The Frontstretch: 5 Points to Ponder: EGR Keeps The Bowtie, The Not-So-Wild Card, and the Yellow Line Club by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday November 2, 2010

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ONE: Count on Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to Stick with Chevrolet

You can’t blame Ford for trying. With the blood of Richard Petty Motorsports still floating in the water, the Blue Oval brigade has made an offer to the EGR camp that in terms of finances trumps the organization’s current deal with Chevrolet. According to a report by Sirius Speedway, a spokesperson for the Ford Motor Company said, “the offer is on the table, and it’s up to them whether or not to take it.”

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing is heading to Ford? Don’t you believe it.

But despite the financial incentive that’s there, don’t count on EGR bolting from the bowtie camp. And don’t mistake any of that decision for loyalty to the Chevrolet brand, or just out of racing loyalty in general, as the Ford spokesperson quoted by Sirius referred.

It’s a convenient explanation for the Blue Oval crowd, but one that glosses over the fact that in terms of contending for wins week in and week out, they’re dead last among manufacturers, tied with Dodge at only two wins with one driver over the course of 2010 (and that’s with Dodge running only three factory-backed cars). Not to mention that despite all their struggles, Roush Fenway Racing is clearly top dog at Ford. Let’s not forget that it was Richard Petty Motorsports’ midseason assistance that allowed the RFR camp to make up for setups based on faulty simulations, returning Roush to the semblance of competitiveness that they’re currently exhibiting on the track. This season would have been even more of a wash for the Ford camp without the help. Yet, for all the assistance that RPM bestowed on the manufacturer’s flagship and the entire Ford Racing camp, Richard Petty Motorsports may well not be back in 2011, no matter how many stories of new investors and driver confidences in their contracts are told.

That’s not to say that EGR’s sudden return to relevance will buy them a higher seat at the table with Chevrolet. But the fact remains right now that even as the fourth-tier operation with Chevy, EGR has won as many Cup races as Ford and Dodge combined in 2010.

That’s largely thanks to those oh-so-powerful ECR engines. Face it, the FR9 hasn’t righted the ship for Ford Racing, its unreliability actually derailing Greg Biffle’s Chase chances for good at Fontana. ECR’s horsepower, on the other hand, played a large role in winning the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, and nearly the Southern 500, as well.

The business sense angle from EGR says move to Ford… but business sense shouldn’t mean that much to them. That’s because business sense would have prevented that camp from signing Jamie McMurray, who could never make an arrangement with Bass Pro Shops work. Right?

It all adds up to an easy answer: Ganassi and Ford aren’t meant to be together for 2011.

TWO: The Wild Card Race Decides Nothing

“Talladega is the race that changes everything,” or so we’ve been told. Jimmie Johnson admitted he was looking past Martinsville for fear of what Talladega would bring. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick both wrote that race off to chance. This plate race, more than any other, was the one that was going to throw a wrench into the Chase. It was where a contender or more would fall from the title fight at the hands of the vicious Big One, where one driver’s mistake triggered a massive crash that exposed the illegitimacy of plate racing and created a de facto elimination event. Boy, Brian must have been salivating at the prospects of this weekend.

Yet, nothing happened. There was no Big One. All three Chasers led laps and finished in the top 10. Jimmie Johnson maintained the points lead, which fluctuated by less than 10 markers between first and second. Talladega may well not have happened this past weekend, sans for Clint Bowyer scoring his fourth career Cup win.

So what did we learn from this past weekend? One, it is possible, even at the Cup level, to run a plate race without a Big One demolishing dozens of cars. Though, frankly, just as this 500-miler was clean, it was also tempered. It was without the late four-wide moment that saw Jimmie Johnson’s season inches from being scrunched, a rather tame affair on Sunday afternoon even during the closing laps.

Talladega: the 2010 Chase race where even a 1-2 finish by Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick made little difference in a championship battle that held serve on Sunday.

Two, just as plate racing is referred to as a great equalizer, no driver in the title Chase proved something that established them the favorite with three races to go. Johnson did manage to get out of that four-wide mess late, but let’s not forget that just as he was trying to stay out of a wreck, the dozen guys around him were doing their damnedest to avoid being the one to wreck the defending champ. Denny Hamlin did recover from going a lap down, a product of trying to stay too far in the back rather than the team recovering from a poor race car down the stretch. And as for Kevin Harvick’s recovery from a wreck with Marcos Ambrose to finish runner-up, it’s not like an intact front end has ever been a prerequisite to win at ‘Dega; just ask Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 2003 or Martin Truex, Jr. in Nationwide Series competition back in 2005.

The wild card’s been played, and everyone’s called. The game rolls on.

THREE: Top 35 Race All About Money, Not the Future

While the Chase standings remained tight, Travis Kvapil’s failure to qualify at Talladega allowed both TRG Motorsports and Robby Gordon Motorsports to pull over 100 points ahead of Front Row’s No. 38 team, leaving the top 35 all but set heading into the 2011 Daytona 500.

And while that bodes well for a strong field at season’s open, the real question is whether any of these teams battling for the final locked in spots in the Cup field will actually be around to have a go at the 2011 Cup slate. TRG Motorsports has been all but noncommittal as to what next year’s plans are, opting to go driver-by-committee rather than auditioning a driver for the new year with their primary backer, TaxSlayer.com, committed to JR Motorsports’ Nationwide program next year. Front Row Motorsports has said that without finding major sponsorship, the organization would likely cut back to two cars after this season’s finale at Homestead, even admitting today they have questioned whether or not to run the No. 38 in this year’s final three events.

As for Robby Gordon Motorsports, though the driver has committed for the first five races of next season, the commitment after that stretches only to the “fun” events on the Cup slate. Not to mention that for all the Extenze paint that the No. 7 car has featured since Kevin Conway moved over to the team, there’s been no news regarding that deal or the plan for BioTab to market the Alteril brand with Conway next year in the Cup Series… except that Conway will drive only one more race this season.

The bottom line is none of these teams will be conclusively back. The race is on not for ensuring a successful 2011, but for securing a spot in NASCAR’s biggest payday, and having a significant carrot to dangle in front of a new owner trying to make Cup racing who happens to show up at Daytona with some dollars to play with.

Chances of that happening? About as high as either of these three teams finding a sponsor in the first five races of 2011 that will result in a full-season campaign.

FOUR: PRISM Motorsports Back to One Car

It seemed the perfect plan. Take the business model of MSRP Motorsports in the Nationwide ranks, then transfer it to Cup. And after seeing Dave Blaney post a top-5 qualifying effort while Michael McDowell also raced into the event at Fontana in the first race after the Daytona 500, the two drivers parked for good by lap 45, bringing home almost $160,000 in purse money. It was the dream start-and-park situation.

After nine DNQs the last seven races, PRISM Motorsports’ two-car team looks ready to scale down to one at Texas: the No. 66.

Fast forward to now, and the dream season has since disintegrated for the PRISM Motorsports team. Only one car, the team’s trademark No. 66, is on the entry list for the weekend’s event at Texas, as the dedicated start-and-parkers attempt to return to profitability; since the Chase started, the team’s two cars only went five for 14 in qualifying for races. Sooner or later, no matter how cheap the team does Cup racing, those dollars will stop making sense.

Good riddance.

FIVE: The Yellow Line Club Welcomes Kyle Busch

It’s an exclusive club indeed, the list of drivers that can make a pass clearly below the yellow line at a restrictor plate race and be allowed not only to keep the position, but score a win doing it. The club ensures that Talladega’s Victory Lane is home to select names of NASCAR royalty, be it allowing Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to score the 2003 spring trophy at Talladega doing that same thing, or depriving Regan Smith of the fall trophy in 2008 to ensure that it went to Tony Stewart.

So while Kyle Busch was only granted a truck trophy by the Yellow Line Club this past weekend, rest assured that his day scoring a Cup trophy in such regard will come. The talent is undoubtedly there… and now that it’s well known that he is worthy, it’s only a matter of time before Kyle drives through the infield grass to score a win at ‘Dega. Call Vegas, any race fans that need a betting fix.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
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Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in NASCAR: Talladega-Texas Edition
No Bull: Did Kevin Harvick Say What Everyone Was Thinking?
It’s Not All About the Big 3: Five Men Who Have Three Races To Prove Themselves
Talking NASCAR TV: Botched Ending By ESPN At Talladega?

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Jacob
11/02/2010 02:29 AM
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Point One: Did anyone actually think there would be Fords in store for EGR next season. I think Chip has learned his lesson about fielding the worst equipment that na$car has to offer.

Point Five: Read the rulebook, and watch the replay.
While I don’t agree with what happened to Regan Smith in ’08, the circumstances are completely different here. Regan could have held his line, Tony would have wrecked, but that would have been Tony’s fault. When Regan decided to go below the yellow line, he could have dragged the brake to keep from passing.
Kyle didn’t have either of those options available to him. His truck got loose from side to side contact, and saving the truck put him on a trajectory that took him below the yellow line. The rules DO state that is a legal and valid pass.

PBFred
11/02/2010 04:50 AM
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Jacob, got to agree with both points.

#1 ECR engines definitely seemed to be the class of the field at ‘Dega.

#5 Bush’s truck was leaving skid marks with all 4 tires as he passed Aric and took the win.

If he had been in control of his truck, he wouldn’t have had to go below the line, and would have had a truck lengths lead.

I also believe that on the last lap, the yellow line rule at the line is ridiculous. Actually, I think it is ridiculous all-around.

They decided to let “the boys police themselves” when it came to “boys have at it”.

They quickly changed the no bump drafting rule after they changed it the morning of the ‘Dega race a year or so ago. And decided to let the drivers “police” themselves.

Considering more than half the multi-car wrecks happen on the straightaways, why not do away with the yellow line rule? Let them police themselves.

And why is it completely all around the track when they obviously can run below it without a problem for most of the track.

The line seems to create more wrecks than it prevents.

Granted, the track is super smooth now and the line was put in place when it wasn’t. Daytona will be super smooth soon too.

How smooth these 2 tracks are really could be the difference for needing the line or not. But at ‘Dega right now, it definitely isn’t needed.

Earlier in the year, the ARCA cars were purposely driving with half their car below the line at Daytona to keep anyone from passing them. With those cars, the outside lane just couldn’t make the pass. And thus they proved they could drive well below the line in order to block. It made for lame racing.

Bill B
11/02/2010 07:46 AM
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Re point 2, I wonder if Talladega would have changed the points had the top drivers actually been racing for 188 laps instead of riding at the back until the last 20. Oooh, that was exciting.

Stephen HOOD
11/02/2010 08:04 AM
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The yellow line rule says you can’t advance your position below the yellow line, it doesn’t say you can’t drive down there. Busch had advanced his position prior to going below the yellow line. Go to the Speed website and look at the replay and it seems obvious to me that Kyle advances to P1 before he slides below the line. Smiths problem in his race against Stewart was he advanced his position below the line. Apparently, if the driver is in first place, he can dive below the line to secure the win. If another driver gets ahead, the driver below the line has to come back above the line to advance.

I understand NASCAR giving Earnhardt Jr. a win at Talladega even if he was out of bounds. If they decided to rule against him, a riot would ensue and 1500 fans would be killed in the stampede. Plus, any NASCAR official caught within the confines of the track would be strung up in retaliation. A European soccer riot would appear tame compared to the mayhem following the revoking of an Earnhardt win. I sat in a section of fans on Sunday that every time Earnhardt led a lap, a dude blew a whistle, and the whole section stood up and cheered. Not one person or two people, but the whole damn section. Earnhardt needs to win soon for the sake of NASCAR.

Shayne
11/02/2010 09:24 AM
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Once again, the mainstream media fails to address how NASCAR treats certain drivers. Here’s a link from someone not afraid to tell the truth:

http://www.laidbackracing.com/Articles2010/MM92.html

Jacob
11/02/2010 10:00 AM
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PBFred:

I agree 100% with you. Blocking on the straights has caused more “big-ones” than bump drafting and the yellow line combined.
Even Earnhardt’s tragic fatality began with a block, na$car has simply outlawed a symptom, and neglected the source. It is ridiculous.

Craig
11/02/2010 10:35 AM
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I just hope now that everyone survived the Talladega roulette wheel the Chase will stay this tight through Homestead. Not just to make good drama, but maybe if it goes down to the last lap at Homestead NASCAR will shelve the proposed changes to the Chase.

We all hate the Chase, but the changes being “seriously considered” are far worse than we have now. Think the regular season leader gets the shaft now, try the “elimination chase” where you can dominate the whole year only to lose in the last race for whatever reason because NASCAR wants a show. Or it appears 15 drivers is likely for next year because a driver 12th in points and with no wins in the regular season now, clearly deserves a shot at the title. And still Dale Jr. will miss the Chase. It’s elementary school lets give everyone a participation ribbon.

Sadly, I think these changes were decided last year when Jimmy nearly clinched before Homestead. He would have done it no doubt if he doesn’t wreck at Texas. NASCAR doesn’t care who wins the title, they want a big flashy show at Homestead North Cuba.

glenn
11/02/2010 12:08 PM
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As a Mopar fan I take exception to being compared with Ford… 3 cars on 1 team had similar results to all the Fords?? Then there is Nationwide… not even close. Go underdog!

RamblinWreck
11/02/2010 01:15 PM
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Point #2-

It’s a shame that Johnson and Hamlin got out of ‘Dega with top 10’s as they did absolutely nothing all day. I would have loved to see them finish where they ran the whole first 475 miles.

glenn-

Don’t forget who won the All-Star race, too!

Steve
11/02/2010 03:55 PM
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Point #4: Funny how alot of those people that it is so lucrative starting and parking, but those teams are still struggling, if not non existant.

Its a good think they have those luxurious homes with their luxury cars and helicopters to go back to (sarcasm over). Its obvious Brian still doesn’t get it.

thomas dalfonzo
11/02/2010 09:31 PM
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The yellow line rule, like the France family, has got to go. I am still burning at NASCAR for what they did to Regan Smith back in ’08 at Talladega. Abolishing the yellow line rule will being excitement back to ‘Dega and integrity back to NASCAR.

What Ganassi should do is hook up with a new manufacturer. Buick, Cadillac, Lincoln, and Chrysler all sound great. Whatever car manufacturer he can land, Ganassi’s team will be the car manufacturer’s primary focus. We need more American manufacturers in NASCAR.

Richard Petersen
11/03/2010 12:45 AM
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Point #1: I will say this, Chip Ganassi would be stupid to make the move to Ford. Lets look at the facts here: The Earnhardt name has a 30 year history with the General Motors company and for Chip Ganassi to be dumb enough to make a move to Ford and take away that, a lot of Earnhardt fans will not be happy. That thump you will hear, that will be Dale Earnhardt rolling over in his grave. The Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines are by far the best performing engines on the track now. Without that, Chip would be loosing races. Lets face it, Ford was even stupid to go up to an Earnhardt team and ask for them to consider them. That is almost like having Toyota go up to Hendrick Motorsports, not going to happen. I hope Earnhardt Ganassi Racing stays with Chevrolet…where they belong.

As for Regan Smith’s 2008 Talladega race, in my eyes, he won that race fare and square. Who ever looked over the video, obviously needed glasses. Tony did force him off the track…you could even see him hit his right front bumper. And they say it was a unacceptable move? So what…it would be okay to come back up the track and take Tony Stewart out, putting him and others at risk…which I guess he should have done that. In 2009, Brad did just that to Carl Edwards and that injured a girl, almost killing her. Just imagine if that would have happen if Regan Smith did that to Tony Stewart that year? And that would be okay to NASCAR? Putting fans at risk like that? Regan Smith won that Talladega race weather they like it or not. Shoot, Regan would probably be with DEI or EGR still.