The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Roush's Damage Control, Cale Gale's Swan Song, And Schedule Shenanigans by Bryan Davis Keith -- Wednesday October 26, 2011

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Did You Notice … That yet again, Jack Roush and his public relations team got to doing damage control way too late in the game following the much- ballyhooed story of Ford’s team orders edict for Talladega … a storyline that came to a head when? Rewind back to Pocono in August, after a month-long saga regarding Carl Edwards and his contract negotiations. After this episode lingered for the better part of the summer, with the No. 99 team lagging and rumors running wild that Edwards would be leaving the team that gave him his break for Joe Gibbs Racing, the contract finally got signed. And the story got out of hand again, with exorbitant sums of money being thrown around as Cousin Carl’s new salary and theories abound as to what kind of stock options Ford offered him to keep him driving a Blue Oval.

That Friday at Pocono, an awkward-at-best press conference saw Edwards refuse to answer anything that was a remotely insightful or pointed question, and Roush go out of his way to point to Carl’s qualities and mitigate anything that sounded like a contentious negotiation point.

Trevor Bayne has left Jeff Gordon behind before-but not under a cloud of suspicion like he found at Talladega.

That same tone of being two hours late to the meeting and saying ‘everything’s OK!’ is exactly the note that Roush managed to hit Tuesday when commenting on the team orders story that has become the headline of a quiet Talladega weekend.

“Of course, as in any team, we would prefer for our drivers to work together when possible” said the longtime owner. “However, to be clear, we did not micromanage or dictate to any of our drivers, nor any other Ford drivers, how to race with other drivers at Talladega last Sunday.”

Sure. That’s why David Gilliland suddenly broke away from working with Tony Stewart to run 20th with Travis Kvapil. That’s why the Roushketeers were about as inseparable as ESPN from a commercial break over the course of 500 miles. And that’s why Roush felt it absolutely necessary to come to the defense of Trevor Bayne, who ended up dumping his Speedweeks hero, Jeff Gordon, to help push Matt Kenseth to the finish after David Ragan lost an engine late.

“I’ve spoken with Trevor and understand that he was put in a situation requiring a split-second decision on the track and in his response to questions justifying his actions afterwards, where it was almost certain that not everyone was going to be satisfied” stated Roush of his talented prospect. “Trevor is extremely talented, but it is still very early in his career.”

Does anybody really buy that this would have been an issue had the Ford camp not drawn attention to themselves for days leading up to the race? Let’s do the math. Trevor Bayne wasn’t a factor for the win this time around, so he went out of his way to help the team he drives for in the closing laps. That might tick off Jeff Gordon, but its hardly a confusing move.

The moral to this story? Another nondescript event handled poorly by the House of Roush and Ford Racing. Carl Edwards went through a contract negotiation. But silence, time and then a pie in the sky recounting of the resolution ended up making this the soap opera of the 2011 season.

Now, plate racing with teammates became instructions, limitations on the playing field, and a strategy that didn’t even work (not a single Ford finished in the top 10). With public relations like these, is it really a wonder this team can’t keep sponsors around?

Did You Notice … That Cale Gale’s getting what’s likely a swansong with Kevin Harvick, Incorporated this weekend? The longtime development driver and mechanic for the organization is getting the keys to the No. 21 truck at Martinsville this weekend, a track that’s been more than kind to KHI over the years. On the flip side, truck racing hasn’t been so good to Gale in 2011; he’s cracked the top 15 only once in three starts this year and is coming off a DNF in Las Vegas.

Bad time for a cold streak. The reality is Gale has to make noise in this race, and not the “oh, he ran a solid 12th” type. Gale has to win, or factor in for the win, this Saturday, if he expects his career as a driver to go any further.

Gale has been remarkably fortunate to have KHI as an organization continually get him in the seat, using the team’s sponsorship instead of counting on Gale to bring the dollars in. Be it fielding custom-built ARCA cars over the summer or turning over championship-winning trucks, KHI has done a lot to keep the former ARCA winner in the seat. Problem is, that suitor is on the way out after this season.

The Nationwide cars are going to Richard Childress Racing, which between a title contender in Elliott Sadler and the ever-improving Dillon brothers, have a full stable. And as for the Trucks, which are going to Eddie Sharp…remember that Sharp already has a driver in Justin Lofton, ARCA drivers on the market he’s raced with in the past, and drivers like Nelson Piquet Jr. that have some sponsorship and history with the teams. Gale’s the odd man out either way.

KHI’s red hot right now. They know how to run—and win—at Martinsville. This may well be their strongest remaining track as an organization. Gale’s got to strike … now.

Did You Notice … How even with the points reset, the Cup title chase is still not as close as the Truck Series? Yeah, I spent all of Tuesday’s column observing the flaws of the Chase, but come on…it doesn’t get old, does it?

Did You Notice … That the Truck Series schedule still hasn’t been announced for 2012? The Cup schedule’s long been out, and the oh-so-momentous announcement that the Nationwide Series would contest a yawner at the Brickyard has passed, but there’s still a national touring series that doesn’t have next year’s schedule out … and there’s less than a month to go in the season.

That’s a nightmare scenario. This is a series that started the season with truck counts higher than even the Cup Series enjoyed for the Daytona 500, yet now has seen a steady decline (41 trucks are entered for Martinsville, a race that’s always scored higher-than-normal truck counts). The flagship team in this garage area is folding and merging into a mid-pack operation next year, while Kyle Busch’s team is sticking around for only a limited time (come on, it doesn’t take much to see that full-time NNS racing is in the near future for KBM). And with the exception of the return to Rockingham, the series schedule is running rampant with speculation that road courses and Gresham Motorsports Park could be in the running for events.

The problem with speculation? It’s hard to sell sponsors on that. And even though TV ratings for the series continue to go up for SPEED, those solid scores have still not translated into better attendance at the track, or sponsor dollars materializing on truck beds. Having the schedule in place means more than just allowing fans to plan travel … it allows those backers that keep the sport going to build marketing strategies that work, and race teams to sell the very same.

Even if its a partial release, why not put the dates that are booked out for public consumption? Again, as has been seen with the Roush stories previously discussed, speculation doesn’t settle anything. It merely exacerbates confusion and uncertainty.

Trying selling that to a sponsor.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
NASCAR Mailbox: A ‘Normal’ Saturday And A Valuable Lesson
Beyond the Cockpit: Tony ‘The Sarge’ Schumacher
Open Wheel Wednesday: Controversial Moves, Long Beach Crowds, and Being a Fuddy Duddy
The Frontstretch Five: Pleasant Surprises of 2014 So Far
IndyCar Driver Profile: Takuma Sato
Beyond the Cockpit: Tommy Baldwin on Owning His Team, Hall of Fame and the Number Seven


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10/26/2011 07:52 AM

Geez! It’s a good thing Roush isn’t a felon like Rick Hendrick, or you guys would be recruiting volunteers for the firing squad!

10/26/2011 11:33 AM

What’s wrong with tracks like Gresham or road courses being in the running for the truck series schedule? Those are the tracks the truck series belongs on and always put on the best racing before someone had the bright idea to start adding more cookie cutters to the series that rarely put on good races.

10/26/2011 11:42 AM

yeah once again the Truck Series is the best NASCAR series around with the best title fight, without a Chase. It’s the only series I make an effort to watch every race in. I really hope things are solid for 2012, and Ron gets a ride.

10/26/2011 12:33 PM

Not sure I understand how having 41 trucks show up for a 36 truck field is evidence of “decline”.

10/26/2011 01:25 PM

Boy, Brian, you must be getting paid-off by….Chebbie and Obummie’s Govt. Motors (GM)!

Let’s all hope that Ford and Jack Roush come home from Homestead with the Championship this year, instead of some Chebbie outfit. LMAO!

10/26/2011 01:32 PM

Isn’t RFR GREAT. They are affiliated with the Daytona 500 winner and they throw him under the bus. A seemingly nice kid but now thanks to FORD and RFR he’s a LIAR for life. I’ll bet RFR “soaked their tires” before the event.

How can we buy a product from a company who, through its affiliates, promotes deceiving the same people who have helped their drivers achieve GREATNESS.

How many Daytona 500’s has “Cousin” won.

If Trevor tells me to buy a product, I’ll ALWAYS feel like JG at Talladega-2 2011.

I can’t trust him!!!

Kevin in SoCal
10/26/2011 02:18 PM

I missed yesterday’s column, but after reading it, I just have to laugh. I’m laughing at those who think one example in 10 years of a close points battle is a perfect reason why the Chase sucks. How about all the other years in both the Trucks and Nationwide when one racer won by well over 100 points? Oh, we wont mention that in our Chase-bashing columns, will we?

Glen H.
10/26/2011 02:47 PM

Two things come to mind about the Truck Series:

1. Is there even going to be a Truck Series next year?

Declining revenue, empty seats, no sponsors…. It doesn’t look good for the longivity of the series even if it does have the best racing.

2. Is the scheduled delayed because NA$CAR is having trouble finding tracks that want a Truck Series race? Is NA$CAR jacking up the sanctioning fees that the tracks have to pay making it hard for track operators to justify having the race?

Chris in TX
10/26/2011 05:05 PM

Random thoughts:

I’d assume there’s going to be a truck series, since it is listed as 2 of the events in my 2012 renewal for season tickets at Texas Motor Speedway.

Man, I hope the Trucks do get some road courses.

Nationwide + Indianapolis motor speedway: Double the yawns.

10/26/2011 07:19 PM

Did you notice it the usual Chevy media, they never went to ask Rick Hendrick or Richard Childress how their plans of team orders was different that Fords!!!Remmeber the 97 Daytona 500 the first one Gordon won, and how he won it, team orders to lineup and pass Bill Elliot and they finished 1234!!!!
LHere again they want to demonize Roush whos ethics is better than Hendricks!

Name me a race Jeff Gordon pushed a Ford to a win?

Jeff Gordon owes Ford Motor Company is very existing in racing you see who dumped who!

10/26/2011 09:06 PM

Go Mopar!

Shayne Flaherty
10/26/2011 09:19 PM

While Jack is talking, perhaps it would be a good time to remind everyone that the Chase just plain sucks. Even a one-eyed, twice-wrecked pilot can see…well maybe he can’t.

10/26/2011 10:38 PM

Don’t mind the chase. I think it adds interest. Don’t mind the current two-car tango. I don’t mind team orders or guidelines. It’s fun to see how those things shake out.

The Truck series often gives us the best racing of the weekend. Go Trucks! Agree they need some road courses.

Also, agree that Nationwide should remain at IRP instead of Indy.

Finally…. Go AMC!! LOL

phil h
10/27/2011 01:47 AM

tandems?team orders? at least it wasn’t gas mileage that determined the outcome!

Don Mei
10/27/2011 04:23 PM

Ethics in Nascar is an oxymoron. Grow up for God’s sake. The enormous amounts of money involved and the need to placate corporate sponsors have created this monster. Im with John. I watch the truck races and enjoy them. I could give a fat rats ass about watching identical cars with different grille and light decals pretending to be Fords or Chevrolets or whatever; hell they could all be Checkers!

Don Mei
10/27/2011 05:37 PM

OK Kevin. Let me deal with that one. I’ll give you a choice, the chase, with almost every race a complete bore because everyone is racing for points and trying to stay out of harms way because the points are very close…or…ready?? NO chase…with Driver A 200 points in front and well on his way to a championship but everyone else is kicking ass and going for the wins because of pride, money or second place. Really now…which would you prefer to watch week after week?? The chase promotes BORING racing..what part of that dont you understand?