The Frontstretch: 5 Points to Ponder: The Franchise Gets Rowdy, The Rookie Kiss Of Death, and Start The Damned Race at Noon by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday October 5, 2010

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ONE: Nationwide Rookie of the Year Crown Becoming a Kiss of Death

Back in 2005, Carl Edwards upstaged Kyle Busch’s 2004 Rookie of the Year title in NASCAR’s AAA ranks, winning the award in that series while he was busy contending for a Sprint Cup title the same year. Both Busch and Edwards have gone on to join the elite ranks of the best in stock car racing ever since, exactly what one would expect from men that proved to be at the head of their class in the development ranks.

Winning’s a big deal… unless you’re a Nationwide driver. These days, Justin Allgaier needs more than a trophy to seal his future.

Since that 2005 season, though, what many would consider to be an enormous honor has become the equivalent of a career killer, a rookie trophy rendered meaningless in the face of dwindling opportunities that even sterling resumes can’t overcome. 2006 ROTY Danny O’Quinn is a full-time start and parker for Riley/D’Hondt Motorsports, while Landon Cassill is doing the same dirty deed for TRG. Only David Ragan made it to the Cup ranks with an actual chance to race, but hasn’t been heard from since (much to the chagrin of UPS). Out of all the ROTYs since 2005, only Justin Allgaier has won a race at any NASCAR national level in 2010, and his future now sits in limbo with sponsor Verizon Wireless departing at the close of this year.

2010’s ROTY battle doesn’t look any brighter for the contenders. Colin Braun has endured a brutal season, one that’s seen what was supposed to be a full-time ride with Roush Fenway Racing turn into a revolving door. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s first full year in NNS racing has been anything but pretty, and he alongside Braun now must wonder about 2011, as RFR has spent 2010 bringing in even more development drivers in Brian Ickler and now Trevor Bayne. It appears they’ve been searching for a magic bullet to be the next Denny Hamlin or Joey Logano, a youngster that can win straight out of the box.

As for Brian Scott, his financial backing secured him a new ride at RAB Racing after leaving former owner Todd Braun, but that can hardly be considered a step forward for a driver who as recently as last year was a weekly contender for wins at the Truck Series level.

Looking at that list of drivers, there isn’t one that’s devoid of talent. What they all seem to be missing is time. Nationwide Series racing has become a sort of one-and-done for most drivers out there. Just look at the graveyard of development prospects over at Roush Fenway Racing. In addition to O’Quinn and the seemingly cast aside Braun and Stenhouse, there’s also Todd Kluever, Erik Darnell, Michel Jourdain, Jr…. the list goes on.

It’s also not hard to understand why such an honor as ROTY has become, well, irrelevant. With Cup regulars winning 34 of 35 races a year and averaging 70-80% of the top-10 finishing positions over the course of a season, the only way a team can keep a sponsor happy with a development driver is to land the next phenomenon. Driver development has become a Where’s Waldo discovery, a rapid, hit-or-miss game of trial and error instead of a process.

Besides, with Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski carrying on their weekly dick-swinging competitions on Saturdays instead of dedicating themselves to topping Jimmie Johnson on Sundays, when will ESPN find the time to discuss the next big thing? The current “big things” are busy compensating on track, after all.

TWO: Kyle Busch Finds a Boot on the Other Foot

Debate the circumstances all you want, but Brad Keselowski came into the 2010 season with the perception of a rogue. Here was a driver that flipped Carl Edwards to win at Talladega, then showed no remorse for dumping Denny Hamlin at Dover, only to do it again… twice… at Phoenix a few races later. Right or wrong, Keselowski came into his first full Sprint Cup season saddled with a daunting reputation on his shoulders. Trouble was expected wherever his Dodges loomed.

Hey, Kyle … remember this wreck? Brad Keselowski certainly does, tops among a long list of contenders unafraid to cash in the revenge David Reutimann just pulled Sunday under NASCAR’s ‘Have At It, Boys’ 2010 policy.

And not once, but three times this season, Keselowski has paid a high price for this perception that both his driving and his on-track persona have helped cement. Carl Edwards returned to the track over 100 laps down at Atlanta to flip the No. 12 car on the frontstretch. Four months later, as impossible as it seemed he topped that scary wreck with a harrowing hook move that sent Keselowski into perhaps the most violent crash of this year racing to the checkers at Gateway. Kyle Busch also wasted no time dumping the No. 22 in a Nationwide race at Bristol just as soon as Keselowski put a bump-and-run to him.

Keselowski’s learned the hard way that while racing the way he does brings with it trophies, fans, and big-time rides, it also comes packaged with danger. And though Kyle Busch had no issues reminding Brad of that fact at Bristol back in August, apparently he’s unaware that his own mammoth attitude has made him his share of enemies. Because Busch seemed utterly shocked on Sunday when, after having dumped David Reutimann (unintentionally or not) at Kansas that the Franchise would have the nerve to come after him, a Chaser, and end his chances at a top-5 run with a hard hit on the backstretch that ruined the rear end of Busch’s Toyota.

Right or wrong, Busch, like Brad, has himself quite the rep on track for being overly-aggressive, for being immature, for being a rogue. And it came back to bite in a big way on Sunday.

Busch sounded utterly pathetic in his reactions after the episode. Suddenly NASCAR’s “bad boy” was wondering when officials were going to step down and penalize a non-Chaser for going after a Chaser. And even after both JGR’s PR machine, working overtime after Hamlin’s big mouth nearly brought the team to war with RCR, was able to calm Busch for post-race comments, and Busch was able to reflect and realize there is no driver in the field less deserving than he of an officiating favor, he dared pose the question as to why Reutimann couldn’t have wrecked him next year after the Chase is over.

Kyle’s built a name for himself in the sport with incredible talent.. and an utter disregard for his fellow competitors. Well, that latter point came back to bite him in a big way on Sunday, and he deserved every bit of it. Intentional or not, Busch ended Reutimann’s chances at victory at Kansas. Reutimann returned the favor. Is anyone really surprised other than Kyle?

Chaser or not, Busch reaped what he’s spent years sowing on Sunday.

THREE: This Episode Again Reveals the Farce of the Chase

Take away the fact that one of the most reserved guys in the Cup garage stood up to one of its most bullying personalities for a minute. David Reutimann’s shot at Kyle Busch was also a stern reminder of the Chase’s biggest oversight in trying to bring a playoff to NASCAR; there are still 31 other teams out there trying for the same race win.

Some playoff. Imagine if Alabama and Boise State were battling for the national championship, and suddenly the outcome of the game was changed because an angry Florida player charged the field, blindsiding ‘Bama’s quarterback in retribution for a cheap shot the Tide took on him earlier in the season. As right as David Reutimann was to go after Busch on Sunday, the Chase had no way to account for the fact that a competitor not part of a segregated title fight all but took someone out of it.

The reality of racing is that from Daytona to Homestead, all 43 competitors are going to impact every driver, every lap of every race … no matter what the point system says. David Reutimann’s victim (and I use the term very loosely) may have been Busch, but damn if he didn’t expose the Chase for being completely incompatible with the sport whose champ it’s deciding.

FOUR: No Chase, and a Tight Points Battle?

That’s what race fans in North Carolina have to look forward to on Saturday. The ARCA Racing Series returns to Rockingham, with Craig Goess, Tom Hessert and Patrick Sheltra all within 20 points of the lead… and the series’ championship.

To say ARCA’s points battle has been epic in 2010 is an understatement, with incredible performances by each of the three frontrunners. Be it Hessert spanking the ARCA field at Iowa, Goess stealing a win at Pocono from Mikey Kile’s dominant car or Sheltra’s banzai move on a late restart that saw him go from sixth to first on the frontstretch at Springfield en route to his first ARCA win on dirt, the three have emerged from a relentless title fight that has seen contenders such as Kile, Justin Marks and nine-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel fall to the wayside.

All without a Chase.

FIVE: ESPN Looking at Every Factor Impacting Chase Ratings…And Still Not Listening to the Fans

It’s no secret just how far TV ratings have slumped both since the Chase started and since football returned to the scene. To fix that, ESPN is analyzing whether to start races at 2 PM, to avoid beginning and ending races alongside early NFL games.

Hello?! Race fans didn’t spend years screaming for earlier start times to suddenly have 1 PM turn to 2 PM again. Instead of this asinine talk of going back to 2 PM green flags (well, 2:19 PM, let’s be realistic) which would have races ending in the five and six o’clock range, how about going back to noon green flags instead? Have the races start before football, then have them start early enough that fans at home can watch the NFL afterwards while the fans at the track can get a jump on going home.

Unless, of course, people are just sick of ESPN’s excuse for race broadcasts in the first place. Boy, that Dover ad gaffe was huge, wasn’t it?

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
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Desperate Times Call ‘4’ Desperate Measures: The 4-Car Rule Needs To Go
No Bull: What Constitutes Bad NASCAR Attendance? How Capacity Changes Perception
Talking NASCAR TV: Did ESPN Recover At Kansas? And VERSUS’ On-Air Implosion
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In NASCAR: Kansas-Fontana Edition

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Carl D.
10/05/2010 07:27 AM
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The Nationwide Rookie of the Year award is no less significant than the whole Nationwide Series itself. The series is no more than an extra opportunity for cup drivers to feed their egos while earning more money.

Although I hate the chase, I do remember 1992 when Ernie Irvin, who was not in contention for the championship, wrecked Davey Allison and cost him the Cup. That’s just racing…. 43 cars fighting for the win.

The question of Kyle Busch now becomes whether he can refocus and get back into chase contention, or whether he goes into melt-down mode. Based on his history, he’s history

Jacob
10/05/2010 07:57 AM
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Carl D: I agree completely.

Point 2: Brad Keselowski DID NOT flip Carl Edwards at Talladega. Carl Edwards was leading, and swerving across 3 lanes of traffic in an attempt to block. Brad got the run alongside Carl, and Carl swung back to the left making contact with Brad’s right front corner. Brad stayed in the gas, and held his line. WHAT ELSE COULD HE HAVE DONE? NA$CAR had penalized Regan Smith one year earlier for going below the line while passing Tony Stewart when confronted with the same situation.
The moral of the story, Bryan, is that Carl, with the assistance of NA$CAR, flipped Carl at Talladega.

Point 5: When you say, “start the races at 12pm,” do you mean 12pm, or 12:20pm? I ask because I see your logic for starting the race before football kicks off. However, I feel it is necessary to point out (again) that the TV network has no control over the time that the green flag is actually unfurled.

Shayne
10/05/2010 08:01 AM
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I’ll be at Rockingham on Saturday. I won’t be in Charlotte the following weekend. I was able to buy 8 tickets for $11 each. This includes a hot dog and a drink with each ticket. I expect to see some exciting racing.

VolcanoNacho
10/05/2010 08:31 AM
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Welcome to Moes!

Gordon82Wins
10/05/2010 09:58 AM
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“Besides, with Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski carrying on their weekly dick-swinging competitions on Saturdays instead of dedicating themselves to topping Jimmie Johnson on Sundays”

Man, no you didn’t! LMAO!

Carl D.
10/05/2010 10:04 AM
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Shayne…

Sounds like a great deal. I wish I could go, as Rockingham is just up the road from Columbia, but my Grandson has a football game Saturday.

Jacob…

Thanks for expaining the Carl Edwards/Brad Keselowski incident at Talledega. I’d have done it myself, but I’m getting tired of explaining what’s obvious to anyone who watched the race.

Dansmom…

You said the Gibbs drivers would choke in the chase. It may be a bit premature to call it choking, but they’re both gagging for air.

DoninAjax
10/05/2010 10:17 AM
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This weekend is the big race for the big-block dirt modifieds at Syracuse and the Outlaw Sprints at Rolling Wheels. Some of the best racing on the planet. Watching 50 or 60 Mods take the green flag at Syracuse is absolutely awe-inspiring while hoping the roof doesn’t vibrate itself to pieces. They don’t call the Outlaw Sprints “The Greatest Show On Dirt” for nothing. Watching Gary Balough in the Batmobile and Steve Kinser against Bentley Warren in a super-modified on the mile was unforgetable. Anyone who can get to these shows will see what real “racing” is all about.

Kevin in SoCal
10/05/2010 12:48 PM
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Point Four: Oh joy, you found ONE example of a close points battle. Meanwhile, in the real world, Todd Bodine is spanking the Truck Series by over 250 points, Brad Keselowski is leading the Nationwide series by over 350 points, and without the Chase, Kevin Harvick would be leading by over 200 points. Yeah, some “battle” those are.

DoninAjax
10/05/2010 02:23 PM
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In the Real Points, second thru fifth are separated by about 70 points. Sixth thru tenth are less than 100 apart.

Harvick is a bad finish away from losing more than half his lead.

And, best of all, Johnson would be fifth.

Why focus on just the leader like the TV crews do during the “race” especially if it’s a Hendrick car? Including Stewart and Newman.

DoninAjax
10/05/2010 02:32 PM
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Forgot DansMom. Sorry.

Go to Church earlier, get some KFC, go home and settle in and watch the race. And keep ignoring Dan and DansDad.

MUBS
10/05/2010 05:11 PM
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Most people would rather have someone sucker punch them one a year than have a person like BK poke them little by little every week for a year. I myself would sit back and think about the former, but if some annoying little S**t kept on me time after time (little bump afer little bump),I would dump them too.

MUBS

Jacob
10/05/2010 05:17 PM
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Carl D.: No problem. I just get frustrated for prople not realizing that blocking and restrictor plates have combined to cause more wrecks than driving below the line and bump drafting combined.

DoninAjax I wish I could go, I am so close, but due to work, so far. The moody mile is awesome, and Rolling Wheels an unforgettable show.

Jim
10/05/2010 08:06 PM
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Right on, Kevin in SoCal.

God, I remember such stinker end-of-season runs, like when Terry Labonte won his second championship. Or when Kenseth won…my God, it was practically mathematically over by Martinsville.

Just because it used to be that way doesn’t mean it was better. Long live the Chase!

Also, what is this constant hand-wringing over the NFL? NOBODY can competes with them…MLB plays games in cold weather climates at night to avoid them. Is that what NASCAR should do? Why not start the race at 10AM, then? Kevin, you’d have no problem getting up at 7AM to watch, right?

Kevin in SoCal
10/05/2010 08:08 PM
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Jim, they could run the races at 3:39 AM on Tuesday morning, and I’ll just set my DVR and watch when I can. Start times make no difference to me.

29racefan
10/06/2010 12:00 AM
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“Long live the Chase”?!?!

Really, you are so right. The Chase really adds to the racertainment experience. Why would I want to see 26 races of all out racing? I’d much rather see a 26 week test session with points racing the priority. Then an artificially reset points system so everyone is back equal again. Now it is Season Part 2 and a shame though the other 30+ teams out there that are now nearly invisible. Which of course pisses off the sponsors for the 30+ cars that get no air time. Then the next scripted story is why oh why can’t teams attract sponsors. Must be the economy. It couldn’t be the Chase. It is also just a coincidence that the ratings tanked on TV viewership with the start of the Chase. Must be the economy, too…….

djones
10/06/2010 12:34 AM
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Dick swinging contest, LMAO. Take a bow Bryan. If Weed aka KyB didn’t mean to get into Reut, why didn’t we hear an apology over the radio? BSPN didn’t play it, or I missed it. Anyone?

I am glad Reut stood up to Weed and got into him. Maybe others will follow suit. I’m also glad that nascar isn’t punishing Reut. Bet that have at it boys changes in Feb. nascar is missing out on a whole lot of fine money.

JerseyGirl
10/06/2010 11:13 AM
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Either keep the starts at 1 p.m. and actually START the race at 1 p.m. or move it to noon. Dan’s Mom, some of us still DO go to races and want to be able to get home at a decent hour, allow for weather issues that may come up and enjoy the race.

Even if I’m only watching it on TV, if the race doesn’t start until after 2, its a pain and breaks up the day way too much.

ESPN is just looking for excuses. Its not the start time that’s the problem, its the product itself and the way the TV broadcasts are done.

VolcanoNacho
10/06/2010 04:29 PM
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Who eats KFC? That explains a lot Don.