The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Did Logano Save Himself...and to Hell With Racing's Elite by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday June 28, 2011

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ONE: The Importance of Joey Logano’s Playing Rough

Though it largely was overshadowed for the rest of Sunday afternoon in the smoke clouds that were the Brian Vickers/Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya vs. the living bouts, Joey Logano showed perhaps the fiercest edge NASCAR has seen him employ on the track this Sunday, taking offense to rough racing early by Robby Gordon and shoving him out of turn 11 for his troubles. As far as bumps go, it was about as clean as they come, but it certainly messed up Gordon’s day, and was a departure of character for a driver who’s been pushed around about as much as anyone would expect an 18-year-old to be who is suddenly playing with the big boys.

Take note; 12 months from now, that display of backbone may prove to be far more important to Logano’s future in the sport than scoring a surprise pole and backing it up with a top 10 run. With silly season speculation running wild as Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer remain both unsigned and listed as possibly destined for a seat at Joe Gibbs Racing, there is credible evidence to suggest that Logano’s time in the No. 20 car may be growing short unless the third-year wunderkind can step up from also-ran to contender over the course of the summer. The fact that there are high-powered drivers on the market isn’t all to lend credence to the argument; JGR has notoriously been hesitant to add cars to the operation (Brian Scott’s Nationwide Series signing late last year took a lot of pulling strings behind the scenes), and Home Depot’s essentially been a corporate whipping boy during the past five years.

Joey Logano won the pole and finished in the top ten at Infineon but perhaps more significant to his future was his refusal to let other drivers push him around.

Which leaves Logano in a precarious position should the seat at JGR come to evaporate. The two powerhouse operations out there that would likely have any room for “Sliced Bread” would be Roush and RCR, and both of those have too much development talent in the pipeline as it is. Should Logano need to find a new ride for 2012, chances are it’s not going to be in the best of the best equipment as he’s had his entire career.

Being able to take over a lesser ride and make something happen with it takes a lot more than raw talent. It takes an ability to deal with racing the pack, with getting into situations that contact is prevalent and the need to be aggressive to compensate for the car itself is ever-present.

Incidences like Sunday’s will go a long way towards suggesting Logano can make a situation like that work should he find himself in one in the months to come. He certainly hasn’t gone from daisy-fresh to hardened over night, but Sonoma was at least an encouraging sign.

TWO: How Long Before Juan Pablo Montoya Gets Frozen Out of the Sport?

Regardless of what side of the fence one falls on the issue, Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart both deserve a lot of credit for the way they handled their weekend feud. Both drivers stood up for themselves and their teams on the track. Both refused to admit wrongdoing. Both were blunt in their comments to the media. And neither of them went running off to cry foul to NASCAR. They demonstrated to a T how “boys have at it” should work.

Meanwhile, not only did Juan Montoya drive around with the reckless abandon of a druglord from his homeland, he took shots at the road racing ability of his peers afterwards when asked why he decided to emulate a wrecking ball on the track. This coming from the same driver that earlier this month was revealed to have threatened to sue NASCAR unless they would penalize another fellow competitor in Ryan Newman who made his displeasure with Montoya’s conduct clear.

Brad Keselowski is one of the most polarizing figures in the sport today, yet after his most blatant take-out move in some time there is absolute silence with regard to criticism of his actions. That speaks volumes as to just how out of line JPM’s actions were and have been recently. Running over fellow competitors as if entitled to run up front at a road course because of an open-wheel racing background, when added to the absolute pathetic gesture of bringing litigation into a sporting dispute, suggests that just as those stock car racers “don’t know how to run road courses,” maybe there’s just not a place for the modern pampered F1 racer in NASCAR. It’s hard to imagine many NASCAR fans shedding tears when he hangs up his helmet.

THREE: A Lateral Move for Justin Lofton?

Since the idiots that crafted the Truck Series schedule felt it necessary to ensure that race fans forgot about the series for large sections of the summer, be advised that Justin Lofton has left Germain Racing and is returning to the Eddie Sharp Racing camp, the same team that he won the 2009 ARCA championship driving for. Lofton replaces Craig Goess, who left the No. 46 team earlier this year.

Which begs the question…why? Sure, Germain Racing is not having anywhere near the year they had in 2010, but ESR’s move to the Truck Series has been even rockier, with Goess etching only one top 10 finish and the team’s second truck missing more races than it qualified for during its limited schedule. Not to mention that Germain Racing offers three teammates to ESR’s zero.

Still, considering how disappointing 2011 has been for Todd Bodine and Brendan Gaughan, the two veterans in the Germain camp, their value as teammates may well have to be discounted. Lofton, still a youngster in the sport, can’t very well be expected to lean on two drivers for support if the two drivers themselves are in the midst of performance issues. There’s also the question of program direction; Germain this year has gone to fielding two Cup teams and four trucks, by far the most entries they’ve ever fielded in their history. While ESR has struggled in 2011, with one truck, there’s no question where the team’s focus is going.

On paper, it’s certainly not a step up for Lofton. But given just how crowded it’s become over at Germain, Lofton may have made a more mature move than his age would indicate.

FOUR: Should “Stay in Your Lane” Stay?

While it’s hard to empathize with Jacques Villeneuve at all after he delivered a performance on Saturday matched only by Montoya on Sunday as a battering ram, seeing him penalized for not holding his lane as the field came to the green late at Road America raises a question. Not one of whether or not NASCAR got the call right; by their rule book it was a textbook call. But should this rule about staying in one’s lane until they cross the stripe really remain part of the sport’s governance?

There’s really not too much to be said here other than, is there a case to be made for the rule? Seeing the replays of Villeneuve’s move, while again, a blatant violation of the letter of the law, was there really any reason to have the rule in the first place? It’s not like it’s preventing carnage on the restarts…there always has been and always will be more cautions bred by restarts than anything else (no matter how many debris yellows NASCAR throws).

This writer’s not really a fervent supporter either way. But it certainly seems a discussion worth having after the letter of the law produced such a meaningless penalty.

FIVE: So How Does Torny Drissi Not Get Approved to Run Sonoma…

Yet Jacques Villeneuve is OK’d to make his Cup debut at Talladega after making only two Truck starts, one of which came on a plate track? Danica Patrick gets approved to make her Nationwide Series debut after only one stock car start, an ARCA plate race. But for Torny Drissi, an experienced driver in American Le Mans and who has a previous Nationwide Series start in which he finished in the top 20 (18th at Montreal last year), one solid start at the very discipline he was looking to compete in at the highest levels of NASCAR wasn’t enough for approval. Initially slated to run the Cup race for Max Q Motorsports’ No. 37 team in a partnership with Rick Ware Racing, his license was denied and Chris Cook was left to fill the seat.

The episodes surrounding both Villeneuve and Patrick’s licensing made perfectly clear years ago that the approval process was only there for the masses rather than the elite. Funny how those elites continue to prove utterly insignificant in the bigger picture of stock car racing. Even with the sanctioning body giving them a blatant leg up.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
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old farmer
06/28/2011 10:36 AM

Montoya has made it clear to just about everyone that that: a. he’s a whiner, b. he’s a bully, c. he thinks he deserves special treatment, and d. he really isn’t a very good stock car driver.

Ganassi should do NASCAR a favor & not re-sign him.

I seriously doubt that he would be missed by many folks—inside or outside the sport.

Carl D.
06/28/2011 12:42 PM

I think Montoya’s contract is up at the end of this year. If that’s the case and if I were Ganassi, I’d put Brian Vickers in that car next year.

Allen Emmons
06/28/2011 12:50 PM

Toni Drissi didnt pass his drug test, and therefore didnt get his license. You may not hear that because the rule states that the drug test has to be in BEFORE the license this year. This why you hear of less guys getting hit by the drug testing rules this year. In the past you could get a license and then a drug test, this poloicy was changed this year.

06/28/2011 05:50 PM

Tony said that he dumped Vickers because he was blocking him, so he dumped him. Jr. is the one who paid for Tony’s dumping Vickers, down to 7th in points. Tony got what he had coming later…but that did not help Jr. Tony was being a jerk, & according to his interview, Tony intends to continue being a jerk for the rest of his career. As to who might replace Montoya, I would like Jr. to replace him at EGR, back in the #8 car.

Bill S.
06/28/2011 06:17 PM

“Druglord from his homeland?” What “colorful phrase” would you use to describe a kid from the U.S.A.‘s plentiful supply of African-American ghettoes? Just cannot get past the racism, can you, BDK III?

And not to nitpick, but I will: “Incidences like Sunday’s”… what language might that be? The correct English usage would be “incidents like Sunday’s.” Maybe if FS cannot hire competent writers, they should at least invest in an editor.

And Thomas Bowles thinks the only reason he lost his job with SI was clapping for the Daytona 500 winner!

06/28/2011 07:34 PM

Hey, if it weren’t for Jacques and JPM – We would be talking about all the other bonehead moves other drivers made. Never mind last year’s race with JG and Harvick the bowling ball into ten cars dive-bombing in Montreal. Enjoy before they neuter these tracks like they did most of the others.

06/28/2011 08:55 PM

Bill S., if you hate the columninsts here so much that all you can do is nitpick at everything they write, why do you come here? Just to be annoying? I for one enjoy reading these columns, even though I don’t always agree with what is said. Well, since you are such an expert writer yourself, and obviously very knowledgeable about NASCAR, perhaps you would post your own blog so we can read the wisdom from “a truely knowledgeable writer”. At least then, if you were to refrain from your mindless attacks on the FrontStretch writers, those of us to enjoy this website can do so without your vile comments.

06/29/2011 12:51 PM

I see Marybeth is good at cut and paste.

Bill S.
06/29/2011 01:40 PM

I would not mind FS columnists, except that they all seem to be the same person. (Now Vito, I think, may be an actual person and free thinker.) Every column by every writer is a variation on the same themes – NASCAR sucks, the France family sucks, Kyle Busch sucks, road courses suck, the Chase sucks, the cookie-cutter tracks suck, JJ sucks, diversity sucks, the TV coverage sucks.

Maybe if FS would find only find me somebody to love (thanks FM for the lyric), I wouldn’t be so hostile all the time.