The Frontstretch: The Big Six: Questions Answered After the Party In the Poconos 400 by Amy Henderson -- Monday June 10, 2013

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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.

Greg Biffle has been nowhere to be found near the front of the pack in 2013. Could Sunday’s second-place finish be a long-term step in the right direction?

Who…gets my shoutout of the race?

After saying earlier in the weekend that his team was behind the 8-ball, Greg Biffle almost made that look like a pretty decent place to be. Biffle didn’t have a winning car, and perhaps he didn’t even have a top-5 car, but he used a two tire strategy to gain track position late and then got a great jump on the last restart of the day with three laps to go, grabbing second place from fourth and looking like he might have enough to make a run at leader Jimmie Johnson, ultimately falling just short and coming home in the runner-up spot.

It wasn’t like Biffle was bad all day. He ran in the top 15 all race long; he just didn’t look like he had a car capable of winning until the final caution. That’s pretty much been the story of Biffle’s 2013. He hasn’t won, but just when you think he’s fading, he bounces back with a good finish. That’s been true of Roush Fenway as a whole-Carl Edwards has a win, but the team looks to be lagging in learning the Gen-6 race cars compared to other top teams.

What… was THAT?

While sometimes the racing at Pocono makes some fans lament the two races the track hosts each year, there are a couple of reasons that the track’s race dates look to be secure for the foreseeable future. One, the two dates go back to an old agreement between former track owner Doc Mattioli (whose grandsons own Pocono Raceway today) and Bill France, and NASCAR has held true to their founder’s word. Second, and perhaps even more importantly, there were butts in the seats this weekend. The stands were as full at Pocono as they have been just about anywhere this year and fuller than a lot of venues.

And the bottom line is, if the fans come to the track, NASCAR isn’t going to take a race away. Yes, more fans watch on TV than from the stands each week, and NASCAR does have to keep that audience in mind to an extent, but TV viewers don’t pay a track’s bills and full stands look good for NASCAR. So, while from a racing standpoint, fans have every right to complain about the loss of a track like Rockingham while Pocono has two races, look no further than the grandstands for the answer…fans didn’t turn out to Rockingham’s Cup races in its last few years…and they show up in droves at Pocono every race. And from that side of the coin, it’s hard to put all of the blame on NASCAR—tracks have to pay their bills, and that only happens when fans come to the race.

Where…did the defending race winner wind up?

All in all, this week’s race was a better measure of Joey Logano as a driver than his win in 2012. Logano finished a respectable tenth on Sunday. He may be top dog in the Nationwide Series in superior equipment, but in Cup, while he’s perhaps good enough to be a top-5 and top-10 contender more often than he is, without the huge equipment advantage, he’s much more average.

Logano has shown to be about a top-15 points driver in his Cup career, and that’s by no means a small feat-lots of drivers never have a top-15 points season. He’s just a lot more human among stronger competition. He could certainly make the Chase if he can steal a win or two, and that wouldn’t be a complete surprise. He just has a ways to go before he’s appearing on the stage at the banquet on an annual basis.

When…will I be loved?

That was a caution? Really? With the field geared up to run the final nine laps of the race, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. got into Dave Blaney, sending Blaney into the outside wall. It wasn’t a hard hit; Blaney suffered minimal damage to the right rear of his car but was able to continue on and get out of the way of the field. If there was any debris from Blaney’s car, I didn’t see it… so why the caution?

NASCAR is much more heavy-handed with the caution flag in the Sprint Cup Series than they are in Nationwide or Camping World Trucks, where it’s doubtful that the same incident would have warranted a caution. But why? Given that Cup is the highest level of the sport, shouldn’t it be the other way around, with the sanctioning body being more cautious with the development series and letting the Cup drivers figure things out for themselves a little more often. While there are some situations where they should never hold the flag, such as a blown engine on track or a hard crash, NASCAR could be a bit more discerning about it sometimes. While I don’t buy the conspiracy theories, I can see why many fans do-a caution at that time gave a wildly popular driver a better chance to beat his less-popular teammate for the win. The flag did make the final laps more interesting…but is that something that fans need manufactured at every possible chance?

Why…worry now?

While Tony Stewart has gotten himself into a much more comfortable position, moving up to 13th in points and currently holding a wild card spot thanks to his win at Dover, there are several drivers 11th to 20th in points who could jump into the wild card battle in the next 12 races, and a single win might not be enough to nail down a spot without an 11th or 12th-place points position. Jeff Gordon, Aric Almirola, and Martin Truex, Jr. have all been strong enough to make me think they could squeeze in a win this summer. Ryan Newman is one of those drivers that can grab a win out of nowhere, and Joey Logano could see things fall his way as well.

Denny Hamlin still has a long way to go to even be in the picture; he could win multiple times, but he has a ways to go to crack the top 20. If he does both, he’s certainly a part of the conversation. But right now he’s just peeking in from 24th spot.

At the front of the pack, Jimmie Johnson holds more than a full race lead over second place, and he’ll need all the points he can get should he have to miss Atlanta or Richmond for the birth of his second child, but for the top teams, points are pretty irrelevant as the reset negates the top teams’ work and gives the bottom half of the top 10 a huge boost, so for the top seven or eight teams, it’s maintenance mode in the summer months…which is exactly why so many wild card hopefuls could have an opportunity to pounce on those wins as the shoo-ins start to test for the Chase.

How…did the little guys do?

BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil (No. 83 & 93 Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): fter two weeks of frustration and back-to-back DNF’s, Kvapil rebounded with his first top-20 run of 2013 at Pocono-that’s a step in the right direction for this team. What looks like it might not have been was the decision to dump Landon Cassill for an aging David Reutimann in the offseason. Cassill’s average finish in the No. 83 was more then two spots better than Reutimann’s is this year so far, and while that might not seem like much, two spots’ worth of money and points over a 36-race season adds up. This team hasn’t moved forward as hoped this year…could the decision to drop a young talent for an aging veteran be part of the cause?
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Ford): Mears ran in the low 20’s to around 30th for most of the day, but the No. 13 team came through when it counted, and Mears gained several spots late to finish 22nd. That’s close to where this team should be finishing on this type of track and is actually better than Mears’ Pocono average in Cup (though Mears has a pair of ARCA wins at the Tricky Triangle), so, while this team is looking for top-20 runs now, a decent and uneventful run just below that is a step in that direction after a string of bad luck for this team that lasted from mid-April through May.
Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & Josh Wise & David Gilliland (No. 34 Taco Bell Ford & No. 35 MDS Transport Chevy & No. 38 Jong John Silver’s Ford): Gilliland was the best of the FRM bunch this week, finishing 24th. Gilliland has put together some solid runs this year, but needs to find consistency. Pocono was tough on both Josh Wise and David Ragan. Wise finished ten spots and three laps behind Gilliland, and Ragan had issues that left him in 37th, 39 laps off the pace, and ten spots below his season average. Since winning at Talladega, Ragan has not cracked the top 20.
JTG-Daugherty Racing; Bobby Labonte (No. 47 Clorox Toyota): I never heard Labonte report issues on the radio, and he finished on the lead lap, but 27th is perhaps a tick off for this team. Pocono is a difficult track to set up for without the resources of a bigger team, and that looks to have bitten the No. 47 team this week as Labonte recorded his worst finish since a blown engine at Texas left him in 42nd at the end of the day. The team announced that AJ Allmendinger will race the car at Michigan next week and the two will split seat time for the rest of 2013. That makes zero sense. For one, it’s hard to get the consistent feedback needed to improve when dealing with multiple drivers. Also, JTG Daugherty should be looking at their position among similar teams, and from that angle, Labonte is getting it done. Labonte was the top driver among all small teams in points last year, finishing 23rd, and he’s second among that group this year; only Casey Mears is better from these teams. It just doesn’t seem likely that the driver is the real problem here since he’s beating his direct competition on a weekly basis.
Swan Racing; David Stremme (No. 30 Lean 1/Swan Energy Toyota): This upstart team has surprised a few times in 2013, and while this week wasn’t a big eye-opener, Stremme wasn’t bad; he finished 28th and on the lead lap. He’s outrunning JJ Yeley and Travis Kvapil in points and is just behind David Reutimann, all of whom run for teams with more experience in the series. This team has been a pleasant surprise so far.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Dave Blaney & J.J. Yeley (No. 7 & No. 36 Chevys): It was a difficult week for TBR as both cars ran without sponsorship and only Blaney ran the distance. Blaney had an eventful day, getting involved in two separate incidents, one at lap 139 with Aric Almirola and then bringing out the final yellow when Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. shoved him up the track. Blaney wound up as the last car on the lead lap in 31st.
Phoenix Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevy): When it’s not your day, it’s not your day. First, the team tried a pit strategy that put them off-sequence with the leaders and, when cautions didn’t fall their way, lost touch with the front of the pack. A blown tire on lap 149 sealed Allmendinger’s fate as they lost laps making repairs and ended up in 33rd place. Perhaps Allmendinger should focus on open-wheel racing with a good team, where he could be a star in the making.
FAS Lane Racing; Timmy Hill (No. 32 OXY Water Ford): After finishing four laps down in 38th, it may be time for this team to reconsider the man behind the wheel. Hill has had very little time in the Nationwide Series and none of that in a good car. What Frank Stoddard needs to find is a driver who has driven good equipment and knows how to race with it and give feedback to make it even better. A veteran like Mike Bliss might be a good fit for this team that falls further behind every week.
NEMCO Motorsports; Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Toyota): Nemechek suffered his tenth straight Pocono DNF with an engine failure this week; he hasn’t finished a race at the Tricky Triangle since 2008. Still, after years of start and parking here, at least this one rings legit.

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DoninAjax
06/10/2013 09:39 AM
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The first caution was for “debris” and SHE got back on the lead lap. Coincidence? It IS a Hendrick-Stewart car.

It is a much more enjoyable phone call for Brian from Hendrick this morning compared to last week.

GinaV24
06/10/2013 02:25 PM
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I’d love to go to the race at Rockingham but traveling from NJ on the weekend taxes are do is a non-starter for me.

You may not buy the conspiracy theories, but NASCAR gets yellow happy when it suits them. They needed to try and work up an exciting finish to make up for the incredibly boring parade that Pocono put on this past weekend. Funny thing is I saw tweets from the track saying how many people were leaving so they may have been there at the start, but if they didn’t stick around, well, NASCAR & the track get the $ anyway. I’ve been there, won’t go back. Nice place to visit but the racing is abysmally boring. At least from home, I can do other things and just check in via tv and raceview. I don’t have to waste an entire day.

apparently the Gen6 car is just as bad as its predecessor. I pay money to see PASSING and SIDE by SIDE racing, not a parade.

Steve K
06/10/2013 05:37 PM
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The announcers explained that due to the increased amount of carbon fiber on the cars, a car into the wall that hard should bring out a caution to how sharp shards of broken carbon fiber are. The Blaney accident was a bit harder than you are making it out to be Amy.

Annie
06/10/2013 06:13 PM
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Goodness..about Logano, never anything good to say ol’ Amy. Logano would be well into the Chase standings as it were today, two DNFS not of his doing did not help and lest we not forget the 25 point penalty. Given he had no time in the car this weekend to get it to his liking and not getting a chance for track position via quals (Pocono is about where you qual)respectable 10th, damn right from P21 owner points. As for the Gibb time, well thats a debate for another day. And what’s with the Nationwide dig? Come on…I look forward to your stellar comments concerning Ricky and Kyle in NW based on skill only (not superior equipment). LOL.

 

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