The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Censorship Gone Wild, Carl & Kyle Sitting In A Tree, More by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday July 27, 2010

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ONE: Almirola the Right Move for JR Motorsports

Aric Almirola’s third-place finish in his debut race with JR Motorsports this weekend could hardly be considered a surprise. A veteran of scores of starts across the Nationwide and Cup Series, as well as a title contender in the Truck ranks this season, he’s picking up wins and respect with his current full-time ride over at Billy Ballew Motorsports. Now straddling the line between young gun and experienced vet, it’s that exact reason he’s the driver JRM should be looking to sign to the No. 88 for 2011.

Certainly, there’s been no shortage of talent taking turns in JRM’s cars this season. Josh Wise has gone from backmarker driving the No. 61 to a top-10 contender. Steve Arpin scored a top 10 in his Daytona NNS debut. Coleman Pressley showed promise in his runs at Kentucky and Nashville. But what Almirola does bring to the table that none of them do is some level of experience, one that’s much greater than a raw, rookie development driver starting out completely green.

Three years after his first stint driving for an Earnhardt, Aric Almirola is hoping to go from stepmother Teresa to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s good graces for 2011.

Case in point: the one driver that managed to sustain success in JRM’s flagship ride, Brad Keselowski. When he jumped behind the wheel of the No. 88 for the first time, he had nearly 20 starts in the Nationwide Series in addition to a full Truck Series campaign under his belt. Having those starts in subpar rides had Keselowski accustomed to taking care of equipment, knowing how to adjust on race cars, and how to deal with starting in the back. The results he posted in his Nationwide campaigns for JRM speak volumes as to how valuable those starts were.

Well Almirola has even more previous experience than his predecessor, and in better cars. He’s a proven race winner, a title contender and someone, like Keselowski, who’s taken a lick or two getting to this point. While Keselowski endured years of underfunded rides and start-and-park, Almirola took one of the biggest backhands in recent NASCAR history when JGR benched him while running in the top 5 – just so Denny Hamlin could go on to win a race at Milwaukee in 2007 for Rockwell Automation. Sponsor-driven or not, that move was nothing short of appalling.

There’s no shortage of fire or talent here, and as past history shows, an experienced young gun is what the No. 88 needs more than anything. Almirola seems to fit like a glove.

TWO: McMurray Winning The Big Races… But What Does it Mean For His Sponsor?

First, the Daytona 500, and now the Brickyard 400 this Sunday. Jamie McMurray’s making a habit of winning NASCAR’s big name events, or at least making a strong showing (he also finished second in the “Southern 500” and the Coca-Cola 600 this season). Yet a Chase berth is far from assured for one of the sport’s amazing comeback stories. McMurray followed his first win of 2010 with three consecutive finishes outside the top 15, and still sits over 150 points out of 12th place even after his second victory.

But does that really matter? Chip Ganassi looked awful happy about becoming the first car owner to win the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, and Brickyard 400 in the same season. Bass Pro Shops representatives in Victory Lane looked right at home in Gasoline Alley. And McMurray’s future with both Bass and the No. 1 has gone from being one of the biggest early question marks for 2011 to a seemingly done deal. Not too shabby for a driver who left Roush Fenway Racing branded nothing short of an underachiever…

The more interesting point than McMurray’s performance, to me, is the question that should be posed to Bass Pro Shops: Does winning these big-time races mean more for the company than a Chase berth would? David Pearson built his legacy not on winning Cup titles, but showing up when the money was good… and beating everyone else to it. But in today’s points over prize money culture that has seen the checkered flag take a back seat to consistency, is there room, and corporate sense for a team that, intentionally or not, is showing up when the trophy and purse gets bigger?

I certainly hope so. Frankly, I find it exciting to know that when a big race is coming up, there’s at least one team out there bringing a different frame of mind to it, a driver who brings a different confidence. Intentional or not, the No. 1 car is seemingly different when the big lights turn on, and that’s landing them the big fish in 2010.

It’s been fun to watch.

THREE: Is the Brickyard a Big Deal Anymore?

McMurray’s “big” win notwithstanding, is the Brickyard 400 as prestigious as the track and purse would imply? The answer was an emphatic “Yes!” during the race’s first running 16 years ago, when the track’s grandstands were packed and 86 cars showed up to try and make the field. But, fast forward to 2010, and the Brickyard was anything but a monumental event.

A crowd of 140,000 was reported Sunday, a number that looked at best slightly inflated. A field of only 47 cars attempted the show, then four of those who made it start-and-parked at one of the most hallowed racing venues anywhere in the world. Then, there’s the on-track action – or should I say lack thereof. It’s a race that, while not as snore-inducing as years past, still couldn’t hold a candle to what we see at Daytona.

Of all those indicators, it’s probably the crowd that’s most telling of how far this event has fallen down the food chain. Economy down or not, the Daytona 500 sold out, while the Indy 500 drew easily over 200,000 fans without having to inflate those numbers. That same day, the Coca-Cola 600 drew over 100,000 dedicated stock car enthusiasts. Labor Day at Atlanta drew over 100,000 last year, and likely will again – even though that tradition is only embarking on its second year. In comparison, Indy was less than half full, and that’s after the track lowered ticket prices. So for all the talk among drivers of how big a deal it was to race there, the fans didn’t seem to share their sentiment. (Though, to be fair, after dealing with the tire debacle of 2008 and years of racing that produced next to no passing, maybe they just opted to stay out of the heat.)

Back in the 1990s, NASCAR at Indy was a big deal. It was a novelty, a Berlin wall falling that saw the South’s burly son kick the door in on IndyCar’s holy ground, a signal that stock car racing was becoming the elite of American motorsports.

But now NASCAR, like the Brickyard 400, is in serious decline. And all the economic excuses, all the history that has nothing to do with our sport, and all the bells and whistles in the world can’t hide the fact that a poor race can’t be a big deal indefinitely.

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
Brian and Bruton Tell Us … What, Exactly?
No Bull: Bad Calls Can Quickly Cost You Credibility
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In Sprint Cup: Indy-Pocono Edition
Talking NASCAR TV: Did ESPN Cut The Mustard In Its Cup Debut?

FOUR: Carl and Kyle Having a Bromance

To steal a line from fellow writer Tom Bowles, Did You Notice? that Carl Edwards made a point to visit Victory Lane after probation scared NASCAR’s battering ram into allowing Kyle Busch to drive to victory at ORP Saturday night? The two have no shortage of “bad blood” in their history, including battering each other after the checkered flag at Bristol in the summer of 2008. That followed an incident in a Nationwide Series race at Richmond earlier that year, one where Edwards accused Busch of pile-driving him.

But on that night, Edwards and Busch shared both an embrace and a quiet word in Victory Lane, with Busch enjoying his defeat of rival Ron Hornaday and Edwards expressing gratitude for a clean finish – seemingly oblivious that last week’s messy conclusion was courtesy his front bumper. Guess those performance-enhancers screw with memory a tick…

It’s an ironic pairing of drivers that suddenly “respect” each other – ones that are espousing their own abilities to race clean – but it makes sense. Kyle Busch has been the target of much of NASCAR Nation’s scorn for seasons now. As for Edwards, the bulls-eye is a little bit of unmarked territory, as the negative fallout from his ugly tangle with Brad Keselowski at Gateway last week had the “aw shucks” Missourian launched into the “bad guy” zone more than at any time during his seven-year Sprint Cup career to date.

On the plus side, at least the two are finally recognizing just how similar they are, both off and on the race track. Draw your own conclusions about that one.

FIVE: NASCAR Fines Drivers… for Dissent

In a shocking report, the Associated Press reported on Monday that a number of NASCAR drivers have been secretly fined by NASCAR in 2010 for making disparaging comments about the sport. In one of those cases, a superstar driver was reportedly fined $50,000.

Information is still trickling in, but let me make a couple of points here. First of all, there’s no doubt that one of those drivers is Denny Hamlin, even if the AP refuses to name him . First of all, Hamlin’s comments about debris cautions and their history, including his infamous tweet from Talladega last fall that “we signed up to drive our cars, not be told how to” have been among the most publicized negative comments made by anyone, competitor or commentator, about NASCAR in 2010. Second of all, where there’s AP NASCAR reporting, there’s Jenna Fryer… and where there’s Jenna Fryer, there’s a Denny Hamlin quote or story.

So hey, NASCAR, here’s a thought; take that fine money, hire somebody competent, and maybe your competitors will have a harder time finding something to complain about. Lord knows they’ve got plenty to choose from right now.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


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07/27/2010 02:55 AM

Someone aught to reimburse Denny the $50K he spent on telling the truth about the debris cautions. Probably aught to come right out of Brian’s salary.

Bill B
07/27/2010 07:06 AM

What irks me is that the late debris cautions had become so obvious that all Denny was doing was stating the obvious. I have a real problem when someone gets fined for being honest.

Carl D.
07/27/2010 07:16 AM

First I’ve heard about these “secret fines” but I’m not surprised. Big Bill and Bill Jr. ran Nascar with an iron fist, but at least they were competent and for the most part fair. Brian France is neither and his sport is faltering. Given his failure as CEO, these fines seem like a desperate move to me, and one I suspect will backfire on him now that it’s gone public.

ex-Na$car fan
07/27/2010 08:07 AM

They sure don’t mind naming ‘low level’ drivers for what they do. What makes ‘top level’ drivers so special that it has to be a secret? You gotta love the multi-faces of Na$car…NOT!!!!

07/27/2010 08:12 AM

Brain Farce has gone too far now!! What is racing or any other sport without some controversy? He is a simple-minded excuse for a man! He started killing this sport and appears he will finish what he started!!… have Napoleon syndrome!!

Mary in Richmond
07/27/2010 09:08 AM

Kyle is a freaking hypocrite. He put almost the same move on Trevor Bayne to take the lead around lap 32 that Brad did on Edwards on the last lap at Gateway. Then he has the ‘nads to say some crap in victory lane about racing folks with respect.

ex-Na$car fan
07/27/2010 09:36 AM

I think BZF is too afraid of the truth

07/27/2010 09:43 AM

Brian France can’t handle the truth. And continues to ignore it.
He sounds a lot like Gary Bettman and has an ego to match.

07/27/2010 09:47 AM

I really wish someone would get the money together to complete a takeover of Nascar and run the organization right. The sport needs to be moved OUT of the France family and into the hands of someone who has the brains and the experience to oversee a sport without trying to manipulate every facet.

07/27/2010 09:58 AM

NASCAR needs to put a racer in charge instead of a business man.

Fred G
07/27/2010 10:01 AM

Bryan, you mentioned in a previous article about wanting Daytona to be the final race of the year. How many races do you want there? It would be hard to remove the July race because of tradition. Then you would also have two Daytonas back to back, Feburary and November. I liked when Atlanta was the final race but I am from the old school. Whatever NASCAR does won’t please everyone and our opinion is of no value anyway. As for Brian France’s leadership of NASCAR he is like Obama, hell bent on destroying what he is in charge of. If I were Hamlin and the others I would tell all the media what really went on about the fines and expose NASCAR for what a** holes they really are.

Don Mei
07/27/2010 10:25 AM

Businessman? Did someone call Brian France a businessman? Brian France couldn’t run a lemonade stand on his own. Hes a not-terribly-bright rich kid who inherited this wonderful toy and is doing his best to utterly run it into the ground. Amazing.

07/27/2010 10:38 AM

NAZICAR trying to gag the drivers for telling the truth? I wonder what else is being hidden behind closed doors?

07/27/2010 10:38 AM

I went to Indy in 96’ and once I walked into the mens room and there were no doors on the stalls the aura of the place was imediately gone. Heck, the Saturday night track at home is better than that. Then you can’t see anything but they have nice big A/C’d suites over the pit boxes for the owners girl friends which block your view. And the racing sucks, other than that it is a fantastic race ranking up there with the race to the moon.
While I liked Carl his response to bumps is over the limit. He also visited Brad in V/L a few races ago and they were both all smiles. So this could imply they are just throwing off the scent of the real story to come. But Carl is on probation.
I read where na$crap was just being like the other big time sports fining drivers for sad but true remarks. Well, at least those other sports (including college basket ball) name the people involved so you as a fan can make a judgement of what was said verses your preceived truth on the matter is. This is almost as shady as Brian’s accident pulling into his drive way where he had time to get in his house AND THEN have a few cocktails before ths cop got there! I have seen debris cautions more believable than that one!

07/27/2010 10:39 AM

The whole fine issue smacks of desperation. The drivers are being fined for what most of us have already come to realize. Can you hear the sound of more fans heading for the exits????

old farmer
07/27/2010 10:56 AM

Gee, Don. I guess you’re allowed to criticize & comment because you’re DON. Apparently I don’t have that right because I’m NOT Don.

One other thing—at least I can punctuate.

07/27/2010 11:08 AM

The chase is the major problem, wiyh the fans,and always has been. The decline started the year after the chase was put in Why won’t anyone admit this?? And why oh why win’t they scrap it?

07/27/2010 11:13 AM

Can you say lack of crediblity? NASCAR keeps right on thinking the fans are so stupid that so long as a DRIVER doesn’t say anything negative, all is wonderful in the world of stock car racing and fans will keep paying their $ to see it.

Brainless is running out of time to catch a clue here. His comments that he doesn’t think the bad TV broadcasts have any impact on the fans is so ridiculous. Talk about blind.

I keep saying that I’ll hang around until my favorite driver retires, but more and more, I only check in to see what’s going on, not waste a full day watching.

I wonder if France will hand pick the “fans” for his meeting on August 11th — so he only gets ones who think he’s doing a great job cuz he sure can’t handle the truth.

The Brickyard is a non-event — boring to watch on TV, along with PocOHno this coming weekend.

Kyle and Edwards are both hypocrites.

Kevin from PA
07/27/2010 12:16 PM

I really hope that one of the “secretly fined” drivers publically comes out and challenges NASCAR about the fine. In the past, their racing career would be over. Now… I really think it is at the point that if just a few key people stood up, BF would have stand down and shut up.

I guess I can dream, huh?

07/27/2010 12:28 PM

Bryan , you and Matt should get together each week and do a joint column . He covered the “ i don’t think Indy is important anymore “ nonsense yesterday . Almost word for word .

I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that drivers are being fined for disparaging NASCAR . But until i see actual names and confirmations , i’m going to have to assume that NASCAR is lying about fining drivers so they can scare them into keeping their mouths shut . Or , Jenna is simply reporting heresay and not naming names because she hasn’t been able to confirm the story or names yet . Either is possible , both have happened before .

07/27/2010 12:33 PM

1. Go Aric

2. Go Jamie

3. I’ve hated (or “dis-liked” for the super-sensitive) this race since the second time they ran there. Boring as all hell.

4. I think you’re under the misconception that these racers hate each other for years. I’d bet these modern day sanitized fancy boys are pretty much over their b*tch-slapping by the following race week. Lingering on-track fueds are created and maintained by the media to sell more poison.

5. Nothing surprises me any more, which translates to a “who cares” attitude.

07/27/2010 12:37 PM

First and foremost, this practice of fining drivers for speaking their mind is very disturbing and should be stopped immediately. I have yet to see anyone mention the fact that this is a blatant violation of the drivers’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech under the Constitution. When did NASCAR and Brian France decide they were above the law? If I were one of the drivers fined, there would be two phone calls made – the first to an attorney practicing constitutional law and the second to my press agent telling them to release a statement about the fines.

07/27/2010 01:11 PM

Your constitutional rights have no standing with a PRIVATE organization like na$car

07/27/2010 01:12 PM

denny hamlin is a superstar?? since when? has he won a race since his alleged indiscretion or should i restate that as has nascar let him win one since??? didn’t he also say that kyle would never win a championship? doesn’t he have his facts wrong. i though kyle’s one is one more than he has… even though nascar the organization disgusts me, i still think that the racing is better than EVER!!! points racing that is. don’t you agree?
just wondering…

Kevin in SoCal
07/27/2010 01:51 PM

Are you never happy? 140,000 fans in the stands, even if it was really only 100,000, is a lot more than several other tracks this year. Including my local track you love to hate. So what gives? You cant expect a place that holds 200,000+ people to sell out every year.

07/27/2010 02:19 PM

Indy is for Indy cars, bottom line. it was a nice try but go back to Darlington, racing is better in person and on TV.

07/27/2010 03:52 PM

1) Almirola should drive both 88 Cars for a few weeks. Might show what really needs fixing or changing.

2) The sponsor should consider a long term deal with the driver not the team! on a side note: Do you wonder if Jack questions dropping the wrong driver?

3) Did you see how many empty seats there were, I think attendance at the track says it all.

4) 2 guys that really don’t like BK getting along, plus Kyle had to go against his team mate Hamlin cause he took the opposite position. Carl and Kyle will be swapping spit soon and taking vacations together.

5) Another nail in the coffin of NASCAR’s credibility. To think a driver deliberately wrecked the leader of a race this season and got a half the fine of a driver who questioned phantom cautions doesn’t surprise me in today’s NASCAR. I’m sure new fans will get turned off by it though. Brian needs to stop stuffing powder in his face and ask WWMDD or WWMGDD, What Would My Dad Do or What Would My Grand Dad Do!

07/27/2010 05:31 PM

Nascar has a credibility problem and with this new information on secretly fining drivers for giving their opinion, this will just be another nail in the coffin to bury Nascar. Do the powers-that-be in the sport think we’re stupid an not realize that they’re desperately trying to save a sport that’s beyond life support? Fining drivers for speaking the truth will only infuriate fans more, and further reduce attendance and tv viewers. What are these guys thinking? Oh, I forgot, among Helton, Pemberton, Darby and France, there’s not a whole brain between them, even if you sewed them all together. Brian France is a sorry excuse for a man who’s father and grandfather were truly visionaries. Brian is a pathetic creature who obviously feels he’s some sort of genius, but he’s got less brains than a gnat. Someone needs to get a group together and purchase Nascar before these idiots totally demolish it. Will the last one to leave Nascar headquarters, turn out the light?

07/27/2010 05:47 PM

Hey Not5For48 – Loved your points #3, #4 and #5 and I am in total agreement with you on those. Especially #4. Did anyone not notice Edwards giving the bumper to Shrub during the last N-Wide race?

07/27/2010 05:52 PM

P.S. Is it just me or does France mumble, stumble and spit out a ton of rambling verbiage? Can we get him to pee in a cup because that man is TOTALLY incoherent!! They need to find a “Straight” man to run this deal.

07/28/2010 12:58 PM

If Indy is hyped up as such a huge race, or is considered the 2nd most prestigious race of the year, there should be more that 140,000 people in the stands. Just goes to show that the race at Indy is more hype than substance and people are staying home because of it. I would rather watch them race at ORP.

By the way, if Jenna Fryer released that story, don’t be surprised if you don’t see her at the track anymore. She will probably have her credentials pulled for that because that’s how Nascar operates when you talk bad about them, which is why more drivers don’t speak out.