The Frontstretch: The Big Six: Questions Answered After The Sylvania 300 by Amy Henderson -- Monday September 23, 2013

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The Big Six: Questions Answered After The Sylvania 300

Amy Henderson · Monday September 23, 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?

Sometimes the points standings don’t tell the whole story, and that’s especially been true for Jamie McMurray in the last few years. It was McMurray’s three-win but Chase-missing season in 2010 that prompted NASCAR to add wild-card spots to the Chase. This year, McMurray is quietly having a strong season. His fifth-place finish was his second top-5 run in three weeks, and McMurray leads all Sprint Cup drivers in laps completed, having made it around over 99% of the laps run this year. He’s fifteenth in points, and while he hasn’t been grabbing headlines, he’s showing that Earnhardt ganassi Racing is making some gains behind the scenes.

What… was THAT?

Look on any fan forum and you’ll see fans wishing NASCAR would take races from some tracks and move them to others. Heck, I’ve done it, and we all have our track preferences. But one thing that many fans don’t take into consideration is butts in the seats. Those butts are a huge factor in both tracks’ decisions in holding races and in NASCAR’s decision to award races to those tracks. New Hampshire didn’t host the Camping World truck Series this week because they didn’t sell enough tickets in previous years, but while some fans wish the track would lose a Cup date, NHMS is still putting a higher percentage of people in the stands for its two Cup dates than most tracks are these days.

The fact is, race fans DO have a say in the NASCAR schedule. The vote comes from the wallet, through ticket sales. Rockingham will lose the race fans said they wanted so badly because they said they wanted the race, but didn’t go. Tracks like NHMS and Pocono will probably keep their dates as long as the fans show up. Meanwhile, tracks that fans profess to love, like Martinsville, are suffering in attendance more than they should be based on what the fans say. Want Darlington back on Labor Day weekend? The only way fans can realistically make that happen is to pack Darlington to the rafters in May and stay home from Atlanta’s race. Yes, times are tough and the racing ain’t what it used to be. But fans do have a say in the matter.

Where…did the defending race winner wind up?

It wasn’t a win, a top 5, or even a top 10. But For Denny Hamlin, a 12th-place finish was a small victory. Why? It’s his best result since he came home eighth in Poconomore than three months ago. A title favorite when the season starts, Hamlin has said his back injury isn’t affecting his driving as much as the results suggest that it is. Hamlin has admitted that his back is in near-constant pain, but seeing his season on paper has to be painful as well. It’s completely understandable why Hamlin hasn’t given up on his season and had the surgery that could give him some relief. What’s harder to comprehend is why FedEx hasn’t put their foot down and told their driver to take care of himself to ensure a partnership for years to come.

When…will I be loved?

It’s a good thing that Juan Pablo Montoya wasn’t driving for future team owner Roger Penske this weekend. Penske has one major rule among his race teams: don’t wreck a teammate. Montoya tangled with Jamie McMurray just 39 laps into Sunday’s event, an incident which left McMurray’s car with some damage that his team was fortunately able to overcome by lap 300. Kevin Swindell was also collected and had a long day as a result.

Montoya may be on his way out at EGR, but he’s got eight weeks to go, and surely burning bridges wouldn’t be in his—or anyone’s—best interest.

Why…worry now?

When I look at points after each Chase race to see who’s a legit contender, I have a 20-point cutoff. In other words, it’s hard to consider anyone more than 20 points off the lead a contender until that changes. Going by the 20-point rule of thumb, then it’s shaping up to be a three-way title battle between pointe leader Matt Kenseth, who has drawn first blood with wins in both Chase races so far; Kyle Busch; and Jimmie Johnson, who led the points standings for most of the season and would still lead if not for the Chase.

Realistically, is everyone else already done? Well, no, not entirely, but the 36 points that separate fourth-place Carl Edwards from the lead represent nearly an entire race worth, and that’s after just two weeks. That’s a lot to make up unless Kenseth and Busch, at least, have a bad stumble in the next race or two. If those two continue to gain on everyone, they’ll leave them all, even Johnson, in the dust.

How…did the little guys do?

Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Ford): Mears was best in class this week, something this team should be able to do on a regular basis, but for a team that looked capable of running in the top 20 most weeks for the first part of the season, 25th isn’t a great finish. What happened? Easy. The Gen-6 cars equalized things for the No. 13 nad a few other small teams early on, but the big-money teams have pulled away as the season goes on. Still, this team should be grabbing a top 20 every now and then.
BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil (No. 83 & 93 Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): This team needed a strong week, and both drivers delivered among their small-team peers, with Reutimann finishing 26th and Kvapil logging a 28th-place run. This is the kind of day this team needs: no drama, and both cars with solid, similar finishes. That’s the kind of day that, when a team can put several of them together, moves them forward.
Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & Josh Wise & David Gilliland (No. 34 Taco Bell Ford & No. 35 The Pete Store Ford & No. 38 Jong John Silver’s Ford): It was a rough day for the FRM crew. The No. 38 of Gilliland suffered damage early after Gilliland ran into Bobby Labonte after Labonte slowed for a flat tire. Ragan got into Jeff Gordon on pit road, where both cars sustained minor damage, and Wise simply couldn’t keep pace with the frontrunners. Ragan had the best finish of the three one lap down in 29th, Wise came home three laps down in 32nd, and Gilliland made an early exit 71 laps shy of the finish.
Phoenix Racing; Michael McDowell (No. 51 SEM Products Chevy): Michael McDowell is a better racer than many fans give him credit for, racing primarily for a start-and-park team. This week, McDowell took a step up to the No. 51, but it’s starting to look like the revolving door of drivers in recent weeks has hurt the team as a whole, and McDowell could only grab 30th place. Like Germain Racing, Phoenix has lost an early season advantage, but having several drivers rarely benefits a team because there is little chance for drivers and crew to learn each other’s quirks and communications. The stability they’ll enjoy in 2014 with Justin Allgaier behind the wheel will be a welcome constant.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Dave Blaney & J.J. Yeley(No 7 Chevy & No. 36 United Mining Equipment Chevy): For New England native Baldwin, NHMS is close to home, but he had no hometown advantage this weekend. Both Blaney and Yeley stayed out of trouble and had similar finishes, which I said above are critical, but this team should be having those finishes in the 20’s after this amount of time, not the 30’s. Blaney and Yeley were okay in 31st and 33rd, but that’s all. Yeley also had two pit road speeding penalties, which didn’t help his cause.
Circle Sport; Tony Raines & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Little Joe’s Autos/Precon Marine Chevy & No. 40 Moonshine Attitude Apparel Chevrolet): Has starting and parking Raines and adding a second car for Cassill helped this team move forward? Not really. Cassill finished 35th this week, and he has proven to be able to do better this year. The money from Raines’ 41st-place run likely didn’t pay for more than Raines’ day. The second car has been a questionable move, at best, so far.
NEMCO Motorsports; Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Toyota): Hand it to Nemechek, he went the distance Sunday despite not having a backer, though he finished four laps down in 35th. The years continue to pass Nemechek, a former NHMS winner and once a formidable qualifier, by as he races in the twilight of his career.
FAS Lane Racing; Timmy Hill (No. 32 US Chrome Ford): Frank Stoddard was also a hometown hero this week, but the home field wasn’t kind to Stoddard and his young driver. Hill recorded his worst finish since Indianapolis with his 36th-place effort. This team needs a driver with more miles under his belt, but who isn’t years past his prime, to help right the ship. The problem is, with the way they’re running, it will be hard to attract anyone in that bracket. Perhaps Stoddard should consider Jeff Burton, with whom he won 14 races as a crew chief from 1998-2001. Yes, Burton is a bit past his best years, but he couls still move this team forward, something the current group of drivers hasn’t done.
Swan Racing; Kevin Swindell (No. 30 Genny Light Toyota): In his debut with the team, Swindell made less than 50 laps before he was collected in tangle between Juan Montoya and Jamie McMurray. The team did get Swindell back on track, and he was running at the end, but was more than 50 laps down after repairs and finished 38th, last among those whose cars were still turning over.
JTG-Daugherty Racing; Bobby Labonte (No. 47 Bush’s Beans Toyota): Labonte hasn’t been able to catch a break this year, and Loudon was no exception. In his first race back from a rib injury sustained in a bicycle accident, Labonte qualified 28th and had climbed into the top 20 when a flat tire sent him spinning and ended his day early. Like Burton, Labonte is slightly past his prime, but still capable of moving a team forward…when the Luck Fairy doesn’t get in his way.

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Hotdogger
09/23/2013 04:19 AM
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Good report.

James
09/23/2013 08:34 AM
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Still a lot of racing to be done. LOTS can happen.

It could get exciting…it could get ugly…it could be boring.

It’s still the Chase.

jerseygirl
09/23/2013 01:50 PM
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Agree with what you say about butts in the seats. I have wanted to see a race at Rockingham for years but missed out since the spring date was just a bad idea IMO. Then the trucks came back & when do they schedule it? On Tax Weekend!! Really? That might work if you live locally but no way I was coming from NJ on that weekend in case there was an issue.

You may not have noticed but Darlingon’s May date HAS been pretty darn close to a sell out ever since NASCAR moved it. Easily as many people at that race as there were in NH this past weekend.

I still hate the chase. I’m so tired of counting points, I just can’t find myself all that interested, although I sincerely hope that Johnson doesn’t win it.

DonM
09/23/2013 02:10 PM
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Tax weekend? :) File an extension.

Carl D.
09/23/2013 02:38 PM
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Lack of butts in the stands hasn’t done anything to make Nascar address the attendance problem in the Nationwide series. Kentucky Speedway looked like a ghost town on Saturday, at least from my television.

jerseygirl
09/23/2013 03:39 PM
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don, don’t need to file an extension, but its more important to me to be closer to home that weekend than 500 miles away at a race. Lots of other weekends they could race at Rockingham.

DonMei
09/23/2013 11:13 PM
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J.G, I’m a CPA and went to VIR that weekend to do some vintage racing. Sent an E- mail to the last minute ones giving them a 4/1 deadline or else. Gotta keep things in perspective! Racing first! :)

Nick
09/27/2013 08:49 PM
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Nemechek had Pellet Grills USA as a sponsor for the race in NH. Just getting your facts straight – thanks for continuing to write this column every week!

 

Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Fans To Decide Format of Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
Earnhardt Out For Charlotte and Kansas After Talldega Concussion
Piquet, Jr. Wins K&N East Opener

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