Amy Henderson · Monday August 5, 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?
For the first time in 2013, Ryan Newman posted back-to-back top-5 finishes, coming hone fourth after winning at Indianapolis last weekend. Newman’s good for a win or two a year these days, but to really impress potential employers looking to hire him for 2014 and beyond, Newman needs to post consistent competitive finishes. Another win could land him in the Chase, but his team, while vastly improved over this spring, isn’t championship caliber yet. Newman needs to display the kind of consistency that won him the 2002 rookie title despite having fewer wins and a lower overall points finish than fellow rookie Jimmie Johnson. Sure, he needs wins, too, but he doesn’t need to take chances to get them that land him 35th.
Newman will likely not equal his 8-win season of 2003, but he’s still a marketable talent who can help a team gather valuable information on their cars. He’d be a good fit with a team like Richard Childress Racing, which could use a shakeup, or even a team looking to make the next step forward, like the No. 51, which was just sold, reportedly to Harry Scott, who is serious about fielding winning race cars at every level. He’ll land somewhere, but a strong finish could make a big difference in what caliber of team it’s with.
What… was THAT?
While ESPN’s broadcast wasn’t bad overall (though why anyone would risk it by having both Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett on-air is a mystery), there was one segment in the pre-race show that rankled, a piece on the so-called “Danica Effect” on bringing young girls into racing. While it’s great that Danica’s hometown track g. While it’s great that Danica’s hometown track now boasts 40% female drivers in the field, the piece didn’t do young female racers any favors. The reality is that the road to the top ranks of racing won’t be any easier for them because of Patrick. Just look at drivers like Johnanna Long, Ali Owens, or Chrissy Wallace. All three are immensely talented (probably moreso than Patrick if we’re being honest, here) and should, if women are gaining ground in racing, be racing in NASCAR’s national touring series in decent equipment. But they aren’t. Long is running the Nationwide Series, but in a woefully underfunded car, and she’s every bit as talented and as marketable as Patrick.
What is the “Danica Effect,” then, really? If Patrick’s presence in racing has made more little girls dream of following in her footsteps, that’s great, make no mistake about that. But will most of these girls have anything close to the opportunities that Patrick has been given in her career? Based on the numbers, probably not. And if that’s the case, there’s really no effect at all in the end.
Where…did the defending race winner wind up?
After coming tantalizingly close to winning on his 42nd birthday, Jeff Gordon had to settle for second after a late spin by Matt Kenseth and the resulting caution took away his growing lead. Gordon was able to get a strong restart with two laps remaining, but it wasn’t enough as teammate Kasey Kahne, who had the strongest race car for much of the late going, was able to get by him in Turn 1 to steal the win away.
For Gordon, 2013 is the first season to really hint at a driver entering the twilight of his career. Sure he’s got some good years left, but the bulk of his tremendous career is behind him now. On his 42nd birthday, Gordon made his 42nd Pocono start, reminding us that he’s raced at this level for literally half his life. Many fans don’t remember a race without Jeff Gordon in it. Gordon is still more than capable of winning races, but the chance at the fifth title that once seemed to be a foregone conclusion is slipping away. He has five titles as owner-of-record of the No. 48, but Gordon never set out to leave a mark as a car owner. He’s a certain Hall of Famer no matter what, but he’s still capable of much more in his career…if Lady Luck will get off his back.
When…will I be loved?
It would be easy to bag on Danica Patrick here, and it wouldn’t be unjustified; when she lost control of her car on her own, it ruined the days of three drivers who needed a good finish. It would also be easy to blame Goodyear for the rash of blown tires that also ruined some days, including that of the polesitter.
But all in all, it was a decent race at a totally unique track—something we see far too few of in NASCAR these days. So I’m going to give this week’s “not cool” award to the naysayers who would take a race from Pocono without a second thought. No, it’s not racing like you might see at Bristol or Martinsville, but it is fun to watch a lot of the time. The track is so tough to set up for that even the top teams aren’t guaranteed success on race day. Pit road is tough to navigate, the Tunnel Turn is legendary (and it is fun to watch cars race around it, whether they’re running for the lead or 25th place). Neither NASCAR nor the track have any control over the lack of roads that lead there, so traffic isn’t a valid reason to complain either.
What it boils down to is that NASCAR needs more races at tracks that aren’t 1.5-2-mile ovals/tri-ovals/quad-ovals, not more of them. And while in theory, if a date was to be taken from Pocono, what are the chances it would go to someplace like Darlington and not Kentucky or Fontana or another cookie-cutter? Probably slim to none. A track like Pocono, that provides teams with a unique challenge is good for the sport, not a detriment. The racing is certainly no worse than it is at Kentucky or Fontana or another cookie-cutter, and it makes the teams work harder. And that’s never a bad thing.
With five races to go until the Chase, there are still several drivers perfectly capable of winning a race and making a late wild-card bid: Brad Keselowski won at Watkins Glen last year, Kurt Busch has wins at four of the fife remaining tracks, Jeff Gordon has wins at all of them (he’s currently in the top 10 in points, but a win would solidify a title bid immensely), and Joey Logano has been running well enough that a win isn’t out of the realm of imagination.
But while the race to make the title hunt is heating up, nobody seems to want to emerge as a title favorite. Jimmie Johnson’s pit crew has made enough mistakes to raise questions about their ability to close the deal once the points are reset. Matt Kenseth will likely be in the top two after that reset, but Toyota hasn’t solved their engine issues to a degree that makes any of their teams look like serious contenders. Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. are mediocre most weeks. This week’s winner, Kasey Kahne, is inconsistent. Could that leave Kevin Harvick, a driver at the end of his tenure with the No. 29, as the best bet? He hasn’t shown the strength of Johnson consistently, but if his team can have a mistake-free Chase, he’s got a better shot than he’s been given credit for so far.
How…did the little guys do?
JTG-Daugherty Racing; Bobby Labonte (No. 47 Scott Products Toyota): Sometimes, experience is still an advantage. Labonte may not have the age or equipment on his side that he did for his three Pocono wins, but he still easily took the best-in-class finish, the only driver in this group to pull off a top-20 run at the Tricky Triangle. It’s the team’s best result since Richmond this spring. There was a close call for Labonte this week when Matt Kenseth got loos underneath him in the closing laps, but he escaped unscathed.
Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & Josh Wise & David Gilliland (No. 34 Taco Bell Ford & No. 35 MDS Transport Ford & No. 38 Jong John Silver’s Ford): Despite Ragan’s 21st-place finish, it wasn’t a great day for FRM overall. David Gilliland crashed on lap 54 after what he thinks may have been a flat right front tire. “It felt like a tire went down. The left front was down after the wreck that I saw but I don’t know exactly what happened. It felt like we blew a tire and hit the wall probably at one of the worst places you would want to hit it,” Gilliland said afterward. He was unhurt in the crash. Wise made what has become a rare start and park appearance, pulling into the garage after just 44 laps.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Dave Blaney & J.J. Yeley(No 7 Chevy & No. 36 Chevy): Sometimes small improvements go unnoticed, but Sunday should not be in that category for this team. Blaney’s 23rd-place run and JJ Yeley’s 25th were both lead lap finishes, but the big difference this week compared to a year ago is that in 2012, these teams often parked early, while so far in 2013, they’re going the distance, even in weeks like this when they’re racing without a primary sponsor. To a big team, finishing is a foregone conclusion, but for some of these, having the resources to race the didtance each week is a small victory in itself.
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Ford): Pocono was Mears’ best finish (24th) since he nabbed a top 10 at Daytona last month. It’s his first lead-lap finish since then, too. This team is still very much the best among its peers, but they’ve stagnated just a bit this summer after showing huge improvement earlier in the season. Have they reached the peak of their resources? It’s hard to say, because while they struggled at Indy, the crash that ruined their day at Loudon was anything but Mears’ fault, and they were outstanding at Daytona. There’s room for this team to grow, but do they have the resources to go with the potential?
BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil (No. 83 & 93 Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): Kvapil got the weekend off to a solid start with one of the best qualifying runs in this group, and finished it off in decent shape, coming home 26th on the lead lap. Reutimann was running in the low 20’s for much of the afternoon, and it was looking like a strong weekend for the BK duo, but the No. 83 had its day derailed when Reutimann was collected in Danica Patrick’s late-race spin. They’ve quietly gone from a team finishing in the low 30’s to one who has shown they can be in the mid 20’s-and a few spots means a bit more money to keep on growing.
FAS Lane Racing; Timmy Hill (No. 32 OXY Water Ford): On one hand, Hill grabbed his best finish since Charlotte in May and tied that race for his season-best result. On the other hand, his season-best result is a 27th, and he’s finished in the top 30 only twice in ten races this year. You can’t blame Hill; he’s barely 20 years old and had just 61 Nationwide Series races under his belt prior to this season. He’s doing the best he can. But what this team desperately needs to get better is solid input from a veteran driver who knows how to communicate what a Cup car is doing on the track, while Hill should be growing his talent in the Nationwide or Truck Series and proving his worth to top terams at that level before running Cup full time. There’s not a lack of talent on the team, but there is a lack of consistency and experience.
Circle Sport Racing; Tony Raines & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Little Joe’s Autos/Precon Marine Chevy & No. 40 Interstate Moving Services Chevrolet): Pocono was a big weekend for this team as they attempted to run two cars for the first time with full RCR support for one of them. Leaving Cassill in the No. 40 in an attempt to gain points paid off, as Cassill finished 29th, a decent result for an underpowered team on a track like Pocono. Raines didn’t fare as well in the No. 33, parking early when it was clear that there wasn’t much to salvage from the day. The switch does hint at Cassill’s considerable talent, moved to a second car and still outperforming the team’s primary operation. He’s a driver who might be really fun to watch in competitive equipment…
Swan Racing; David Stremme (No. 30 Widow Wax Toyota): While this team was front and center for a few minutes on ESPN’s broadcast, it was for all the worng reasons after the tire gremlin that plagued several teams on Sunday bit Stremme and the right front on the No. 30 blew, sending Stremme into the wall. Still, Stremme salvaged a decent enough day, finishing 30th, a few spots ahead of where he was running before the incident. This first-year team is going through some expected growing pains, but they look to be setting themselves up for a decent future.
Phoenix Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevy): A brake failure ended Allemndinger’s weekend, which got off to a strong start with a 15th-place qualifying effort, and he ran int the top 20 as late as lap 120 before his untimely exit at lap 122. It’s plain that if Mears is the class of this field as a driver, this might be the best overall team.
NEMCO Motorsports; Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Toyota): Hand it to the veteran, even since Nemechek’s sponsors ran out, he is still making an admirable effort to compete each week. This week he was caught up in David Gilliland’s crash and completed just 55 laps..a cruel twist for a tiny team trying to stay in the game.
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