Amy Henderson · Monday May 13, 2013
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?
Darlington will leave even the healthiest driver sore, tired, and frustrated. So after this week’s race, it’s no wonder that Denny Hamlin emerged from his race car sore and tired. But frustrated? Not Hamlin. Well, maybe just a little—because he didn’t win. But for Hamlin, who finished second to teammate Matt Kenseth on Saturday night, it was also a victory.
Hamlin ran a complete race for the first time since fracturing a vertebra on the final lap at Fontana, and perhaps more importantly, began the long climb back into Chase contention with his second-place run. Hamlin gained four spots in points, climbing from 31st to 27th. He will need wins to secure a wild card berth—and realistically, that’s his only hope—but he’ll also need to be in the top 20 in points for those wins to count towards a chance at the title. Hamlin might be sore and tired after his effort, but he tamed the Lady in Black again, showing why he has the best average finish of any active driver at Darlington by nearly three spots.
What… was THAT?
While it’s true that fans watching at home got shafted by the TV coverage, there were some confusing things coming from race fans on social media during the race. First, fans complained about the long green-flag runs. Some even went so far as to say they’d rather have seen some NASCAR-patented fake debris cautions during the early going. But when there was a questionable debris flag, fans bemoaned it. Then, when a caution flew and set up a possible fuel mileage race, people complained about that. What’s left? Fans say they don’t like wrecks, but many certainly gripe when there aren’t any.
Here’s the thing…racing purists can tell you that there isn’t going to be passing, beating, banging, and crashing on every lap of a 500-mile race. There just isn’t. And NASCAR can either allow the race to run its natural course, as they did Saturday with one exception, or they can try to manufacture excitement. The problem with NASCAR in the ADD Generation is that they can’t please both the purists and the new fans.
Where…did the defending race winner wind up?
Jimmie Johnson had a solid night on Saturday, finishing fourth and extending his points lead to 44 over Carl Edwards. But in the process, did Johnson expose his Achilles’ heel to the rest of the field? Pit stops have been Johnson’s weak spot for the last three seasons, and they were a problem again at Darlington. Twice pit stops caused Johnson to lose position on track.
Generally, a championship contender can count on his crew to gain him a spot or two on stops, or at least to maintain the spot he was in before a stop. But Johnson has been in the position for a couple of years where he’s had to make up lost spots on track before he can try to gain any more. Over time, those positions translate into points, and could mean the difference between being a champion or an also-ran. Johnson said on his team radio in the closing laps that his car felt really good, but he was unable to regain the spots he lost on his final stop.
When…will I be loved?
For the second year in a row, the Southern 500 fans saw on TV was not the race that took place on the track. Or rather, not nearly all of it. From the complaints on Twitter and Facebook, it was clear that FOX was not showing most of the field. From the press box, which sits in Turn 3 at Darlington, there were cars fighting to pass on the backstretch or in Turns 3 and 4 on nearly every lap. But, since it wasn’t always for the lead or even for position, FOX apparently thought people didn’t want to see it.
The way I see it, good hard racing is good hard racing, no matter what position it’s for, especially when there’s not much action at the very front of the field. Shame on FOX for shorting race fans from seeing the real racing for much of the night, and for depriving many fans of seeing their favorite driver duke it out. And they wonder why ratings are falling…
Obviously, Denny Hamlin has a long row to hoe to make the Chase. Even with the great start he had on that this week, Hamlin is a longshot contender at best. But here’s an even bleaker picture: Tony Stewart is just 56 points ahead of Hamlin in the standings. That’s less of a margin than sits between Johnson and third-place Matt Kenseth…despite Hamlin having just seven starts to Stewart’s 11. Once again, Stewart couldn’t get it done at Darlington despite running in the top ten with less than 50 laps to go. It’s no longer too early to say that his title hopes are toast.
Elsewhere on the points chart, Aric Almirola remains in the top 10 even after a 20th-place finish foiled his bid for five consecutive top 10s—something that a Petty-owned team hasn’t done since 1983. Paul Menard slipped out of the top 10 after finishing 19th at Darlington, and Kevin Harvick makes an appearance in that group (Harvick and Menard are technically tied in points, but Harvick has one win for the tiebreaker).
Other than Hamlin, the biggest gainer on the points chart this week was Juan Pablo Montoya, who moves up three places after finishing eighth.
How…did the little guys do?
Furniture Row Racing; Kurt Busch (No. 78 Furniture Row/Serta Chevy): After starting on the pole and leading twice for 69 laps, the No. 78 began to suffer from handling issues. Busch was vocal on his team radio for the final two-thirds of the race, describing the car’s issues with some colorful language. He eventually settled for 14th place, but gained two positions in points to 18th, and remains a wild-card Chase contender if he can grab a win. Even if he can’t, he remains the best among his single-car brethren, sitting seven spots ahead of Casey Mears in the standings for that bragging point.
BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil (No. 83 & 93 Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): Though Kvapil finished a lap down in 23rd, he did a better job of dancing with the Lady in Black than most of these drivers, finishing second in this group and nearly ten spots over his season average of 32.7, so it was a solid day for half of the BK duo. Unfortunately, the other half, David Reutimann, tangled with Josh Wise late in the race, and that ended the team’s hopes for a second improved finish as Reutimann was forced to settle for 36th place.
Phoenix Racing; Regan Smith (No. 51 HendrickCars.com Chevy): It wasn’t Smith’s lucky night on Saturday, as the driver, who finished seventh in the Nationwide Series race and leads that series’ points, spun just after the 300-lap mark. He wound up 24th.
JTG-Daugherty Racing; Bobby Labonte (No. 47 Kingsford Charcoal Grill Out for Mom Toyota): After starting in the back for an engine change, Labonte showed why, even in the twilight of his career, he’s a good fit for this team. He quietly gained 17 spots during the course of the night, and only a handful of those spots were due to attrition. Labonte kept his car in one piece, avoided trouble, and in the end, provided a solid, if unspectacular run for his team.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Dave Blaney & J.J. Yeley(No 7 SANY Chevy & No. 36 Chevy): Blaney had a quietly decent day, not unlike Labonte’s, where he gained ten spots throughout the race and avoided trouble. Bringing cars home in one piece is invaluable to some small teams, who lack funds to repair or replace damaged ones. JJ Yeley didn’t fare quite as well, however, getting his first Darlington stripe on his unsponsored Chevrolet during Friday’s practice sessions and limping to a 35th-place finish, a full 13 laps off the pace.
Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & Josh Wise & David Gilliland (No. 34 Peanut Patch Boiled Peanuts Ford & No. 35 MDS Transport Chevy & No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford): It certainly wasn’t a repeat of Talladega, but nobody should have expected it to be. David Gilliland topped this group at Darlington after taking his crew chief’s advice to “take what it will give you, don’t overdrive.” Even so, Gilliland managed only a 29th-place run this week. Josh Wise tangled with David Reutimann with less than 40 laps to go, and that sent him to 38th place for the day. Last week’s winner, David Ragan, battled overheating issues early and they eventually proved fatal to the engine of the No. 34, relegating him to 39th place.
Circle Sport Racing; Landon Cassill (No. 33 Little Joe’s Autos Chevy): Cassill said before the race that the team was facing a decision to start and park this week, so they can claim a small victory in that they were able to stretch their equipment and tires to go the distance. Cassill and Co. have made vast improvements in the last month. Finishing in the top 25 might not seem like much, but for this team, it’s big. They’re outrunning some better-funded peers, and Cassill is getting into a groove with the team. If they had money, they might really turn out to be a surprise success.
NEMCO Motorsports; Joe Nemechek (No. 87 RoyalTeakCollection.com Toyota): 31st place isn’t much, even for an underfunded team, but it’s Nemechek’s second-best of 2013 despite being able to go the distance in more races. You have to wonder about Nemechek, who is a Cup winner and a Nationwide series champion … should he hang it up? There is also a question of what might have been. After all, when the Nationwide Series was populated by independent teams, Nemechek was successful. If not for the Cup teams taking over, might he have gone back to the series where he found the most success and thrived over the last few years?
FAS Lane Racing; Timmy Hill (No. 32 OXY Water Ford): Hill tied his season-best finish this week but still seems like an odd choice for this team at Darlington. With veterans Ken Schrader and Terry Labonte in their stable, perhaps Frankie Stoddard should have had more experience in the seat this week as they badly need a rebound.
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Ford): If money is the biggest obstacle in the way of Circle Sport, then surely luck looms large for Germain Racing. The team short pitted early to remove debris from the grill which resulted in overheating issues,, but held steady in the top 25 for most of the day, even after a loose wheel caused them to have to pit out of sequence again. Mears fought back again before getting turned, as Kurt Busch and Paul Menard squabbled over the real estate Mears was occupying, and pounding the wall. It was the second week in a row that Mears was caught in a crash not of his doing. Mears rarely starts wrecks on track, but he sure has ended more than his share recently.
Swan Racing; David Stremme (No. 30 Swan Energy Toyota): Just as an ill-handling car began to come around for Stremme, the engine expired, leaving him with an early exit. The 40th-place result is Stremme’s worst of 2013.
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