The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Labonte Parks Again, Hornish vs. Allgaier, And Bowyer's Meaningless Win by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday September 21, 2010

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ONE: Clint Bowyer and RCR Have Done This Before

Clint Bowyer lived a Cup driver’s dream that used to only be possible in the first week or two after Daytona — win a race and go from 12th to second in points over the course of one dominant Sunday afternoon. But that’s what happened at Loudon, where Bowyer had just enough fuel left in his tank to hold off Denny Hamlin and score a victory that saw him lead 177 laps en route to his second career win on the Magic Mile. Now, merely eight days after taking the green flag at Richmond, driving for his playoff life, Bowyer is a few positions on the race track away from taking the point lead. It’s a great underdog story, the kind NASCAR wants to trumpet for its floundering playoff system.

Feel like you’ve seen this before? You have! Just don’t get too excited…it probably won’t happen again.

Here’s the problem: I’ve seen this movie before. And it doesn’t end with that underdog hoisting the Cup.

As most of you know, Bowyer’s been there, done that. Back in his first Chase appearance in 2007, the one-time Cinderella led 222 circuits and scored his first career win at NHMS. Yet, by Charlotte, the slipper had cracked; he was nearly 80 markers out of the lead, never again to challenge for the Cup while sliding far behind the pace of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon in front. But that’s just the latest in a long list of historical footnotes that prove Bowyer’s ultimate futility in this department. Never mind that RCR has done this in the Chase before with drivers other than Bowyer; Kevin Harvick led 196 laps in winning the 2006 Chase opener, but faded late in that championship race which went to – you guessed it – Johnson. Never mind further that since Kurt Busch won the first Chase in 2004 on the heels of a dominant win at Loudon, no other Chase driver has accomplished the same feat.

You also can’t ignore the fact that Johnson, after a 39th-place finish in 2006, was 139 points out of the lead after New Hampshire, Chase race one. Nine races later, he was hoisting his first Cup. After his late-race spin this past Sunday, Johnson is within 100 points of the lead. Meaning, despite all the dominance of his win on Sunday, Bowyer didn’t knock out Johnson, and until he and the rest of the field does, this win means nothing.

TWO: Bobby Labonte the Latest to Jump on the S&P Bandwagon… After Refusing to Do So

Bobby Labonte retired from this Sunday’s Cup race after only 89 laps for electrical reasons (read: a dead battery). After pulling into the garage and asking his team about making repairs and returning to the track, a crewman’s voice radioed to his driver, “You’ve got to give me a really good reason to race, or else I’m gonna get into a pile of trouble.”

Bobby Labonte’s start-and-park efforts won’t win him any Hall of Fame accolades going forward; but it’s also the only way he can survive in a world where sponsored rides are few and far between.

The next radio transmission was even more dire. “Yeah, unless we have a sponsor, we’ve got to be smart about this,” said another voice on the scanner. “With the engines lasting two or three weeks, we can’t afford to race just because we can.”

So with that, James Finch’s unsponsored program packed up and called it a day, the nail in the coffin of a now-unfulfilled promise by his driver. Remember when Labonte left his full-time ride in TRG Motorsports’ No. 71 for being unwilling to drive a start-and-park entry? That’s not meant to be a knock on the 2000 Cup champ, as the stable of rides in the Cup garage frankly isn’t offering a lot outside of start-and-parks. But he is the latest and biggest name example of a driver who refused to take part in the S&P practice, yet now is doing just that. Scott Riggs took a number of rides with PRISM Motorsports over the summer after leaving Tommy Baldwin Racing last year to avoid S&P. Terry Cook left Whitney Motorsports after Darlington earlier this year because that team was unable to live up to its promise of having Cook go the distance every week, yet he was running S&P in the No. 09 car by Pocono. And on the Nationwide Series front, a number of organizations from Specialty Racing to even RAB Racing have had to park their cars early, intentionally, despite a commitment to running the distance through much of the 2009 and early parts of the 2010 campaign.

Despite arguments made by so many that start and park has always been around and doesn’t pose the problem that many of us at Frontstretch have reported on for the better part of the last two years, it’s spread to the Cup Series, it’s spread to organizations that have won races, and it’s now spread to the point that a Cup champion is doing it to keep himself in a race car. James Finch’s organization has never been afraid to shoot from the hip with regard to their S&P practices on the Cup circuit (Finch noted after Bristol in 2004 that he’d keep running Cup races as long as they were profitable because he made more money per lap than race winner Kurt Busch did, with Joe Ruttman parking the No. 09 after only four laps). But to hear them flat tell a Cup champion that they can’t afford to let him go back out and make laps is about as sickening a radio communication as I’ve heard in recent memory.

THREE: Sam Hornish, Jr. Back to the Nationwide Series?

With primary sponsors in the Cup ranks running in short supply, Sam Hornish, Jr.‘s future in Cup racing is now in limbo. Yet strangely, a return to IndyCar doesn’t seem to be in the cards for Hornish… rather, a date with the Nationwide Series does? It seems like a very odd stepping stone pattern, going from the peak of open-wheel racing in the U.S. to the Cup Series, then back to the minors.

Frankly, from a racing development perspective, Hornish probably could use the time in the Nationwide Series. It’s where he should have started in the first place. With Penske Racing’s NNS program proving to be among the class of the field, a move to the sport’s “AAA” division would allow Hornish the chance to race for wins and a championship, something he hasn’t come close to doing since tackling stock car racing. But it’s an interesting move for Penske Racing and their NNS program, seeing as how they’re also searching for a primary sponsor for the No. 12 car that Justin Allgaier drives (Verizon is leaving at the end of this season.)

Take stock of the Penske stable. Brad Keselowski is all but certainly going to run a full Nationwide Series schedule in the No. 22 next year. After all, does anyone think he’s going to just let Carl Edwards hog all the fun? That leaves one Nationwide car for Penske Racing, and an unsponsored one at that which leaves two potential drivers vying for the seat: Hornish and current NNS development driver Justin Allgaier. Therein lies a sticky question for the Penske camp… which wins out? Loyalty to a driver that brought the Penske organization three IRL titles and an Indianapolis 500 trophy, or commitment to a bright young talent who has proven to fit like a glove in Penske’s business first operating culture? Which driver allows Penske to make a better sales pitch to a new sponsor?

For those out there complaining about a boring Silly Season… this one could get interesting.

FOUR: Enough of This Best Chase Ever Crap Already

The only thing more plentiful than shots of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on Sunday’s telecast (and let’s be clear, he did earn those with an excellent run) were comments by the broadcast crew that 2010 was going to be the best Chase ever, that the field was so even, the tension so high. This is going to be the best Chase ever!

To all of those in the mainstream media, ENOUGH! I have irked enough professional writers out there for being and acting like a “race fan” this season, so I’m going to speak like one. I, like any other race fan out there, get it. The field is tight, the points are tight. No, really? Is that what happens when the standings for the top 12 basically get set to zero with 10 races to go? And, like other race fans out there, I know a good race when I see one.

I saw one on Sunday. Seeing Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin mixing it up three-wide only 20 laps into the Loudon race was exciting. There was aggression in that race that was a thrill to watch, be it Johnson’s bold moves all day long or Tony Stewart risking everything to win rather than pit and try to salvage a top 15 with fuel strategy. I thoroughly enjoyed Sunday’s race, seeing drivers like Clint Bowyer run all over the ragged edge, and Kurt Busch cross over that same line. That’s the kind of competition I need to see to enjoy both being a professional covering this sport and a race fan.

What I don’t need is everyone, from the broadcasters to the owners, telling me this is going to be the best Chase ever, like I’m some five-year-old waiting for Christmas presents I can’t open yet. And race fans don’t need it, either. We’ve had years, and I mean years, of having this joke of a system shoved down our throats. We keep coming back not because the booth dubs it the best ever, but because there’s still nothing in sports that can top a good stock car race. We had a good race on Sunday. So to everyone in the booth and media trying to sell NASCAR as well as cover it, stop selling the damned Chase. Sell the race. Hell, just cover the race. If it’s good, race fans will take notice, and they will come back… best weekend ever or not.

FIVE: It Really Could Have Been NASCAR’s Best Chase Ever

NASCAR missed a golden opportunity. If they had merely expanded the Chase field to the top-20 drivers in points, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would have made the Chase this time around. And based off the fourth-place performance that he turned in, he would be heading into Dover sixth in points, only 70 markers out of the lead.

Two races with Danica driving and Jr. in the top 10 in points? Dover could have been the best weekend ever!

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
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Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In NASCAR: New Hampshire-Dover Edition
Finally … We Are In Store For An Excellent Chase
Gambling Now or Later? Chase Strategy Ignites in Empty Fuel Tanks
Talking NASCAR TV: The Script Hurts ESPN at Loudon

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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Mike In NH
09/21/2010 07:39 AM
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By the way, I have to say, my personal highlight wound up being before the race. I made my way off the shuttle bus and through the ticket/track store building, and was holding the door on the track side of it when I realized that there was a golf cart at the door, and in the golf cart was… Bobby Allison! So I got to say hi and talk briefly with him, and he was a true gent, not at all bothered talking to a fan. It was wonderful. :)

Bill B
09/21/2010 08:28 AM
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Well said Bryan. The announcers have to realize they are supposed to be covering the race not covering NASCAR’s ass. It starts to sound like Billy Mays after a while. Don’t keep telling me how close the chase is going to be, I’ll make my own mind up.

DansMom,
Not sure about that last paragraph. The last time I checked there were 43 cars not 42…
Oh, I get it, using 42 was the only way YOU could make the “irony” work out.

T
09/21/2010 08:44 AM
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Do you really think that Ralph Jr deserves to be in the chase for a championship?? It is media people like you that shove this driver in our faces everyday which makes us dislike NASCAR more. He ha s proven that he is not a championship driver, he is a tshirt salesman. Stop building this driver up and shoving him in our faces!!!

Carl D.
09/21/2010 09:24 AM
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BDK

We all know that Clint Bowyer has won the first chase race before and not won the cup, and that Knause has started the chase 139 points down and won the championship. However, I believe the level of competition is higher this year, and RCR is a stronger organization in 2010 than it has been. Plus, Bowyer has a little more experience this time around. In my book, Knause is still the favorite, but it’s going to be a little tougher going this year. It might even be the best chase ever.

Bobby Labonte is killing time and drawing a paycheck until he gets in the #47 next year. Sad, but that’s life in Brian France’s Nascar.

Jacob
09/21/2010 09:38 AM
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Bryan, You had me right up to point 5. Really, it would be the BEST CHASE EVER if only Jr. was in it? That is ridiculous. A season in which sub-par was a spectacular finish for this team, and somehow he belongs in the chase? That is the most idiotic statement I have ever read. Why don’t you just come right out and say what you clearly would like. Better yet let me say it for you, “NA$CAR, you should open up a 13th spot in The Chase reserved for who the fans vote as the most popular driver.” Wouldn’t that just thrill you, Bryan, you could watch Jr. NOT compete for the championship EVERY week instead of just the first 26!!! IDIOT!!!

Jacob
09/21/2010 09:50 AM
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DansMom You must be an idiot. NA$CAR doesn’t allow women in the Chase? WTF??? First of all, Danica doesn’t run full time in NA$CAR, so she could not qualify for the chase. Second, she doesn’t run in the Cup Series, so she couldn’t qualify for the Chase. Third, she would need to be able to average better than 25th place finish in order to qualify for the Chase. Other than that, the Chase is for the Top-12 DRIVERS, and not the top-12 MEN. It is just a fact that NO WOMAN competes in Cup, and not a written rule. So, other than being COMPLETELY wrong, well no…you are just completely wrong!!!

Joo$e
09/21/2010 09:56 AM
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As an African-American I find it appalling that not a single driver in nascar’s playoff system is a minority. I think nascar should implement an affirmative action policy for the chase to allow a woman or minority driver to compete for the championship. I think they should add a 13th spot and the highest ranking minority driver should get it. This will allow smaller teams with minority drivers the chance to advance their program.

Texasfan
09/21/2010 10:05 AM
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Mr, Keith, if you are going to write about something, I suggest you, at least, get your facts correct. Marc Reno has not been with the Phoenix Racing for weeks.

No matter what was said on the #09 radio, I do not believe it was the teams intention to start and park. The motor problem was legit. Time and again, this team has worked their rears off to get back out, after other issues have occured! The engines have to last 2 or 3 races. It makes sense they could not afford ($) to blow it up.

Bill B
09/21/2010 10:30 AM
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Joo$e,
Very funny LOL.

But seriously, I have often wondered why no minority owned sponsor has ever stepped up and got the ball rolling. As we have seen, Extenze could dictate that Conway (an obviously underqualified driver) be the driver of their car, the same could be done for a minority driver if the sponsor dictated it. So affirmative action isn’t needed. Just a sponsor that dictates that they want a minority driver.

Managing Editors
09/21/2010 10:55 AM
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Texasfan,

The mistake has been corrected. FYI for readers: Nicholas Harrison, not Marc Reno is the No. 09 crew chief.

Jacob
09/21/2010 11:42 AM
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DansMom “Lady and Gentleman, Start Your Engines,” or; “Drivers, Start Your Engines” are the two commands usually given when a female driver starts in a NA$CAR series. You would know that if you had watched NA$CAR for more than 2 seasons. Your attempts at humor and irony fall flat at the feet of your ignorance. Danica doesn’t run NA$CAR full time because, she is under CONTRACT to run the IndyCar series until the completion of the 2012 series. Her attempts at a partial Nationwide series are because she used the “pay-me-more-or-I-will-go-drive-stock-cars” during her last two contract negotiations, and this past year, her owners seemed poised to let her go. Don’t confuse the facts with the hype.

Rick
09/21/2010 12:04 PM
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Drop the chase and no need to worry about who is in or out.Just stright RACING for the Championship.

Steve
09/21/2010 12:56 PM
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Got a question? Now that Verizon is leaving Nascar, I heard a rumor that Verizon was going back to Indy Car. Any chance that Hornish is their guy and Algair (sp) gets the Cup ride next year?

I wouldn’t count out Bowyer just yet. He may not win the Championship but he could still become a threat. Momentum is definately on their side right now and he has more experience than the first time around.

Russ Williams
09/21/2010 01:08 PM
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Junior in the Chase? He is, and has been for the past several years, a non-competitive field filler. His demonstrated inability to compete with the upper tier drivers makes him more a candidate for being let go by Hendrix rather than competing for a win…. much less a championship. It is what it is. Time to face the music Jr fans; there will be no championships and only a couple of lucky wins until he is finished.

Mark
09/21/2010 01:49 PM
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There you have it Bowyer , your win meant nothing . At least thats the view of one blogger that no one in the true racing media ever heard of . And believe me , he’s the only person that thinks something so idiotic .
Bryan’s dopey comment on the Clint Bowyer win was prompted by the heartbreak of Bobby Labonte parking the car on lap 88 . Picture if you will , poor Bryan sitting on the sofa in front of the tv , ( he doesn’t actually go to the tracks ) his head bowed , his lower lip quivering , his heart broken in two because for him , there will never again be honor in NASCAR racing . What a sad sight , Bryan tearing up all of his NASCAR trading cards while fighting back the tears . They lied to him … they said they would never use the S&P . How could the Finch team dash his spirit that way ?
I do have a question though . Who heard this phantom radio conversation . Another blogger from Frontstretch i’ll wager . If you don’t mind , i think i’ll wait until a real reporter confirms that very unlikely radio conversation .

Chuck Roast
09/21/2010 02:02 PM
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Joo$e:

The bottom-line is if you want to compete in racing you should earn your way in with talent and Championships in feeder series (apologies to Dale Jr.) and not expect a free ride based on race or gender. So take your racist whining someplace else.

P.S.: Danica Patrick is a mediocre talent that has done as well as she has because she is in the best equipment with major sponsors based on her gender and physical attributes. She will never be a Championship caliber driver.

jld1948
09/21/2010 03:32 PM
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Mark: I told Bryan earlier that Clint Bowyer’s win was far from meaningless and they wouldn’t print my comment! Go RCR, knock JJ off his throne!

wat
09/21/2010 03:37 PM
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WOW WHAT HAPPENED IN THIS COMMENT SECTION

I HAVE NEVER SEEN SO MANY PEOPLE MAD OVER A DALE JR JOKE IN MY LIFE

MSW
09/21/2010 03:44 PM
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Mark, that was truley funny. Made me laugh. I think most of the bloggers here don’t actually atend the races.

Shoeman
09/21/2010 04:00 PM
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DANSMOM- Danica could never be in the CHASE because she can’t stay on the lead lap in NASCAR’S NATIONWIDE series. And I think that the CUP drivers are even faster. FACT: Danica has never finished on the lead lap in a NASCAR race.

Don Mei
09/21/2010 04:39 PM
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Amazing the nonsense many of you take seriously! Anyone want to buy a nice bridge I have? The chase is boring and ultimately inconsequential to any serious racing fan. Save your kudos for the few real racers out there.

Carl D.
09/21/2010 04:41 PM
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Shoeman… Hell, Danica has only won one Indy car race and she’s been in that series for years. her talent is obviously in marketing and not racing.

B. Sparks
09/21/2010 04:44 PM
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Joo$e, you are like most of the Black race wanting someone to give them something. Well you don’t keep up with racing much or you would know Humpy Wheeler had a promotion several years ago that gave an underfunded driver a chance get to race a top running car built by a top quality builder. The people voted Wendell Scott to drive the car at Charlotte that year and the car was too fast for Wendell and he wrecked it before a hundred miles. Also the truck series has had 2 black drivers that could not drive. So it goes to show you that with all the money and hard work that goes in to a car or truck you have you have someone who can drive.

A few years ago Rick Hendrick built a car and gave it plus support to some black overpaid ball players to start a team. They could never get it off the ground. What ever happened to that effort no one knows. Black folks don’t belong in racing. They don’t want to be in racing. You see a few in the pit crews. NACSAR has tried many ways to get them in the stands but only a few care enough about round track racing to attend. The Mauriceo Grant law suit was a made up deal just to get money out of NA$CAR. They paid her off just to keep it out of court. Several years ago I saw a newspaper story that covered half a page.It told about a young kid that had some talent in driving. His dad was black his mom was white. He signed a letter of intent to Rick Hendrick. Haven’t heard any more about that one. All of these stories are fact. I may be off a little on the details because some of it has happened a long while back.
Don Mei
09/21/2010 05:10 PM
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Hard to believe in this day and age , anyone could be as stupid as to say “black folks don’t belong in racing. They dont want to be in racing. “ Presumably you have never heard of Lewis Hamilton..you know, the black Formula 1 champion from 2008. How about James Stewart, the kid has won a number of professional motocross titles here in the US? Dont know who he is, google him. What an idiot.

Bill B
09/21/2010 05:28 PM
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Archie Bunker lives.

MATT
09/21/2010 10:23 PM
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I do want to recount a story that I know to be true without anyone thinking me racist. (For the record I do think that black people belong in racing, and if you follow the NHRA you know they have been for decades and have won countless events and championships….and that Hamilton guy was doing OK in F1 alleged to be the top technical tier of motorsports, a few years.

Back in the late 70s, Willie T Ribbs was a hot driver. He was winning Trans Am races and competing for titles. Humpy Wheeler, the master promoter, felt that having a black driver in his Charlotte race would help sell tickets to black fans. Humpy wanted everyone to come and have a grand time…as long as their money was green.

Wheeler had a local owner (and I always get the name wrong since it is so close to Walt Cronkite of CBS) build a car for Ribbs. Ribbs agreed to test, drive and attempt to qualify the car. Only he didn’t think he really needed to test it he was so talented. And he got in a brush with the Charlotte law, driving the wrong way down a one way street (some claim he was intoxicated, others say he was just lost. I don’t know. I do know what a “One Way” sign means.)

So anyway Wheeler withdrew the offer. But he’d had that fellow build the car Ribbs would later say was hopelessly slow and uncompetitive.

Wheeler was in a bind. He needed someone to drive the car he was obligated to pay for. So he turned to a driver who’d been having some success and stirriing things up on the short tracks in the Carolinas back then. The guy was a rookie to Cup racing and nobody thought he’d ever amount to much because he was too aggressive and rough around the edges. He could barely mutter a sentence in English that could be undestood outside the Deep South.

That driver was Dale Earnhardt Sr., who would go on to win seven Cup titles and establish himself as the face of NASCAR for two decades before his tragic death.

Steven
09/22/2010 12:46 AM
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In the old days drivers would start locally, and claw their way to a regional series. Along the way they would build up a fan base along with valuable racing experience. The cream of the crop would make it to Cup bringing along thousands of fans. Now we have 18 year olds complaining that they cant get into cup. We are also underwhelmed by Little Joeys results. Why am I increasingly attracted to the NFL?

Landon nowak
09/22/2010 06:10 PM
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the thing about Bobby is complete BULLSHIT. he did NOT SnP. who ever wrote this is a complete dumbass.

Texasfan
09/22/2010 06:21 PM
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Thank you for the #09 crew chief correction.

Mark
09/21/2010 01:49 PM
I heard the ENTIRE conversation!

Tammy
09/23/2010 01:27 AM
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Sam won TWO IRL championships for Panther Racing … and ONE for Penske Racing …

The problem with the # 77 team is NOT the driver … It’s the inexperienced & incompetent crew chief who doesn’t know “how” to apply Kurt’s setups to the car (as Kurt & Sam like the SAME setup) …

Get your facts straight BEFORE you publish your bovine excrement!!

I’d take Sam any day over Justin …