Amy Henderson · Monday September 9, 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?
They had top-five finishes at Richmond, but does anyone know about that? Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard finished fourth and fifth, respectively, on Saturday, but since neither was in Chase contention, their runs were lost in much of the media shuffle, even though Menard was the race leader on the final restart (and got the short end of the stick on a NASCAR non-call that took away any chance he might have had to win on a two-tire strategy inside ten laps to go. McMurray got a brief mention in the middle of the broadcast but little else. It’s a shame that the actual race and the drivers in it were just a backdrop for the Chase’s overhyped, manufactured drama, because drivers like McMurray and Menard deserved better coverage.
What… was THAT?
Think Saturday’s broadcast was bad, with ESPN concentrating only on the Chase (and those ridiculous “if the race ended now” scenarios…um, it didn’t end then and wasn’t going to…), just wait until it starts. Sure, every once in a very long while, they mentioned a non-contender on Saturday, if they really had to for some reason, but all the talking heads wanted to talk about was the Chase. Yes, it’s important, but it wasn’t the only compelling storyline.
Fans whose favorite driver isn’t in the top 12 after this weekend need to hope their guy does something spectacular in the next ten races if they hope to see him on TV. And that’s a real problem within the sport. Fans are loyal to drivers not in the Chase. Sponsors pay good money to be on cars not in the Chase, and if they’re running well, those drivers deserve to be mentioned. It’s detrimental to the sport as a whole when three quarters of the field is an afterthought at best for a quarter of the season no matter how they perform. Why should a sponsor pay for 36 races if they’re only seen in 26? And if those teams running just outside the Chase field were to lose sponsorship, what are their chances of making the show next year? What potentially could happen in the next few years is the same teams make the Chase every year (even more than they usually do) because they’re the only ones with the funding to do so. Think fans are turned off now? Until the networks change this mentality, more and more are going to fall away.
Where…did the defending race winner wind up?
Clint Bowyer wound up embroiled in controversy after a late-race spin. Bowyer went around late in the race on his own…while Ryan Newman was leading, thereby locking Bowyer’s teammate, Martin Truex, Jr., out of the Chase if he won. Bowyer was already locked in, so it would certainly be easy enough to help a teammate.
NASCAR has said they’ll review the race, but even with some questionable audio, there’s no proof the spin was intentional, and without that, NASCAR should not be making any call other than to let it go. Imagine the precedent that would set? “No, we don’t have proof you did anything wrong, but we think you might have, so we’re taking away some points…” No bueno.
Oh yeah, and amid all the controversy, Bowyer finished two laps down in 25th.
When…will I be loved?
While Bowyer’s spin will be hard to make a call on unless someone ‘fesses up, NASCAR’s questionable call on the final restart overshadows that call because Carl Edwards’ jump is right there on tape for all to see. Richmond was Paul Menard’s race to lose on the final restart, and while with just two fresh tires, it’s questionable as to whether he could have held the lead for three laps, he never got the chance to find out. Edwards passed Menard, the race leader, before the start-finish line on the final restart and di not give the spot back, which is against NASCAR’s rules, but was not black-flagged for the jump and went on to win the race. Why NASCAR didn’t make the call is anyone’s guess, because Menard didn’t have an obvious problem and was in control of the start, but no matter the reason, Menard got the shaft on that non-call.
That’s the second time in two races that NASCAR has made a questionable call on a restart; they allowed what looked like a jump by Brad Keselowski to stand in Friday night’s Nationwide Series race as well. They got it right as recently as Dover in June, when they black flagged Jimmie Johnson for jumping the restart, so they certainly should know what constitutes a bad restart. Maybe the black flag got lost in the wash like that one odd sock? Hate it when that happens…
Was The Spin on purpose? Hard to tell (NASCAR’s looking into it, but without solid proof, well, it’s likely that NASCAR would change the Chase field or race outcome at this point), but after Clint Bowyer turned in the closing laps, it changed the Chase picture completely…and Martin Truex, Jr. was able to squeeze into the field…something that would not have happened if then-leader Ryan Newman had gone on to win. That Bowyer went around after his team asked if his arms were tired—an odd question to say the least—just adds fuel to the speculation; was that a code to be used in just that situation? Either way, Truex is in, Newman is out. Others who will watch the Chase unfold without them include four-time champion Jeff Gordon and reigning champion Brad Keselowski.
So, who should we all be watching as the Chase begins next week. It’s hard to pick a favorite. Carl Edwards should have gone in as the point leader, a position he earned in Richmond , but he goes in fifth and so will have to beat a lot of people every week to win. Jimmie Johnson has been terrible for a month and a half, and the No. 48 looks like anything but a championship caliber team right now. Will Joe Gibbs Racing really focus on two contenders or will one, most likely Kyle Busch, be the focus in hopes of bringing home the title? The contenders will change a bit as the first few races of the Chase run, but if you’re looking for real contenders right now, take a peek at Kyle Busch (if he can keep it together in the Chase, something he’s never been able to do), Kevin Harvick (if Richard Childress Racing remains focused on a title despite Harvick’s impending departure), and maybe Kenseth, (if he’s at the top of JGR’s “to-do” list).
How…did the little guys do?
JTG-Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Bush’s Beans Toyota): With a third straight top 15 finish (15th at Richmond) is this team finally turning it around? They were best in class last year as Bobby Labonte was ahead of all other small-team drivers in driver points. They won’t get there this year; they’re well behind Germain Racing in owner points and had two different drivers, but they could stand to take a step forward if they continue to run well. They’ve been rumored to have a new major technical alliance in the works for next year as well…could they be the next team to climb out of the small team ranks as Furniture Row did this year?
Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & Josh Wise & David Gilliland (No. 34 Farm Rich Ford & No. 35 The Pete Store Ford & No. 38 Jong John Silver’s Ford): While David Ragan has gained a little momentum of late, this week it was David Gilliland carrying the torch for FRM at Richmond with his 23rd-place run, good for second among the small teams as well. He beat his season average finish by more than three spots as well. Ragan came home 29th after some missing lugnuts forced a return trip to pit road three-quarters of the way through the race, but he can take pride in a small point…Jimmie Johnson was lamenting that he couldn’t outrun him late in the race. Wise parked early.
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Ford): After qualifying 25th, the No. 13 fell back rapidly as Mears and Co. fought handling issues. At one point, their Ford was handling so badly late they thought something was broken. They did start to turn things around as the race went on and recovered to finish 26th, but this team should be doing better on the return trips to race tracks. They’ve lost a step since spring.
BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil (No. 83 & 93 Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): This team had a difficult night at Richmond, with Kvapil coming home 28th and Reutimann 32nd. And as Silly Season is in full swing, could there be changes in store for 2014 after a subpar 2013? Both drivers’ contracts are up after this season, so a change wouldn’t come as a surprise. While the problem may or may not be in the drivers’ seats here, this team should be performing better than they are.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Dave Blaney & J.J. Yeley(No 7 Chevy & No. 36 United Mining Equipment Chevy): Here’s another team that may need to make some changes somewhere for 2014. They’re not improving, and could only muster a 31st-place finish for Blaney this week to go with Yeley’s 36th-place result. Yes, they’re running at the end of more races than a year ago, and that in itself is a step up. But they need to take another step if they hope to find long-term stability in the sport.
Circle Sport Racing; Tony Raines & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Little Joe’s Autos Chevy & No. 40 CRC Brakleen Chevrolet): Their finishes (Raines 33rd and Cassill 34th) weren’t good, but at least the two cars were consistent with each other, and that gives them a starting point for improvement. This team is doing just about everything right, but they have to do it with so much less than most that the race results don’t reflect what’s going on behind the scenes.
Phoenix Racing; Ryan Truex (No. 51 Seawatch Chevy): Truex finished five laps down in 35th spot. The team has shown they’re capable of more, and Truex is talented, but he lacks experience—he’s never run a full season in any NASCAR national touring series—and that probably hurt his chances more than anything else as this team’s cars are capable of better finishes. The team is preparing for the shift from James Finch’s leadership to new owner Harry Scott, Jr. and driver Justin Allgaier, so they’ve got the future on their minds as they finish out 2013…but it’s important to finish strong and grab some momentum for their rookie driver next year.
FAS Lane Racing; Ken Schrader (No. 32 Federated Auto Parts Ford): This team continues to falter, with Schrader limping home seven laps down in 37th spot. That’s better than they started, but this team needs someone other than two veterans long past their primes and a youngster not ready for this level if they hope to survive long term.
Swan Racing; David Stremme (No. 30 Swan Energy/Lean 1 Toyota): With the news that Stremme will be out of the car effective immediately after Richmond, Stremme looked like he was trying to give the team one more strong finish (after all, what better way to make a statement than to show them up), but he got caught in the wrong place in a three-wide battle and spun. He wound up nine laps off the pace in 38th. The hot rumor is that this team will become a Richard Childress satellite team with Jeff Burton in the seat next year. If they get support at the level that Furniture Row Racing has this year, they instantly take a big step forward for next year.
NEMCO Motorsports; Joe Nemechek (No. 87 AMFMEnergy.com Toyota): Nemechek finished the race, but that’s about the only positive his self-owned team will find in Saturday’s result. The No. 87 was far off the pace, finishing 39th, 12 laps off the leader’s pace. Is it time for Front Row Joe to hang ‘em up?
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