The Frontstretch: The Big Six: Questions Answered After The AdvoCare 500 by Amy Henderson -- Monday November 12, 2012

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The Big Six: Questions Answered After The AdvoCare 500

Amy Henderson · Monday November 12, 2012

 

Looking for the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered 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?

To the guys at the top of the points, a ninth top-10 finish might not seem like much. But for Paul Menard, it’s a career high. Menard staked his claim on his ninth-place run early, qualifying seventh and running in the top five for most of the first half of Sunday’s contest before fading a bit, then rallying back into the top ten.

Menard has quietly put together a solid, if unspectacular, 2013 season. He’ll likely wind up 16th in points, just one spot behind Carl Edwards and with just two fewer top-5 runs. He’s having a better season than veteran teammate Jeff Burton. With Kevin Harvick a lame duck at Richard Childress Racing in 2013 and Jeff Burton on the hot seat, Menard could even be a dark horse candidate for the Chase next year if he can make the top ten a bit more often.

What… was THAT?

Dale Jarrett said it best: as much as everyone wanted to see the race end, and as close as some teams were on fuel mileage, there needed to be a caution for Danica Patrick on the green-white-checkered attempt. NASCAR’s failure to throw the yellow was costly. As Kevin Harvick took the checkers, several cars sustained heavy damage as their drivers raced for position coming to the finish line, only to realize that there was fluid on the track from Patrick’s limping car. Paul Menard slammed into the back end of Patrick’s slower car so hard that the No 10 was thrown into the air. Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Paul Menard, and Brad Keselowski all suffered damage. Kurt Busch’s car was destroyed and on fire.

The bottom line is that NASCAR sacrificed safety for a good finish—and they didn’t have to. Had the yellow flag flown as soon as Patrick crashed, Harvick wouldn’t have taken the white flag, and there would have been another attempt. Yes, some teams were close on fuel. But fuel strategy is up to the teams, and the outcome would have been on them. As it is, NASCAR is very lucky nobody was hurt in what could and should have easily been avoided

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Kyle Busch put up a thoroughly dominant performance at Phoenix, taking the pole and leading four times for a total of 237 laps. It looked as though Busch had finally cast off the bad luck that has plagued him for much of the season and was en route to an easy win. But it didn’t quite happen that way; Busch faded late and wound up finishing third to Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin on Sunday. Busch led 74% of the race’s 319 laps, including 67 circuits from lap 238 to lap 304.

Kyle Busch led 74% of the race’s 319 laps, but crossed the finish line in 3rd place.

Busch should have won on Sunday; he must know that, and it must sting. But although a win would have provided a welcome boost, Busch and the No. 18 team should be looking at some of big positives as they head into 2013. Busch has four top-5 finishes in the last five weeks. That’s more top-5’s in that timespan than either Jimmie Johnson or Brad Keselowski. The team does have momentum on their side to start next season, leaving them with two over-arching goals: first to make the Chase, and then to put together a Chase performance like Busch has had this year. That’s easier said than done, since Busch has never been able to put those two parts of a season together. But if he can do that, he could be staring down a championship in a year’s time.

When… will I be loved?

Clint Bowyer took the first shot, giving Jeff Gordon a bumper in the left rear quarter and tire and sending Gordon into the wall. Had it ended there, Bowyer would have gotten my vote for villain of the day. Gordon took the next one, returning the favor when Bowyer came back around. It would have been nothing but turnabout if innocent bystander Joey Logano hadn’t been taken out; that alone made Gordon’s retaliation wrong. Had it ended there, Gordon would have gotten my vote for villain of the day instead. But it was Bowyer’s crew that took the last and cheapest shot, ambushing Gordon as he climbed from his car on pit road and shoving the driver to the ground before NASCAR officials and members of Gordon’s crew could pull them off.

Ricky Craven said it best after the race. Bowyer wrecked Gordon; Gordon retaliated. Had it ended there, whether right or not, it’s part of the game in the “Boys, Have at it” era. But the No. 15 crew changed that; what they did was a step too far. Heck, fighting is against the rules, but if Bowyer had wanted to duke it out with Gordon himself and accept the consequences, go for it. Two drivers taking it out on track is perhaps poor sportsmanship, and probably not the right thing to do. Bowyer was wrong, Gordon was more wrong. But what happened on pit road was inexcusable. An entire crew ambushing and jumping a driver is just dirty.

Why… worry now?

And then, as the sun set over the desert, there was one.

Clint Bowyer saw his last chance go up in flames, but it really was over before it started. Bowyer couldn’t gain enough all day to have made any real difference. When it was over, Bowyer—and everyone from third place on back—was mathematically eliminated from contention. Jimmie Johnson, the title favorite when the green flag fell, saw his chances melt away with the bead on his right front tire. The second that happened, before the No. 48 even impacted the Turn 4 wall, the title race was all over but the shouting. Barring disaster next week in Homestead, Roger Penske will have his first Sprint Cup title as an owner, and Dodge will have its last as a manufacturer. Brad Keselowski has clear sailing from here on out, with nothing but daylight between him and the silver Cup inscribed with the word “champion.”

After this weekend, Brad Keselowski has clear sailing toward the Sprint Cup title.

For many fans, this was the way they wanted it to end, with Johnson in the wall. But you have to wonder if Brad Keselowski feels that way. He and Johnson have the utmost respect for each other, and no true racer wants anything to be decided by anything but racing to the wire on the last lap of the last race. Nobody wants to win but be left forever wondering “what if,” a question that can never be answered. Keselowski knows there are no guarantees, but as long as he has just a mediocre day at Homestead, 2012 is on the books. Nobody should want it to end like this; a year ago, the only way Carl Edwards or Tony Stewart could guarantee a title was to win—and they both raced like it. This time, all Brad Keselowski has to do is finish 15th or better, and so he can take it easy and race for points. He doesn’t have to drive hard enough to risk a crash, a blown tire… or an exciting race. Really, is that what anyone wants to see?

How… did the little guys do?

Furniture Row Racing (Furniture Row Chevy): It certainly wasn’t boring for Kurt Busch. An extra pit stop during a cycle dropped him off the lead lap. He got that back and crossed the finish line skidding and on fire after getting caught in the last-lap melee. Busch finished 8th, his second consecutive top 10 with Furniture Row.
JTG-Daugherty Racing (Vektor Vodka Toyota): Bobby Labonte’s day wasn’t nearly as eventful as some, but in the end, Labonte finished 15th, his second top-15 finish in the last three weeks. Labonte contines to lead the small-team drivers in points, where he sits 23rd.
Tommy Baldwin Racing (GoDaddy.com Chevy & Accell Construction Chevy): Danica Patrick got turned coming to the white flag and still managed to finish 17th, her best Sprint Cup result to date. Unfortunately, she’ll be sore on Monday as Paul Menard plowed into her car after the checkers, throwing the No. 10 into the air and onto the hood of the No. 78. At least Baldwin doesn’t have to cover the damage, since Tony Stewart provides Patrick’s Cup equipment. Dave Blaney quietly posted a 26th-place result, his best finish since he finished 25th at Atlanta in September—and the first race he’s finished since Richmond.
BK Racing (Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): Travis Kvapil finished 20th, his third top-20 in the last six races. Although it may not sound like much, it’s progress; it took Kvapil 17 races to get his first three top 20 runs of 2012. Landon Cassill’s 25th-place run gives him a 22.8 average for the last five races—an improvement of five positions over his season average.
Germain Racing (GEICO Ford): After being plagued by bad luck for much of the summer and fall, Casey Mears and the No. 13 team are back on track. Mears finished 22nd at Phoenix. After his 21st-place run last week, he put up his best back-to-back finishes since finishing 15th, 18th, and 18th at Sonoma, Kentucky, and Daytona, respectively, in early summer.
Phoenix Racing (Phoenix Construction Services Chevy): Regan Smith grabbed Phoenix Racing’s first top-10 starting spot with his eighth-place qualifying run. Smith finished 24th. Smith’s 2013 plans are set with a full-time Nationwide Series seat at JR Motorsports. But for Phoenix, next year is more uncertain; the team may not continue if sponsorship can’t be secured.
FAS Lane Racing (U.S. Chrome/TMone Ford): Last year’s Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year finished 29th on Sunday. Hill’s 29th-place average with Frank Stoddard’s team may not seem like much to write home about, but his 22nd-place result at Kansas was the team’s best for the year at a non-restrictor-plate track.
Front Row Motorsports (CertainTeed/31-W Insulation Ford & Loan Mart Ford): Phoenix as not kind to David Ragan or David Gilliland. Both lost their right front tires in Turn 4, slamming the wall, and both had early exits as a result. Ragan fared slightly better, making it to lap 280 before his wreck and finishing 33rd. Gilliland lasted just 50 laps and recorded a 36th-place result.

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Jeremy
11/12/2012 04:50 AM
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Regarding the garage area fight, from what I can see from the footage, it looks like Jeff Gordon was not in the middle of the big pile-on, and it was simply a crew-on-crew fight. Right when the announcer said “the crews are in it”, at the left half of the screen there appears to be a 24-crew member grabbing a struggling Jeff Gordon from behind and leading him around the fight, reaching the 24 hauler’s entrance ramp at the bottom of the screen just as a 15-crew member knocks a tire to the ground.

Either ways, I see a whole lot of penalties coming for Jeff Gordon and crew members from both teams. They let their anger get the best of them, and NASCAR must let them know, as it did with Kyle Busch last year, that such harmful behavior cannot be tolerated.

Mike In NH
11/12/2012 08:10 AM
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Why isn’t anyone talking about how Jeff Burton caused the Danica wreck by running into her left rear off the turn for no good reason, ruining what looked to be a Top-15 finish for her? Time for him to retire.

Timmy
11/12/2012 08:52 AM
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Gordon drives for Hendrick/Chevy so I don’t expect to see much from nascar.

I don’t fault Bowyers crew at all for what they did. Good for them.

But I would tell Bowyer to take it out on JJ if Brad K. has a bad day next Sunday. That’s the smart way to get back at Gordon/Hendrick.

DoninAjax
11/12/2012 08:58 AM
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With all the publicity the fight will get NA$CAR should pay Gordon and Bowyer. Just because they will announce a fine doesn’t mean it will be paid.

Hendrick is on the phone to Brian right now getting him to fine Brad at least 20 points for his comments. And he will end the call with “The check is in the mail.”

Carl D.
11/12/2012 09:02 AM
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Amy..

I enjoy your columns but that whole paragraph about how awful it was for Johnson to hit the wall and how even Keselowski probably wished Johnson hadn’t crashed was pretty lame. I know you are disappointed, but that’s the breaks.

On the plus side, you mentioned Ricky Craven’s comments, which were, as usual, insightful and intellegent. I continue to enjoy his post-race comments and wish he had a larger presence in ESPN’s race coverage.

Ricky
11/12/2012 09:14 AM
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It is sad to see the two Jeffs, Gordon and Burton run as poorly as they are .In my opinion they should hang up their helmets. Jeff B has been ineffective for years and Gordon is frustrated at being the fourth best driver at HMS after being the top dog for so long.Even when he is on is game he is at best a fifth place car I hope he doesn’t further diminish his accomplishments by staying on too long like the“King” and DW did after Hall of Fame careers

awww shucks
11/12/2012 09:31 AM
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i thought Kyle was parked last year for still crashing Ron while the caution was out and nascar and his spotter kept telling him to cool it? am i wrong on that?

Razz
11/12/2012 10:49 AM
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Gordon had been black flagged before he took our Bowyer. And note that even at Martinsville, Gordon immediately and deliberately took out Bowyer by turning back into him.

Normally you make sound, well-reasoned points, Amy – even when I disagree with you – but this time you’re wrong. We want to see hard racing, even you say that, but why do you jump on the drivers when they race hard? Bowyer used the chrome bumper on Gordon, intentionally or not, and that’s racing. What Gordon did is pure **** and he derailed a legitimate championship run, even if that run was a long shot. Do you really blame Bowyer’s crew for being pissed?

Greg
11/12/2012 11:22 AM
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Funny when a Hendrick driver uses the bumper to “move” another it’s good, old fashion racing.

When a non-Hendrick driver does it, then it’s dirty and OK for him to be taken out.

I wish every non-Hendrick driver out there would take out ALL the Hendrick drivers next week. That would get the ratings up.

paltex
11/12/2012 01:47 PM
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It will be interesting to see what the penalty outcomes will be. Hendrick has nascar in his hip pocket if you don’t believe that think back to chads bunch escaping punishment due to hendrick’s buddy overruling nascar’s penalty. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely

Dan
11/12/2012 02:03 PM
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The guys who should be fined heavily are Bowyer’s crew for attacking a driver, be it Gordon or any other driver. MWR should be called out for not being able to control their pit crew.Gordon is not innocent for sure but Bowyer showed no class by dashing from his car to Gordon’s hauler.Bowyer will never do for NASCAR what Gordon has done over his career. He talked about the actions of a 4 time champ but he shows no respect for a 4 time champ with his actions toward Gordon on or off the track.Don’t agree? Watch the show that was on Speed at the start of the “Chase” with all the “Chase” drivers.Bowyer did nothing but harass Gordon and a few other drivers that night. Bowyer doesn’t have enough class to carry Gordon’s helmet bag. Nuff said.

Steve K
11/12/2012 06:27 PM
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Jeff Gordon hasn’t been good since he stiffed me in the Vegas Garage area in 2009. Karma’s a bitch Jeff!

Baker
11/12/2012 10:47 PM
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The best thing that could happen to nascar would be for the Hendrick team(s) to fold.

Half of the fans that nascar have left are sick and bored of the Hendrick/chevy/nascar love dominance.

john
11/13/2012 01:19 PM
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@Mike In NH

No one is talking about it because it would force them to yet again acknowledge she was doing okay and had a career-best going, just like all the top 10s she was wrecked out of in Nationwide this year. No respect at all.

 

Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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