Amy Henderson · Monday October 14, 2013
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?
Since this one doesn’t go to the winner or, at this time of year, a Chase driver, how about an early title favorite whose chances were derailed? They were over before the season really got started, causing a career-worst slump for a man who hasn’t finished in the top 10 since Pocono in June… until Saturday night? That would be Denny Hamlin, who arguably needed his ninth-place finish as badly as race winner Brad Keselowski, who hadn’t found Victory Lane in over a year, needed the win he got in Charlotte.
2013 will forever be defined as a lost season for Hamlin. It looked as though, at the end of 2012, that he had finally recovered from his 2010 title defeat in the final race of the season and was once again ready to make a championship bid. But before the first month of this season was out, so was Hamlin, sidelined with a fractured back suffered in a wicked crash in Fontana. And it’s clear that the injury has affected him in more ways than just constant pain. Without their regular driver, it looks as though the No. 11 team got behind on adapting the Gen-6 car to their own personal taste… and have been playing catch-up ever since.
What… was THAT?
One of the best things about NASCAR as a sport is the accessibility that fans have at many tracks, and Charlotte is one in particular that offers a ton of different opportunities for fans to see different aspects of the sport. But the access is getting a little out of hand when teams can’t get equipment to their pits in a timely fashion while setting up for the race. If even working media can’t get quickly from one end of the garage to another, there are too many people in the garage and pits. That was definitely the case this weekend at Charlotte, when throngs of people clogged pit road and parts of the garage area for a good portion of the day. Simply put, there are way too many people on pit road and in the garage too close to race time.
There needs to be a solution that lets fans meet their heroes but not get in the way of the race teams and other people doing their jobs. Whether that means drivers making more frequent appearances at their souvenir haulers (something that was a much more regular occurrence a few years ago) or limiting the time of pre-race pit access to earlier hours, there needs to be a way to let fans in on the action in a way that doesn’t get them in the way of race teams. Perhaps more tracks could do something similar to what Charlotte does for season ticket holders — a scheduled autograph session with top drivers.
Where…did the defending race winner wind up?
There were times during the race that looked as if Clint Bowyer might grab his best finish of the 2013 Chase, but as the night went on, the No. 15 engine sounded like it had a gremlin inside. Bowyer was able to grab a respectable, 11th-place finish, but it left the team to wonder what might have been.
For Bowyer, a quiet, drama-free Chase might not be what he wants to have, but it’s what this team truly needs. Many fans felt that he should have been excluded from the Chase after the scandal at Richmond, and a title this year wouldn’t be a popular one. The last thing this team needs is any more bad PR, which ironically would come from being a championship contender. Perhaps the best thing in the long run would be for the team to regroup, finish out the year solid, and come out swinging in 2014, leaving nobody to question whether they should be there.
When…will I be loved?
Oh, NASCAR, will you ever learn? Possibly the one thing most fans hate even more than a dominating win by Jimmie Johnson is a questionable debris caution to artificially tighten up the field in the closing laps. Yet faced with those options, NASCAR chose the caution, costing Johnson the win but leaving just about everyone to wonder if the finish was legit. Johnson said he didn’t see any debris, but you wouldn’t expect him to; after all, he’s the one who paid the price. However, Matt Kenseth, who had something to gain from the caution (and did gain something by keeping and extending the points lead, something that would not have been the case had Johnson won), said he didn’t see anything, either. If there was debris, NASCAR should have been begging the network to show it… but the broadcast cut to a commercial before the analysts could question the call. All in all, it makes the sanctioning body look like they lack integrity when they’ve already been raked over the coals for manipulating the Chase in a seemingly wanton manner. Sure, fans want exciting racing, but they don’t want NASCAR to fake it when it’s not there. Another Johnson win should look good to the powers that be by comparison.
While not much changed at the top — Kenseth gained a single point but no positions changed hands ahead of eighth place — the biggest obstacle for the championship hopefuls is now looming directly in front of them in the form of Talladega Superspeedway. When asked about their chances this week in Charlotte, almost every Chase driver had a variation on the same response: ask again after Talladega.
Simply put, the next race is nothing but a crapshoot. Anyone can win and anyone can get taken out for trying. Johnson and Kenseth both have mixed success there; it’s been either win or end up in a smoking heap for both of them, and both have an average finish just shy of 17th. If each favorite sails through, it’s a lot more likely that they’ll decide the title between them than it is right now. If one of them gets wrecked, it’s the other man’s title to throw away. And if both Kenseth and Johnson go down in flames, it’s anybody’s guess who might come out of next week with a chance. Talladega’s position in the Chase schedule pretty much negates what’s happened to this point… it could reset the points as efficiently as the Chase itself.
How…did the little guys do?
BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil (Nos. 83 & 93 Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): This team had a much-needed “best in class” finish this week thanks to Reutimann’s 26th-place run. They still need to be finishing better on occasion, but on a week where the track was particularly cruel to all the underfunded teams, they can take home some bragging rights for the first time in a while. Kvapil was introduced to a smattering of boos after being arrested on domestic violence charges earlier this week, and whether he was distracted (certainly understandable) or the car was just off is up for debate. He ran 35th.
Circle Sport; Brian Scott & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Shore Lodge Chevy & No. 40 Moonshine Attitude Attire Chevy): In a Richard Childress Racing car, Scott was the best starter among the small teams, rolling off 19th. He ran exactly the race he needed to in his Sprint Cup debut: solid and drama-free. Scott wound up four laps down in 27th. It wasn’t the result he wanted… but it was the kind of race a rookie driver should have. Without the benefit of an RCR car, Cassill was back in the pack among the rest of the drivers in this category this week, coming home seven laps down in 33rd.
JTG-Daugherty Racing; Bobby Labonte (No. 47 Scott Products Toyota): Scuttlebutt has this team moving to Chevrolets next year in an alliance with Richard Childress Racing, and that’s the kind of shakeup they desperately need – something’s not working with this team and it’s been obvious for months. Labonte ran a decent race, but like the rest of the drivers in this group, just didn’t have enough of a car to get a better finish than 28th.
Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & Josh Wise & David Gilliland (No. 34 Taco Bell Ford & No. 35 MDS Transport Ford & No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford): Once again, Gilliland and Ragan ran together, finishing 29th and 30th, six laps down. That both cars are consistently running close together is a positive sign that the team is on the same page, and they need that to move ahead. Wise, by comparison start-and-parked.
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Ford): Mears was fighting an ill-handling car all weekend, and the No. 13 bunch never did find a way to get some grip. Mears was losing laps almost from the drop of the green flag, and was six laps down in 31st when all was said and done. But the biggest news of the week for this team came off the track, as it was announced that they’ll have a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing in 2014 and beyond. If it’s at the same level as the one between RCR and Furniture Row Racing (and Mears says that it will be), it could move the car out of true small team status next year and onto the next level of competition.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Dave Blaney & J.J. Yeley(No. 7 Breast Cancer Awareness Chevy & No. 36 United Mining Equipment Chevy): Like every team on this list, the TBR teams really felt the sting an intermediate track can give an underfunded operation. Blaney managed to run just 32nd, seven laps behind. Yeley crashed on lap 24 and was the night’s first casualty, finishing shotgun on the field in 43rd.
Swan Racing; Cole Whitt (No. 30 Swan Energy Toyota): Another spot on the grid, same story in Charlotte as this team, which has shown some strength this year, simply couldn’t make the car handle for Whitt. The end result was a 32nd-place run, seven laps down.
FAS Lane Racing; Timmy Hill (No. 32 US Chrome Ford): This team was the last one standing at the end of the race, finishing ten laps down in 36th. They never looked like they were gaining on it throughout the weekend, with Hill continuing to struggle as a rookie. The good news for some of these teams is that there was a good bit of attrition, because without it, the finishes could have been worse.
Phoenix Racing; Kyle Larson (No. 51 Target Chevy): The No. 51 got an upgrade of sorts this week, putting Earnhardt Ganassi Racing rookie Kyle Larson in the seat of a Ganassi-provided car. From there, Larson ran an impressive race, running as high as 11th before a blown engine sent him to the garage with fewer than a hundred laps to go. It was still an impressive debut for the young driver.
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