The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Smaller Crowds, Bigger Fights, Ugly Words Left For NASCAR To Chew On by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday May 10, 2011

Go to site navigation Go to article

ONE: Was Attention Towards Regan Smith Hurt More by Harvick / Busch… or Trevor Bayne?

Turns out Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick spoiled the fun for more than just themselves Saturday night. With throngs of media waiting outside the NASCAR hauler for word on what was going on between Rowdy and Happy, Regan Smith’s dramatic upset win at Darlington stunningly took a back seat. Harvick himself told reporters outside NASCAR’s “oval office” that it was a shame they were covering his latest dustup instead of talking to Smith about his accomplishment.

See Regan Smith. See Regan Smith win. And see Regan Smith get left behind on a week filled with NASCAR controversy…

It’s true; for a moment as big as winning the Southern 500 was for both Smith and Furniture Row Racing, it played more of a supporting role as NASCAR’s time in South Carolina came to a close. It’s not like it wasn’t a great story, unquestionably one of the sport’s bigger upsets at an unrestricted track in recent memory. You had Smith tearing up in Victory Lane because his mom had missed a rare race to help with tornado relief; you had a single-car team that two seasons ago was a part-time effort, qualifying in on time from week to week capture one of the sport’s most prestigious events; and you had a driver that, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, understanding from the moment he arrived in Victory Lane the true historical significance of the race he had won. Regan Smith, Southern 500 champion, was just as Carl Edwards coined it: a “big deal.”

Yet for those watching away from the track, this triumph seemed a pebble in the pond when compared to the cinderblock Trevor Bayne threw into Lake Lloyd back in February. Which begs the question… for all the attention Busch and Harvick got for their latest tantrums, was it perhaps the Daytona 500 earlier this season that was more responsible for the muted reaction following the No. 78 team’s win?

Granted, the Mother’s Day version of the Southern 500 is not the Daytona 500, but there isn’t a driver on the circuit that would think to play down how much Darlington still means. Sad thing is, the story of a relative unknown winning a big-time race in a single-car ride had already been told this year. Trevor Bayne was the youngest Daytona 500 champion in history, while Regan Smith has been a part of the sport for years (Talladega 2008, anyone?). Furniture Row Racing is six years old, slowly building up their program to win just once; the Wood Brothers are synonymous with the history of stock car racing itself. And while Smith came out of nowhere to bring this trophy home, Bayne was in the Daytona conversation for over four days, a storyline from the Gatorade Duels that was hyped to no end and shockingly came to fruition.

Had this upset happened one season ago, chances are Smith’s first Cup win would have been stronger competition for the latest episode of Dumb and Dumber. Instead, six months from now it may be the most underrated story of this 2011 season.

TWO: Speaking of Darlington, The Masses Didn’t Speak Up

The frontstretch grandstands may have been packed, but the same could not be said for the seats in turn 1 on a disappointing evening attendance-wise for the Darlington Raceway.

Even if it was on Mother’s Day weekend, stuck there for the seventh straight year this 500-miler at Darlington was still a sight to behold. The race became a marathon in every sense of the word, a test of man and machine that ultimately took a drastic toll on both (see ECR engine troubles, frayed tempers and late-race wrecks galore). Anyone questioning if 500-mile races were still necessary in this day and age got a strong reminder this weekend why we have them.

Too bad not enough people were watching to decipher that answer. TV ratings for Darlington were down significantly, as competition from the NBA playoffs helped decimate the audience in the Nielsens. But, perhaps even more distressing for this track’s long-term future, a crowd that old school fans have continually pointed to was off this time around. While the frontstretch was packed, looks on television could be deceiving; on the other side of the speedway, backstretch stands had lower rows that were closed to the public visible from overhead shots. And as for the grandstand in turn 1, forget about it. The official tally of 61,000 was the lowest reported since the spring race of 2004… and more significantly, it was the worst showing for a Cup race since the Lady in Black was cut back to one Cup race date.

There’s little more to be said. The racing, short of Regan Smith being able to stay out on old tires and win, was vintage Darlington. The race still proved to be as grueling as any American motorsports has to offer, connected to a finish for the record books to boot. It’s a video we’ve seen played at Rockingham and North Wilkesboro before… and nobody likes a sequel when the original was junk to start.

Editor’s Note: For more on the North Wilkesboro closure, click here for Mike Neff’s report and the official release.

THREE: A True Test of Machine That ECR Failed Miserably

It’s perhaps ironic that those relying on ECR engines seem to have developed a chronic motor problem in the same marquee events that they performed so well at one year ago. 2010 saw Jamie McMurray win both the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard while finishing runner-up at Darlington for Earnhardt Ganassi. This year, however, their partners over at Richard Childress Racing have accomplished nothing on those big stages short of cooking their race cars. Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton both bowed out of the 500 earlier this year with engine troubles, wilting after the ECR camp overestimated the ability of their horsepower package to stay cool in two-car drafting.

This weekend, that aggression came back with a vengeance… and the results were the same. Though Burton, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer all had little to show in terms of grill damage, by race’s end all three were spewing water out of their overflows (Burton was the only one to officially retire with engine woes; Menard finished off the lead lap in 22nd while Bowyer was wrecked out on lap 364).

Darlington’s never been easy on engines, with the gritty sand that continually blasts the facility prone to clogging up radiators, intake, any opening a race car has to offer. But again, another strenuous test of motor strength, another subpar showing for the ECR camp. Couple that with Harvick’s mega-meltdown, and title hopes for Chevrolet’s number two squad aren’t looking so hot.

FOUR: Almirola’s Heart In the Right Place, But His Words…

After falling victim to a three-wide escapade featuring Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer Friday night, Aric Almirola vented in his post-crash interview that it was frustrating to be taken out by a pair of racers that were racing for fun while he was out running for a championship.

Talk about opening a Pandora’s Box. Yes, Almirola has plenty of reason to be frustrated with the situation; two Cup regulars with no concern for either points or race cars created an extremely compromising situation on track, and he paid for it. But what his words hinted at, the mere suggestion that racing for a championship somehow entitles a driver to enhanced treatment on the track is ludicrous. That’s absolutely untrue; the only wrong in this situation was Hamlin and Bowyer racing over their heads and taking out an innocent bystander doing it. The Nationwide Series always has been and always will be a place for part-timers to race among the regulars, be it part-time teams like ML Motorsports or driver development deals.

The only difference is, in this case the Cup driver side of it is used to big-time sponsor dollars, racing only amongst their peers and having 15 cars to turn to if one gets torn up. So to Almirola’s credit, it’s great for drivers like him to be speaking up when episodes like this one occur.

They’ve just got to choose their words carefully. The last impression Nationwide regulars need, especially these days is that of entitled points jockeys.

FIVE: The Word “Duh” Comes to Mind

It was reported by the Virginian Pilot earlier this weekend that NASCAR is planning to allow teams to utilize fuel injection in a handful of tests later this season, beginning preparation for a complete transition away from carburetors in 2012.

What a concept. Can you believe it? Testing a rules change before transitioning to one. You see, even if it is something relatively insignificant, like moving to a halfway modern engine, how allowing for testing can be even up for discussion is mind-boggling. Between the problems that have stemmed regarding tire wear as a result of the implementation of both CoT cars, tire wear troubles themselves, problems at Fontana the year the Cup Series moved to unleaded fuel, changes in NASCAR have proven to time and time again have glitches that no one caught until race day.

There’s a reason testing exists. Shame there isn’t more of it done.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in NASCAR: Darlington-Dover Edition
Fact Or Fiction: Calming Down Montoya, Vickers’ Free Pass, And Kyle Busch’s Mistake
Who Will Be Sprint Cup’s Next First-Time Winner?
Talking NASCAR TV: Did Darrell Waltrip Go Biased Towards Busch At Darlington?

Southern-Fried Thriller

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
Tech Talk with Tony Gibson: Taking Stock Of Danica Patrick In Year Two
Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
Going By the Numbers: Top-10 NASCAR Variety Hard To Come By In…
Truckin’ Thursdays: Lessons Learned Just Two Races In
Fantasy Insider: Team Revelations For NASCAR’s Short Tracks



©2000 - 2008 Bryan Davis Keith and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

05/10/2011 08:00 AM

You miss the point with Aric Almirola’s comment. It is not that regular Nationwide drivers should be treated specially. The fact is that the Cup guys racing in Nationwide have an entirely different motivation and therefore will drive differently. The Nationwide regulars want to win a race, sure, but they are interested in the points, so they, hopefully, will be driving more sensible, conservative races. The cup guys are only there to win a race — so they take chances they shouldn’t, and if they wreck the cars, so what. I think we’d be better without the Cup guys …

05/10/2011 09:43 AM

I’m with you flafan. The cup drivers have no skin in the game. Nothing to lose and everything to gain. No holds barred and Katie bar the door I’m coming through, get outta my way. And Denny drives like a bull in a china shop in NW. Pompous idiot.

05/10/2011 09:43 AM

Almirola had every right to speak up and Nascar should listen. He’s saying what alot of the fans are saying by not showing up for Nationwide races. Watching them race is usually more fun than the Cup race because you can feel the excitement in the air. Some of them have 1 or 2 race deals and their performance is directly related to their sponsorship renewing. These are men and women with families and crews and sponsors who deserve better than Cup regulars having fun on a Saturday afternoon at their expense. Cup interlopers are bullies who don’t care if they wreck their equipment and obviously don’t care how many cars they tear up or who can’t make the next race because they were assholes. Just as long as the Cup guys have fun, all is right with the world. Well, it’s not. If they want to do something to better the Nationwide series, then own a car and put a young hopeful behind the wheel and teach him how to be successful. You seem to know it all, pass along that knowledge and get the hell off the track and let them develop a career and make money for their sponsors.

05/10/2011 09:50 AM


You do realize that Regan Smith was running an ECR engine, right!? It’s hard to do much better than first place. And it’s not like Harvick and Bowyer were running that bad before the wreck at the end. If I’m not mistaken, Harvick had the fourth highest Driver Rating (around 110) and led 40-some laps. He and Bowyer were in the top ten for much of the race. Historically, this is one of their worst tracks anyway. I’m not sure how you can come to the conclusion that Harvick and Bowyer’s chances at making a run at the championship “aren’t looking so hot” based on how they ran at Darlington, a track that doesn’t remotely resemble any other track on the NASCAR circuit.

Michael in SoCal
05/10/2011 11:23 AM

For anyone who votes “I don’t care about the win, period” regarding Regan Smith’s Darlington win, why are you even watching?!?@?#?$?

05/10/2011 02:22 PM

1. I also agree with the above interpretations of Amirola’s comment. To me, that comment is stating that it sucks for a guy that is racing out a living in the Busch series to be taken out by guys who are “racing for fun,” not that he deserves special treatment because he’s running for a championship. By characterizing himself as a driver that is “running for a championship” I believe that Amirola has placed himself in the same category as all of the regulars. I think that was his point.
2. The empty seats at Darlington weren’t a surprise to me. Nor were they any where near as shocking as all of the empty seats at Richmond. I’m willing to bet all of my meagar salary that the only sold out race anyone will see from this point on is the race at Kentucky, and that’s only because 1. It’s new, and 2. Comparitively, the track doesn’t seat that many people. And once people realize that Kentucky is just a clone of Vegas, Chicago, Kansas, etc, I wouldn’t give that sold- out status a very long life expectancy.
3. It doesn’t surprise me either that Havick/ Busch got more coverage than Smith’s win. We see the pattern every race. How much coverage would Smith have gotten had he not led and won the race? There’s a reason why we get constant updates on someone like the 48, 88 etc running like s**t, yet little coverage of someone like the 47 or 9 running near the front. I think there’s a belief that we the fans care more about the stronger teams, regardless of their actual performance. And let’s not forget the drama factor, because drama is always more interesting than the actual competition. As one of two people watching the Darlington race in a bar, I actually stood up and clapped when Smith won. I’m just glad the bar didn’t have the sound on so I didn’t have to listen to the commentators spout “boys have at it” 715 times….

Sue Rarick
05/10/2011 02:52 PM

Even though prices have been reduced, tickets are still expensive when you consider how much more gas costs. Plus you always have surrounding services hiking up their prices for the race weekend.

A case in point is the Nashville races. For the price I would have to pay for season tickets I can go to every race at the old Fairgrounds Speedway. So guess where we are going. And after the long battle to keep the old Fairgrounds going a lot of locals are doing the same. It had nothing to do with the NHL/NBA whatever.

05/10/2011 03:00 PM

i feel this win was like how Trevor won Daytona, equipment from a higher up team but still probably not the best people in the business, a team that was looking to be dust around 08/09, and coming back and winning at a prestigous place, but yet the team probably doesn’t get half the coverage of Trevor’s win at Daytona

Sue Rarick
05/10/2011 03:03 PM

oops moment…. forgot to add comment to #3.

Harvick’s chance of winning a championship are dim. While there are exceptions, most drivers get their first title by age 32. For some reason that seems to be a peak year for athletes. Harvick is 35 and statisticly beyond his peak. Add to that he only has 16 wins in 11 years doesn’t add up much prospects for a championship either. I really don’t mean this as a knock on Harvick. Just saying that the odds are stacked against him.

05/10/2011 03:04 PM

If it hadn’t been for Beavis and Butthead, Regan’s win would have been shown in a much better light. This guy is a true racer who has paid huge dues for this win. And while so many teams just Start and Park for a paycheck, Furniture Row Racing is doing it right. Kudos to that whole team.

05/10/2011 09:13 PM

Run the Southern 500 on the weekend where it has always been – you might see that 61,000 take off.
But who needs tradition anymore.

05/10/2011 11:19 PM

#1 – NASCAR encourages the fights then acts shocked when they break out. They encourage the media to cover it. Why do so many articles have the exact same content? NASCAR has shown that they don’t care much for the low budget teams – low budget teams do not fill up NASCARS pockets. #2 – the masses not speaking up has nothing to do with Darlington. The masses have spoken loudly in the last year by their very silence. The majority of fans who are not watching anymore are disgusted with the entire state of NASCAR. The fans don’t like the Chase, points racing, pandering to the sponsor, scripted and manipulated races, etc. They love Darlington – they don’t like what has happened to their beloved sport! Period. #3 – Saying that ECR engines will bring down title hopes sounds a bit overstated. #4 – I agree with the postings of the first 3 posters. Almirola stated the obvious. The Cup guys race w/o concern for wrecks. I did not get the impression he was looking for special treatment. #5 – duh seems about right.