The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Keselowski Crawling, Rising Ratings, And Judging Martin's Win Total by Bryan Davis Keith -- Wednesday March 9, 2011

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ONE: Monetary Woes Are Getting to Robby Gordon

Though the No. 7 car has been painted for each of the first three races of the 2011 season, and Gordon has been reported to have sponsorship through the early spring for his Cup entries, any doubt that finances were very much an issue for the Robby Gordon Motorsports operation were laid to rest this past weekend in Las Vegas, both on the track and off. For the third weekend in a row, the No. 7 car was involved in an on-track incident…and for the second straight time, it was a spin on his own. For all of his aggression, Gordon’s car control has never been questioned. But both at Phoenix and now Vegas, Gordon has been involved in spins that seem almost as if the driver is distracted behind the wheel, having a difficult time getting into a groove in the afternoon’s event.

Couple that with a reported altercation involving Gordon and former employee Kevin Conway in the garage area Friday that resulted in immediate probation and a police report being filed after an argument over compensation, and its becoming readily apparent that finances are prominently on the brain of one of the sport’s few remaining owner/drivers.

Dramatic revelation? No. But if its something that’s going to result in incidents on and off the racetrack, it’s certainly a cause for concern. Gordon may have started Speed Energy in an effort to finance his racing operations, but the countless number of energy drinks that have come and gone through the sport (Shark, Wave, Who’s Your Daddy?) without leaving any sort of significant financial impact on their respective racing operations makes it decidedly obvious that the venture is not a surefire solution to sponsorship woes. For Gordon to keep his Cup car going through all of 2011, he’s going to have to bring outside dollars in…and that’s not going to happen for an owner getting in heated disputes with delinquent sponsors or a driver proving to be his own worst enemy on race day.

Cooler heads need to prevail in the No. 7 camp, fast. It’s probably a good thing that there’s an off-weekend before Bristol.

TWO: Welcome Back the Start-and-Parks

And that doesn’t just apply to the Nationwide Series, where three entries that came out of nowhere over the course of the week between Phoenix and Las Vegas prevented consecutive short fields for the AAA ranks in their first full season with the new COT cars that so many weren’t able to afford. In Cup, it certainly appears that the old days of turning a blind eye to the practice at the back of the garage is coming back into fashion for the sanctioning body.

Quietly, a significant change in inspection processes for the teams outside the top 35 in owner points has taken away the incentive that last season had the start-and-parkers running at least 80 to 100 laps a race instead of 22. There is no longer an incentive not to be the first car to park…because the inspection process now has the first car in the garage and out of the race randomly picking a number to be the car NASCAR inspects. Instead of having an incentive in place for teams to run more laps and actually take some semblance of a part in the race they’re getting paid to run there, now there’s no way to effectively avoid being the team to go through additional inspection and an engine teardown.

In short, for the fleet of start-and-parks in the back, might as well bring those cars in when they’re good and ready now. If inspection is going to be determined randomly for those outside the top 35, the chance of being selected is going to be the same if they run 22 laps or 222. So much for NASCAR’s comments the past few seasons that they needed to ensure, at least at the Cup level, that teams were “on the up and up.”

It already seems to have made an impact; twice as many cars parked within the first 50 laps of this Vegas race as one year ago, despite an equal number of start-and-park entries.

Either NASCAR’s stopped caring about the start-and-parkers participating in at least some form in their races, or they’re resigned to inspecting a random outside the top 35 because they’re resigned to having multiple such entries in the Cup field. Either way, there’s a problem with this change in inspection processes.

THREE: Mark Martin’s 49th NNS Win…or 96th NASCAR Win?

I have to thank a fan comment on this week’s Nationwide Series Breakdown for this point, but it’s certainly one that ought to be answered. Upon scoring a surprise victory in Nationwide competition at Las Vegas this past Saturday, Mark Martin was hailed for extending his all-time record NNS win total to 49, delaying, at least a little while longer, according to the ESPN booth, the inevitable that he will lose that title to Kyle Busch.

Mark Martin has more Nationwide Series wins-and more NASCAR wins overall-than Kyle Busch. So where was the love from the booth on Saturday?

Martin’s 49th NNS triumph was indeed his 96th win in NASCAR’s top three series, but that statistic wasn’t given the light of day. Which begs an interesting question…why not?

After all, as ESPN and everyone else that isn’t convinced the current Nationwide Series is a hollow “Cup lite” waiting for a bottle of scotch and handgun to put it out of its misery continually harp on, every time Kyle Busch scored a Truck or Nationwide win, it’s not just a trophy…it’s his 80-something win in NASCAR competition. He’s that much closer to the century mark. He’s that much closer to hitting the mystical 200 number. He’s that much closer to being Richard Petty. The second coming is here!

So where was the hubhub that Martin had scored his 96th win overall, putting him only four away from the century mark? Here’s the answer as simple as can be…Martin isn’t busy running wild all weekend in the minor leagues, and the 200 wins in NASCAR number isn’t something he’s floated out as a career goal, as a numerical justification for beating up kids on the playground for lunch money when he’s making a living as a professional boxer.

Fact is, Kyle runs roughshod over both the Truck and Nationwide Series frequently. The TV crews, for better or worse, have harped on his going for 200 total wins as something to talk about, some sort of significance to attach to a practice that ultimately has rendered each of the two series playgrounds for the stars most weekends.

Doesn’t sound like everyone’s buying it. Gotta love Frontstretch readers; agree or disagree with our writing, they’re a sharp bunch.

FOUR: Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Team Still Crawling to Start 2011

Though Kurt Busch has picked up right where he left off and is looking every bit like a Chase contender for Penske Racing yet again, contraction from three cars to two has not appeared to do any favors for the No. 2 team. Case in point, Las Vegas; Keselowski was a non-factor in the event all day long, eventually finishing off the lead lap in 26th, behind even the Germain Racing entry of Casey Mears.

Something has to change in that shop, fast. Keselowski is now in a marquee ride and no longer has the rookie stripe to point to as justification for struggling in the Cup ranks. He’s even got a year under his belt working with the crew chief atop the box, yet Sunday saw the No. 2 as much of a non-factor on an intermediate oval as David Stremme and Ryan Newman were as Kurt Busch’s teammates the seasons before 2010.

Sure, going to two cars wasn’t a recipe for instant success; the No. 12 and No. 77 cars were far from setting the world on fire last year, it’s not like combining those two was going to necessarily produce something better instantly. But Keselowski has his Nationwide title that was oh-so-important now. It’s time to play with the big boys, not run alongside them.

FIVE: TV Ratings Speak Volumes

For years, it’s been the media’s fault for perpetuating negative tones about the sport, scaring people away from the grandstands and into turning off their TVs. The media was killing off the sport.

Enter 2011. TV ratings for each of the season’s first three races are up, as is interest. The Daytona 500, for all the wrecks, produced a dramatic feel-good story and a fresh new face on a sport that’s been seeking one. That was followed up by one of the best to ever drive showing he’s still got it, a thrilling conclusion to a Phoenix race that, while not Rockingham, was certainly an improvement over previous seasons’ snore-inducing second races at Fontana. And Vegas was Vegas, the first intermediate of the season and a race that actually produced some passes for the lead.

The 2011 season has had compelling storylines and competition, and fan interest has been there as a result. The fact that TV ratings are up despite little change in broadcasts or cast of characters has spoken volumes that no matter what’s written or said, the tale on the track will tell the tale of the sport.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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Carl D.
03/08/2011 07:42 AM

I cannot for the life of me figure out the deal with Keselowski’s team. It’s not a lack of talent; there’s no question the guy can drive a racecar. He’s not only won the Nationwide series championship, but he did it by beating Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards on a consistent basis. Brad also has the same crew chief, Paul Wolfe, running his Cup team that ran his Nationwide team last year. Are the cars that different? This one is baffling. I certainly expected better from the blue deuce team this year.

03/08/2011 09:27 AM

Carl D., please look at your Nationwide stats from last season again. The only reason Brad won the championship was that Kyle missed about 8 races. In the races they both competed, Kyle had more wins, more points, more laps led than Brad – by a wide margin. I imagine he might have beat Kyle once or twice last year, but certainly Kyle was the dominant driver and the de facto champ.

03/08/2011 11:01 AM

Rachel: The facts are this. Kyle won 13. Brad won 6. But if neither of them won in same race which they both were entered, Brad finished better 8 of 12 races. Thats how you win Championships. DNF streak of 102 races. BRYAN: As far as the Blue2 program goes, They are only 3 races in. Great car at Daytona, 15th at Phx and they ran with the 1 car all day long. Teams are allowed bad races. This is not your FATHERs NW car. Paul and the guys will be around……

03/08/2011 11:04 AM

According to radio chatter from the crew chief, Robby’s spin was due to a cut tire.

Carl D.
03/08/2011 11:36 AM


I wasn’t trashing Kyle or even insinuating that he wouldn’t have won the NW championship had he entered all the races. I was simply making the case for Brad Keselowski’s team not living up to it’s potential so far this year. However, as joey pointed out, the season is just getting started.

Also, I’ve scoured the internet and I can’t find one picture of Kyle Busch holding up the 2010 de facto NW Championship trophy. Are you sure that’s a real title? My guess is that it’s one that a Kyle Busch fan made up.

Joe W.
03/08/2011 11:54 AM

Susan, If you don’t think Mark Martin is a “real racer” but guys like Kyle Busch are. Then you would really do us all a favor by turning off Nascar and watching something else. I guess Dean Smith wasn’t a real basketball coach because he didn’t throw chairs and make a fool out of himself like Bobby Knight. Buy a clue, please. Mark Martin is a real racer and a class act. Everyone at Roush and Hendrick respect Mark Martin. That tells volumes.

03/08/2011 12:11 PM

Joe W., everybody respects Mark. Nobody fears him. JJ doesn’t throw tantrums, but he has been the ultimate fear of every race car driver for the last 5 years. And if you followed college basketball, you would know that Dean Smith had an awesome temper and was a lot more like Kyle Busch than Mark Martin. Mark is a very nice man and usually a clean competitor, but we are not talking about the nicest driver, we are talking about why Mark’s career numbers don’t get mentioned much. First, because he has achieved them over 80 some years and second, because real racers do not slow down to let their competition pass for the Daytona 500.

Kevin in SoCal
03/08/2011 12:15 PM

Bryan said: “was certainly an improvement over previous seasons’ snore-inducing second races at Fontana.”

And yet many readers of Matt’s Monday columns said they slept thru and/or did household chores during the first three races this season. Sounds like Fontana is not the only “snore inducing” race going on this year. We shall see if the increase in TV ratings continues at Bristol and Fontana in two weeks.

Joe W.
03/08/2011 12:39 PM

Yes Susan Dean had a temper but he didn’t make an ass of himself like Knight of Kyle Bush. I really don’t think anyone fears Jimmie Johnson as a driver. They fear whatever it is Chad has cooked up. They only fear a guy like Bush because he may act up and wreck them. Why does no one mention that his Nationwide wins have come in cars that we know were cheating. How about “washer gate” remember that? Also your argument that the competition in Nationwide is stronger now is weak at best. Kyle Bush races against virtually NO competition in the Truck series. That series is very week these days. Mark Martin is a racer. He is not Dale Sr. but niether was Dale Jarrett and he won a championship. I think your whole thinking process is off.

03/08/2011 12:52 PM

Vegas produced exactly one pass for the lead!! woo hoo

Joe W.
03/08/2011 02:05 PM

Susan you don’t know me at all!! I have fire in everything I do! I think Mark does too. He just doesn’t show it. And yes I think Johnson has won all his chamionships because of Chad. Cheating or not it is Chad that made Johnson. He SUCKED in the Busch/Nationwide series and when he runs there on occation he still sucks. I don’t think he wins one championship without Chad. I didn’t say they cheated all the time but some things are very suspect. Either way it is Chad that makes the difference. I also do think Busch’s Nationwide and Truck wins are because of Nascar’s preferential treatment to toyota. A car company who never has built a push rod V8, EVER!! I think you will see Busch return to his old pain in the ass ways very soon. But really I don’t care. If he does it will be because he is losing and that will make me very happy. See I have pasion!! Good thing this is a “family sight” or I would tell you what I really think! And jerks like Harvick and Hamlin will never be as good as Mark. Oh and by the way how many cup titles do they have? Just asking?

Joe W.
03/08/2011 03:16 PM

So you don’t like Kennseth or AK. Well I do!! I also like Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart. Those are a couple guys who hate to lose. I don’t hate Jimmie. I’m tired of him and I just doubt how someone stinks at one level then moves up and is great. As you pointed out it happens the other way much more often. I think you may argue out of both sides of your mouth too. I do dispise toyota in the sport. They just don’t fit. It’s not the history of the sport. And I’m far from being the only one who feels that way. As for your hero Kyle Busch, I’m for sure not the only one who feels that way about him either. You can’t win every race. It is NOT like any other sport where you have only one opponent and you either win or lose. In racing you have 42 opponents every race. You just can’t win them all. Sometimes you have to be smart and just take a good finish. I guess you would rather have a champion with 10 wins and 26 DNFs. Well I would not!! It just seems guys like Busch, Harvick and Hamlin cry and complain if someone treats them the way they treat others. I like lots of drivers. Just not the ones you like. And you never did answer about Dale Jarrett. He is a very nice guy and he won a championship and his father Ned was a very nice guy and won two championships. You don’t consider Matt or Alan as champions, well then I have nothing further to say to you because you clearly don’t understand anything about Nascar. Good Day.

sylvia richardson
03/08/2011 03:30 PM

Susan. So glad you know so much about Mark. HES GOT MORE INTEGRITY IN HIS LITTLE TOE THAN ALL THE DRIVERS PUT TOGETHER.AND {IF MARK WINS ITS ALWAYS CLEAN. GOSH I BE ONE OF HIS FANS THAT LOVE THE WAY HE GIVES AND TAKES. AND I AM SURE YOU DON’T. You must be one of the fans who love the wrecks and the so called [bad boys] i be not one of those kind of fans. ilove mark win or not. And you have a great day.

Joe W.
03/08/2011 04:56 PM

Well I like Jack Roush because if not for him Nascar would have forced Ford out. So I am a big fan of Jack Roush and I don’t think the Wood Brothers are too upset about Trevor Bayne driving their car since he WON the Daytona 500!! And Jack was the only owner with the guts to say he didn’t like toyota in Nascar. I have no respect for Kasey Kahne since he has stabbed Ford in the back twice. It was wonderful to see Marcos Ambrose finish better than him at Vegas. I like Marcos too and I hope he has a great year.

03/09/2011 02:20 AM

@Joe W – any regular fan or human being would acknowledge your right to your opinion. But you are arguing with Susan aka Randy G aka VolcanoNacho. You might as well beat your head on the wall……….

Bad Wolf
03/09/2011 07:25 AM

aka Nascar Crusader, aka Dans Mom aka Margurita Chicken……………………………..

03/09/2011 10:32 AM

I really do like Susan! She’s a chick and tells all of your morons where you can shove it.

And sorry to disappoint, but sadly she and I are not the same person. I have a feeling we would make beautiful, intelligent, non-biased babies however.

03/09/2011 03:49 PM

Reading the back and forth about Ford I had to comment. I firmly beleive that drivers could care less about manufacturers. They go where the money and the best ride is at the time. Martin left Ford because Jack didn’t want him running only part time. Burton got pushed out as well. Can’t blame that on the drivers. Gordon left for Hendrick, which I“m sure he thought at the time was the best situation for him. Looks like he was right.

If a Chevy team offered me more money and a better ride than the Ford I was driving, I would probably move on as well.

There are no brands anymore in Cup anyway. Its the same car as everyone else, just with a different sticker on the hood.

I’m sure DW isn’t a shill for Toyota because he loves them so much. His wallet is getting fat from them as well.

03/09/2011 04:00 PM


Good point on Martin letting Gordon get his lap back in the 500. I remember it well. I knew that would bite him, but worse, it bit my driver Bill Elliott who had that race won and never would have been passed by Gordon under the yellow line (of course no rule in place at the time)I thought a lot less of Martin from that moment on…

03/10/2011 03:05 AM

If I was Robby Gordon, I’d bitch slap Conway too. He’s a pussy. He’s suing RG for $26k he has coming to him for ROY, he was the only Rookie. But RG got stiffed out of $625k from CONWAYS SPONSOR Extenze. Conway should go get it from Extenze. Now he’s telling anyone who’ll listen about being assaulted in the garage. Pussy.

Keeping it REAL
03/10/2011 03:41 AM

Susan – correction, Bill did not finish 3rd. The finishing order was Gordon, T Labonte, and Craven. Remember, that was the first 1-2-3 for Hendrick and they called Rick from Victory Lane, he was home healing from Leukemia. Bill finished 4th that day, not 3rd.

Keeping it REAL
03/11/2011 02:43 AM

Susan – thanks, yep, you got it right now. I was pulling for Bill that day too. Hated to see the HMS brigade pass him, even if he was in a Ford ;-). Sorry, wanted to prove to you I can ad a touch of sarcasm even if it isn’t my style, haha!

BTW, I have always greatly respected Mark Martin. However, like you, I have questioned the depth of his desire to win. What made Dale Sr great was how he truly felt about finishing second. There was no question about it, he was there to win – period. If I’m going to pay my hard-earned money to watch a race I want to at least see guys who would almost cut off their left you know to win. For the money they are paid, we as fans deserve to see that level of commitment and passion.

So they can fire away at me too. After all, I am just Keeping it REAL ;-).