The Frontstretch: The Big Six: Questions Answered After the Good Sam Club 500 by Amy Henderson -- Monday October 24, 2011

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The Big Six: Questions Answered After the Good Sam Club 500

The Big Six · Amy Henderson · Monday October 24, 2011


Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered with each week with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five W’s and even the H…the Big Six

Who…gets my shoutout of the race?

After the chaos that is Talladega, a pair of shout-outs go out this week. One goes to Dave Blaney, who worked all day with Brad Keselowski, hanging back for much of the race only to close at the end and finish third. The finish was a career best for Blaney, who runs for a small-time team in Tommy Baldwin Racing. Speaking of the smaller teams, two others made some real noise at Talladega as Casey Mears and Landon Cassill raced at the front of the field all day until the late-race mess destroyed their hope for a great finish. These are three drivers fighting for the sponsorship just to race, and they showed this weekend that they can get it done when the playing field is truly level.

What… was THAT?

Notice how the Fords are missing? With the manufacturer’s new edict to draft only with the same nameplate, drafting partners for the Blue Oval brigade may soon be in short supply.

Really, Ford camp? Really? While the nature of racing at Talladega demands that drivers find a partner, by restricting the Ford drivers to pairing only with other Fords, the manufacturer could be setting themselves up for problems in the future. It’s hard to imagine drivers with other makes being willing to help someone who has been ordered not to help them if there is a choice to be made mid-race. That could potentially leave a Ford with race winning capabilities in the dust. Note to Ford: it’s all well and good when you have an even number of cars in the race. But such exclusivity could, in the long run, cost a win or even a championship. Be careful what you wish for.

Where…did the polesitter wind up?

To say it wasn’t Mark Martin’s best day is a small understatement. Martin took the pole with a blistering lap in qualifying and looked to be a factor in the race early, along with his dancing partner Jeff Gordon. But in the closing laps, Martin bobbled while racing in a large pack and turned down into the nose of Denny Hamlin, triggering the nastiest wreck of the day and ruining the chances of himself and all three of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates with the ensuing caution. Gone was any chance for the organization’s 200th win, as well as Hendrick’s last hopes for the championship this year. Despite getting some serious damage in the wreck he caused, Martin managed to finish 20th, ahead of all three of his teammates.

When…will I be loved?

There were a few drivers whose mistakes cost others, at least at the time. Robby Gordon, Brian Vickers, and Mark Martin all caused some issues, but really, is there anyone or anything to blame other than the nature of restrictor-plate racing? Talladega, even more than Daytona is a track where it doesn’t matter how good you are, because the race is based less on the skill of drivers and crews and more on blind luck. The real shame is that this track is still on the schedule.

I will say this: the two-car tandems make the racing much better. Yes, many teams still ride for much of the race in order to avoid trouble, but as long was there are plate races, this is going to occur because it’s smart racing. What the tandems do very well is to minimize the damage when the cars do get turned around-what were once huge multi-car pileups involving as many as 20 cars at a time are now generally much smaller, often involving only one or two cars. Yet race fans say they don’t like it. I don’t get that-it improves the racing in that there is a lot more passing throughout the field and the cars have more maneuverability. What’s not to like…unless you’re watching for the wrecks, of course.

Why…do age and treachery beat youth and enthusiasm?

The feel-good story of the weekend unfolded on Saturday as a pair with a combined age of 106 dominated the Camping World Truck Series race almost from start to finish. At one point, the tandem of Mike Wallace and Ron Hornaday, Jr. was racing a pair whose combined age didn’t equal either of their ages alone-and they took everyone else to school. Wallace is possibly the best restrictor-place racer driving today, and Hornaday’s legacy in the Truck Series is second to none. That combination of experience proved impossible to beat on Saturday, as Hornaday pushed Wallace to the win and Wallace pulled Hornaday to within 16 points of the championship lead with just three races remaining on the schedule. For a pair of veterans with uncertain futures, the champagne was extra sweet.

How…is the Chase picture developing with four races to go?

As it stands there is now little doubt that you will see a new champion crowned in 2011. It’s also becoming clearer that despite not winning since March, Carl Edwards is the favorite to take it home. Matt Kenseth remains his closest competition at 14 markers back, but you do have to wonder if the forgotten man to the media and fans is also the forgotten man at Roush Fenway Racing as well as Edwards edges ever closer to the title. Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart both reignited their hopes as well, moving back into the top 4 and sitting 18 and 19 markers back, respectively. Kevin Harvick sits 26 back, his hopes hanging on the fact that he won the spring race at Martinsville.

As for the rest? Might as well start working on 2012. Kyle Busch has never been able to keep it together in the Chase, and this year looks to be no exception, as Busch suffered heavy damage early in the race at Talladega and limped to a 33rd-place finish. Five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson got knocked around at ‘Dega as well and could fare no better than 26th, sitting 50 points behind Edwards in seventh. The rest of the top 12-Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman-will likely do no better than duking it out with Johnson for seventh place, best among the also-rans in a year when nobody has really looked like a true champion when it counts.

Contact Amy Henderson

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10/24/2011 02:42 PM

Wow Amy! There’s a lot of hatred being expressed against Ford, Roush, and Edwards by you and your colleagues today because of Jeff Gordon being hung out to dry, and for Ford issuing an edict that they only wanted Ford drivers to help Ford drivers. Now, everyone is out for Ford’s blood and wants to see Edwards and his fellow Ford drivers rammed into the wall hard. Personally, I think it’s great! Chevrolet has had their way for too darned long in NASCAR, in particular, one Chevrolet orgaization named Hendrick. I hope Edwards holds on, if for no other reason, it’ll be fun hearing Hendrick go after France to make sure it never happens again, and even better, to hear all the media cry in their watered down beer how unfair his Championship is!

A Jimmy Spencer crying towel for you all!

10/24/2011 03:08 PM

How anyone can enjoy that racing is beyond me (pending promotion with Nascar Amy) & if we’re going to just drive around for 130 laps could we just show that last 50-25 laps then (cause thats how I’ll watch the next one) Sponsors must be thrilled (lining up for discounts)…Mike Wallace the BEST restrictor plate racer? …Amy how do you have this job as you seem to base everything off your faverites & buddys

10/24/2011 03:39 PM

They sure try to make it seem exciting but give me a good old short track race any time. And before I forget, F*** the CHASE. We still don’t need it!

10/24/2011 03:43 PM

@ Earner:The reasons I like the tandem racing are simple:
1. When i watch a race, I like to watch the action throughout the field. With the tandems, there is a lot more passing and working the field behind the leaders. Yes, some pairs hang at the back, but that was equally true when they raced in one big pack. Watching two lines of cars going around in circles where the only changes in the running order came from one line having a slight advantage, then the other, is not my idea of fun. The pairs actually pass one another regularly. I do not see any less racing than there was with the old way of racing in two huge lines-I see more, and also cars having a better chance to recover faster from getting shuffled back.

2.While I would like nothing better than a completely caution-free restrictor-plate race, the tandems reduce the number of cars involved in an incident significantly. As nasty as the hit Regan Smith took was when he and Mark Martin got together, if they had been racing in the big pack, that would have likely involved at least ten cars, if not more. I don’t like the huge multi-car crashes. With the pairs, even the “big one” takes out fewer competitors.

3. Which sponsors are you referring to, exactly? I’m pretty sure sponsors like Geico and Golden Corral enjoyed the race much more than they do most weeks. The unsponsored Phoenix team might even have attracted some notice. Heck, the reason Golden Corral is still on the No. 36 is because they were so impressed by the team’s performance in the spring race.Even the sponsors of the teams that hung back got exposure, and probably preferred seeing their cars finish in one piece instead of taken out with 15 others halfway through the event. To each their own, I guess.

AS for Mike Wallace, why do you think he gets so many one-off rides for the plate races. Have you watched-REALLY watched-him work a plate race from start to finish in any package from truck to old Cup car to COT? I stand by my evaluation of him…as do many car owners and their sponsors. Buddies? I think I’ve had two full-length conversations with Mike in the eight seasons I’ve covered the sport. If that’s the definition of buddies these days, I must have hundreds of them!

@Rufus: You read a lot into that paragraph that simply isn’t there. I have nothing against Ford or any other make; I really don’t care what a driver drives. I just that the team order was one that could well come back to bite the Ford camp in the future. Perhaps it did; Bayne and Gordon sure looked poised to make a run to the front before the order came down, and no Ford finished in the top 10. It was just puzzling to me that a manufacturer or owner would make a rule that might cost them a race in the long run. I certainly don’t wish the Ford camp (or anyone else) to wreck or get hurt.

@Shoeman: I agree that short track racing is the best in the sport, but we’re stuck with the plate tracks anyway. I do think that the Chase really hurts the racing in this particular race each year.

old farmer
10/24/2011 04:21 PM

Amy isn’t in love w/ Chevys; she’s in love w/ Hendrick drivers. She always cries when they lose, esp. Jimmie.

10/24/2011 04:32 PM

Seriously, I haven’t watched a ‘dega race in maybe 6 yrs.

It’s not racing.

10/24/2011 05:06 PM

@Old Farmer: Really? You read all that into a paragraph detailing Mark Martin’s day? I pointed out that Martin’s mistake ended the team’s title chances simply because it did. Ditto on it ending the team’s chances at a milestone victory (Richard Childress Racing got one instead, which is a great accomplishment for them). I was stating facts as they applied to the situation. No crying here.

Bill B
10/24/2011 06:46 PM

The fact that no one driver can go race without a pre-arranged partner is why I don’t like it Amy. I already hated RP races for resulting in an arbitrary winner. This 2×2 racing just makes it more of a farce. When they drafted in packs it was equal opportunity. The 2×2 makes it exclusive and hearing who’s going with who reminds me more of a teenage dance than a race.
Do I want wrecks? No. Do I want to watch a square-dance between cars? NO.

10/24/2011 06:47 PM

A farce. Choreographed days before. And how about that frantic pit road racing? What a waste.

10/24/2011 07:07 PM

Emperor Brian is probably singing the praises of the exciting product on Sunday. Does anyone think he watched it? If he did he couldn’t have been sober.

10/24/2011 07:57 PM

We can hope someone tells Cousin Carl that Martisville though smaller than Talladega, is similar in risk. You need to hang out at the back all day around 40th until the final 10 laps, then go.

10/24/2011 08:51 PM

Its an outrage and as much as Nascar trys to manage driver’s images, the last two races have been a major turnoff to a former hard core fan.
From drivers stating “ you cut me off or you’re driving too close” with 5 laps to go, and the direct championship manipulation by Roush makes me vomit. I find it amazing that Edwards was the highest finishing Ford after non-competing for 175 laps.
While I understand what the Ford concept was, it would have been better if it was like in the 1990s where, if you could go with a Ford, you do so, but not sacrificing your opportunity to emerge victorious.

Something tells me Harvick or Kyle puts a bulls eye on Ford this week.

Bill S.
10/25/2011 10:33 AM

“Same,” I love your idea. Let Cousin Carl hang out in 40th all day and everybody keep it a big secret from him that he has been lapped 8 times!

And Paul, I had already forgotten Carl’s hissy fit after Kyle dared to race him for positon at Charlotte. He already has JJ’s sense of entitlement before he even gets his first Cup championship.

Speaking of hissy fits, has anyone noticed that of all FS writers, Amy is the one most likely to insist on getting the last word with any of her critics? I guess that’s what she learned from being a teacher. Only we are NOT your students, Ms. Henderson!

10/25/2011 11:52 AM

That made my day.

While there aren’t any 20-car pile-ups, this teammate style racing seems to produce more crashes in general. Considering just how hard Labonte’s and Smith’s crashes were, I find it impossible to say there’s any improvement this way.

10/25/2011 12:41 PM

I would have to agree that Mike Wallace is one of the most underrated Plate racers in the last 20 years. Just look at the wins he’s had in Trucks and Nationwide and it’s pretty obvious.

But no, plate racing is a farce, period, has been for what, 25 years now? Tandem or pack, it doesn’t matter, it’s a joke.


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
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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.