The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Angry Vickers, And ESPN Wasn't Joking Around, Either by Bryan Davis Keith -- Monday February 28, 2011

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ONE: Brian Vickers’ Rage Toward Kenseth A Sign of Early Season Frazzles

Brian Vickers had a few choice words for Kenseth after the Phoenix race. A result of a bad race or more pressure than he needs?

Based on the replays, there was some contact between Matt Kenseth and Brian Vickers on lap 67, moments before Vickers’ Toyota went spinning and triggered a wreck on the backstretch that took out over a dozen cars, including the second for the No. 83 team in as many weeks into Vickers’ return to Cup tour. Based on those same plays, there is little, if any, evidence to justify the type of anger that Vickers unleashed towards Kenseth in his post-wreck remarks; Vickers cited the driver of the No. 17 for wrecking him while promising retaliation.

No one can blame Vickers for being frustrated that his return to the Red Bull Racing team he helped build from the ground up after a long bout with blood clots has gotten off to such a slow start. But to hear the former Hendrick Motorsports product spewing venom the likes of which he hasn’t since taking justified shots at Kyle Busch after a Nationwide race at Michigan in 2009, speaks to more than frustration over an early end to a Sunday drive in the desert. Because while Vickers has yet to crack the top 25 in 2011, teammate Kasey Kahne scored a top 10 finish on a circuit he calls “his worst track” that same afternoon.

For all Vickers has done for the Red Bull organization, the circumstances are different heading into 2011 for the team. When the their second car was being driven first by AJ Allmendinger and then by Scott Speed, Vickers was always the A driver in this stable. Now, even if for just a year, Kasey Kahne is in the early running showing signs of moving the No. 83 team to the B slot in the Red Bull garage.

Vickers coming from behind to catch up on 2/3 of a season of missed Cup races is pressure enough. To have to take on that role while a star driver is outrunning the flagship car of an organization Vickers has given everything, including a race win and a Chase berth, can’t be a small burden. Should the incidents continue on track, expect to hear a lot more pointed interviews from the driver of the No. 83.

TWO: NASCAR Has No One to Thank But Themselves for Tommy Baldwin Racing Start-and-Park Debacle

Tommy Baldwin Racing was fortunate enough to secure sponsorship for their No. 36 team at Phoenix, but after Dave Blaney wrecked the team’s primary car in practice, a business decision was reached by TBR. With their Vegas primary car intact, the team secured the sponsor’s blessing to run the distance at Vegas, and park early at PIR to keep their one remaining car on the west coast in one piece.

The decision to do that, and put a press release out about it, led NASCAR’s Robin Pemberton to lash out in disbelief on Sunday morning, calling the announcement one of “poor timing,” as if having confirmation in writing that a team was not intending to run a full Cup race distance was something different than what the sport has seen before. For crying out loud, a number of teams were acknowledged by the broadcast booth as early as Friday that they would be start-and-parking!

Face the facts, TBR didn’t really have a choice but to put out a press release about their decision. What type of message would prospective sponsors get if a car that supposedly had backing to race at Phoenix was in the garage less than 30 laps into the event? Start-and-park, no matter the arguments for its economic necessity, still has a very negative connotation to both the sanctioning body and fans alike. For a team seeking dollars to race, staying ahead of that image is imperative. Just look at the former PRISM Motorsports (now HP Racing) or NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 87, teams that over the past few seasons have seldom been seen past 50 laps of any Cup race…when was the last time they had sponsorship for anything other than the Daytona 500?

NASCAR suddenly crying foul that a team had to make public their survival practices is both hypocritical, and, to steal Pemberton’s own words, “in poor timing.” The sanctioning body has known for years that this practice was being employed by teams either blindly hoping to secure sponsorship or to collect a steady paycheck. By refusing to police the practice, adjust race winnings accordingly or simply looking the other way when it comes to inspecting half a dozen cars a race that have inexplicable mechanical woes, they’ve made it both an accepted and relied upon tactic.

It’s a little late to turn sour on the only way the Cup ranks have maintained a full field. But hey, if they’re willing to part with the TV bonus money they still adamantly claim they don’t get for a full field, don’t take this as me arguing with them taking a harsh stand on the start-and-park business.

THREE: Even Minus Kevin Conway, Front Row Motorsports Still Flirting with Owner Points Troubles

For as much as the Extenze sponsor dollars brought to the Front Row Motorsports’ camp the first half of 2010, the constant swapping of drivers between race teams to keep rookie Kevin Conway locked into the Cup field took a toll on the performance of the team’s veteran drivers and their respective squads. That, coupled with a penalty at Pocono Raceway in June for bleeder valves, kept the team’s third car from locking into the field for the first five races of 2011, costing a tight-budgeted team a mega-resource.

Unfortunately, even with Conway gone and veterans Travis Kvapil and David Gilliland the only two drivers guaranteed a full-time campaign for the organization, Front Row is still battling to lock into the field…and this time, even the second car is in jeopardy. Thanks to early wrecks involving Kvapil and the team’s No. 38 car in each of the first two races, only David Gilliland finds himself in a secure owner points position heading into Las Vegas. The team’s third entry that has already played host to multiple drivers, actually sits ahead of the team’s second, committed full-time operation.

The early wrecks that both the Nos. 37 and 38 teams have struggled to avoid this month have shadowed gains that Front Row made after a blue-collar 2010 season, including the power of Ford’s FR9 engine that they are now enjoying. What does all of this mean? It’s got major implications for the current Cup field…because after five races in, how long Front Row’s going to keep rolling a third car out is anyone’s guess. Without a sponsor to offset the costs of a third car (the Extenze sponsorship was the only reason the team went that route last season), the incentive to field it goes away unless it’s locked into the top 35. With full fields likely to be a weekly-repeating drama in Cup racing this year, this team may well be the story to watch along the bubble.

FOUR: ESPN Really Wasn’t Kidding About Focusing On Race Winners Instead of NNS Title Contenders

One of the more under the radar comments to come out of Speedweeks came from ESPN’s Rich Feinberg, while speaking to Scene Daily during the midst of NASCAR’s PR blast, remarked that his broadcast team would continue to focus on the Nationwide race winners and leaders above all else. He didn’t “see a substantial change in how we execute in our [ESPN’s] control room,” when it comes to televising NNS races in 2011.

If nothing else, Feinberg wasn’t beating around the bush. Though Reed Sorenson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are currently leading the points, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano have largely dominated the broadcasts, as if nothing has changed at all in NASCAR’s AAA series. Further, as reported in this weekend’s Nationwide Series Breakdown, a whopping 45.7% of the field that didn’t start-and-park was minimally mentioned, if at all, over the course of a two-hour plus telecast. And this was with a short field.

This practice is both a damn shame and a foul for those teams that run the Nationwide Series as more than a test session or a confidence boost. Well, if nothing else, ESPN was honest. Maybe that’s improvement?

FIVE: James Buescher’s DNQ a Massive Event in NCWTS Title Chase…That Should Happen More Often

As much as the top 25/30/35 rules across NASCAR’s three national touring series have devalued qualifying sessions across the sport, Friday night’s Truck session in Phoenix broke the norm and had a dramatic impact on the title chase in that series. James Buescher, coming off a top 10 finish to start the 2011 season and driving for a Turner Motorsports organization that has come out larging and charging in their first season as a three-truck organization, failed to qualify for the season’s second race, and in doing so dropped to 24th in points despite being in one of the stouter rides in the field.

It’s only two races into the year, and now Buescher is not only going to have to treat qualifying for a few more weeks as the significant matter all teams should every weekend, he’s also going to have to race for wins early and often, old points system or new. Bad finishes are one thing, DNQs are something else.

Want to make the racing more exciting? There’s no reason storylines like this one shouldn’t play out 25 times a year for the trucks, or 30+ for Nationwide and Cup. If a team can’t race their way in, why should they be out there?

This isn’t rocket science people.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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slander
03/01/2011 07:31 AM
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Vickers: Besides the frustration of his circumstances, he does have a legitimate beef. Drivers have been cutting the dogleg for years, and it’s gotten to the point that it’s expected. Vickers did give him more than enough room, but Father-of-the-Year came up on him anyway. Intentional? Unlikely. Bonehead? Very much so.

Buescher: As bad as that was for the guy, overall I see it as a good thing. Get rid of the entitlement program and let the qualifying chips fly as they may, with no mulligans allowed. Maybe it, along with some other changes (reversions?) will help bring real fans back to the sport…

cecil
03/01/2011 08:30 AM
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Vickers will be out run all year by Kahne, just wait and see. Vickers is no more a driver than Speed was. And he was a joke.

Lugnut
03/01/2011 09:39 AM
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“If a team can’t race their way in, why should they be out there?”

If a team can’t qualify within 2 seconds of the pole, should they be in the race? It is ridiculous that the rolling chicane that is Norm Benning is in the field running 3 seconds off the pace when a possible title contender who out qualifies norm by 2 seconds isn’t.

Surfcaster
03/01/2011 11:48 AM
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Let all full time drivers in truck and Nationwide qualify first and than let full time cup drivers qualify for remaning positions if any are left.

Doug in Washington (State)
03/01/2011 12:00 PM
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The #38 car wasn’t technically “locked in” for the 1st 5, but that only really applied to Daytona as the #77 was a one-race deal and the #38 moved up and got locked in for Phoenix, LV, and probably Bristol and Fontana since I doubt the #77 will show up there either.

In any case, the T35, which I hate, is almost a moot point with only 44 cars entered last week and this week. And barring one of the non-T35 cars wrecking or getting DSQ’ed, there’s no way Brian Keselowski will be anywhere near fast enough to make the field.

Until NASCAR starts prorating the prize money based on laps completed, there will always be tons of S&P cars. The fact that none of the S&P truck teams made the race was highly unusual, and a welcome sight.

Russ Edwards
03/01/2011 12:39 PM
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Vickers Has a problem in that for the first time since he “left” HMS he has some serious competition within the team. Nobody likes to be exposed.

Don Mei
03/01/2011 12:39 PM
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I like your idea Surfcaster; makes sense to me.

Kevin in SoCal
03/01/2011 01:00 PM
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A week after people on FS.com said the reason for the record Daytona lead changes was people swapping positions to get more air on their grill, Phoenix’s race has a record number of lead changes as well. (Sorry for the run-on sentence). So what do the great minds at FS.com have to say about that?

RamblinWreck
03/01/2011 01:35 PM
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Kenseth did squeeze Vickers. But if he hit him, it wasn’t nearly as hard as Gordon hit Busch at the end of the race. Maybe if Vickers had better car control, he wouldn’t have spun the thing.

Of course, he was out of the car and off the track for almost a full season. It seems pretty unfair to expect him to be running like the driver who made the Chase a year and a half ago.

EZ
03/01/2011 02:52 PM
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Kev: Record number of lead changes= most useless statistic ever

Wingcars6970
03/01/2011 11:00 PM
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Yes – I think Surfcaster has a germ of a very good idea. I also think – beyond the claim-jumpers not getting points, maybe they should only get a fraction of their winnings – with the balance going back into the pot. Who needs the money more?

Kevin in SoCal
03/02/2011 05:35 PM
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Lead changes are over rated and useless? Ok, so I guess you thought Kyle Busch leading every lap in the Nationwide race Saturday made it the most exciting race you’ve ever seen?
I thought NASCAR viewers wanted to see passing and lead changes. Guess I was way wrong.