The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Damaging Debris, Double Duty Disasters, And Hendrick's New Connection by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday April 26, 2011

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ONE: Turner Motorsports’ New Prospect Is…a Hendrick Retread?

We all remember stellar up and comer Black Feese, don’t we?

Filling out Turner Motorsports’ No. 32 truck this year is going to be… Blake Feese? Fans should be forgiven if they’ve forgotten that name; Feese drove one race for Billy Ballew’s Truck team in 2009, but he’s better known for being part of a tandem of drivers, along with Boston Reid that took over Kyle Busch’s No. 5 Nationwide ride in 2005 for Hendrick Motorsports. By springtime of that year, he was ousted after two months of wrecks and mediocre results.

So how in the world did Feese, who between ARCA and the Truck Series has run only five races in the last five years, somehow get the call to fill a driver development seat with a team that’s far from slouch?

All signs point to that previous affiliation with Hendrick Motorsports. The ties between Hendrick and Turner Motorsports go far beyond an engine leasing program. Just take a walk through the Truck or Nationwide garage any companion weekend. The number of personnel wearing the black and red of the generic Hendrick Motorsports uniform that make rounds through the Turner haulers and pits rivals those seen both among the HMS flagship teams and the Phoenix Racing operation that’s essentially become a test squad for the Hendrick juggernaut. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Phoenix team is wheeled by Landon Cassill, another up-and-coming youngster that fell out of the team’s development program (though Cassill’s departure stemmed from a lack of sponsorship; on-track, he did well enough to be named 2008 Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year).

It’s hardly surprising that Hendrick Motorsports would go so far to support the operations of Turner Motorsports — owner Steve Turner is easily the most endowed new ownership figure to enter the sport in recent memory. Taking over the former Braun Racing team after starting his own Truck operation with Ricky Carmichael, Turner’s fleet has grown to four full-time Nationwide cars, a fifth part-time Nationwide car, and three full-time Trucks in the span of a year. Between that relentless expansion and the willingness of Turner to put his own logos on his vehicles to keep them racing (Justin Allgaier sported the owner’s colors at Nashville this past weekend on his No. 31 NNS entry, while James Buescher’s full-time No. 31 Truck ride does so regularly), there’s plenty of money flowing in these coffers. What better fit for Hendrick Motorsports? A sizable driver development infrastructure, reliable sponsor dollars that even JR Motorsports has had difficulty finding, and more than perhaps anything else the clout to suggest drivers such as, well Blake Feese.

For all the drivers and teams that Turner has put his name on in 2011, there’s really only one that there’s a huge investment in… that of James Buescher, his daughter’s boyfriend. Turner’s been fielding cars for Buescher off and on since 2005, all the way to today’s Truck ranks regardless of the outside financial support he has to justify it. In short, not only does Turner have his own money, he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere away from racing anytime soon. No wonder Rick Hendrick’s wasted no time bringing his resources… and influence… over to this camp.

The way things are going, Boston Reid’s phone may be ringing as well before long.

TWO: What Nashville Fairgrounds Has to Say About Nashville, Nationwide

The sun is setting over the Nashville Fairgrounds. Should it be setting on the superspeedway?

While a less-than-half capacity crowd of 18,000 showed up to watch Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch play “look at me” for 300 miles this past Saturday, thousands of race fans across the Nashville area were waging a years-long battle to save the area’s historic Fairgrounds short track… the superspeedway be damned.

Shame, really, because the racing action at Nashville was far from the worst that can be found on NASCAR’s longer ovals. But the track, a sterile concrete facility in the middle of nowhere can’t hold a candle to the tight, historic confines of a .596-mile oval… and it seems that a great number of Tennessee race fans have figured that out. Hell, according to a recent NASCAR.com article nearly 3,000 race fans showed up to a town council meeting to save the Fairgrounds bullring. Compare that to a Nationwide Series race in essentially the same community, one that drew less than 50% attendance on a day where weather wasn’t even remotely an issue?

That’s an indictment on a number of things. The remote location of the Nashville Superspeedway (40 minutes away in Lebanon). The state of Nationwide Series racing. And in a larger sense, it’s a ringing endorsement of just how much the short tracks that stock car racing was built on mean to race fans even today. North Wilkesboro is another example, with its newly restarted racing programs drawing healthy crowds.

Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got, ‘till it’s gone.

Sadly, it took losing North Wilkesboro, Rockingham and the Southern 500 before fans woke up to that fact. At least the race fans of Nashville have, and are, fighting the good fight, even if that drained passion from the nearby cookie-cutter oval.

THREE: The Other Side of Cup Double Duty is Just As Ugly

Anyone that read, well, just about any column that came out of the past race weekend at Nashville knows full well just how sick and tired the writers of this site, at least, are of double-dipping Cup drivers making a mockery of the Nationwide Series. A different story was reported on by Scene Daily recently, covering the other side of double duty; how longtime veteran Joe Nemechek is using his start-and-park winnings from the Cup Series to fund his Nationwide Series program.

Nemechek deserves credit for devising a crafty business plan that has indeed kept his No. 87 NNS entry racing. From an ownership perspective, he’s playing by the rules and keeping his second-tier program afloat. There’s no reason to demonize the man for doing so.

What this whole story speaks to, though, is just how ridiculous this practice of start-and-park to keep teams afloat has become. A spot in the Cup Series, the premier level of stock car racing in the world, is being filled week after week to fund a “AAA” series ride. Picture a minor league baseball owner starting a major league team that played for an inning or two before calling it quits… so they could bank extra ticket revenue to pay the minor league team’s bills. There is absolutely no way to argue that the top level of the sport isn’t being cheapened by this business practice.

Nothing else to be said here. Nemechek’s doing what he has to do, and to his credit his start-and-parking is an effort that’s resulting in some form of racing elsewhere. But the fact that such a business model is both possible to practice and being encouraged by the sanctioning body, however? Good luck selling those long-term prospects.

FOUR: Debris Cautions Ruined Nashville Rhythm

A city known for its rhythms of a different kind, Friday night’s Truck race at Nashville opened with a lengthy green flag run that produced the most intriguing battle of the weekend. As expected, polesitter Kyle Busch rocketed away from the field at the drop of the green, proceeding to lead the first 40+ laps with ease.

But then something happened. As the laps ticked off and the run continued, Todd Bodine’s No. 30 truck got faster and faster. It got to the point that Bodine was catching even the mighty No. 18 under green, by tenths of a second per lap. It was very clear that for all the steam under the hood of Busch’s machine, 40 laps was about the limit before he lost his tag as class of the field.

That never mattered, though. On lap 58, as soon as green flag pit stops had all but cycled through, the debris caution flew. While there actually was a piece of metal on the track this time, the rhythm of the race was ruined by that flag. Never again was there a run long enough for Bodine’s truck to come to full song or long enough to slow the No. 18 down… and Busch got the guitar to prove it.

While that first debris caution of the weekend actually showed debris, the same couldn’t be said for the four yellows that flew on Saturday, constantly interrupting a race that had no sense of rhythm to it at all. More like autotune… Brad and Kyle and Carl and Joey run round and round, round and round, round and round. Fans will never know how a green flag race would have impacted Saturday’s event, because phantom yellows dictated the flow of the race.

But why did they need it? Friday night’s first 58 laps were a reminder of just how important the green flag run is to racing… and how the debris yellow should be flown anything but liberally.

FIVE: Nationwide Coverage This Friday… on SPEED?

So much for ESPN’s commitment to the Nationwide Series and NASCAR. The SPEED channel will host the Nationwide Series this Friday night, while ESPN hosts a “race” of a different kind: the NBA playoffs and the NFL draft.

To be fair, the NFL draft and the ratings it brings would likely trump NASCAR’s minor leagues even if the racing wasn’t predictable and the economy strong. But why not lean on partner ABC to keep the coverage on the ESPN family of networks? ABC’s playing Shark Tank and 20/20 on Friday night, for crying out loud.

Shark Tank and 20/20 instead of a Nationwide Series telecast. The state of the series, in no uncertain terms.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith




Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
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The Winner Might Just Take It All… Even With A Mediocre Regular Season
Fact Or Fiction: Chewing On The Meat Of NASCAR’s Regular Season
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Carl D.
04/26/2011 08:35 AM
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The Joe Nemechek “Point to Ponder” was news to me. I didn’t realize he was using his cup S&P money to fund his Nationwide team. So let me try to figure this out… if the cup drivers weren’t taking the top money in the Nationwide series, there would be more money and more rides available to the Nationwide-only drivers and owners. And it would probably open up a cup ride for someone who actually wanted to race the full distance. Call me a bumpkin, but that sure does sound sensible to me. Obviously that crafty ‘ol Brian France must be a whole lot smarter than I am.

John Potts
04/26/2011 11:54 AM
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Interesting about the Nashville Nationwide crowd situation, Bryan. I suspect the same thing would occur if the NNS race at Lucas Oil Raceway (nee IRP) was moved to IMS. Putting the NNS race at the fairgrounds might be an option for NASCAR.

Author’s Note: Joe Gibbs Racing made the announcement that Kelly Bires would be driving the No. 18 Toyota at Richmond on April 14. The announcement that SPEED would be broadcasting this Friday’s Nationwide Series race was made on February 7.

wcfan
04/26/2011 01:59 PM
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The shame with Nashville is the races were moved in the first place. It was only Dover and Nascar chasing the all mighty dollar who wanted the superspeedway. Not the 18,000-20,000 fans who were selling out the Busch and Truck races at the Fairgrounds for years.

I believe The Onion used one of those caution and the lucky dog to get back on the lead lap.

Carl D.
04/26/2011 02:04 PM
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The decline of the Nationwide series didn’t start this year, it started about the same time as the decline of the Sprint Cup series. That was in September of 2003 when Bill France Jr. made the following statement…

“Brian is well prepared to lead this sport and this company into the future. I am confident the future of NASCAR is in very capable hands.”

glenn
04/26/2011 04:02 PM
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nashville article is right on! We’ve sold our souls to these bigger tracks and now regret it. I’m for closing several tracks and going back to NWilkes, R-Ham type racing. Let’s see, start with closing Autoclub and cutting back to 1 race for a couple of the 1.5 milers. Market is saturated, quality over quantity!