The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: All That's Right & Wrong, Kurt's the Bigger Busch, and Chad's Unhappy by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday June 1, 2010

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ONE: Which Busch brother is the greater title threat?

The brothers Busch each put on impressive shows throughout the season’s longest race Sunday, with Kurt scoring a dominating win while Kyle recovered to finish third after he suffered damage in a pit road collision with Brad Keselowski. Both now have two wins on the year and sit comfortably in the top 10 in points.

While the media continues to harp on “the new Kyle Busch,” both that he, in fact, exists and that he is becoming the driver to beat in 2010 (Don’t believe me? Check out NASCAR Now on ESPN… Kyle Busch was the lead story over his brother actually winning the 600), Kurt’s performance over the past two weekends in Charlotte serve as ample notice to the rest of the field he may well be the most serious title contender he has been since leaving the Roush camp after 2005.

And looking at the two drivers and teams, it’s clear that Kurt has the upper hand. Kurt’s won a title before, and a Chase title at that, while Kyle’s best season ended up with him out of the title hunt only two races into the 2008 Chase. Advantage: Kurt.

Kurt’s got a longtime Cup crew chief atop his pit box, while Kyle’s got a first-year skipper with Nationwide Series credentials to his credit. Advantage: Kurt.

Perhaps most importantly, Kurt’s got Steve Addington leading his team — the same crew chief that dealt with Kyle’s obsession over the 2009 Nationwide Series title, his immaturity, and where Kyle at times led Joe Gibbs Racing to ride out on a rail despite winning 12 races in the No. 18 car between 2008 and 2009. Between Dave Rogers and Steve Addington, which team leader do you think has more to prove this year?

Advantage: Kurt.

TWO: Chad Knaus Sounds a Little Bit Frayed

It’s been awhile since Jimmie Johnson seemed, well, mortal. But ugly nights of “four-time’s” own making in both the Southern 500 and now the Coca-Cola 600, two of the sport’s biggest stages, have not made Chad Knaus a happy camper. Knaus’ tendency to use profanity in the face of adversity is nothing new, but in each of these two cases his tirades have taken a new angle… belittling his driver directly.

The month of May was certainly a slap in the face to a No. 48 team that by winning three races early seemed to be on a mission to win title number five with a vengeance. And while many may be tempted to point the finger at the new spoiler on the cars as a reason for Johnson to be cooling off, the fact remains that Knaus’ ire at Darlington and now Charlotte has been, well, justified, because the driver has been at fault both times.

What’s going on? If you ask me, Knaus came into this season on a mission:

- To put Chase-caliber cars on the track from race one – To win everything under the sun and shut even the most vehement critics of the No. 48 team up once and for all. – To show that the monster he created was no 10-race stunt.

And maybe, just maybe, the driver isn’t standing up to what one of the sport’s all-time great crew chief’s real “A” game is. Knaus is clearly frustrated with his driver, no matter how much smoothing over is done during the week by Hendrick’s PR monster… and come on, it’s not like the theory that Knaus > Johnson is anything new.

THREE: JR Motorsports Development Going Ad Hoc

As if there was any more proof needed JRM didn’t really seem to think out this whole fire Kelly Bires thing, now there’s two more development drivers getting their respective shots in the No. 7 and No. 88 cars at Nashville; Specialty Racing’s Josh Wise and Coleman Pressley will each make their JRM debuts this coming Saturday.

Coleman Pressley (pictured here with Brad Daugherty) is the latest experiment in the JR Motorsports driver merry-go-round this year. He’ll drive the No. 88 car at Nashville this weekend.

Before delving into anything, let it be said that both Wise and Pressley are very deserving of an opportunity in top-notch equipment. Wise, who showed promise in his limited races with Fitz Motorsports a few years back, has been a team player and a student of the sport in racing for the cash-strapped Specialty Racing No. 61 team, while Pressley was nothing short of impressive in scoring back-to-back top 20 finishes for R3 Motorsports at Richmond and Darlington earlier this year. That said, though, one can’t help but wonder if this is the shot they were really waiting for.

Between the JR Motorsports No. 88 team finding consistent top 20 performances unacceptable for a development driver and the No. 7 car being a make-it-up-as-we-go sort of operation, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the odds of succeeding are stacked higher against these two than usual. And even if either or both of the two run well, that’s no guarantee of future races. Just ask Scott Wimmer.

FOUR: Charlotte Motor Speedway Shows How Unhealthy the Nationwide Series Is

Because regardless of what the stats sheet says, there were not 40,000 people in the stands for Saturday’s Nationwide Series race. Maybe a little over half that were actually in attendance to see a very predictable story unfold. A Cup regular (Brad Keselowski) leads a ton of laps. A debris caution here and there closes up the field. And in the end, Cup regulars take a lot (seven) of the top-10 finishing positions, including the win (which went to Kyle Busch).

It’s gotten to the point that writing Nationwide Series columns could almost be done using a standard template form. The same few drivers are up front and winning every single week. This business model has led to such a disparity between the haves and have nots that the competition has become all but non-existent.

The capital of NASCAR draws 20,000 fans on a Saturday afternoon during a holiday weekend. The Nationwide Series is busted. I rest my case.

FIVE: Charlotte Motor Speedway Shows that All Hope is Not Lost for NASCAR

It was not a sellout, and 140,000 may have been a generous estimate for total attendance, but just like the Labor Day race at Atlanta last September, this weekend’s Memorial Day Sunday show drew one of the healthiest crowds NASCAR has seen all season long. Fortunately, just as last September, the race wasn’t bad either.

NASCAR was in the form that made it such a hallmark tradition in the South this weekend; between a great military tribute, a kickass stunt that saw helicopters chasing makeshift terrorists in a pickup truck around the track, a no-apologies pre-race display of patriotism and prayer, and fans whose dedication to stock car racing rivals that of any sport’s anywhere in the world celebrating in their own backyard, all was right with the NASCAR world for 600 miles on Sunday (minus the phantom debris cautions).

The success of NASCAR’s holiday weekends in the South that the sport grew in is just proof positive that for all the dissent, disappointment, and anger that has been rightfully directed at NASCAR and their handling of the Cup Series the last decade, fans still want this to work. NASCAR fans from across the country flocked to the South and spent their holidays watching racing, just as they always have because this sport for all its problems still means an awful lot to a bunch of them.

NASCAR would do well to remember it. Big spectacles, respect for tradition, and a fan-friendly venue led the fans to turn out in droves. The Coca-Cola 600 was a success this year. There’s no reason that success has to be a one-time thing.

Though cutting ticket prices some would have been nice. Seriously, when are promoters going to learn that an empty seat makes no money?

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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mkrcr
06/01/2010 03:35 AM
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Po, Po, Chad. The chink in the armor is being revealed. If the other drivers keep the pressure on JJ, the desired results will continue. “ But Chad, it’s so hard now. Everyone keeps bumping me and pushing me. It was so much easier when they treated me with kid gloves. Don’t they realize I’m Mr. 4 time?”

Stephen HOOD
06/01/2010 08:19 AM
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My wife and I have an ongoing joke following the Nationwide races which I watch and she doesn’t.

I’ll ask, “Guess who won the Nationwide race?”
She’ll respond, “Kyle?” “Brad?” “Denny?” “Joey?”

It threw us for a loop when Justin won.

Our joke used to be “Guess who wrecked?” (Reed Sorenson).

I get tired of hearing the commentators praising Kyle’s prowess in the truck series and NW series. I don’t know what should be done to change things, but the racing has grown stale. I haven’t watched the NW series for that long, but I remember Truex and Bowyer had a rivalry for a few years and they weren’t cup drivers at the time. I don’t know what the ratings or attendance was like, but I remember enjoying the racing and I became a Truex fan and a Bowyer hater. I also liked the series and didn’t miss a race. Now, I’ll watch a NW race if I don’t have anything else to do (like mow the grass or weed the flower beds). I still watch 90% of the cup races because it seems to me that the competition is closer though I’m beginning to wonder. I guess NASCAR has always been somewhat “streaky” with one car or one team of cars dominating. I guess my perfect season would be 36 races with 20 different winners.

jim foster
06/01/2010 11:00 AM
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I wonder how the attendance was for the Hall of Fame saturday.If I was coming to town for the weekend, I might skip Nationwide for the Hall.

Paul
06/01/2010 12:04 PM
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Just think if all those cup drivers would have stayed home the number of fans at the Nationwide race would have been a lot less. I for one only watch the Nationwide if my driver is in it.

Kevin
06/01/2010 12:59 PM
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I have to disagree with Paul. I, for one, have completely lost all interest in the Nationwide Series because of the dominance of Cup drivers. If there weren’t so many of them, I might start to watch some Nationwide races again. I believe a lot of people feel the same way I do, and that is why the grandstands were so bare on Saturday.

wcfan
06/01/2010 01:42 PM
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While we all agree the Busch series is BADLY BROKEN. We can debate if Cup drivers in the Busch series, are the major problem. I for one enjoy having more then a couple Cup guys in the race. Yes it is usually a Cup guy who wins but at least there is a race amoung more then 1 or 2 drivers.

I personally would like to see more Busch\Truck companion events(at smaller tracks in a perfect world) and less Cup\Busch events, it would cut down on the “Buschwackers”. Yes you could have “Truckwackers” drivers still doing the “double” but the Trucks are having short fields anyway.

noel_w
06/01/2010 01:42 PM
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On point 1: I’m not sure that Kurt really has that big of an edge on Kyle. The only real advantage is what, 6 or 8 years of maturity? The lack of any real support from Dodge may yet prove to be a major obstacle. For now, though, it would appear that the best thing Dodge did for it’s racing program was to pull out.

On point 2: Wasn’t Jimmie’s wreck at Darlington caused by A.J.‘s broken brakes and a fluke high speed impact? How does that become Jimmie’s fault? The only cars that could not have been hit by Almendinger were the start and parks. Hitting the walls several times is just par for the course at Darlington. Many drivers with superior talent spent their entire careers trying to knock those walls down. For the record, I have made numerous posts across multiple websites that Jimmie’s dominance would only end when his competitors made him have to think about how wise it was to put his car in a given situation. It seems somebody finally figured out the logic behind that statement.

On point 3: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. JRM is not looking for a driver to succeed in the #88. If a driver is running up front, even GoDaddy will have to question the logic of pulling that driver out, in order to watch Danica wreck. The more deveopment drivers that sit in the seat, then there is no real shot at the owners championship either. For this team, there is safety in failure.

On point 4: The Busch series used to produce better racing on many weekends than the Cup series. That was when up-n-coming drivers used to fight hard for a shot at the Cup series. And occasionally Mark Martin would drop by to take them to school. Sadly, this is the Nationwide series. Now that they only drive for 8th place or back, the entire series has become about not damaging the car, the competition has been crushed.
NASCAR could fix this by encouraging Cup rookies to run the companion events, but baning any driver in the top 15 in Cup points (including rookies) from participating in the companion events sanctioned by NASCAR.
You would think that someone would point out to Brian that all the fans and money made by NASCAR were made when they weren’t actually chasing the almighty dollar. Every decision he makes that is clearly designed to bring in more revenue, just alienates the fans and threatens the sport in its entirety.
@ Paul: The crowds used to be better at the (then) Busch races. Boring, predictable races do not sell seats. While you might only watch if your favorite driver competes, many more fans have tuned out from what amounts to NFL players warming up in NCAA competition.

On point 5: Charlotte has alway put on spectacular pre-race shows. That fact, combined with being the home field for 95% of NASCAR, the longest race of the year, and one of the few historic events Brian France hasn’t urinated on (yet) has always ensured a healthy turn-out. Will the crowd remain as solid in Pocono? More than likely NO!
It seems that Denny, Kyle, Kurt, and Jamie (how odd to write that lmao) refuse to allow NASCAR to die quietly. They are putting on a respectable show, in spite of NASCAR’s terrible front office and questionable decisions. Attendance is down. The racing has been less than spectacular, but those four seem determined to prove that HMS doesn’t quite own Brian France.

midasmicah
06/01/2010 02:40 PM
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In response tothis being the “new Kyle” He doesn’t get it. Burton is just the latest driver to blast him. I’m a long time Burton fan and I don’t believe I’ve ever seem him lose his cool in this manner. When your own teammate publicly blasts you and calls you immature, it seems he would wake up. Regarding the Nationwide Series. I don’t watch “cup light” anymore period. You know who is going to win. A cup driver. With 10 to 15 cup drivers in most races with far superior equipment, the nationwide “regulars have absolutely no chance of winning.If nas$car doesn’t do something and quick, I don’t see this series surviving for very long. I can’t believe Chad is belittling his driver. Everybody goes through slumps once in a while. Nobody’s perfect.

wcfan
06/01/2010 03:46 PM
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midasmicah
I would not put a whole lot of credit in Denny’s words(clear case of the pot calling the kettle black here) his actions are as immature if not more so then Kyle’s and his temper is much worse. Yes I am a Rowdy fan, but Denny’s action along with Kyle’s speak much louder then their words. They both need to grow up and get off the teet.

Frank
06/01/2010 04:38 PM
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I say the fix for the nationwide series is to scrap the cup series , move the cup drivers down (most already race there anyway) combine nationwide and truck drivers in the same series eliminate locked in positions and race trucks. you welcome nascar

Marybeth
06/01/2010 06:04 PM
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I have an idea. Let’s switch ccs. Lance to the 48 and Chad to the 88…& see how that works…?

Kevin in SoCal
06/01/2010 06:32 PM
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I think Chad would rather push a broom around the shop….

24Crazy
06/02/2010 01:18 PM
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Besides the predictable outcome. Another part of the prob with attendance @ Cup Lite shows is that you can go the next day and see high octane Cup for just a few more $$$$. As for Kurt VS Kyle, Kurt all the way… JMHO

RandyGoldman
06/02/2010 01:49 PM
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“You would think that someone would point out to Brian that all the fans and money made by NASCAR were made when they weren’t actually chasing the almighty dollar.”

Thats the stupidest thing I have ever heard. This suggests that there was a point in NASCAR history when they were racing for charity. NASCAR is a corporation… it always has and always will be in existance to make money!