you could be happier and be more effective at your job.

FS_Amy
06/06/2011 11:16 AM
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@ Bill S. Go back and reread that paragraph-I never said I believe Childress did the right thing-in fact, I think he should have handled the situation differently. My issue was with NASCAR raising questions about the probation situation…which indeed they do by not enforcing the probation. Childress should have demanded that NASCAR be the one to punish Busch. Coulter did nothing wrong (unless you count not just giving up a spot to Kyle as wrong, as Kyle clearly did). I didn’t read Coulter’s reaction as “okay with it” but that could be in interpretation; I wasn’t there to know if he was being sincere or sarcastic. Childress was clearly wrong, but so was Busch for hitting another car after the checkers-the same thing he’s already on probation for. Childress handled the situation badly, but that wasn’t the point of the piece. The point of the piece was that NASCAR should not raise questions about consistency of their policies…and two weeks running, they have.

Bill S.
06/06/2011 11:38 AM
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Amy, NASCAR DID in fact review the situation and found NO violation of probation during or after the truck race by Kyle. As Marty Smith said on Sports Center, that kind of love tap is routine – until it involves Kyle Busch and then all the holier-than-thou types take offense.

As for the race itself, the last I saw, Kyle had a clear lead on Joey and I wondered what had happened on the last lap. The answer: Joey pulled inside of Kyle and then cut him off trying to clear him. A rookie mistake or a purposeful desperation move to impress the boss? I guess it really did impress the old blowhard.

It may have been a judgment call on NASCAR’s part, but well within their autority since there was nothing unusual or aggravating about this non-incident.

(I also remember Carl Edwards putting his hands around Kevin Harvick’s neck while on probation. No consequences from NASCAR. Were you outraged at that?)

And my impression, no, scratch that, my certain knowledge, is that Kyle is on probation for hitting a driverless car on pit road. In fact, the penalty for both Harvick and Busch specifically mentioned “actions on pit road.” And I am also certain that Joey was still in the car on the cool-down lap.

Your bias is SO obvious you should be prohibited from even writing about Kyle. Why don’t you punch him out yourself and take the consequences instead of hiding behind your computer and writing inflammatory rhetoric here?

RamblinWreck
06/06/2011 12:49 PM
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Bill S.-
If passing a guy on the last lap for position without wrecking him is either a mistake or desperation, perhaps this isn’t your sport. I would define that as “racing.”

Bill S.
06/06/2011 01:32 PM
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Joey slid up in front of Kyle before clearing him, causing KB to check up to AVOID wrecking them both. Yes, it was just racing, but if Kyle had done that, it would be “dirty racing.”

Double standard in play, as always.

Joey said he thought Kyle was just “congratulating him” afterwards. Sarcasm, there. But also said he learned a lot from following Kyle. Only bad blood seemed to be on Dickie’s part.

RamblinWreck
06/06/2011 02:40 PM
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Kyle has done it before; I seem to remember a certain pass for the lead at Bristol last year. Nobody wrecked, and it was good racing. (Of course, the guy he passed didn’t take it kindly, so Kyle proceeded to dump him, but the initial pass wasn’t dirty.)

Don Mei
06/06/2011 03:03 PM
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Bill S., you said it all for me; thank you. I need to stock up on M&Ms
and write to Mars.

CincyLady
06/06/2011 03:07 PM
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The reason I quit reading Mirror Driving is the same reason I probably won’t read any of your articles again. While I like Frontstretch as well as any of the racing sites, your “ga-ga” attitude toward objective reporting, just turns me off.
I can handle the misinformation you spewed about the Kyle Busch/Joey Coulter affair, and there was no way what Busch did after the race could be considered ramming. I am not a Kyle Busch fan but I do admire how he can drive just about anything, and there are few who can do that. I think the incident was handled fine all the way around, and if Kyle has a problem with it take RC out behind the woodshed, eeerrr garage and finish the old guy off.
My problem lies with your unabashed hero worship of Dale Jr…Never has a young driver enjoyed so much fan adoration and done so little to deserve it. Your shout out goes to Jr, and how he is just knocking at the win category. How about the guy who won the race as while I’m not high on fuel mileage wins as racing, Jr was playing the same game, and Keselowski just played it better.
Dale Jr is in the best equipment; has gone through every CC at HMS except for Chad Knaus, (and if Knaus wants to prove to me he is the Svengali to the drivers at HMS and dispell the rumors, he should request Dale Jr for next year, but we all know that won’t happen), and receives what would be considered outrageous preferential treatment for anyone else, by Nascar, and he still has a winless streak going back how far? And that last win was, I believe, a fuel mileage win at MIS in Michigan, and again one where he was allowed to pass the pace car. I am sorry I am tired of reading racing sites which claim to be about one thing but are in effect odes to Dale Jr.

wcfan
06/06/2011 05:42 PM
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Amy
Its funny how you do not know what Joey was thinking but are certain what Kyle’s intent was.

If that would have been anyone but Rowdy, people would have thought he was saying GREAT JOB, but let Kyle rub somebody and its Bloody Murder.

For those who care I have been a RCR and Dale fan since 1986 and a Kyle fan since he left the FELON.

If nascar moved the Cup race to Sat. night what do they do to the NSS race?

 

Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Fans To Decide Format of Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
Earnhardt Out For Charlotte and Kansas After Talldega Concussion
Piquet, Jr. Wins K&N East Opener

Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.