The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: The Cup Series We Know So Well... Stupidity And Mistakes Repeating Themselves by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday August 10, 2010

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ONE: Should Kevin Conway’s Ride Be in Jeopardy?

On the stats sheet, it’s hardly been a stellar rookie campaign for Kevin Conway. Through 21 starts thus far in 2010, only four have resulted in top-30 finishes, and he’s ended races on the lead lap just three times: the two road courses and a 14th-place run at Daytona. Front Row Motorsports has had to make owner points swaps on a number of occasions to ensure that Conway, the slowest qualifier nearly every weekend, and his valuable Extenze sponsorship take the green flag on Sundays. And the freshman’s first return visit to a track (Pocono) yielded only minimal improvement; Conway finished 35th in his first start on the tricky triangle, then 31st upon his return.

But now, with rumors swirling that FRM may well be looking to make a change if Conway doesn’t pick it up, especially after having their No. 38 team already fall out of the top 35 (his No. 34 car is 35th in owner points, less than 200 markers from having to race their way into Cup fields), the question has to be asked… should they?

Kevin Conway brought a hefty wallet with him to the Cup Series. But should Front Row Motorsports remove the rookie before he has a chance to perform twice at the same tracks?

The value Conway brings — having brought the first full-time sponsor Front Row Motorsports has had since the then-R&J Racing No. 37 signed for the second half of the 2005 season — has already been discussed ad nauseum. But now that the year is nearly 2/3rds over, the question now comes down to Conway, the driver prospect. Has he improved? Has jumping headfirst into Cup racing proven to be an effective baptism by fire?

The truth is, it’s still too early to tell. The Cup circuit is due to make return visits to Michigan, Richmond, Loudon, Atlanta… the list goes on and on. It is in those races that Conway’s future as a driver will be visible. Let’s also not forget, his money was what allowed owner Bob Jenkins to race David Gilliland full-time in 2010. For Front Row Motorsports to make a change, especially before he can return to tracks for the second time, would be both premature and a little disingenuous — especially given the commitment they’ve continually preached since signing Conway.

Granted, the rookie’s return to Pocono was not much in the way of progress, at least on the results page. But Conway has gritted this year out. He’s played the businessman angle well, and through episodes such as driving the full 600-miler at Charlotte despite vomiting in the cockpit all night long from illness has shown a dedication to his race team. He’s earned the right to go back to tracks a second time, and the right to put up or shut up when it comes to delivering performance.

Thankfully, Front Row got that message, denying Monday’s report by the NASCAR Insiders later that afternoon.

TWO: NASCAR Hit or Miss with Yellows at Watkins Glen

In the interest of placating a respected fellow writer of mine who’s concerned I spend too much time “raging against the machine,” attention needs to be called to the fact that NASCAR’s yellow flag management on Sunday afternoon was at least not suspect this time. The race opened with a 28-lap green flag run before the first yellow flew for a car stopped off course, and that yellow was held until pit stops had cycled through. The only debris caution of the event came over 50 miles before the finish, for debris that existed. With that said, what was an entertaining race was also done by mid-afternoon. The event was allowed to flow, a rarity these days.

Mind you, it wasn’t perfect. Fellow staff writer Matt McLaughlin did well to remind NASCAR that every other road course sanctioning body out there makes use of the local yellow flag. And in the case of two of the yellows that flew on Sunday (Bobby Labonte’s spin on lap 42 and the debris caution on lap 62), the local yellow would have accomplished the same end that the full course yellow did without freezing the entire field and event.

Nonetheless, I’ll go as far as to say NASCAR’s officiating did not get in the way on Sunday… I feel like I’m praising an employee for showing up on time to work, but hey, I tried.

THREE: Chicagoland to Start the Chase?!

This sounds more like the NASCAR we’ve come to know. Take a championship format that fans hate, and hold its opening race on a cookie-cutter oval in a market that, while a media hotbed, is more synonymous with shootouts on street corners than on the race track.

Chicago is the No. 2 media market that NASCAR visits, and given the struggles they face to keep themselves relevant in the Fall, even despite their “playoff” system, there appears to be some rationale for moving one of the season’s most significant races to a lesser-known facility that hosts only one date a year. I’ll even go as far to say that the idea of opening the Chase on a track no team will have seen heading into the final ten races is a good concept.

But this move completely ignores the problem that NASCAR still seems to remain aloof to… a Chase race at Chicago is not going to excite the fan base that the sport desperately needs back. It’s a cookie-cutter oval with no history, an intermediate snooze fest plagued with the same on-track problems seen on just about every 1.5-miler out there. And it’s a facility that, unlike Loudon, has had a hard time putting butts in the seats. That means a sterile environment, a predictable form of racing, and a less than stellar crowd are likely (adding the Chase hasn’t proven to be a big boom for NASCAR fans: just ask Fontana).

Who cares how big the media presence in Chicago is if it’s a boring race that no one is there to see? Besides, didn’t NASCAR learn anything the last time they moved a major race to a big-time media market, only to see it blow up in their face?

FOUR: Denny Hamlin’s “Stupid” Quote was Just That

After getting collected in Jimmie Johnson’s spin on lap 71, ESPN was quick to stick a microphone in front of Denny Hamlin… and Hamlin was quick to make himself sound stupid again.

“I’m not really sure what all took place, but I got hit from behind,” was a true enough first statement. But Hamlin went further, noting “Dive-bombing. It’s just so stupid. We’re not even racing for the win.”

It’s true, Kyle Busch wasn’t racing for the win when he went low on Jeff Burton, forcing the No. 31 into the No. 48 and triggering the incident that took out Hamlin. They were, as he noted, racing for at best a top-10 position, and in the process triggered an episode not of his making that ended his day in a cloud of smoke.

That does not, however, make the move that Kyle Busch put on Burton stupid. Yes, it was aggressive, and it proved costly. But to think that Kyle Busch had “the nerve” to race hard for a position in the top 10 after starting the event at the back of the field, to make a risky braking maneuver on a road course, to get aggressive with less than 20 laps to go in a Cup race…

Considering Hamlin’s got no shortage of aggression on his racing resume (see him running over David Reutimann at Pocono a few years back), Hamlin’s comments, frustration or not, were far from sensible, yet another example of the double standard he continues to hold towards fellow competitors.

Casey Mears has been without a sponsored Cup ride since being released by Richard Childress Racing at the end of the 2009 season.

FIVE: The 99 Lives of Casey Mears

Speaking of lessons that the Cup Series can’t seem to learn, Casey Mears has landed himself another full-time ride. Starting at Atlanta and carrying through the entire 2011 schedule, Mears will be taking over the No. 13 Germain Racing Toyota that Max Papis has wheeled throughout 2010. Papis will instead move to where he should have been racing this year, full-time in the Truck Series.

On the one hand, it’s not hard to argue with Germain making a change in their No. 13 car. A largely start-and-park entry, Papis has missed nearly a third of the Cup races since Bristol, and hasn’t finished better than 22nd in any of the ones where the team ran the distance. What’s more, unlike the situation of fellow rookie Kevin Conway, who’s driving for an established organization with veteran teammates, Germain Racing is still trying to figure out this whole Cup racing thing. Getting a driver who’s actually familiar with stock cars will go a long way for the No. 13 team.

But Casey Mears? The same driver that ran the No. 07 team at Richard Childress Racing into the ground, who led Keyed-Up Motorsports and their No. 90 car out of business after managing to qualify for only one race out of the first five to start this year, is now the candidate that Germain wants to build their Cup team around?

It’s getting easier to write this column… the same half-dozen mistakes just keep repeating themselves. By 2011, this’ll probably be a cut and paste feature.

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
It’s Official: Kasey Kahne to Red Bull
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In Sprint Cup: Watkins Glen – Michigan Edition
Proposed NASCAR Schedule: More A Band-Aid Than ‘Impactful’
A Great Year Disguised As One Of The Worst For One Of NASCAR’s Best Owners
Talking NASCAR TV: ESPN Cup Coverage At Watkins Glen Wins

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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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08/10/2010 03:14 AM

Mears didn’t really run the 07 team into the ground. He was arguably the best RCR driver down the stretch last season. Is he a great driver? No, but he’s good enough for Germain’s team and I would rather they go with him than a young driver who may waste his only chance at Cup by going there.

08/10/2010 07:10 AM

One other thing to consider about starting the crapshoot in Chicago. Are Da Bears playing at home that Sunday? Is their game televised? It will start an hour before the race does. Is this a recipe for success?

08/10/2010 09:58 AM

Denny Hamlin is just a Carl Edwards/Jimmie Johnson “act alike” who doesn’t want another driver to ‘touch’ his car. On the other hand, none of them have a problem with dive-bombing another driver when it suits their purpose.

08/10/2010 11:15 AM

Hey. nas$car really listened to it’s fan base here (sarcasm). Wow!! More races at 1.5 mile cookie cutter tracks and one more added in the chase your tail. I believe next year is close to a make or break for nas$car. It all makes me sad.

08/10/2010 11:31 AM

Stupidity and NASCAR are synonymous (a word Emperor Brian probably has to look up).
What’s that line from a commercial? You can’t have one without the other.

08/10/2010 01:16 PM

I don’t think the Mears move is bad. He won’t tear up equipment that a younger driver might do and if he can get in the Top 35, he could probably keep it there. I don’t think the expectations of that team would be much higher than that and finding someone who does not wreck equipment and finishes races is probably a high priority.

08/10/2010 02:09 PM

Are they replacing the Fontana chase race with Chicago? If so then I think its better, but not the best. And for those who don’t live in chicago it starts getting cold come mid to late september so if chicago has a chase race it would have to be one of the first if not the first.

08/10/2010 02:27 PM

Chicago is only marginally better than Fontana. bad move. Put the 1st chase race in a place with attitude and history, Darlington or Bristol… Denny stuck his foot in is mouth no doubt but also revealed something about his ethics, if I can’t contend for a win I’ll just ride around. Mears should be in truck with max, nuff said…

Kevin from PA
08/10/2010 05:30 PM

Good points by all on the Chase starting at Chicago. There might be a slight blimp on the midwest NASCAR media coverage – but no one will care if the Da Bears are playing around the same time.

08/10/2010 08:57 PM

Awesome choice, NASCAR. A race in Chicago, I can’t wait. Won’t be bothering to sit inside and watch THAT one. Don’t they ever learn? So what if its a big media market – how about having an exciting race? that’s what will bring in the fans. And up against the NFL? LOL this is Chicago, right?

Hamlin suffers from a severe case of foot in mouth disease along with being the pot calling out the kettle regarding stupid driving choices.

08/10/2010 09:50 PM

I, for one, am glad to see Chicago starting the Chase for the Chumpionship. I always get my best naps during cookie cutter races. No, wait dammit, I forgot it’ll be Football Season. I can’t sleep with an exciting sport on.
Maybe that statement was Denny’s way of getting a slam on NA$CAR racing without risking a fine. Doubt he’s that smart though.
Put the Glen in the Chase at mid point. See how that shakes up the points.

old farmer
08/11/2010 01:34 AM

I hate start-and-park teams (ban them!), but as long as they are a reality and tolerated, they are the place to be for Mears. He can’t stink up a race if he’s in the garage.

08/12/2010 09:18 AM

What the hell were Busch and Burton thinking anyway? Racing hard for a position. If you are not racing for the win, you might as well just ride around single file. I think Denny Hamlin is clearly the biggest D-bag in Nascar.