The Frontstretch: The Big Six: Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen by Amy Henderson -- Tuesday August 16, 2011

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The Big Six: Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen

Amy Henderson · Tuesday August 16, 2011


Who…gets my shoutout of the race?

Martin Truex, Jr. didn’t make a lot of noise at Watkins Glen, but quietly posted a nice fifth-place finish to show for his effort.

He didn’t have the most spectacular race of the day, but Martin Truex, Jr. had arguably the quietest top 5 of the day. Truex rarely got mentioned during the race, but he had his No. 56 machine up front when it counted. While Truex might not have been on most people’s radar, he took on some that were, beating out Juan Pablo Montoya, A.J. Allmendinger, and Jeff Gordon, among others. Truex gained a points position as well, vaulting him over a struggling David Ragan. There haven’t been many bright spots for Truex this year, and the ones he’s had have been quiet, without a lot of notice-but there is no doubt that Truex was there on Monday. Just ask the 39 guys he beat.

What… was THAT?

It wasn’t a huge surprise to learn that, after an engine-building merger between Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota Racing Development, that a Gibbs car would be running a TRD engine before the year was out. The surprising part is that Denny Hamlin will apparently be the one running the TRD powerplant as soon as Michigan, and that Hamlin and his team requested the change because they reportedly aren’t happy with the current Gibbs engines they’re being given. Looking ahead to the Chase, Hamlin says that his team felt that they were likely to lose at least one race to engine failure. While the engines will be one and the same in the near future, it’s still a bit of a surprise to see Hamlin express such complete distrust for the equipment he’s being given. Then again, it was also a bit of a surprise to see Hamlin struggle so much this year after very nearly winning the 2010 title. Is Gibbs putting all of their proverbial eggs in one basket this year? Perhaps that’s why Hamlin’s basket has looked rock bottom empty in 2011.

Where…did the polesitter wind up?

After a dominating day, it was Kyle Busch’s own mistake on a green-white-checkered restart that cost him the win. Busch got a little too hot for just one corner, but that was all it took for both Brad Keselowski and race winner Marcos Ambrose to leave Busch third for his efforts. The finish was still enough to boost Busch into the points lead, which he’d have been handed after Richmond anyway. Still, landing the top spot a few weeks early might give his team the momentum they’re looking for heading to crunch time.

When…will I be loved?

Dumping the race leader is bad from a lap down while only a handful of laps into the race is bad form. Doing it from a lap down when you put yourself there by running over someone else is really bad form. But that’s exactly what Kurt Busch did in the very early laps, first spinning himself off of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s back bumper while trying to give Junior a shove, and then, when race leader A.J. Allmendinger got by him as he came off pit road, Busch punted Allmendinger in the bus stop. Allmendinger never saw the front of the field after that. It’s one thing to rough up the side of a car for a top-5 position with a couple of laps to go. Punting a guy before a quarter of the race is on the books because you didn’t like being lapped? That’s another thing, and not a very pretty one.

Why…do teams use road-course ringers in this day and age?

Even before Boris Said caused a nasty accident between series regulars, you have to wonder why some teams use road course specialists in today’s NASCAR. Ten years ago, a ringer might contend for a win, but now, Said was the best of the lot and couldn’t crack the top 20. Meanwhile, Dave Blaney sat at home so Ron Fellows could finish 30th in his No. 36, a position that Blaney could probably have secured for himself. Replacing Landon Cassil with Said may have paid off in the short term in the form of a handful of points at best, but what of the big picture? As the team grows and improves, they’re going to need to keep their regular driver in the seat if they become Chase contenders and then they’re in a corner with a driver with little road course experience as they’ve handed his seat away for the right turns. The only context in which a ringer makes sense is for teams fighting for 35th in points and the guaranteed starting spots that secures. However, today, that didn’t happen as the regulars hovering around the bubble (Casey Mears, Robby Gordon, Andy Lally) generally did better than the ringers close to them in points (Said, Fellows and Andrew Ranger). Perhaps it’s time to use the big picture when it comes to road racing, because the instant gratification of a ringer is a thing of the past.

How…is the back half of the Chase shaping up with just four races to go before the reset?

It was good news for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans as the dust cleared in Watkins Glen, and Earnhardt’s 14th-place finish solidified his position a bit. Earnhardt sits in ninth place on the chart, eleven markers ahead of tenth-place Tony Stewart and 38 ahead of Clint Bowyer in 11th. Earnhardt and Stewart are not out of the woods yet, but can take a deep breath heading into Michigan-solid runs there should put both drivers in great position for Bristol. The two wild card spots remain unchanged after the Glen-Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski still cling to those with Paul Menard breathing down their necks. David Ragan fell out of the top 20 after a miserable day at the Glen and will need to improve his points position drastically to contend. Marcos Ambrose, also out of the top 20 cutoff, is ahead of Ragan in points now, so Ragan, who was so close to a Chase berth a couple of weeks ago he could almost touch the trophy for the photo op, looks to be nearly out of contention entirely.

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08/16/2011 10:47 AM

Using a road-course ringer gets a low-budget team more exposure than sticking with their regular driver. ESPN interviewed Ron Fellows and Andy Ranger a couple of times, but probably wouldn’t have had much to say to Dave Blaney or… well, the #32 doesn’t really have a “regular” driver, does it?

Of course, keep in mind that two of the “regular” drivers you mentioned (Gordon, Lally) are better known for their road course abilities than their oval skills, and that perhaps hiring Fellows or Ranger for a one-race deal seemed like the best opportunity to take home just a few more points.

Years ago, ringers could contend for the win because without the top 35 rule, good teams with a not-good road course driver would hire them. Now that any team with any kind of budget is assured of making the race, the ringers who show up are hired to drive cars that are lucky to finish 4 laps down on an oval. Some (like Fellows) honorably do their best and bring the car home to the best finish possible, some (Said?) attempt to secure the team as many points as possible by destroying the competition (and no, this isn’t the first time he’s done that).

08/16/2011 03:56 PM

Boris was well…Boorish the last time @ the Glen …But this time …Not….Last lap incident was…A Last lap no give (i wouldn’t either) incident…


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.