Amy Henderson · Monday July 15, 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?
There are a lot of deserving drivers this week—Bobby Labonte, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson to name a few. But while my shoutout isn’t really supposed to go to the race winner, part time drivers aren’t supposed to win races, either, and in the end, Brian Vickers flat deserves all the accolades he gets. Three years ago, Vickers didn’t know if he would even be able to race again after doctors discovered blood clots in his legs and lungs. Two years ago, Vickers didn’t know where he might race again as his Red Bull team was shutting down. Last year, he put in an admirable performance in an eight-race stint with Michael Waltrip Racing and he entered this year as a full-time Nationwide competitor but with no Cup ride secured, though he was rumored as the frontrunner to take over the No. 55 in 2014 after the departure of Mark Martin.
After Sunday’s performance, No. 55 crew chief Rodney Childers said that Vickers coming on board is very likely, and really, if sponsor Aaron’s were to balk at Vickers after what he’s shown he can do in the car, they’re crazy. Part-time drivers have to overcome working with a crew that’s used to another driver and a car that’s not necessarily set up exactly to his tastes because the team simply isn’t as familiar with his preferences. Yet Vickers has climbed in that car in almost all of his scheduled races and performed like he was never out of the seat. Because Vickers has been around for so long, it’s also easy to overlook the fact that he has not yet passed his 30th birthday—he’s just now coming into the prime of his career and that could mean the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship for both Vickers and Aaron’s.
What… was THAT?
It shouldn’t be rocket science, but apparently, a fair (and easy to make consistent) penalty policy for race weekends is beyond NASCAR’s grasp. I’m not interested in conspiracy theories or any of that nonsense, but why was Jimmie Johnson allowed to race this weekend after failing postqualifying inspection and having his second-place time disallowed? By the rule book it was because Johnson had a provisional available, but why on Earth does NASCAR allow a team whose time has been tossed for a car out of spec to use a provisional at all? Sorry, 48 fans, but Johnson and his team should have been watching this one on TV…as should every team whose time is disallowed for a qualifying infraction. It would be easy to give a team the chance to prove a part failure…and if they couldn’t? Well, sorry; have a safe trip home.
The penalty system would be much fairer and more transparent if there was a set system in place for penalties based on when a violation occurred during a race weekend. Opening tech? Make them sit out practice to fix it and represent; the car never took to the track, so no harm, no foul. Before qualifying? Put them on the clock to fix it(and don’t allow work to start until the first car is on track), and if they can’t, they don’t get a time—but if they do have a provisional available, let them use it as the car didn’t actually compete illegally. After qualifying, if they can’t prove a failure, toss the time and send them packing. If they pass post qualifying but can’t get through prerace, make them fix it, and if they don’t get to the grid on time, they shouldn’t have made that adjustment, should they? Finally, if it’s after the race, strip the finish, the points, and all money won and put an asterisk next to the driver’s name on the final race report for posterity. That would be fair, and it would be transparent; fans would know exactly what was coming and they wouldn’t have to wait until Wednesday to know what NASCAR might decide to do this week, to this team.
Where…did the defending race winner wind up?
Kasey Kahne entered 2013 looking like a title favorite, but he’s not found the consistency that a title run will require. He’s got speed to spare; Kahne has always been able to squeeze speed out of a race car, but he doesn’t always have the finishes to show for that. Loudon was no exception, as Kahne was running in the top ten late in the race, looking for more, only to get loose and shuffled out of the lead pack. He was able to finish a respectable eleventh, but Kahne wasn’t looking for respectable at NHMS, and respectable doesn’t win many titles.
What’s the magic formula for the No. 5 crowd? That’s not as easy as it sounds. Kahne isn’t slow, and while his luck hasn’t been as abysmal as teammate Jeff Gordon’s, his consistency hasn’t matched Jimmie Johnson’s or Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s this year either. There are times when a driver’s own speed gets him in trouble; Kahne is no exception though he does keep his nose fairly clean. Bottom line? It’s not one thing that’s keeping Kahne from being a top title favorite…but there’s no magic solutuion, either.
When…will I be loved?
Aggressive driving is part of racing, and arguably necessary for winning. But a smart driver knows when and where to be aggressive and when and where to bide their time and be patient. During the first half a race, patience is a virtue, and a veteran driver should know that. Apparently Kevin Harvick forgot on Sunday. Sure, they were three-wide, and Marcos Ambrose was possibly driving over his head, but that wasn’t a reason to wreck him so early in the race; had Harvick backed out and let everyone regroup, he had all day to make up a lost spot or two. Instead, Harvick chose to punt Ambrose into traffic, ruining not only Ambrose’s day, but also AJ Allmendinger’s and Casey Mears’ days. The No. 51 and No. 13 teams were just hoping for a decent day, but instead, they got backmarker finishes for their trouble.
Had the incident happened on lap 295 with Ambrose keeping Harvick from being able to contend for a top finish, a bumo and run would have been justified. Flat dumping a driver, intentionally, before the race has even really settled into a groove? That’s just poor form. Harvick isn’t wondering where his next ride will be and the No. 29 team isn’t wondering where the money to fix a torn-up car will come from. For Ambrose, Allmendinger, and Mears, that’s not the case.
The points in the bottom half of the top ten through 20th remained volatile, with Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart falling out after misfortune ended what looked like winning runs. Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne slid back into the top 10 after a day that was solid, but not a race-winning day for either. The wild-card spots are currently in the hands of Martin Truex, Jr. and Stewart, but with a few teams looking like they’re on the brink of a breakthrough win, there’s plenty of room for that to change.
It was a bit surprising last week that many people were abuzz with talk about the success of Kurt Busch and his “small” Furniture Row Racing team. FRR is only a small team on paper, folks. That’s not to take away from Busch, who is an immensely talented driver, but this is where the team, which operates as a fourth Richard Childress Racing team, should be running every week. FRR’s competition director is an RCR employee, anf the teams share information and resources at a level that’s at least that of Stewart-Hass Racing and Hendrick Motorsports, if not even higher. Given this, the No. 78 is running where they should be running—and they’re right in the middle of the RCR pack, trailing Kevin Harvick in points but comparable to (and slightly better than; not surprisingly considering Busch’s talent) the Nos. 31 and 27. This isn’t the same as a team like Phoenix Racing or Germain Racing suddenly showing Chase potential; it’s a team running exactly where they should be expected to run.
How…did the little guys do?
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 and Ragan carried the flag for the small teams this weekend, finishing 18th and 19th, respectively. Gilliland’s run was his best without a restrictor plate all year, and Ragan had his best finish since winning at Talladega and his second-best of 2013. These are exactly the kind of finishes this team needs at the non-plate tracks in order to move to the next level. They’ve proven they can do it if circumstances are right, now they have to make them right even when they aren’t.
Swan Racing; David Stremme (No. 30 Lean 1/Hannaford Toyota): Another race, another solid performance for this team. After a crash not of their doing left them picking up the pieces after Daytona, Stremme and Co. pulled it together this week for a top 14 at Loudon, their best since a 12th at Talladega and second top 20 on a non-restrictor plate track. Sure, there have been hiccups along the way, but this team should be very pleased with its progress so far this year.
Phoenix Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevy): Despite minor damage after being collected in the Kevin Harvick-Marcos Ambrose spat at lap 15, Allmendinger was able to use a late free pass and solid strategy to get back on the lead lap for a 22nd-place finish. Not exactly chicken salad out of you-know-what, but a credible performance for a team that got involved in an incident that was completely avoidable and never should have happened. With the team’s earlier-stated shut-down after Indy looming, if a buyer can be found, that buyer would be receiving a turnkey operation that is running as well as, if not better than, their equipment should allow. A buyer with the resources to take the team forward could move it out of the small-team realm onto the level of Richard Petty Motorsports or Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Dave Blaney & J.J. Yeley(No 7 SANY Chevy & No. 36 United Mining Equipment Chevy): Loudon is the closest thing to a home track for Connecticut native Baldwin, and the short-track style of racing proved good for Blaney, who tied his best non-plate finish of the year with a 23rd-place run and finished on the lead lap for just the sixth time in 2013. Yeley didn’t fare as well, winding up 29th, three laps down after carrying the TBR banner last week.
NEMCO Motorsports; Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Toyota): For many teams, even among this group, a 25th-place run might not be something to celebrate, but for Nemechek, a former Loudon winner, it was his best run of 2013, despite not having a sponsor on the car for the second time in three weeks. When push comes to shove, Nemechek can still race, but his equipment lags so far behind even his closest competition’s most weeks that we don’t get to see him do it very often. His 25th-place this week was nhis second lead-lap finish this year.
JTG-Daugherty Racing; Bobby Labonte (No. 47 Kingsford Toyota): Labonte ran out of fuelin the closing laps…while running in the top 10. The team has already burned the bridge, but this week’s run showed that Labonte, with the right strategy and a decent car, can still run with the best of them—on late restarts, he outraced Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and other drivers for top teams. But for a gallon of Sunoco, Labonte was the best in the small-team class on Sunday. *BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil * (No. 83 & 93 Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): Reutimann has been solid at Loudon in the past, but apparently couldn’t get in a groove this time around. He came home 28th, two laps off the pace and seven spots behind his NHMS average. Kvapil had quietly begun to pick up spots in the second half of the race after starting 31st, and was looking for a solid top-25 run..until Danica Partick got loose checking up in traffic and slid into Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on lap 238, collecting Kvapil in the process. Kvapil drove alongside Patrick afterward to express his displeasure, but that didn’t change his 38th-place result.
FAS Lane Racing; Ken Schrader (No. 32 Federated Auto Parts Ford): Schrader put up the team’s fourth top-30 run in a row finishing 30th at his car owner’s home track. Is that enough of a trend to say they’re improving? Not quit, because all four runs were with veteran drivers in the car; youngster Timmy Hill has had sporadic success in the form of finishes in the mid-to-low 20’s, but this team needs consistency and Hill hasn’t provided that—the team should be putting Schrader or Terry Labonte in the seat more often and farming Hill out to a Nationwide ot CWTS team, at least for the rest of this year. That could be the key to them getting better over the long haul.
Circle Sport; Landon Cassill (No. 33 Little Joe’s Autos/Precon Marine Chevy): Perhaps the poorest of the poor, this team plugged away at Loudon, toiling toward the back, but aiming to finish the race. A transmission failure with just a handful of laps remaining sent them packing early, but this team continues to impress with its perseverance alone.
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Ford): Extensive damage from a too-early incident between Kevin Harvick and Marcos Ambrose (that Mears, with nowhere to go, got the worst of) left Mears 60 laps down in 36th, his worst finish since Darlington two months ago. Hand it to the No. 13 group, though. A year ago, they would have packed up and gone home after a wreck that bad. This time around, they fixed it and picked up a few spots before the checkers.
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