The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Multiple Yellow Issues, Fan Woes, And ARCA Goes Old School by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday April 19, 2011

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ONE: NASCAR Threw Saturday’s Yellow Way Too Early

There’s no denying that Mike Wallace’s flip to end Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 was both a crushing disappointment for Nationwide Series regular fans and a scary moment all wrapped into one. But for NASCAR to end that race nearly half a lap short of the finish as a result, with the field having already passed the wreck in turn 3 was both a disservice to the fans and competitors… and completely unnecessary.

The field had already cleared Wallace’s wrecked No. 01 machine after he landed (upright, for that matter). The race was far from decided; Kyle Busch and Joey Logano had indeed taken the lead, but between Brad Keselowski, Joe Nemechek, Elliott Sadler and others, there were a million storylines capable of playing out over the final half-lap. And Talladega? That’s a huge freaking race track, with a full mile of racing still to go at the time of that wreck.

So what was stopping NASCAR from sending the safety crews out onto the backstretch immediately to tend to Wallace, while the rest of the field raced to the checkers – again, over a mile away? Hard to say. Keep in mind the field then had the whole sweeping banks of turns 1 and 2, along with the backstretch to get slowed up after the checkered flag. It certainly wasn’t a consistent call, either; Clint Bowyer crossed the finish line on his roof in the 2007 Daytona 500 but that race ran to completion under green anyway.

And it’s probably way too much of a stretch to say that NASCAR threw the flag trying to manufacture a finish, although it probably made ESPN’s day to have Kyle Busch prove his awesomeness by winning again instead of some series regular or small-timer that would require a deviation from the template post-race story. No, what was seen Saturday was nothing more than NASCAR again demonstrating just how rudderless it really is. Scarcely one year removed from “Boys, Have At It,” the Nationwide Series was robbed of one of the few compelling finishes it was likely going to see this season. In a 2011 that’s still being dominated by the big guns, the tower got trigger happy to pull a yellow flag and unintentionally shot another one of them into Victory Lane.

Then again, maybe there’s something to be said about the TV argument. After all, ESPN was running late on their time slot… and it’s no secret that the France clan would love for races to fit in easily broadcasted boxes.

TWO: The Yellow-Line Issue Is Anything But

After Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. stormed to a last-lap victory on Sunday, it was only a matter of seconds before Twitter starting screaming yellow-line controversy. Replays showed the No. 48 diving tantalizingly close to it; so was Johnson’s pass legal? Did being the dance partner of an Earnhardt suddenly give Mr. Five-Time the same dominion over the out-of-bounds marker that allowed Junior to suspiciously win the 2003 event at the same track?

Or was this one simply a matter of writers and fans alike not having enough to talk about after a decidedly canned and uneventful Talladega race? All signs point to yes. The action being seen on restrictor-plate circuits these days has little to offer those wanting to see competitors duke it out mano-e-mano. Instead, what you get resembles more of what fans see on the slot race tracks under tents outside the stadium – cars streaking back and forth at varying speeds until the event is over.

Before Jimmie Johnson even made it to Victory Lane, the post-race discussion immediately went to whether or not he committed a yellow-line violation on the way to the front of the field.

So of course, with Hendrick Motorsports dominating the finishing order and Earnhardt being the driver ultimately responsible for scoring the No. 48 car the win this Sunday, what better failsafe story than Earnhardt and the Land of Subjective Yellow-Line Calls at Talladega?

Please. Watch the replays. Johnson’s position was not advanced under the yellow line. Did he touch it? Yes. Did he go under it to advance his position? No.

So give Johnson the checkered flag and the trophy. And if he wants to give some of that to Earnhardt, so be it. Who cares who got the hardware? Sunday wasn’t a race and there sure as hell wasn’t a winner.

THREE: The Fans Seem to Agree… See Attendance

While maybe not as big a story as Bristol struggling to draw 100,000 for its spring race last month, seeing thousands of seats in the upper deck of the frontstretch at Talladega covered with a banner is not a sight that was even conceivable a few years back. Sure, ‘Dega, just like every other track out there, has taken its lumps courtesy of the economy. And for as bad as Bristol was in March, proportionally Talladega had a much better showing when the green flag dropped on Sunday afternoon.

But as Daytona and Phoenix showed earlier this season, there’s still a market where the product is good. The Daytona 500 is still a tremendous race… plus, no one had seen the joke of two-by-two racing play out the way it would over Speedweeks. And Phoenix, well, Phoenix capitalized on the Trevor Bayne phenomenon and delivered a stellar finish of its own between Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon.

Bristol’s struggles, as much as it is poetic justice that a race community responsible for some of the highest price-gouging seen in NASCAR is now unable to fill hotel rooms, have been found to be a product of dissatisfaction with the oval’s new configuration as much as the cost of traveling to the middle of nowhere for a weekend. And it seems that Talladega may be enduring a similar fate. The only pack action that could be seen this weekend came at 8 AM local time on Saturday morning courtesy of a rescheduled ARCA race… and chances are fans that were stuck in their tents and campers all night, dodging storms were likely not even awake when those cars took to the track.

Until the economy truly recovers (meaning unemployment actually drops significantly while gas and food prices aren’t going up exponentially every weekend), it will be impossible to tell if it’s the on-track product or hard finances that are responsible for continuing attendance woes at some of the sport’s most popular tracks. But the racing is changing… and the numbers aren’t improving. The mere chance of a correlation between those trends is downright scary.

FOUR: The 2011 ARCA Title Chase is Looking Old School

Looking for an “old school” battle for a series title? Well, record ARCA champion Frank Kimmel now sits fourth in points with the restrictor plate races, long his Achilles’ heel on that stock car circuit, behind him for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, courtesy of a perfectly timed move heading down the frontstretch on the final lap, young gun Ty Dillon shook off a disappointing season opener at Daytona to score his third career win in only five ARCA starts, firmly putting the RCR No. 41 team at the front of the field heading into the season’s first short-track swing at Salem and Toledo.

Frank Kimmel’s crew, seen here last season at Palm Beach has successfully retooled the No. 44 car’s plate track program for 2011. Their reward? Putting their driver in position to challenge for a championship.

There are two takeaways from the first race of the season that wasn’t full of part-timers tackling Daytona, the event that will likely go down as the real start of the ARCA campaign. One: this year might be the one that Kimmel truly challenges for a title driving his self-owned No. 44 car. Restrictor plate races again have always, even in Kimmel’s heyday driving the No. 46 Tri-State car to eight consecutive titles, been the weakest link for one of the all-time greats. Yet, Kimmel made it through this year unscathed, meaning he now sits in prime position to make noise on two Midwestern bullrings that he has all but owned in the early parts of May. Two: Ty Dillon’s going to win a lot of races this year. He’s batting .600 for his career, for crying out loud.

After an off-year last year that saw a plethora of young guns, from Patrick Sheltra to Craig Goess to Tom Hessert duking it out in a roller coaster title chase, 2011 is looking to be back to business as usual for the ARCA ranks; Kimmel vs. the new gunslinger in town.

It’s a shame Salem isn’t being televised.

FIVE: It’s a standalone Nationwide weekend?

It’s a weekend for the Nationwide Series to stand on its own two feet. Yet Kyle Busch is racing. Joey Logano. Carl Edwards. Brad Keselowski. David Reutimann. The entry list is a paltry 43 cars. And of those entries, a minimum of six are guaranteed to start-and-park. Add those numbers up, and that’s a quarter of the field who’s either not racing or double-dipping.

Might as well run the Cup cars at Nashville, right? Because this weekend’s shaping up to play out just like any other companion show.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: Talladega-Off Week Edition
“Fact Or Fiction: A Rule “PastIts Prime, Nashville Under Siege, More
Love It or Hate It, Plate Racing Showcases NASCAR to New Fan Base
Talking NASCAR TV: ESPN Drops the Ball With The Big One At Talladega
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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
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Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
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phil h
04/19/2011 02:33 AM
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did anyone see that re-start where Joe Nemechek and Brad Keselowski both passed leader Mike Wallace before they got to the line?? I couldn’t believe nothing wasn’t said!!You never know what Nascar is up to!! Geesh!!

Ghost of Curtis Turner
04/19/2011 07:49 AM
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phil h;
as much as I hate to addmit it, there was no foul, the restart line for Talladega is back about 500 ft or so from the Start Finish Line.
I would love to bash NASCRAP on this one but I can’t. It was clean restart….
now excuse me while I go rinse out my mouth……

GK
04/19/2011 10:15 AM
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It isn’t the economy that is causing low attendance, it’s the product. If it was the economy, then TV audience share should be steady or even increased, since fans of the sport will still want to watch the race. If they can’t afford to travel, they still want to see the event, which means watching on TV. They aren’t.

If new car sales can show month-to-month increases of 15% or more for the past year, then it isn’t the economy. Retail sales are up, and not just staples but discretionary items. More jobs are created each month. Restaurant sales continue to climb. Heck, RV sales are up, and if that isn’t an indication that people have extra money to spend, I don’t know what is.

phil h
04/19/2011 10:58 AM
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Ghost…didn’t know that ,but at least I got an explanation. Thanks

Josh
04/19/2011 12:14 PM
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Don’t forget, GK, that cable/satellite is getting more and more expesnsive by the year. I personally know of AT LEAST 100 people in my town (pop. 3000) who dropped their cable or satellite. Between high prices and alternatives (Hello, Netflix), people are tuning out of cable all together.

Spencer
04/19/2011 03:04 PM
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yes josh but the races are on Fox which should be on every digital tv and from what i’ve heard the economy’s been slowly getting better since July 09 so i don’t think the economy has that much to deal with it

Doug in Washington (State)
04/19/2011 03:33 PM
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The difference between Saturday’s NW finish and the 2007 Daytona 500, in regards to cars being upside-down and the caution coming out, was that while Bowyer did finish on his roof, the leaders had ALREADY crossed the finish line when that happened. Yes, there was a big wreck behind them. But it happened less than a quarter lap from the finish. And the yellow came out when Bowyer was upside down, even though half the field had crossed the line under green. Wallace’s car didn’t get moving right away, though it was clear it was still running, but by then the caution switch had already been thrown. Though in reality either event should have drawn a caution.

What I don’t understand was why NASCAR didn’t call a caution when Newman got turned into Montoya. The wreck left a ton on debris all over the place. mostly parts of Montoya’s suspension. When Newman got spun AGAIN, he parked the car on the apron. THEN they called a caution… which I thought for sure would have given Newman a penalty for intentionally drawing a caution, since his car was still running and capable of making it back to the pits (since he didn’t hit anything in the second spin).

But if one of the low-budget teams blows a tire on a short track, throws tire debris all over the place and can’t get off the wall, they get a 2-lap penalty for drawing a caution.

Inconsistent, for sure.

Doug
04/19/2011 10:42 PM
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I think most of the racetracks built more seating than was actually needed, as some of the seats are not worth the money.