Amy Henderson · Monday September 2, 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?
You didn’t hear a lot about Martin Truex, Jr. throughout the night, unless it was talk about his broken wrist. Truex had Scott Speed on standby, but it turned out that he didn’t need a relief driver, though he was visibly feeling the effects of his injury after the race. His cast was broken and melted after the race, but Truex brought the No. 56 home in 3rd spot, outdriving some very strong teams to get there.
By virtue of his performance, Truex held onto a wild card spot by five points over Ryan Newman heading into Richmond. Unless Kasey Kahne is able to make up ten points to squeeze into the Chase on points, he’s got one wild card. If Truex is able to hang on, his Atlanta run will be a big part of the reason why.
What… was THAT?
With the Chase now just days away, there is a lot of hype surrounding the Cup Series. To a degree, people will respond to hype, but after a while, they’ll get wise to you if there’s no substance to back it up. And that’s just the problem: Sprint Cup isn’t living up to the hype. The racing continues to be just mediocre while other series, including IndyCar and NASCAR’s own Camping World truck Series, are putting on better shows on track. Even the Nationwide Series, as predictable as the races are, has a real championship battle underway, without benefit of an overhyped, fake points system.
The racing could be more exciting…or at least the broadcasts could. They need to start showing racing, as in battles for position on the race track, instead of the race leader when he’s holding steady at a 3-second lead or a popular driver who’s doing next to nothing. But you can’t only blame the broadcasts; it’s clear that without a radical redesign of the race car, the intermediate tracks simply don’t work for NASCAR and the sport’s fans. Sure, you need some of them, because they are a test of a team’s ability to set up a car and to evolve that setup throughout a long race, but the sport needs to be at venues that test drivers more than race cars and pit crews.
Where…did the defending race winner wind up?
It’s been a miserable year for Denny Hamlin. He’s racing hurt, with a bad back and a sprained hand, and his Chase chances were gone before spring even arrived, and Sunday night’s race was a microcosm of his season. Hamlin started from the back after an engine change and fought a strange handling issue early when his team couldn’t get a handle on it. Things went downhill from there. He was penalized a lap after his crew worked on the No. 11 outside of their pit box. Hamlin was finally spun by Paul Menard in a retaliatory move and ended his night in 38th place.
Hamlin’s been questioned all year about his decision to stay in the No. 11 instead of having needed surgery on his back—surgery that has a notoriously long rehab time. If he’s not 100% in Daytona after waiting until the offseason for the operation, will 2014 just wind uo as a repeat of this year? That’s a very real possibility. Sure, Hamlin is his sponsor’s spokesperson on the track, and if FedEx forced his hand instead of Hamlin simply being loyal, shame on them. A driver who isn’t at 100% isn’t going to be a title contender.
When…will I be loved?
If you like your villains to have intent, then Paul Menard is a good call for this week. Menard had a minor brush with Denny Hamlin that he turned into a big one as the race continued, turning Hamlin into the Turn 3 wall on lap on a night that Hamlin would have already liked to forget. Hamlin’s earlier move on Menard didn’t look intentional, but Menard’s retaliation certainly was. Hamlin was no threat to Menard in the race; the No. 27 was already far back in the pack, as was the No. 11, and he’s even less of a threat in points. Atlanta is not a smart track for this kind of move—it’s too fast and too slippery, and that makes it dangerous. Menard’s move was just low class.
It wasn’t intentional, but Jeff Gordon probably won’t be a popular guy in the Hendrick Motorsports team meeting this week after he spun his tires and accordioned the field on the restart which came after the competition yellow. Gordon escaped unscathed, but his teammates all suffered damage, with Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson getting the worst of it. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was able to continue with minor damage. For a team that everyone sees as a title threat, HMS isn’t firing on all cylinders right now, and the results are reflecting that.
Just a week to go, and it will all be decided. The Chase picture changed yet again, and the point lead even changed hands briefly, though that won’t matter in a week anyway as whoever has it will have it taken away by NASCAR. The top six drivers plus Kasey Kahne locked up spots, leaving five spots up for grabs at Richmond. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. should be relatively safe—up on eleventh by 37 points, he’s strong at Richmond. The rest…well, anything could happen, so don’t be making your title picks in ink just yet.
But does all this really matter? Sure, Tony Stewart was able to turn a tenth-place season to barely squeeze into the Chase and then go on a tear and win the whole thing in 2011, but to expect that to happen again is unrealistic. None of the teams fighting for 7th-10th and the wild cards look to be championship caliber. They’re inconsistent (that’s why nobody has been able to nail down one of these spots) and only Kasey Kahne has more than one win. That’s not going to compete with the teams in the top 5 unless something drastically changes.
And actually, it’s looking like a pretty drab Chase picture for many of the top six as well. Jimmie Johnson can’t find his own ass with both hands and a flashlight for the last five weeks, Clint Bowyer can’t quite seem to get over the win hump and will be seeded poorly as a result, and Kevin Harvick’s hot streak isn’t hot enough. Carl Edwards is running well but isn’t winning races, Matt Kenseth isn’t consistent of late, and Kyle Busch has never been able to get it done once the Chase starts. Maybe anyone can stumble into this title after all…
How…did the little guys do?
JTG-Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Scott Products Toyota): Why the team put Allmendinger in the car when Bobby Labonte has more Atlanta wins than any other active driver is a bit of a mystery, though it worked out okay for this group. Allmendinger was able to avoid trouble, something many of the biggest stars of the sport couldn’t do on Sunday, and grabbed the team a 14th-place finish, its third top 20 in five races.
Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & Josh Wise & David Gilliland (No. 34 Race Trac/Peanut Patch Ford & No. 35 MDS Transport Ford & No. 38 Jong John Silver’s Ford): Ragan was the top qualifier top qualifier among the small teams this week, but it was Gilliland who brought home the team’s top finish this week in 17th. This team is showing some progress in recent weeks. Ragan passed Denny Hamlin for 25th place in driver points this week after he finished a respectable 23rd, and while he has a long way to go to catch Casey Mears for best in class, Ragan has looked solid lately, as has his teammate. Wise parked early this week, something that hasn’t happened very often in 2013.
Circle Sport Racing; Austin Dillon & Landon Cassill (No. 33 AdvoCare Chevy & No. 40 Chevy): When Dillon’s in the No. 33, it’s a full RCR operation, so it’s not fair to compare his results with this team’s as a whole. Atlanta handed both Dillon and Cassill a bum hand, with Dillon getting collected when Jeff Burton blew out a tire in the closing laps and Cassill falling victim to engine failure after 249 laps. This team still has the look of one that could improve dramatically with the right funding-Cassill’s been impressive with what he’s been given.
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Ford): Mears had a good start to the weekend, qualifying inside the top 20, but faded early with handling woes and a pit road incident with Greg Biffle. The No. 13 bunch would rally back to a solid 22nd-place finish, but they need to find the magic they had earlier this season, when they were a top 20 contender most weeks (at least when they weren’t getting caught up in someone else’s problems). They’re still best in class in points, but they’re getting outperformed by teams who shouldn’t be beaing them.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Dave Blaney & J.J. Yeley(No 7 SANY Chevy & No. 36 United Mining Equipment Chevy): This team had a solid day from Blaney in Atlanta with a 26th-place result. Yeley led a couple of laps to grab the extra points and finished 30th. This team has made small gains overall this year. Baldwin is the kind of racer who should have lived in another era, because with his knowledge of racing, he might have been quite successful in the days when a smaller team had a fighting chance.
BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil (No. 83 & 93 Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): This team needs an overhaul somewhere. Whether that’s with Kvapil and/or Reutimann or somewhere else is up for debate, but they were better off a year ago, when the finishes were similar to what they can do this year, but the two teams were usually very close to each other in the finishing order. That hasn’t always been the case in 2013. Kvapil’s 27th-place finish this week was three spots above his season average, but Reutimann’s average is similar to Kvapil’s, but he didn’t match it this week, finishing 32nd.
Swan Racing; David Stremme (No. 30 Swan Energy/Berry’s Toyota): Stremme grabbed another top-30 finish this week, keeping out of trouble to come in 29th. It wasn’t his best finish, but this team is performing at least as well as can be expected for a first-year operation on a shoestring budget-they’re beating more established small teams frequently. FAS Lane Racing; Timmy Hill (No. 32 US Chrome Ford): Frankie Stoddard is another owner who belongs in another era, one where team owners knew cars inside and out and the car and driver were more important than the technology in the shop. Hill’s 30th-place performance, and this team’s performacen overall this year, is just okay. This isn’t a first-year team, and it’s run by a racer, but they aren’t making the gains they have hoped for this year.
Phoenix Racing; Mike Bliss (No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevy): Bliss was a surprising choice to replace an injured Bobby Labonte in this car with the Nationwide Series in town. Justin Allgaier was a more logical choice as he’ll take over the ride in 2014. In any case, Bliss’s 33rd-place finish was lackluster
©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!