The Frontstretch: Five Points To Ponder: Ill-Advised Debuts, Hires And Tire Contracts by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday October 4, 2011

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Five Points To Ponder: Ill-Advised Debuts, Hires And Tire Contracts

Bryan Davis Keith · Tuesday October 4, 2011


ONE: An Ill-Advised Cup Debut for Austin Dillon

Austin Dillon will need more than a few pointers to succeed in his Cup debut… and a lot of luck is required, too.

The current Truck Series points leader is slated for a full assault on the Nationwide Series championship in 2012, but he’s also popped up on the entry list for this weekend’s Cup race at Kansas, driving the No. 98 under Mike Curb’s ownership banner. Though Dillon has only 11 career Nationwide Series starts under his belt, the unprepared for Cup argument really doesn’t hold all that much water… the driver has been an established contender on the Truck circuit the last two seasons. Plus, even though the No. 98 is technically going to be a single-car team, making a partial schedule attempt, don’t doubt for even a second that there won’t be some Richard Childress Racing help all over that entry.

There is still an argument to be made against Dillon racing this Sunday, though. Why Sprint Cup now?

Sure, the Truck Series has an off-weekend as the Cup and Nationwide circuits turn to Kansas Speedway, and Dillon has proven a more than capable driver both at the Nationwide level and on intermediate ovals. But just think of the risks. Even if RCR slaps its touch all over Dillon’s No. 98 car, it’s still going to be a part-time car in the midst of a Chase race. The big boys are bringing their A-game and the circuit has been ruthlessly unkind to part-time cars in recent seasons. In short, Dillon in a best-case scenario will be lucky to run around 20th.

Worst case? He fails to qualify, wrecks, or ends up running five laps down in 33rd all day, proving overwhelmed in trying to learn the Cup CoT. All of those are more than a threat to a driver’s confidence… especially for one in a razor-tight championship battle who’s still, for all intents and purposes developing as a stock car racer.

Dillon’s not going Cup racing next year, nor should he be. Want to do a single-car debut? Do it like RCR did with Clint Bowyer back in 2005: middle of the season, before the points race heats up. Kansas is a fine track to do it, too… just the spring 2012 race instead.

TWO: Bowyer a Risky Hire for Michael Waltrip Racing

Clint Bowyer can drive, there’s no doubting that. But so can Martin Truex, Jr.

Despite having almost two complete years with the two-time Nationwide Series champion as the face of their flagship NAPA racing team, MWR has struggled royally as an organization, with no wins and only four top-5 finishes between two cars and a third satellite entry at JTG Daugherty Racing.

Martin Truex, Jr. has struggled since his alignment with Michael Waltrip Racing in 2010. Will Clint Bowyer be next in line?

Look closer, and there’s a whole lot of parallels between the Clint Bowyer MWR is expected to hire on Friday and the Martin Truex, Jr. they hired a few years back. Both drivers left their longtime homes — the teams that gave them their first shots — on the heels of disappointing seasons where they expected to do more (Bowyer missed the Chase this year and has been at the center of RCR’s midseason inconsistency, while Truex slipped to a career-worst 23rd in points in 2009, the same year that teammate Juan Pablo Montoya stormed into the Chase). Both drivers were/are in the midst of cooling periods after hot starts in their move from Nationwide to Cup racing (Bowyer hasn’t had a single-digit points finish since 2008, while Truex was in the midst of a two-year winless streak that’s still ongoing).

And if Truex’s current experience over at MWR is any indication, Bowyer’s not going to be the answer to get the team turned into a Chase contender — even if the satellite team becomes a legitimate third operation. Talented driver or not, Bowyer has not proven able to succeed even as the rest of the team flounders, a la Kevin Harvick’s Chase appearance this season in the middle of Jeff Burton’s worst campaign in recent memory and the inconsistency of both the No. 33 and Paul Menard.

One look at the stats sheet of both Truex and David Reutimann at MWR says one thing; the house that Michael built is looking awfully similar to Richard’s. Why would the on-track results suddenly be any different?


THREE: Successful or Not, Pastrana Deserves Some Credit

Though his planned NNS debut was to be this past August at ORP, Travis Pastrana is to be commended for his recent announcement that he will be retiring from X Games competition in favor of fully focusing on his stock car future, with plans to run up to 20 NNS races next season pending sponsorship. That full focus is going to sorely be needed. Compared to Ricky Carmichael, open-wheel converts and others that have made the jump to stock cars, Pastrana’s experience in K&N cars and late models is still going to be thin.

That being said, Pastrana’s decision to fully commit to NASCAR racing is an excellent follow-up story to Ricky Carmichael, who went from being a motocross superstar to another face in the pack at the NASCAR level. Surely, Carmichael has struggled at times but he’s made great strides learning to race stock cars, never once proving to be a hazard to his fellow competitors. With Pastrana making the jump to such a high level of competition, the chances of being overwhelmed on the track or a becoming a danger to others goes up and the margin for error down. If he’s going to make this move, attempting success it’s imperative that it get his full attention.

I still question the wisdom of jumping to Nationwide competition at this point, though. Why Pastrana, with all of the backing he’s undoubtedly going to secure from his extreme sports sponsors, isn’t taking a season to run K&N and ARCA is clearly not a decision being driven by driver development wisdom or a performance-related matter.

But at least his head’s in the right place.

FOUR: Germain to Chevrolet? Count on It

Casey Mears’ previous experience driving for Hendrick Motorsports, from 2007-08 could serve him well in getting Germain a new engine deal with Chevrolet for 2012.

Germain Racing has won two Truck Series titles and countless races since entering the sport, and done it all carrying Toyota on the grill and under the hood. But thanks to constraints on TRD’s engine program, Germain’s new focus on the Cup side is taking a back seat to Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing (TRD can provide six sets of engines a year, leaving Germain’s No. 13 car out of luck for 2012). That leaves Germain looking elsewhere for power, as pledges made by the team to their sponsors were to obtain better motors for the upcoming season.

The answer, here is an obvious one. The team’s driver is Casey Mears, and where has Mears driven before? Hendrick Motorsports, a team that almost to a fault will continue backing its drivers even after giving them the heave-ho. Landon Cassill found himself out of a ride after winning the Nationwide Rookie of the Year award in 2008, yet resurfaced as a full-time Cup driver for Hendrick’s de facto R&D team at Phoenix Racing. Blake Feese came back from complete obscurity after washing out of the team’s Nationwide Series program in 2006 to land a part-time gig driving a truck for Turner Motorsports… which found substantial help from HMS during their debut year with Chevrolet as a multi-entry operation. And there’s the obvious, unspoken connections to Brian Vickers and the Red Bull Racing camp that’s largely taken the form of the previous MB2 Motorsports, giving Kasey Kahne a one-year, seat-warming assignment before moving to… Hendrick Motorsports.

Chances of Casey Mears landing an engine deal for a team finding the light of the bowtie? All signs point to yes.

FIVE: Bad Timing for a Goodyear Announcement

Thanks to a newly inked contract, Goodyear is the exclusive tire provider for NASCAR through 2017. No competition to make Goodyear’s product better, no real incentive to get better. Instead, until 2017 these God-awful spec cars are going to race around on the same rock-hard donuts that played a large role in the past weekend’s Dover races largely resembling high-speed parades.

Hooray monopoly.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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10/04/2011 12:19 PM

its all about the money. Bowyer thought he could get yesterdays money in todays market, and when the music stopped he had nowhere else to go. The rest of it is the same, Granddads money for Dillon and Goodyear paying to get advertising.

10/04/2011 12:46 PM

My favorite POS-critic going to POS-Racing/Motormouth Motorsports? What a joke!

The owner will be way too busy worrying about his appearances in the Hollyweird Hotel, next season to care about his race team. POS is all…“image”…..and little “focus” or substance. Good thing he has Coughy’s $$$$$ (I mean Lyra!) to waste on that team, along with Palestrina’s cash!

10/04/2011 01:06 PM

I like Bowyer as a driver. I think he’s making a mistake going to Mikey’s operation but in this economy, a job’s a job.

Really disappointed when I heard the Goodyear announcement. Not in the least bit suprised since Brian France doesn’t care about the racing, it’s all about the dollars. He’s got to get them from somewhere, since the fans aren’t anteing up the money they once were for tickets.

Don Mei
10/04/2011 02:51 PM

“God-awful spec cars:” perfect.

Andy D
10/04/2011 06:35 PM

Were you not born when we had the Hoosier-Goodyear tire wars? Horrible racing, horrible tires, cautions every ten laps.

There’s a lot that needs to be done to improve NASCAR but an additional tire supllier is not it. Brian France needs to apply pressure to Goodyear to make a decent tire. They’ll be going to Indycar in two or three years and they’ll need a better tire for that so it’s in their best interest.

10/04/2011 08:54 PM

Brian won’t worry about Goodyear tires until they start affecting Johnson’s finishes.

Shouldn’t Austin’s brother’s name be Dallas?