The Frontstretch: The Big Six: Questions Answered After the Irwin Tools Night Race by Amy Henderson -- Monday August 26, 2013

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Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Saturday night’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?

He’s out of a ride, and if the rumor mill is churning out the right information, it’s probable that he’s out of NASCAR, but Juan Pablo Montoya ran a great race on Saturday night. Montoya has made some noise on NASCAR’s short tracks this year, nearly winning at Richmond in May, and with that track on the schedule again in just two weeks, it’s possible that Montoya could go out with one more win as a parting gift.

Juan Pablo Montoya made some noise Saturday night at Bristol, but it could have been too little, too late.

Meanwhile, unless something changes drastically in NASCAR, a move to Indy cars might be the best possible move for Montoya. He has an Indianapolis 500 victory and is the only Cup regular with a Borg-Warner trophy on his shelf. Montoya never did get comfortable in a stock car, but anyone who has paid attention to his career knows that almost every time he straps into an open-wheel car, he’s a threat. His aggressive style could add a bit of needed excitement to the IndyCar Series, and he will likely be very well received by the fans of that series…all in all, the pastures are greener for Montoya there.

What… was THAT?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there’s something wrong here. With his win on Saturday night, Matt Kenseth stands to take over the points lead after Richmond. Unless, Jimmie Johnson wins this weekend in Atlanta or next week in Richmond, the points lead he earned for 24 weeks will be stripped away and handed to Kenseth, who’s currently 85 markers behind—more than a full race’s worth of points. A year ago, it was Greg Biffle watching all his hard work become next to useless in a matter of minutes.

And that’s just wrong. If NASCAR wants to reward winning (and they should), fine, but do it by awarding more bonus points at the time of the win and let the chips fall where they may afterward. I’d be for giving more bonus points than they give now, but awarding them at the time they’re won. It’s about rewarding excellence, but how is it justified to do it at the expense of someone who’s been consistently excellent all year long? Johnson has finished an average of three spots ahead of Kenseth this year…making him the better driver, overall, during that span. It was wrong to stiff Biffle last year and it will be just as wrong to do it again to Johnson this year. Taking away something earned fair and square isn’t the way to create excitement.

Where… did the defending race winner wind up?

Denny Hamlin cut a tire making a pass on Brian Vickers as Vickers moved to pass a lapped car, resulting in a seven-car pileup that not only assured that Hamlin wouldn’t defend his victory of a year ago, but also saw a bunch of drivers’ hopes wrecked. Kevin Harvick and Hamlin had a war of words on pit road after the incident after Harvick, who mistakenly thought Hamlin was the sole cause, parked in his pit box and Hamlin shoved him out with the nose of the No. 11. Hamlin led twice for more than 20 laps, but in the end, limped home 28th.

2013 has been a dismal year for Hamlin, who entered the season among the title favorites but hasn’t been able to kindle so much as a puff of smoke since returning from missing several weeks with a back injury earlier this year. At this point, cracking the top 20 in points by the end of the year would be a decent finish to Hamlin’s lost season.

When… will I be loved?

It was Bristol, after all. But for Bristol, it was relatively tame… there wasn’t an incident that was blatantly intentional, though there were a few where it looked like the spotters were asleep. And it’s hard to really even make the spotters a real villain… the misses make them more like, say Vector—in other words, they made some mistakes that shouldn’t have happened, but this is, after all, Bristol, where things happen in the blink of an eye.

The spotters who blinked at precisely the wrong moment on Saturday were plentiful, but the most obvious misses were by the No. 11 and 55 eyes in the sky. Denny Hamlin made a move to pass Brian Vickers… at the same time Vickers made a move to pass a lapped car. It looked like Vickers had no idea Hamlin was there and Hamlin had no idea Vickers was working on the lapped car. The result was a seven-car mess that left several drivers angry and Brad Keselowski, at least for the moment, out of the Chase field. It wasn’t intentional (this race was tame in that department, even coming to the checkers for the win), but it was costly.

Why… worry now?

Still think Jimmie Johnson’s the title favorite? While it’s a rotten thing that he could lose the points lead he earned due to the points reset, it’s also possible that he could lose it on his own, leaving Clint Bowyer in that unenviable position after Richmond. Johnson had a lead of almost two full races just a month ago…and now it’s just 18 markers as the bad luck just keeps on coming.

Meanwhile, Bowyer is lurking, and if this Chase does come down to consistency rather than wins, he could quickly become a title favorite.

Meanwhile, it’s looking even crazier at the back of the top 10. This week, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch fell out of the top 10 (and without wins, out of contention, at least for the moment) and Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano climbed in. With Kahne now in a points spot, Martin Truex, Jr. and Ryan Newman have a tenuous hold on the wild card entries. Will it be that way in two weeks? Don’t bank on it… which begs the question: the ever changing Chase picture is compelling, but is it relevant? As inconsistent as those guys have been from week to week, do they have much chance of having a real impact on the title?

How… did the little guys do?

Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan, Josh Wise & David Gilliland (No. 34 Peanut Patch Ford, No. 35 Carson-Newman University Ford & No. 38 Dockside Logistics Ford): Not only did Ragan notch the best finish (12th) among the small teams and among his teammates this week, he grabbed the second-highest finish of his career at Bristol. How did he do it? At least in part, by avoiding trouble where many of the small-team drivers were in the middle of things. Neither of Ragan’s teammates fared as well, as both Gilliland and Wise had brushes with other cars or the wall and wound up 25th and 37th, respectively, each multiple laps down.
BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil (No. 83 & 93 Burger King / Dr. Pepper Toyotas): One was collateral damage, the other was the cause, but both BK drivers were involved in Bristol incidents. Kvapil finished a lap down in 16th, a much-needed strong result for his team, but he’ll be more remembered for his involvement in the incident that saw leader Clint Bowyer hit the wall from the race lead. Not to be outdone, Reutimann was involved in a crash that also collected the point leader…but he wasn’t the cause. He also wasn’t able to recover nearly as well as his teammate, coming home 17 laps down in 29th.
Swan Racing; David Stremme (No. 30 Swan Energy / Lean 1 Toyota): Stremme was having a decent night, not able to run with the leaders, but staying out of trouble, something that in itself is a key to Bristol success. He ran as high as 16th during the race, but was caught in the final crash of the night, a seven-car affair that caused damage for three single-car teams. Despite heavy damage, Stremme was able to bring the No. 30 home in 17th spot, his best finish of 2013 on a non-restrictor plate track as this tiny team continues to put up impressive results.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Dave Blaney & JJ Yeley(No 7 Chevy & No. 36 United Mining Equipment Chevy): Blaney’s night wasn’t bad. His car was clearly not up to par, but the driver was as skilled as always, avoiding trouble and finishing 22nd, his best result since Talladega. Yeley had a similar day, not making much noise but finishing a respectable 24th, his best since Daytona.
Circle Sport; Tony Raines & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Little Joe’s Autos/Precon Marine Chevy & No. 40 Moon Shine Attitude Apparel Chevrolet): Cassill, who has bounced between the No. 40 and 33 for a month, continues to put up solid finishes for this team, this week bringing the No. 40 home in 23rd. Raines slapped the wall just past the halfway point, finishing the race but posting a 32nd-place result, 25 laps behind the winner.
FAS Lane Racing; Ken Schrader (No. 32 Federated Auto Parts Ford): Schrader was the second driver in this group involved in the pileup on lap 448, and he was able to race to a 27th-place finish, eight spots better than he started. Schrader was able to bring his damaged car home for his best result of the year on his limited schedule.
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Ford): Mears was running inside the top 20 with 75 laps to go, looking for a strong finish. Unfortunately for the No. 13 team, the race wasn’t over, because Mears was collected in the lap 448 dustup between Denny Hamlin and Brian Vickers and suffered extensive damage as a result. The team was able to get Mears back on track, but he was only able to limp home to 33rd place. How much as this team improved this year? Mears’ average finish is a full four positions better than his 2012 average, but even more telling is the number of times this team hasn’t finished in the top 30; of the six races where Mears has finished 30th or worse, five of them were due to damage from a crash he didn’t cause. He’s also cut the number of finishes in that range in half over 2012.
JTG-Daugherty Racing; Bobby Labonte (No. 47 Bush’s Beans Toyota): Labonte looked like a pinball as he was collected in a lap 177 incident between Travis Kvapil and Clint Bowyer. The No. 47 suffered heavy damage in the crash and while the team made repairs, Labonte wasn’t able to be competitive after running in the top 5 before the incident. He came home 38th, more than 100 laps down.
Phoenix Racing; Ryan Truex (No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevy): Apparently, Truex was given one piece of advice from his racer father before his Cup debut: stay out of (older brother) Martin’s way. He did that, but not exactly by design; Truex tagged the Turn 3 wall after completing just 39 laps and that was all she wrote. Truex’s 42nd-place finish was an inauspicious start to his Cup career, but the youngster has plenty of time to make his mark.
NEMCO Motorsports; Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Greer Roofing Toyota): When does a driver get the benefit of the doubt on whether or not his early exit was planned? When he makes just one lap before blowing the engine. Even the lowliest start and park teams make it farther than that.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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08/26/2013 09:22 AM

First of all, they’re called “points” not “markers”. Who started this “markers” crap anyway?

Second, if this points loss was to happen the Dale Jr., that would be the end of the chase. And if “FIVE TIME!” misses out because of this Nascar will indeed make ANOTHER change to the system. But it had to happen to a Hendrick driver…….

Everybody and their grandmother knows that WINNING should be the focus on earning a championship.

So even the spotters were asleep at this fuel mileage race? At Bristol? Funny….

Carl D.
08/26/2013 11:43 AM

I’m all for having bonus points for regular-season wins count in the chase. If Nascar wanted to reward consistency over wins, they should have never invented the whole chase format to begin with. Still, I see your point… winning the regular season ought to mean something. Maybe the regular season champion should be given the same amount of points as the chase qualifier with the most wins even if he has less wins. In other words, bump up Johnson’s point total to match Kenseth’s at the start of the chase. It seems fair, even though I’m not a fan of the #48 team.

Carl D.
08/26/2013 11:45 AM

P.S…. I don’t mean this year. I was just using Johnson and Kenseth as an example. The rules are already set for this year.

08/26/2013 12:14 PM

I’ve been saying for years…why can’t we have a “Winners Champion” and a “Points Champion”?

With the emphasis on the “Winners Champion”. Give them the “Bill France Sr.” trophy.

The NFL has the SB champion but still have division champions.

Old Fan Bill
08/26/2013 12:34 PM

The #55 claimed that the #17 engine was blowing up(not) and thats why he got in to the #11. I guess it depends on who it was as to whether you blame it on the spotter or the driver. Either way Vickers took responsibilty for the incident.

08/26/2013 01:32 PM

They should make the regular season standings factor in the Chase seedings again, like they did 2004-6. Then add bonus points for race wins. That way a driver’s seed is a combination of wins and consistency. That would provide the regular season winner a certain advantage but also reward race wins.

I think its bad for the field that the 48 is having all these issues “pre-Chase”.

08/26/2013 02:45 PM

Pre ‘chase’ points, post ‘chase’ points, ‘race to the chase’ points…ridiculous. How about a full season champion? This is just stupid, pretending these same guys don’t race each other every week on the same track.

08/26/2013 02:58 PM

Hated “The Chase” since its inception. It creates soft racing because they all know their season is cut short by 10 races if they do not get into “The Chase”. So its lets make the top 10, thats a good day. Who can blame the teams with for that mindset? I truly believe it is a big problem with the lack of a good show we used to have. Alot of teams outside the bubble have been good, their troubles are for blown tires and getting caught in someone’s mess, yes that is part of racing, but by cutting the season short it also starts the conversation with the less critical thinkers that “so and so stinks, they didn’t make The Chase”. That attitude opens a whole can of not true worms that trickle all sorts of repercussions around the sport. The real brains behind Nascar must be rolling in their graves. King Brian sits in his castle counting his media revenue money and continues to throw true fans under the race car. And really JPM as your standout for the race, did you even watch the race?

08/26/2013 04:18 PM

Gee, you’re just coming to the realization that the guy leading the points BEFORE the chase gets screwed most of the time? Have you been sleeping since this stupidity started? It has happened every season and the points racing to get into the chase has been a big part of why the races are so darn boring – along with a bad race car & terrible tires.

I don’t feel bad for Johnson. They are in testing mode for the chase. Leading the points going into the chase is meaningless – its all about the last 10 races for them after the 48 team locks in.

08/26/2013 05:01 PM

I’m not a Hamlin or Harvick fan but I think someone should be fined for the BS that went on between the two. Especially Harvick if he intentionally parked in Hamlin’s pit and knowing Harvick’s past I think he did.
This is the first I watched a race from start to finish in quite a while because it was the Bristol night race and especially because Johnson was not even on the radar.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.