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 year?
Regular readers of this column know that the weekly shoutout doesn’t go to the race winner, but, after nine months of grueling competition, Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon, and Matt Crafton deserve recognition for their championships in NASCAR’s three national touring series. All three drivers can claim something special about their seasons. Johnson’s title was his sixth, and that puts him within shouting distance of the greatest drivers the Cup Series has ever seen. Some people are already putting him in that category as well, others claim his Chase titles aren’t the same. Here’s my suggestion on Johnson: forget about the Chase, forget about the car number and the crew chief and the money and anything else you don’t like about the guy…and just watch him drive the car for a few races. That’s why his peers believe he’s the greatest of his era, if not all time. And maybe that’s the only way to judge.
Dillon won his title on sheer consistency—there was nary a race win on his resume, yet he took the title over Sam Hornish, Jr. That’s pretty impressive for Dillon…but it’s not good for the Nationwide Series. Dillon ran well, and he’s not alone in his lack of wins in the series that he ran for points in—only three NNS regulars won races in 2013, for a total of four of the 33 races on the schedule. The other 29 races were won by drivers from other series (26 by full-time Sprint Cup drivers) or by part-timers. The winless champion also brings another concern: will NASCAR make changes to the point system (i.e. implement a Chase system) to try to eliminate that in the future? That’s not the fix, but NASCAR doesn’t want to see that the Cup interlopers are the problem.
The Truck Series title race wasn’t close (NNS was decided by just three points), and again, hopefully NASCAR will see the real reason for that instead of deciding to add a Chase to the series. The real reason is simple: Matt Crafton was just that good. In 22 races, Crafton grabbed a whopping 19 top 10s. His average finish was a stellar 7.9. He completed every lap of every race from Daytona to Homestead. If those numbers aren’t deserving of a title, nothing is. It wasn’t close because Crafton blew the competition out of the water, and it would be a shame for NASCAR to change things because of that.
What… was THAT?
Probably the biggest surprise of the year was NASCAR’s handling of the racing at Richmond as teams tried to race into the Chase. There were thinly veiled radio codes, not-so-veiled orders, and possible wheeling and dealing with other teams in an effort to make the Chase. NASCAR tried to do the right thing, went about it the wrong way, and there were more panties in a wad than at the laundromat.
And the end result was a new “rule” that teams had to give 100% to their own performance. The sad part here is that they shouldn’t have to be told that…and also that NASCAR doesn’t realize that a big part of the reason they do have to be told is the Chase and NASCAR’s emphasis on the championship rather than the individual races, and that teams are just playing the game NASCAR gave them to play. Were the team orders wrong? Maybe; the deliberate spin certainly was. Would they have been made if the race itself had been the most important thing that night? What do you think?
Where…was the best racing of the year?
Overall, the short tracks are still where it’s at in NASCAR’s top levels. For pure entertainment value, Martinsville, Bristol, and Richmond are still the best bet on the circuit—there’s racing somewhere in the field on every lap, and that’s exciting (if the television broadcast will show it, anyway). Plus, there’s old-fashioned beating and banging and it’s not scary to watch. Bottom line, if you’re going to travel to one race a year, pick one of these.
But there were some surprises, and one of them was Fontana. Atlanta was a good show. So was Homestead. Brian Vickers’ surprise win at Loudon was worth watching.
The Gen-6 car didn’t save the racing (and nobody should have expected it to). It did provide some decent racing early…before everybody with money figured it out. Once that happened, it was largely same old, same old…but it sure was fun early, watching teams like Phoenix Racing and Germain Racing run with the big boys…because, for a few weeks, they had equal equipment.
When…will I be loved?
Villains? There were some, of course, because some guys just can’t help themselves, but for the most part, the problems came from two places: NASCAR and Goodyear. NASCAR continues to deny there’s a problem with the product, especially the Chase, and because of that, some seemingly easy fixes aren’t made. In fact, a lot of what fans are unhappy about could be fixed in a relatively simple manner. But to fix a problem, you have to admit you have one, and that’s where NASCAR has been doggedly obstinate.
The problem with tires is they wear like iron. To be fair, Goodyear did try some new options with mixed results, and they’re on the right track in trying to develop a tire that wears out but isn’t terribly vulnerable to sidewall blowouts. The basic math here is that if a tire run is equal to or greater than a fuel run, it’s not good for the racing. The best races are often where drivers are crying about tires on the radio after 25 laps when they can go 50 on fuel. Strategy makes for better racing, and it needs to be brought back.
It’s too early to talk 2014 points, so here’s the one thing I am worried about: NASCAR’s schedule shift that moved Darlington’s night race to early April. It’s still chilly at night in South Carolina at that time of year, and people don’t like to sit in the cold (remember Rockingham’s demise?). With a schedule overhaul on tap for 2015, it looks as though the move was made for one of two reasons. One, it could be a precursor to make a date swap between Darlington and Atlanta, which would be a huge coup for fans, who have wanted the traditional date for the Southern 500 since it was taken away from them over a decade ago. That would be a great PR move for the sanctioning body in terms of its fans.
But then there’s the other possibility. If NASCAR moves the race date to one where fans won’t turn out because of cold weather, it could be used as justification to remove that track from the schedule, citing low attendance (again, remember Rockingham’s demise?). Taking the original superspeedway off the schedule would be a terrible move on NASCAR’s part—one that would drive away even more longtime fans. Moving the race to Labor Day weekend could help extend an olive branch to them instead. Which way is NASCAR leaning? We’ll find out soon enough…and I’m not sure I want to know.
How…did the little guys do?
For this group of drivers, a successful season isn’t defined by wins and championships. It’s about much smaller gains: top 15’s, top 20’s for some, and finishing ahead of the others in their economic class. Who topped that group this year? Best in Class for the small teams this year was Germain Racing driver Casey Mears, who finished 24th in driver points. And for the No. 13 team, 2014 is looking promising, with a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing similar to the one that vaulted Furniture Row Racing right out of the small team category this year. If the results improve, the small teams could be down another member in 2014.
Here’s a look at driver standings among the underdogs for 2013
1. Casey Mears: 0 wins, 0 top 5’s, 1 top 10, average finish 24.5
2. David Gilliland: 0 wins, 1 top 5, 2 top 10’s, average finish 26.2
3. David Ragan: 1 wins, 1 top 5’s, 2 top 10’s, average finish 26.9
4. Dave Blaney: 0 wins, 0 top 5’s, 0 top 10’s, average finish 29.0 (35 races)
5. Travis Kvapil: 0 wins, 0 top 5’s, 0 top 10’s, average finish 30.4
6. JJ Yeley: 0 wins, 0 top 5’s, 1 top 10’s, average finish 30.6 (35 races)
7. David Reutimann: 0 wins, 0 top 5’s, 0 top 10’s, average finish 31.1
8. AJ Allmendinger: 0 wins, 0 top 5’s, 0 top 10’s, average finish 29.4 (28 races)
9. David Stremme: 0 wins, 0 top 5’s, 0 top 10’s, average finish 29.6 (25 races)
10. Michael McDowell: 0 wins, 0 top 5’s, 1 top 10, average finish 37.7 (33 races)
11.Timmy Hill: 0 wins, 0 top 5’s, 0 top 10’s, average finish 34.0 (19 races)
Also in this group but ineligible for points: Landon Cassill, Josh Wise, Joe Nemechek, Tony Raines, Trevor Bayne
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