Tweet5 Points to Ponder: The Franchise Gets Rowdy, The Rookie Kiss Of Death, and Start The Damned Race at Noon
Bryan Davis Keith · Tuesday October 5, 2010
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.
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.
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?
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