The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Martin's Misery, All Hail ARCA, And The Entitlement Of Joey, Kyle, And Denny by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday August 17, 2010

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ONE: No Worries, Kurt Busch Will Make the Chase

Yes, it has been the coldest stretch in recent memory for the driver of the blue deuce. Two DNFs in his last three races, an average finish of 22.2 over the last five, and no wins since Charlotte back in the Spring have dropped the No. 2 team from fourth to tenth in points. That’s led to talk, in particular during Sunday’s broadcast, of momentum headed the wrong way for Penske Racing’s lone title-contending driver as the Chase approaches.

Well relax, Kurt fans; there’s no reason for alarm here. Busch was right to seem unfazed by his 40th-place run on Sunday, for a number of reasons. First, he’s absolutely correct in affirming the reliability of Penske’s engine department; the failure at Michigan was his first of 2010, the first since the Fall race at Texas in 2008 and only the second he’s had since joining the race team in 2006. Second, he’s also absolutely correct that a money stretch of race tracks lies ahead for both himself and the No. 2 team. Between Bristol, Atlanta, and Richmond, Busch has nine career wins — not to mention an average finish of 7.3 on those ovals this season.

Perhaps most importantly, though, is the experience of the man atop the pit box for the team, Steve Addington. Addington lost his job with the other Busch just one year ago because the No. 18 car missed the Chase, the utter distraction of his driver’s minor league exploits notwithstanding. Penske Racing’s not shortsighted enough to yank him from the No. 2 Dodge, even if disaster strikes and Busch somehow falls out of 12th, but that’s not going to happen – this crew chief’s past trials and tribulations won’t let them. Add in a gargantuan 215-point difference between Kurt and 13th place, with only three races remaining, no less, and it seems lightning won’t strike twice in the world of Busch #2.

TWO: It’s Time to Worry, Mark Martin Will Miss the Chase

Just one year ago, Mark Martin won the first race at Michigan and came within a splash of gas of at least a top-5 finish in the second one. Now, after a mediocre 16th-place run in the Spring race, he was running as a top 15 car again this Sunday before contact with David Reutimann put the No. 5 in the wall, causing enough damage to result in an ugly 28th-place finish that dropped the 51-year-old outside the top 12 in points.

Internally, that’s led to serious cause for concern over at Hendrick. Like Kurt Busch, Martin has plenty of history at the next three tracks on the circuit, with wins on all three to his credit. Unlike Kurt Busch, however, his average finish on them this season is not a top 10… but an ugly 31.0.

Most importantly, Martin’s ace in the hole from last season is gone. One year ago, Martin had the No. 5 team running like gangbusters not just because of his resurgence from returning to full-time competition, but because his team had an understanding with owner Rick Hendrick that they were to get first pick of engines and chassis from the HMS stable all season long. According to sources, this year that advantage is gone, and it seems the No. 5 team is now going through what they should have been during Martin’s first year in 2009… learning their cars and limitations. The equivalent of a nitro boost in terms of equipment last year, now the No. 5 team seems behind their two competitors across the garage at Hendrick… as well as the guys they’re racing with to simply get into the Chase. There’s no momentum, no signs of progression, and no reason to believe that Hendrick’s third car is better than RCR’s this year. Last season’s feel-good story is going to crash back to earth come September.

THREE: Joey Logano Becoming A Protege of Teammates Hamlin and Busch

There was no doubting that Joey Logano got into Ryan Newman and ruined a top-15 day for the No. 39 team. It also seemed fairly conclusive that for as obvious as the incident was, it didn’t seem to be intentional as much as Logano getting in over his head. But none of that mattered to either driver, both of them exchanging heated words post-race before nearly starting a shoving match once Logano brushed Newman while making a gesture. Comments afterwards gave us a general gist of what was going on: Newman was upset over the incident, and Logano tried to retort by arguing the Stewart-Haas veteran was racing him too hard.

It’s sad to see little Joey suddenly demonstrating the same sense of arrogant entitlement on track that his teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch have made many a highlight reel demonstrating. Drivers wonder why fans are so sick of this sport; well, who the hell wants to listen to a race car driver complain that another one is running them too hard? Isn’t that what the whole concept of this sport is all about, giving 110 percent every single lap? And for the record, Newman was also correct to remind Logano that there were plenty of drivers in the field that managed to both race and pass his Chevy, all without sending it into a 180 mph spin during the process.

Is Logano’s mentality a glimpse into the sport’s future? That when a mistake is made, you can blame a competitor for driving too hard? That racing should only be done at a level to ensure another competitor’s car is not disturbed? I weep for the future.

FOUR: Don’t Leave the Veterans Out of This One, Either

That’s not to say the youth of JGR are the only drivers out there acting as if the purpose of NASCAR’s fields is to fill space on the tracks fans are privileged to see them take laps on. Check out Saturday night’s Truck event at Darlington, where Ron Hornaday spent his post-race press conference after a third-place run discussing nothing but how he felt Norm Benning was both running too slow on the track and not getting out of the way fast enough for the leaders. He even went so far as to suggest his fellow peers within the Truck Series field ought to buy the longtime underdog tires, just to get him up to a more acceptable speed.

Ron Hornaday was none too happy about having to pass Norm Benning at Darlington or almost every other track. But is lapped traffic moving out of the way at all costs what NASCAR fans really want to see?

Well face the facts, Ron, and every other driver that’s made a remark about someone driving too hard or too slow this year: these rivals are your competitors. They are the opponents that every driver on track has a responsibility to best. Not by them getting out of the way, or running a line or speed that makes the leaders’ lives easier. They’re cars or trucks that require a pass. Make the pass. If a driver is that much faster than Norm Benning or any other underfunded ride out there, passing shouldn’t be all that difficult.

Besides, it’s Darlington. Anyone that knows how to get out of the way on that oval isn’t doing it… because they’re running at the front of the track Too Tough To Tame.

FIVE: ARCA Officials Deserve a Pat on the Back

As was covered in Frontstretch’s live blog this past Sunday, the ARCA Racing Series’ 150-miler at New Jersey Motorsports Park was a fireworks show, to put it lightly. Late-race wrecks eliminating top-5 contenders, short tempers, and an already close points battle all wound up being thrown into a blender. However, these ARCA officials deserve a pat on the back for taking all those incidents in stride, calling what became an admirable race amidst the chaos.

Having followed the ARCA circuit from Palm Beach to Toledo this year, I have had nothing but praise for the series’ officials willingness to lay off debris cautions, to allow races to flow, and to let the on-track product be the star of their shows. More importantly this weekend, they took a path different from NASCAR in their decision-making process – despite what spontaneous emotional reaction could have caused.

Battling for a position in the top 5 with less than 20 laps to go, Chris Buescher wrecked Justin Marks in what the majority of teams on pit road took as a blatant takeout move. Marks’ team exchanged words with Buescher’s, vowing that he would have nothing left of his car by the end of the next race he ran. But the ferocity of Marks’ wreck led teams not involved in the incident, including the No. 16 of Joey Coulter, to appeal to ARCA officials for a penalty.

They wouldn’t get it. Despite the hock of many fans and the anger of many teams, ARCA refused to make a subjective judgment call. They did the same thing a few laps later, when Casey Roderick made contact with Tim George, Jr. that ultimately cost George his first career win in ARCA competition. The officials simply left the racing, and the racers, to decide what happened themselves. As a result, the fans got to see what was one hell of a show, one that topped both NASCAR events at Michigan on a weekend when the racing at MIS wasn’t even bad.

Maybe I won’t weep for the future of stock car racing after all. Just NASCAR’s.

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In Sprint Cup: Michigan-Bristol Edition
Your 2010 Sprint Cup Champ: Assessing The Runners And Riders
No Bull: Short-Term Gain For Long-Term Pain With NASCAR’s Newest CoT
Talking NASCAR TV: Why ESPN Excelled At Michigan

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29racefan
08/17/2010 01:25 AM
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Norm Benning was barely keeping minimum speed and other trucks were catching him so quickly. Don’t agree with your comparison on entitlement. Benning was a hazzard at that speed.

Jay
08/17/2010 09:05 AM
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Thank you.. I have grown to detest Joey Logano ever since he referred to mid-packers in the NW Series as trash. He then messes with Biffle and cries foul when the Biff hits him back. He brought in Harvick’s wife into their feud and now, not even acknowledging his err with Newman. I think its time he grows up, and he’s gonna need some help, like someone’s fist. BTW Newman is racing for a place in the Chase, Logano is still stuck in midpack in one of the best rides. This whole Sliced Bread thing isn’t working out so well for Logano. Look forward to watching him stumble at Bristol this weekend.

Mary in Richmond
08/17/2010 09:12 AM
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Remember, Joey comes from the generation where everyone gets a trophy, and everybody can play the victim card as they are not responsible for their own actions. Someone else is always to blame.

Don Mei
08/17/2010 09:30 AM
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Logano is a petulant whiner and is the ultimate example of the pampered little leaguer whose father encourages his sense of entitlement rather than helping him to grow up and deal with life.

Stephen HOOD
08/17/2010 10:14 AM
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Logano is a whiner and I don’t respect him, but I also think Newman is an even bigger whiner and I have even less respect for Newman. I think Newman is the most overrated driver in the garage and I’ll be glad when he takes his engineering degree and goes to work doing something he might be good at.

AnnieMack
08/17/2010 10:26 AM
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Agree with everything said about Logano. And his girlfriend should keep her Twitter shut before she runs into someone who didn’t come from the entitlement generation who shows her just what big-mouthed girlfriends get when they don’t mind their own business.

jb
08/17/2010 10:59 AM
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Nice words of praise for ARCA. Usually I don’t hesitate to criticize their race calls, but I agree this time. Road courses tend to produce more “just hard racin’” incidents and should be handled differently than Daytona or Toledo. My opinion would likely be different though if I was with Marks’ or George’s team, eh?

Oldsmo-Bill
08/17/2010 11:04 AM
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As for the case of Joey Logano becoming an arrogant brat with a sense of entitlement: Well, DUH!!! Take a look at his stablemates! Any questions?

Carl D.
08/17/2010 11:11 AM
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I don’t doubt Logano’s talent and potential, but he’s still young and has some growing up to do. Too bad he doesn’t have a Mark Martin or a Jeff Burton on his team to learn from. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin aren’t exactly the role models Logano needs right now.

Mark Martin heaped so much praise on Rick Hendrick last year that it was positively nausiating. This year, not so much. I wouldn’t just count Martin out for this year, I’d count him out for 2011 as well. Hendrick has Kasey Kahne in the fold, and unfortunately Martin is yesterday’s news at HMS.

Susan
08/17/2010 12:58 PM
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Newman has been a cranky, crabby jerk all season. On top of his already pleasant personality (not). And getting fined obviously made him even more irritable. Is it PMS? Or some hormonal fluctuations in sympathy for his wife’s pregnancy? I’m tired of Frontstretch existing for the sole purpose of bashing good young drivers. And making the assumption that veterans like Mark Martin and Jeff Burton are always right. In this argument, I’ll take Joey over the overly-large, overly-entitled old bully.

And I would dearly LOVE to see Denny or Kyle win the championship this year just to watch Frontstretch writers choke on their own bile. In fact, even a JJ 5th championship would do that. So, old-timers, get out of the way – the new generation is here and they aren’t going away, no matter how much the old farts hate them

Kevin in SoCal
08/17/2010 12:59 PM
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Notice how once Mark Martin has to share his cars, engineers, and crew members with Dale Jr that his results go in the toilet? The same thing happened when Dale Jr and Michael Waltrip tried to swap/share crew members. Hrm…..

oldirtracker
08/17/2010 01:59 PM
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jgr needs to hire the nanny to teach these twirps some manners, hamlin is from my hometown and i am ashamed to be in that category because most virginians are known to be gentleman and not entitled whiney asses, u hear the stories of his meager upbringing and low budget racing start, he drove a lexus to highschool, and had some of the best racing eqip available , so much for hardship

Don Mei
08/17/2010 02:37 PM
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Actaully Susan, as a certified old fart I rather enjoy brash young drivers coming along in Nascar. Just remember two things; today’s brash newcomer is tomorrows boring old guy and an a****** is an a****** regardless of his age. I rather think Logano is heading in that direction. Then again, what could I POSSIBLY know given my oldfarthood??

John
08/17/2010 02:51 PM
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Not sure why everything around Mark’s performance seems to center on the changes in the crew. Certainly, it has some effect, but he was running the same as ended last year prior to the switch to the spoiler. That has more to do with it then anything. The spoiler has slowed that car down more then anything. I look for him to compete for the win at Bristol, and Martinsville, as he had goods cars involved in wrecks with the spoiler this spring, but do not look for him to do much else with cookie cutters the remainder of the year.

In most cases, he is running the exact same chasis that he won races in last year.

Scott
08/17/2010 04:21 PM
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Remember when it was racing, now it is points and do not race me too hard as I need points.‘The Chase’? What is it that are they are chasing?

A fan no more! And…I never did like WWE and it’s fiction either.

And Mr. Tony Stewart, as one who paid for the tickets to watch the racing in the past, I contributed to your million dollar salary, so please do not tell me the media should not report factually, it has become a boring sport with identical cars, identical drivers, and identical tracks. We the people, who no longer attend your circus when it comes to town, agree with the media.

Buck Futz
08/17/2010 05:21 PM
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Hey Brian, brush up on your grade school math. There is no such thing as 110% here; you can’t give more than you’re able.
To hell with Joey Loguano, how about getting the retard announcers to pronounce Keselowski’s name correctly. As far as I can see there is no one in the lineups name KEZelowski.

wat
08/17/2010 09:16 PM
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I’m sort of surprised that no angry Logano fan has made a joke about Newmans neck yet.