The Frontstretch: The Big Six: Questions Answered After the Coca-Cola 600 by Amy Henderson -- Monday May 28, 2012

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The Big Six: Questions Answered After the Coca-Cola 600

Amy Henderson · Monday May 28, 2012


Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s Sprint Cup event? 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.

After some tough early season DNFs, an 18th-place finish is the latest sign Landon Cassill and his BK Racing Team are back on the right track.

Who…gets my shoutout of the race?

One thing about the Coca-Cola 600 is that either the cream rises to the top and the top finishers are exactly who you’d expect them to be, or it comes down to fuel strategy and there are some unexpected numbers on the pylon. Sunday’s race was one of the former, and the nine drivers who finished on the lead lap were no surprise. But one driver and his team tried a strategy play, staying out on the final caution of the night. If there had been one more yellow flag in the race, it would have netted Landon Cassill a top-10 finish. For Cassill, who has struggled with newcomer BK Racing to earn a top-35 points position, a top 10 would have been huge.

Even without luck landing their way, Cassill and team put together a commendable run on Sunday. They got faster when the sun went down, which meant after the tank ran dry, forcing a stop for fuel, Cassill was still able to bring the No. 83 home in a very respectable 18th place, ahead of such notable drivers as Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton, and Kurt Busch. For a team that is still learning and which came into 2012 admittedly behind the competition, it’s a game of baby steps – and Cassill took several healthy ones in Charlotte.

What… was THAT?

OK, so I shouldn’t be surprised by this one, but it never fails to catch me unaware when Danica Patrick gets so much airtime despite running a mediocre race at best. Nothing against Danica, who is a rookie driver with only three Cup races to her name, but shame on the television producers and analysts who continue to shove Patrick down the fans’ throats for no apparent reason while virtually ignoring drivers having better runs in lesser equipment than Patrick receives. It’s not because the fans are clamoring for it; in fact, many have voiced their displeasure over the attention she garners.

A glance at Sunday’s Cup results show drivers like David Gilliland, Casey Mears, and Landon Cassill putting up some of their best intermediate track results of the year in cars that are inferior to Patrick’s. Even the popular Trevor Bayne, who has won the Daytona 500 on a partial schedule couldn’t wrestle a few seconds of the announcers’ time away from Patrick, and he finished six spots ahead of her. How bad did it get? Travis Kvapil, who slammed the turn 4 wall early on, was able to finish better than Patrick’s 30th-place result, yet the only airtime received was when he brought out that midrace caution flag.

Why do Kvapil and others toil in the back half of the field most weeks? Simple: money. But why should a sponsor step up and shell out millions for a car that might as well be invisible to the TV cameras? For one driver who’s finished behind them in every race to get so much television time, while the rest are lucky to get a mention if it’s not for them being lapped is just a crying shame.

His strong 2011 stint with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. propelled Aric Almirola into his current Cup Series ride with Richard Petty Motorsports. Will Charlotte’s pole-winning effort, turned 15th-place finish give him the momentum to keep it over the long-term?

Where…did the polesitter wind up?

Aric Almirola had a fast car in qualifying on Thursday night and again on Sunday under the blazing hot Charlotte sun. But as the sun went down and shadows crept across the track, the No. 43 couldn’t quite keep up with the changes. At least the team learned from experience; as the race went on, the downward spiral flattened out and Almirola was able to bring it home in a respectable 16th place. For Almirola and his team, that’s solidly where they should be finishing each week. The expectations might be a little higher for Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Marcos Ambrose, because he’s been with the organization longer, but a dose of NASCAR reality is that RPM isn’t quite at the level of the bigger organizations. Hanging around the top 15 is a very solid showing for a mid-level team, especially considering that Almirola is only 12 races into his first season with RPM. That means the “rookie” is doing well…and if he can reel off some more mid-level finishes, a top-20 result in the point standings certainly isn’t out of the question.

When… will I be loved?

Really, the race was about as clean a 600-miler as you could ask for. There was hard racing throughout the pack on many occasions, but nobody really drove over their heads and nobody got unnecessarily aggressive. The hardest hit was when Travis Kvapil pancaked his Toyota on the turn 4 wall, and that was a single-car incident. However, tight pit road conditions did lead to one crash: as Tony Stewart, running in the top 10, came down pit road for a routine stop, Brad Keselowski was leaving his pit and instead of waiting a split second for Stewart, who was already turning into his box, to get past, Keselowski caught Smoke in the left-rear corner, spinning the No. 14 around just as Carl Edwards was on his way out of the pits. Edwards was able to avoid Stewart, but it could have been worse. While on the one hand, it’s actually surprising that incidents like that don’t happen more often on a crowded pit road, it’s also decidedly an issue when they do, because crewmen don’t have a ton and a half of roll cage around them, and overaggressive driving in the pits poses a very real danger.

Keselowski did apologize later, sort of. “Basically, I ran into him,” Keselowski said after the race. “I don’t want to make it any more complicated than that. It’s like going into a Wal-Mart parking lot; you know you’re both going for the same parking spot and don’t know who’s giving and who’s taking. I took and I probably should have gave. Sorry about hurting his day; it hurt our day as well, but stuff like that’s going to happen in 600 miles.”

Why…was this win so important for Kasey Kahne?

In a nutshell, it’s because the Chase is only 14 weeks away, and the win puts Kahne in position to grab a “wild card” spot. He doesn’t have it yet; if the Chase started now, Kahne would lose out to Brad Keselowski’s two wins and Ryan Newman’s higher points position with one. But it’s still vital for Kahne, who moved into 15th in points at Charlotte, because if Keselowski or Newman should oust a winless Carl Edwards (provided he remains winless), Kahne would, at least temporarily, hold the Chase berth. And it’s still early enough for Kahne to keep adding to his total, too. While multiple wins would all but lock Kahne into the “wild card,” they could also boost him into the top 10 in points, virtually unthinkable at this time two months ago. And remember how strong Hendrick Motorsports is in the Chase? Yeah, so does Kasey Kahne.

How…physically taxing is this race on the drivers?

While for some, looks are deceiving, a walk along pit road or a glance at the faces of the drivers coming into the media center tell the tale. Even ones that don’t look exhausted (and the top drivers don’t, for the simple and very good reason that they are so physically fit) look gaunt. And that’s because they’ve lost close to ten pounds over the course of the night.

The real wrench in the works is in years like this one, the 600-mile race is often on the first sweltering hot raceday of the season. Drivers say the first hot race is the toughest because their bodies have to acclimate, so for the first one to be in the longest race of the year is doubly difficult. The drivers talked to the media on Thursday and most said that the most important element of preparation for this race is hydration – it starts days before the race and continues until the checkered flag flies. Greg Biffle commented Thursday that proper race hydration for 600 miles meant hourly or even more frequent trips to the restroom, but not to be prepared to that point meant not being prepared enough.

Eating correctly also plays a role; Denny Hamlin commented Saturday that by choosing the correct foods and staying hydrated, he’s been successful at lowering his heart rate in the car by 30 beats per minute. That’s a major improvement, with an obvious payout in Hamlin’s second-place performance.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


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05/28/2012 08:36 AM

Fox is ignoring the fact that most viewers are sick of Danica, but it’s just one more fact that they are ignoring.

Stephen Hood
05/28/2012 09:04 AM

Danica’s sponsor is paying the freight. She gets airtime in the race because her sponsor pays for commercials in almost every race break.

Carl D.
05/28/2012 09:41 AM


How much more of a public apology should Brad have given Tony? It was obviously an accident and Brad accepted the blame and apologized. He may offer Tony a more personal apology in private; we don’t know. Brad may have been a little aggressive early in his career, but he has since developed a reputation for racing other drivers hard but clean. You really don’t like Brad much, do you?

05/28/2012 10:14 AM

I have said it before and so I shall again: Sparkle Pony’s Cup schedule was chosen by Tony and Zippy to provide her with the specific experiences they believe she needs and she has her instructions from them: Ride around, watch, learn and stay out of trouble. She did as she was told so I cannot fault her. I can, however, fault the media for their obsession even while giving Mike Joy props for mentioning (though perhaps too gently) more than once she is in training program.

05/28/2012 11:44 AM

What DANICA was doing was not racing it was just driving fast. This is something she could be doing during a test session.

05/28/2012 12:04 PM

As usual, hate the game, not the player.

She spent most of the Nationwide race in the top 10, then a bad pit call dropped her back to 28th or 30th or something. Then RACED her way back up to around 12th, eventually finishing 14th. She raced, and raced well, and stayed positive through the whole thing too.

Sunday, she was there to learn. Hate the game, hate FOX, not the player. She drove around in a Tommy Baldwin car (I don’t care if Stewart-Haas provided it or not), kept herself mostly clean and finished a total of 900 miles in two days. Good for her.

FOX just needs to STFU and stop talking about her on Sundays.

05/28/2012 12:59 PM

You think Danica is getting a lot of coverage now – she is talking about doing “the double” next year – both the 500 and the 600. Can you even begin to imagine the press coverage that that would get? Also, if you watched the Indy 500 this year – the very first commercial was still Danica and Go-Daddy!

05/28/2012 04:36 PM

It’s easy folks.


Just wait until after the race and watch the video highlights (if any) on the net. And find out who finished where and their place in the points.

If you want change then send the only message that nascar pays attention to: ratings and less butts in the seats.

05/28/2012 09:21 PM

The “Danica Double” stories were planted to draw attention away from Indy and back towards NASCAR. I am 100% certain that she will not be doing the double.

For one thing, none of the teams want her. She’s a well-known whiner that brings in good sponsor money for a whole season but can’t bring it for just one race. For another, she was a mid-pack runner while she was there, and the new car is a different animal that she would have to learn. If she ran mid-pack in a car that hasn’t changed during her entire tenure, she’ll do worse with the minimal practice time she’d get. Thirdly, she isn’t setting records in NASCAR and can’t afford to go back to Indy and remind everyone of her meager performance there.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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