The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: The Time Is Now For 2011 Rules, Paying Back Cousin Carl, And More by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday July 20, 2010

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ONE: NASCAR Needs to Make Nationwide Series Rules Now

After seeing Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, and Kevin Harvick dominate yet another weekend that was supposed to highlight the Nationwide Series and its own regulars, has again brought to our attention remarks made by Brian France that NASCAR is exploring means to discourage what has, for years, been a case of Cup Series superiority in the sanctioning body’s AAA division. Options apparently on the table include cutting points and money for Cup drivers in the field, limiting the number of starts a Cup full-timer can make, and taking measures to ensure they cannot win the Nationwide title – as has been the case since Kevin Harvick annihilated the competition to jumpstart this mess four years ago.

These measures are certainly great ideas; unfortunately, as has been previously discussed in this column, they’re a decade late and a grand short. But assuming that there actually is some sincerity to Brian France’s words this time, it’s vitally important that NASCAR make decisions on what those new rules are going to be… and set them in stone in terms of when they’re actually going to take effect. Now.

A ‘Nationwide’ decision to kick out the Sprint Cup regulars would give up-and-comers like Steve Arpin a better chance to land a full-time 2011 ride. But with sponsors setting their budgets now, a NASCAR decision on any changes needs to come now – not November.

The remarks of Kelley Earnhardt should speak volumes to this necessity. In ruling out any chance that JR Motorsports would be fielding a Cup car in 2011, already beginning the sponsorship search for the team’s Nos. 7 and 88 cars next year, the team owner noted last week that to carry out their search effectively, and to cater towards the goal of putting a true development driver in their seats full-time, a Nationwide Series operation would need to know well in advance whatever changes NASCAR was going to make.

Truth be told, this isn’t rocket science… and something the sanctioning body would do very well to take to heart. Making these decisions early would give Nationwide teams a greater leg to stand on when pitching development talent to potential sponsors, considering companies are looking to set their 2011 advertising budgets now… not November. Giving plenty of lead time on these tweaks would give NASCAR a new tool to promote the Nationwide ranks, pumping up those efforts off the track – especially if it meant guaranteeing that a Cup regular would not be able to swoop in and make a mockery of the championship race in that series. And, most importantly, it would show that they’ve learned a lesson from the asinine decision made earlier this season, three weeks before Daytona and well after teams had calculated their 2010 budgets to cut purses by 10 percent.

So rather than sticking it to the few teams they’ve got left contesting their minor leagues, NASCAR may well want to get its act together in a timely matter on this one… assuming they actually are planning to do anything.

TWO: Shelby Howard’s Golden Opportunity with KHI … Or Is It?

One of the more underrated performances seen on the Nationwide Series circuit the last season and a half has come from Shelby Howard and the No. 70 ML Motorsports team. And apparently, someone finally took notice, with Howard signing a three-race deal to drive Kevin Harvick’s No. 2 truck starting this weekend. The No. 2 is a ride that’s hardly been short on horses, with Harvick winning three races behind the wheel this season. In his last dozen starts driving the No. 2 or No. 4, he’s visited Victory Lane 50 percent of the time.

That pairs nicely with the stats of Cup drivers Elliott Sadler and Ken Schrader; they’ve scored five top-10 finishes between the two of them in their last six starts. Those numbers are all the more impressive when you consider Sadler’s fifth-place run in the No. 2 was his best finish in NASCAR competition since the 2009 Daytona 500, and Schrader’s fourth-place result at Iowa was his strongest since a fourth in the Martinsville Truck race back in March, 2008.

But as hot a ride as this truck has been in 2010, the fact remains that for every prospect such as Ricky Carmichael, who has used KHI as a springboard for bigger and better things, there’s an elephant graveyard of development drivers that haven’t. Cale Gale’s now an ARCA crew chief, Kertus Davis is no longer driving, Burney Lamar is out of a ride, Sean Caisse is still searching for a full-time home… the list goes on and on. So for as much as KHI has contributed to NASCAR’s lower levels in terms of rides and racing services, successful driver development has not been one of their strong suits. Can Howard be the one to break the mold? It’ll be well worth watching over the next few weeks to come.

THREE: Inconsistency in the Name of Fan, Media Reactions to Carl vs. Brad II

There’s certainly no shortage of reading material out there on Saturday night’s last-lap carnage at Gateway. Looking back, it’s one of the most violent race conclusions NASCAR has seen since Dale Earnhardt took out Terry Labonte under the lights at Bristol in 1999. But through all this material, there’s themes emerging:
Carl went too far. Sure Brad hit him, but Carl hit him way harder. Too hard.
Brad wasn’t trying to get into Carl. It was incidental contact and didn’t warrant retaliation.

This time, Carl’s gone too far. A points penalty and fine are appropriate … now.

But here’s the problem with each and every one of these reactions that have been lighting up comment pages and message boards alike; they’re all subjective. “Carl hit Brad harder” is a judgment call based on perceptions of aggression, the elements of racing to the checkers, etc. – not to mention that “too hard” is about as subjective as they come. Whether Brad’s contact with Carl that actually triggered the whole episode was intentional in the first place is a judgment call, one that no official could hope to make under white flag conditions. And as far as points or fines being appropriate, applying such deterrents because of the gravity of the wreck that followed, history, post-race comments, whatever… it’s all total subjectivity.

Sound familiar? Hmm. Wasn’t the subjectivity of officiating one of the major complaints being leveled at the sanctioning body? So is green-lighting and encouraging NASCAR to step in and make such a judgment call opening a Pandora’s box – no matter how gut-wrenching and horrifying Saturday’s night wreck was?

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not Around The World Of NASCAR
Channeling My Inner Ricky Bobby: Realizing A NASCAR Dream
No Bull: Why Limiting Cup Drivers In Other Series Is Easier Said Than Done
Talking NASCAR TV: Controversy Never Keeps ESPN From Jumping Ship

FOUR: Edwards Needs to Be Punished by His Peers, Not His Employers

Here’s why. The first, and most important reason is Edwards became a NASCAR superstar during the era of points penalties, fines, and probation. He spent his first five-and-a-half years in the Cup ranks racing under the more stringent, pre-“Boys will be Boys” era, and yet was still involved in a number of notable incidents with fellow competitors, including threatening to assault teammate Matt Kenseth at Martinsville and a nasty payback tangle with Tony Stewart at Pocono in 2006.

So if Edwards’ long rap sheet of 2010 is any indication, dishing out NASCAR penalties when he acted out of line didn’t teach this guy a single lesson. The only tool that NASCAR has in their arsenal that actually may prove a deterrent would be to park cousin Carl; but considering he’s both the poster boy for the struggling Ford Racing program, as well as the spokesperson for big money sponsor Aflac, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

That means, as it should, that Edwards’ discipline should come from his fellow competitors. Notice I didn’t say solely Keselowski. Edwards has, as many fans noted, become an eerie “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” personality, with the darker side proving constantly willing to use 3,400-pound stock cars as weapons of mass destruction. And just ask the drivers and guys at JR Motorsports, ML Motorsports, and others having to rebuild cars as a result of his brash on-track tactics what they think of it. Edwards’ obsession with making sure that Brad Keselowski doesn’t steal a sixth-place finish on his bad day, or a Nationwide Series win at Gateway is proving to have real implications for all of his competitors – be it those having to rebuild race cars this week, or those that are going to pay the price for the fans either angered or scared away from the sport by his deadly antics.

Good buddies Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. are just two of a long list of drivers who’ve had on-track scuffles with Carl Edwards over the past several years.

It all adds up to this conclusion: the only way that Edwards is going to learn a lesson on-track is by having the field step up to what has become a dangerous bully. If they all bond together as one, making it clear to Edwards that as long as he acts like a battering ram, he will not be able to race cleanly or to contend for titles, there’s no way in hell these kind of incidents will keep happening. It’s that simple, no matter how many times Brad pulls a good ol’-fashioned bump-and-run.

As for the second reason?

FIVE: Brian France’s Wisdom Strikes Again

Does any fan out there really want to green light NASCAR, under any circumstance, to made a judgment call based on their collective wisdom? It was reported today that NASCAR has named Andy Schwalb, a former Disney Parks executive, to an executive position within the NASCAR Media Group.

Hmm. That’s just what NASCAR’s Media Group needs, to be led by someone with Disney pedigree. This Disney is the same one, of course, whose ABC/ESPN broadcasts are making racing media look bad every weekend.

Sadly, these clowns should not be making any calls of any kind in this sport, no matter how hard the resulting wrecks are. And that’s why drivers need to literally take matters into their own hands to fix it.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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07/20/2010 08:25 AM

Well..I agree with you…having the drivers “band” together would get the message across to Carl. BUT..a lot of the drivers have CHASE hopes and messing with Carl..unless/until he creates a problem for them is not on their radar. That leaves the “back markers” and “start and parkers”…most of whom can’t afford the money it would take to repair their cars while they are “teaching Carl a lesson” or they can’t afford the bad finishes they would get trying to show Carl he can’t continue his bullying. Maybe NASCAR should have a drivers meeting..WITHOUT CARL in attendance..and let the drivers decide Carl’s future…THAT to me would be the way to go. In this day and age of money woes..having his peers teach him a lesson on the track would prove much too costly..but having his peers dole out his punishment off the track..that would work. AND to keep the voting confidential (so Carl won’t have more targets on the track) it can be done by secret ballot…(I’m sure Kenseth would appreciate that!).

07/20/2010 08:44 AM

I agree with you Lydia. The start and parkers and backmarkers wouldn’t take edwards out due to the possible cost related to having to repair a wrecked racecar. I also believe that NASCAR would react very differently to a non big name driver taking out a-and I use the word loosely-“star” like Carl Edwards. If Robby Gordon hit Edwards, or anyone for that matter-like Edwards hit Kesolowski, he would be finished in NASCAR. I hope Edwards gets suspended. I am all for a little bumping and contact, but you can bump and move someone without wrecking them. I find it particularly galling that Edwards basically admitted to wrecking Keslowski. NASCAR needs to do something-but won’t.

07/20/2010 10:20 AM

Racin’ is a rugged sport, every fan looks at the “contacts” differently, explaining the “fan fights” at local tracks. It WILL work itself out eventually, so just shut up!! Just a word for wanna be bully Harvick, careful about callin’ out Carl, you need a box to stand on to hit his nose!! Wake up Little man!!

07/20/2010 10:32 AM

Harvick afraid of Edwards – I think Edwards wound up the loser on Harvicks hood the last time Edwards tried to show his muscle.

07/20/2010 10:33 AM

I agree with Johnboy. You have all become so used to the Nascar parade on the track that when one driver actually does something out of the ordinary to win a race, you all get crazy. I would wreck my grandmother to win a Sprint Cup race. I don’t care too much for Carl, but I see nothing wrong with taking a win when you can. Maybe the guys up front will actually RACE for wins instead of just assuming someone is going to be happy to ride behind them for 2nd on back. RACE ‘EM BOYS!
07/20/2010 10:51 AM

Just a thought.What happened to J.Gordon a few weeks ago when he hit anyone in his way on the track (and I do like Jeff)? Montoya? Harvic ? Why Dave De Spain asked “Happy” what he thought of the situation on his show Sunday nite I’ll never get!The media is having a field day for sure. I’m sorry people. but I’m still going to stick by Carl. None of us are perfect! I have to weigh in all the voluteer work etc that he does for children and other people.I’d also like people to remember Brads history.He is not the “innocent “ he likes us to believe he is. Sure would like to get over this and get onto the Brickyard!!.

07/20/2010 11:10 AM

As with most sports, it’s the guy who hits back who gets caught. My recollection is that most, if not all, of Carl’s “bullying” has been payback for offenses against him. I admit a bias for Carl based on the total of his character rather than his occasional paybacks. I do wish he’d quit giving the boo-birds something to chirp about.

07/20/2010 11:54 AM

Amen, Gene, Amen.

IMO, the only fault Carl has is a total inability to lie when he’s paying someone back…and that’s not really a fault.

Brad hits Carl in turn 2 to take the spot from him, uses the “Chrome Horn” as has been done THOUSANDS OF TIMES in the past, before NASCAR started penalizing drivers for every little contact, HE starts out with “I got into Carl” making it sound accidental, then later admits he hit Carl to get around him….Just own up to it when you do something!

The fact is that Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, among many other stars of this sport, past and present, have used the bumper on a regular basis as a tool to help them win. Carl uses it OCCASIONALLY, and suddenly he’s trying to kill someone?? PULEASE!!!

I continue to stand behind Carl 100%, and applaud when he stands up for himself, because in racing as in life, if you roll over and let others push you around, they will continue to push you around.

And had positions been reversed, had Carl rubbed BRAD to get by him first, I fully expect that had Brad been able to get back to Carl, he’d have tried to spin HIM, also…they’re RACING FOR THE WIN, not to mention a championship, people!!

no Spin
07/20/2010 12:59 PM

Let me get this straight the old saying, alls fair in love and war and the last lap is over? I know some of you were around when Dale started, how about Eirvin, and Harvick is a real sweetheart, believe me some one will take Carl to school and when it happen please be outraged as much as you are to day

07/20/2010 02:49 PM

The “bump and run” has been used forever, but lately the “wreck to payback” is getting used more by Carl. I wonder what would happen if Carl had done that to someone like Cale?

07/20/2010 03:34 PM

What would have happened if Brad had punted Cale?

07/20/2010 05:49 PM

Did Nascar test Carl for drugs after the race…?

07/20/2010 07:55 PM

To me it’s not the fact that contact happened, it’s the level of contact. How about when Kurt bumped Jimmy? Did Jimmy crash Kurt? No, he returned it with a like action and WON. Edwards goes way over the top which makes me believe there’s more of an issue there than payback. If NA$CAR is going to police anything, it’s the actions that will get someone hurt, regardless of the safety of the car, or causes the large financial hit that those other teams took. NA$CAR’s supposed to be all about saving the teams money, right?

07/20/2010 08:33 PM

Emperor Brian continues to make decisions based on making more money, not improving the racing. He teases people to go to a “race” and when they leave they’re disappointed. They tell people who tell people who… If he gave them something good to talk about he would be better off. But he’d rather keep trying to make more money and he’s failing miserably. A Disney executive is very appropriate. He’s living in Fantasy Land at Disney Land but the drinking is good.

07/21/2010 12:46 AM

I did a search of Andy Schwalb to see what was on the net. This cracked me up, its about some Mickey Mouse doll (that is no longer in production) at Disney World.

Could you describe some of the thinking behind Pal Mickey?

Schwalb: We experimented a lot with the concept, and there were many details to worry about. What should Mickey’s voice sound like? How loud should his voice be? Giving it volume without disturbing anybody else is a fine line that was a real challenge, for example. Would it work to wear Mickey around your wrist, or would it get too hot in the summer? We’re rolling out a Spanish-speaking Pal Mickey and looking into other language possibilities.

07/21/2010 08:19 AM

“What would have happened if Brad had punted Cale?”

He would be the most famous person ever because he would have figured out a way to travel through time.