The Frontstretch: The Big Six: Questions Answered After The Quicken Loans 400 by Amy Henderson -- Monday June 17, 2013

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The Big Six: Questions Answered After The Quicken Loans 400

Amy Henderson · Monday June 17, 2013


Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, 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?

There’s supposed to be a runner-up jinx? Don’t tell that to Clint Bowyer, who showed why he’s still a title threat at Michigan. Bowyer qualified just 27th, then got caught in a chain reaction on the start, causing damage that required repairs and multiple pit stops. In short, it looked like his day was over before it started. Not so fast. Bowyer clawed his way forward throughout an event in which track position and pit strategy ruled the day, ultimately claiming a seventh-place finish while other top drivers faltered.

Clint Bowyer was all smiles Sunday after recovering from an early incident at Michigan to post a seventh-place finish.

That’s the kind of comeback which makes a team dangerous in the Chase. It was what gave Brad Keselowski his championship edge last year and ultimately gave Bowyer that runner-up spot as well. If he can grab a win or two before the Chase, proving once again the No. 15 can run up front Bowyer will once again be battling near the top of the charts. He returns to Sonoma next weekend as the defending race winner, with a car the team says is better than last year; maybe those wins could be just around the corner.

What… was THAT?

OK, so this week’s WTF isn’t exactly from Sunday’s action, but rather something I’ve been thinking about since hearing of Jason Leffler’s death last week and the subsequent efforts to provide financial help for Leffler’s son, Charlie, as he gets older. The outpouring of help shows the best of the NASCAR community… but why isn’t there some form of help already set up?

So many top drivers today have foundations set up to assist children, families, veterans, and even pets. These are certainly worthy causes, in their own right yet there are already so many charities dedicated to them. Someone (or many someones) from within all forms of racing should be setting up a foundation to assist the families of drivers who lose their lives to the sport they love so much. There have been more than 300 driver deaths at smaller tracks and in smaller series in the past decade, paired with no true “charity” for their “cause.” Many of them didn’t make money from their racing endeavors, leaving their families down an income from whatever other jobs these racers had.

So why is this tragedy not the focus of a foundation? Is it not trendy enough? Perhaps the NASCAR Foundation should set up an arm for this purpose instead of distributing funds into other charities. It just seems that drivers should be helping their own on a regular, established basis along with reaching out to help others. I’m not knocking the charity work that these drivers do by any means; they put countless hours into their work for various causes. It just seems like someone should step up and help closer to home. There, but for the grace of God go I…

Where… did the defending race winner wind up?

It looked as if Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was among the top contenders in the race, if not a lock to repeat… until his engine dropped a cylinder and eventually gave up the ghost altogether, leaving the perennial Most Popular Driver garage bound. In the end, he was done racing for the day with just a 37th–place finish to show for having one of the best cars in the field.

A Hendrick engine failure is pretty rare, but the entire HMS squad was snakebit on Sunday. Besides Earnhardt’s engine woes, Jeff Gordon was caught in an early crash not of his making, while both Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson were stalking the win until flat right front tires sent both drivers into the wall. The difficult part of that equation is that only Johnson could really afford a bad finish. Kahne and Earnhardt needed a points boost, while Gordon is on the outside looking in as the Chase looms ever larger on the horizon.

When…will I be loved?

Carl Edwards will be looking to rebound next week after engine woes kept him from being competitive down the stretch at Michigan.

Early on, it looked like a real villain might emerge. After Kurt Busch got into Carl Edwards, shortly after the start of the race Edwards vowed that he’d retaliate. But the budding rivalry never got the chance, because Busch blew a right front tire, sending his No. 78 into the wall and relegating him to a backmarker finish. After that, it became clear that someone must have peed in the Luck Fairy’s Cheerios because several others who had cars good enough to contend for the win went the same way as Busch.

It was tires for Kahne, Johnson, and Jamie McMurray, a blown engine for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and an unknown culprit for Carl Edwards, who was down on power in the closing laps. But the end result for each was the same, drivers who should have been battling for the win instead left to lick their wounds and console themselves with knowing that, at least they have some good notes for when they return to Michigan in August.

Why… worry now?

Don’t look now, but that’s Tony Stewart in the top 10 in points. On the strength of his fifth-place run, coupled with the misfortune of Kasey Kahne, Stewart slipped into the final points spot in the Chase. That makes the “wild card” picture cloudier. At the moment, Kahne has one spot, while winless Paul Menard has the other. But within 11th through 20th place, there are at least four drivers (Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch) who look like they could snag a win in the summer months. A victory for any could be the security blanket they need to stay in contention. Meanwhile, a couple of the drivers in the low 20s could sneak in, too, with a pair of road courses that will benefit inconsistent Marcos Ambrose or Juan Pablo Montoya.

If you’re watching Denny Hamlin, well, he’s increasingly on the edge of it all. 85 points outside the top 20, he’s going to have to win, likely multiple times just to pull himself into “wild card” eligibility. Losing a spot in the standings this week, to 26th he’s got a number of quality drivers to climb over. Sure, you can probably pencil his No. 11 team in for a win at Richmond; but by then? It could be too little, too late.

How…did the little guys do?

Nationwide regular Austin Dillon, double-dipping this weekend posted a career-best 11th-place finish in Sprint Cup.

Circle Sport; Austin Dillon (No. 33 American Ethanol Chevy): This great finish is a bit deceiving. When Dillon runs the No. 33, it’s simply not the same equipment that Landon Cassill pilots each week; instead, it’s every bit a fourth Richard Childress Racing machine. But while Dillon’s 11th-place result isn’t on the same level that the same finish by Cassill would be, it was a career best for the rookie, who ran as high as second during the day. Not bad for a guy who needs some experience before he moves to Sprint Cup full-time next year; a good owner points day for Joe Falk was an added bonus.
Wood Brothers Racing; Trevor Bayne (No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford): Bayne has been good at Michigan in the Nationwide Series, with a pair of top 5s in four starts, so it should come as no surprise that he had a solid day in the No. 21. But given the team’s results, on a limited schedule this year, it was a bit unexpected they would put up a 15th-place result. Michigan, with an emphasis on horsepower has been hard on underfunded teams in the past; good for the Woods that they rose above the fray.
JTG-Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Charter Toyota): Note to the No. 47: dropping Bobby Labonte like a hot potato might not have been such a good idea. The team fared no better with Allmendinger; while a 19th-place result was solid, it wasn’t the team’s best finish of the year, nor did it beat Labonte’s result in the same race a year ago. Allmendinger is a good driver, but he’s not as experienced as Labonte, and is more prone to the kind of mistake that tears up equipment and costs the team money and time fixing cars. Plus, it’s unlikely that the organization will have a myriad of past champions clamoring for the seat next year. It will be interesting to see if this team picks up in the other races Labonte’s not scheduled for, but it just doesn’t look like the driver is the problem.
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Ford): “That was close,” commented Mears after Bobby Labonte spun in front of him, nearly collecting the No. 13. Mears escaped harm (though he might have wished for a dry uniform afterward) but the team was never able to find enough rear end grip throughout the race. Still, 21st was a solid enough finish to move Mears up a spot in driver points, to 25th, the best among the drivers in this group.
Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & Josh Wise & David Gilliland (No. 34 Taco Bell Ford & No. 35 MDS Transport Chevy & No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford): It was Gilliland at the top of the FRM heap this week, with a solid, 22nd-place run that gained him a spot in the points. Gilliland has been, overall, FRM’s best bet this year; despite his win at Talladega, David Ragan’s average finish is slightly lower. Ragan also brought home a top 25 this week, running 25th, on the lead lap. Wise, meanwhile parked early for the first time this year; hopefully, that won’t become a trend for a team that’s worked hard to get out from under that particular stigma.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Dave Blaney & J.J. Yeley (No. 7 SANY Chevy & No. 36 Chevy): The unsponsored Yeley was TBR’s top man this week, scoring a 24th-place finish, his best since Daytona in February and gaining a spot in driver points to boot. That’s not exactly a small accomplishment, given that blank, white TBR cars generally pack it in early on race day. Dave Blaney endured a somewhat more difficult afternoon by comparison. Struggling to find some speed, he finished 31st, a lap down, and was never really above the top 25.
BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil (No. 83 & No. 93 Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): Kvapil got his team a little TV time late in the race as he competed with leader Greg Biffle to stay on the lead lap as the white flag flew. He did outrace Biffle on the final lap, a small victory to pair with his mediocre 27th-place result. It was a long day for Reutimann, meanwhile as he slapped the wall on lap 18 after suffering a flat tire. The other Burger King Toyota ended up two laps down in 33rd, not able to recover from the early issue.

Swan Racing; David Stremme (No. 30 Widow Wax Toyota): For a brand-new team, Stremme and Co. have had some pretty strong weeks… but Michigan’s race wasn’t one of them. These intermediate ovals really show a team’s shortcomings and many small ones, including this single-car outfit fall victim. Stremme finished 29th, just one spot behind Jimmie Johnson in the final tally, but much of his result can be attributed to the misfortune of drivers in better cars.
FAS Lane Racing; Ken Schrader (No. 32 Federated Auto Parts Ford): This team is one that should have shown some improvement this year. They have sponsor money from OXY Water, as well as returning backers like Federated, but something is holding them back that hasn’t affected similar teams as badly. FAS Lane should be on a similar track to Germain Racing, or even Tommy Baldwin’s operation, but they aren’t improving the way they should. Schrader’s 34th-place finish was, overall, pretty average for this team this year, and they should be better than that. Unlike the No. 47, perhaps it is time for the No. 32 to make a driver change to someone who can run every race and help them get more out of their equipment.
NEMCO Motorsports; Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Belle Tire Toyota): Nemechek is finishing races this year, and that’s a good thing, but it’s hard to say his heart’s in it in the Cup Series. Nemechek came home seven laps down in 36th spot this week, and while the couple of positions he gained when others had trouble will help fund his Nationwide Series effort, he looks to be mailing it in on Sundays.
Phoenix Racing; Bobby Labonte (No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevy): Labonte lost a right front tire and spun just five laps into the race, collecting Jeff Gordon and sustaining too much damage to the No. 51 to continue. That must have been a bitter pill for Labonte, who was displaced from his regular ride this week to see if AJ Almmendinger could figure out what’s slowing down the No. 47.

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06/17/2013 01:59 AM

Denny Hamlin..a mention again..with all the worthy stories. Fan a tic. Bias blogger..guess that your right. Rock on!

06/17/2013 09:28 AM

Amy, I had the same thought about Leffler’s donations. I don’t understand why one of the drivers in NASCAR isn’t stepping up on this at all. They are talking about how much they like him and miss him. Well, as you say, do something more practical than just say you’re sorry.

Carl D.
06/17/2013 09:44 AM

I didn’t realize that Labonte blew a tire before his spin. I thought, like Gordon said, he just lost it. I’m glad to know there was a little more to it than Bobby just losing it.

Chris in TX
06/17/2013 11:14 AM

WRT the 47: If the statements from JTG last week are taken at face value, then they got exactly what they wanted. A second opinion. In this case, confirmation that they have 30th place equipment (and that if things go awesome with other cars having issues, they could finish around 20th).

I’m sure Labonte is probably happy to find out that it’s hot him. Allmendinger had been able to run the 51 car top-15 on several tracks. If he was able to do the same in the 47, that would have pointed to a driver issue.

The 51 team may be much less happy with the swap.

06/17/2013 11:41 AM

Amy, nothing I heard or read anywhere indicates that Labonte’s tire blew before he spun. I don’t want to seem like I’m picking on Labonte here, but am I the only one who sees the irony in your statement in re: Labonte vs Allmendinger, that Labonte would not be the one “prone to the kind of mistake that tears up equipment and costs the team money and time fixing cars”? Sure looked like he made one on Lap 6, no?

06/17/2013 12:36 PM

51 blew a brake line I heard. Sucks for Bobby

06/17/2013 02:26 PM

51 spun part failure at all..& it was the Dingers first race in the car 2nd this season I think..

06/17/2013 07:14 PM

If Edwards didn’t have an engine problem I imagine he would have done better than twenty-something to eighth during the last run to the checkers.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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