Amy Henderson · Monday September 16, 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?
How about a non-Chaser in the top 10? You didn’t hear much about his run on TV, because the Chase was, as usual, the focus, but Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. backed up a great run at Richmond with another one at Chicago, posting his second top-10 in two races and posting a career-best ninth-place result.
2013 has been a learning year for Stenhouse, and the rookie has been solid, if unspectacular. That he’s picking it up at this point in the season, when Roush Fenway Racing’s focus is firmly on its Chase entries, shows promise. If he can come on strong late when he’s not in the Chase, he’s preparing himself to be a contender when he is.
What… was THAT?
In response to some of the events of the past week, NASCAR announced a couple of rule changes starting this week in Chicago. First, the sanctioning body told teams that any attempt to change the finishing order of a race will not be tolerated, and that’s a good move. Some of the wheeling and dealing going on leading up to the Chase has been ridiculous, and illustrates a large problem of the system itself. By including Jeff Gordon, who may have been excluded due to some of these deals at Richmond, at least fans aren’t left with a driver left out of the playoffs because of another team playing dirty pool.
The other change was that the leader now controls the restart only within the restart zone, meaning the leader still must take off first in the designated area, but the second-place car can pass before the start-finish line, though the field must remain double file until the line. It’s a step in the right direction, though it doesn’t excuse the blown calls last week, nor does it go far enough-the flagman should simply control the start. Still, at least NASCAR did hear the concerns voiced, and any time they do that, it’s a positive.
Where… did the defending race winner wind up?
2013 hasn’t been kind to Brad Keselowski, but early on Sunday, it looked as if that could change, when Keselowski started the race on the front row and ran in the top 5 for most of the first 100 laps. The Blue Deuce wasn’t quite as strong after the long rain delay, but Keselowski was able to rebound close to the end and came home seventh.
You have to wonder if Penske Racing ever second-guesses the decision to go with Roush-Yates engines after making a switch from Dodge to Ford in the offseason. The Nos. 2 and 22 are now second in line behind Roush Fenway Racing for equipment where a year ago, they were more in control of their own destiny. Keselowski hasn’t suddenly forgotten how to drive, so something is different this year with that team.
When… will I be loved?
It was a rough week for NASCAR, and the hits just kept on coming. Just hours after announcing a rule change meant to reduce questionable calls during a restart, a pit road official blew a call on a missed lugnut that was not missed. The official saw a No. 48 crew member drop the a lugnut on an early stop, but did not see him replace it, and as a result, held the car in the pit when there was no violation. It cost Jimmie Johnson, who had pitted from the race lead, several positions and almost ten seconds…and because it happened under the green flag, NASCAR couldn’t give it back. Not exactly a good start to what NASCAR badly needs to be a controversy-free Chase.
And then the rains came…and once again, there was no Air Titan in sight. NASCAR’s highly-touted new track-drying system has been largely shelved because tracks don’t want to foot the reported $50,000 bill. That’s not NASCAR’s fault, exactly, but surely it would be in the sanctioning body’s best interest to find a way to make the system available, whether they include it in the sanctioning fees or find some other way to make sure the system is up and running every weekend. There was no reason for the race to restart after 10:00 PM Eastern time when there is a solution sitting in a North Carolina garage…except for NASCAR’s greed at a time when the organization needs to be bending over backwards for its fans.
The points reset last week made a lot of worries go away as teams were handed the points that closed up the Chase field, but Sunday’s race brought a new set of worries to a few championship hopefuls. The last three titles have been won on an average finish of better than seventh, meaning you just don’t get a mulligan any more, and for Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., that could mean their title hopes are already dim at best after both the No. 22 and the No. 88 had engine failures.
Meanwhile, it looks like a Joe Gibbs Racing kind of season as Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch asserted themselves as the drivers to beat with their 1-2 finish (while Denny Hamlin suffered yet another failure—has part of his season been spent testing engines and setups for his teammates after it was clear that he wouldn’t contend?), while Kevin Harvick showed some strength as well but couldn’t keep pace in the end. Jimmie Johnson had a great run on the track but another terrible day in the pits with a blown call by a NASCAR official that cost the team several seconds on track and a broken jack that sent Johnson to the back of the lead lap. Until they actually show they can win a race, they’re not the threat many think. Kurt Busch is an outside shot at best despite driving his heart out every week, a lame duck on a satellite team for a team trying to win this thing with its own lame duck driver. One more diver who could contend if his luck holds? Jeff Gordon, who showed what his team is capable of when the luck falls their way. However, he’ll have to win races, and he hasn’t been that good, at least not yet.
How… did the little guys do?
JTG-Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Kingsford Charcoal Toyota): Allmendinger was the top qualifier among the small teams and the top finisher by two spots, though they weren’t able to hang on to the top 15 position they started the day in. Allmendinger had an uneventful day, which was good enough for a 21st-place run this week.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Dave Blaney & J.J. Yeley (No. 7 Chevy & No. 36 Chevy): Blaney was involved in triggering one of the night’s more bizarre incidents on pit road, where several cars tangled, causing extensive damage to some. Blaney recovered nicely and came home , quietly improving on his 28th-place average for the year. Yeley finished an equally impressive 25th, his second top-25 run in four weeks.
BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil (Nos. 83 & 93 Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): Kvapil ran his race and avoided trouble, and for this team, that was a solid day with his 24th-place result. Reutimann didn’t have nearly so nice a day, however, as his engine gave up the ghost after 195 laps, relegating him to a 36th-place finish.
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): Ragan was his team’s top finisher this week, with a 26th-place finish, and he has an outside shot at finishing 2013 as the top driver among the small teams in points as well, sitting 50 markers back of Casey Mears on the charts. Gilliland also had a solid day, nabbing a 28th-place run. Wise parked early.
Phoenix Racing; Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Brandt Chevy): Allgaier was having a respectable Cup debut early, but his day went downhill from there. First, Allgaier was spun by Landon Cassill when he was slow getting off a corner, and late in the race, he spun again after making contact with Paul Menard. The silver lining was that he didn’t damage the No. 51 in either spin, and was able to finish the race, even if it was in 27th place.
Circle Sport Racing; Tony Raines & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Little Joe’s Autos Chevy & No. 40 Chevrolet): Cassill was the only driver on his team to go the distance, and he finished a respectable if not spectacular 29th. Cassill did tangle with Justin Allgaier, sending Allgaier spinning, and it looked as if the call could go either way when it comes to intent. Cassill and his team can’t afford to make enemies on track.
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Ford): This team continues to struggle after a promising spring and early summer. Whether they’ve stagnated a bit or money is getting tighter or if it’s something else entirely is hard to say, but this team has fallen back a few steps. Mears looked like he might grab a top 25 in the race that bore his sponsor’s name, but slipped back in the late going to 30th.
NEMCO Motorsports; Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Royal Teak Collection Toyota): Nemecheck’s 31st-place run was Nemechek’s best finish since he grabbed a 25th in New Hampshire, and he showed that a small team can gain some decent position and money if they’re patient and can let the chips fall for some other teams. Nemechek’s paycheck will be bigger than it would have been if he packed it in early.
FAS Lane Racing; Timmy Hill (No. 32 US Chrome Ford): It wasn’t an easy night for Hill, who was penalized early for two separate violations on the same pit stop (pitting before pit road was open and speeding) and suffered an engine failure with under 50 laps remaining in the race. He finished 34th.
Swan Racing; Cole Whitt (No. 30 Swan Energy/Lean 1 Toyota): Go big and go home? The No. 30’s engine detonated in spectacular fashion on lap 154, ending Whitt’s appearance with the team early and in 39th place. It’s still a mystery why the team made a driver change at this point in the season as David Stremme was doing a credible job with less-than-stellar equipment, but this week it didn’t matter who was in the driver’s seat.
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