The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Same Ol' Same Ol', Rubber, and the Former Franchise by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday November 8, 2011

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ONE: Why Does Title Contender Status Matter?

Ron Hornaday was supposed to give Austin Dillon a run for his money… but not anymore. And as we found out, NASCAR didn’t appreciate Busch’s intervention in the championship.

Let’s get the whole Kyle Busch/Ron Hornaday deal out of the way. Yes, there is precedent that NASCAR followed to a T in parking Kyle Busch for the weekend. Yes, there is no defense for Busch doing what he did—making contact under yellow is one thing, but running a truck at nearly full speed into the fence at a high speed oval like Texas is taking that even further towards unacceptability. And yes, this Busch incident was a feud that’s been building for years. It was only a matter of time before the sanctioning body stepped in, right or wrong.

That being said, the point being raised time and time again in the never-ending discussion regarding the incident – one that’s overshadowed even Tony Stewart’s miraculous Chase run – is not any of those elements above. Instead, it’s the fact that Kyle Busch ruined Ron Hornaday’s chances at another Truck Series championship by taking him out the way he did on Friday night.

Sure, it happened. Kyle’s temper tantrum caused damage that the No. 33 team was never going to recover from. But let’s not forget that even before the retaliation, Hornaday smacked the Turn 2 wall hard on his own accord. The night was over for KHI’s flagship truck even before Kyle did his best impression of himself. Busch may well have nailed the coffin shut, but there was already a body in it. That’s a moot point in the grand scheme of things.

Which is… what difference does it make that Ron Hornaday lost his shot at a championship because of this whole episode? Why does the points standing of who Busch slammed into the fence have any bearing on this case? Is NASCAR really officially stating what they’ve denied forever? That the front of the field really does get treated differently? Let’s not forget Kyle pulled this same kind of unnecessary roughness crap Truck racing last year with Jennifer Jo Cobb, and nary a peep was uttered.

This whole episode screams of nothing more than NASCAR playing both interventionist in the era of “Boys, Have At It” and trying to cash in on populist rage by appearing the anti-Kyle. In the grand scheme of things, what did Kyle lose from this deal? $50 grand, probation (whatever the hell that entails) while gaining some angst in the Mars camp. It’s not like he was actually in the Cup title race; this incident didn’t affect Stewart-Edwards. So NASCAR drops the bomb and gets to act like they give a damn that their spoiled brat star did something bad, said spoiled brat doesn’t get hit with much of anything in the form of a penalty, and the anti-Rowdy legions get to gloat for a weekend.

Nothing’s changed here. The big boys that run up front get treated differently. NASCAR inconsistently claims consistency. And the culprit walks away with a slap on the wrist.

TWO: The Rubber Works of Phoenix

Unless Goodyear brings the right type of compound to Phoenix, the racing there will likely resemble the single-file competition we’ve seen at intermediates as of late.

In one of those rare instances where the sanctioning body seems to have learned a lesson, NASCAR has a squadron of drivers scheduled to make hundreds of laps apiece over the course of this week to rubber in the new asphalt of the reconfigured Phoenix International Raceway. Considering just how ugly the initial races on repaved, reconfigured ovals at Las Vegas and Charlotte went, this rubber work should seem a foregone conclusion.

But is it really going to make a difference? In terms of reducing tire failures, one can only hope so. The excessive brake heat generated on flat tracks like Phoenix already wreaks havoc on the beads in these COTs (just ask Trevor Bayne and David Ragan in the spring’s NNS and Cup races.) And nobody has to be reminded of what happened when Charlotte was “levigated.”

Still, let’s give the rubbering plan the benefit of the doubt, and assume that having a worked in racing surface even before competition starts will keep tire failures down to a minimum.

Are there chances of Goodyear bringing a rock hard tire compound to the new Phoenix, just as they have to every other repaved track in recent memory? All signs point to yes.

Are there chances of a rock hard tire wearing enough to make the on-track product at Phoenix sizzle? Forget about it.

It doesn’t matter the size of the track, or the design, or if the test drivers make 1,500 test laps around Phoenix prior to the race or 15,000. A rock hard tire that’s meant to do nothing but protect the exclusive tire provider of NASCAR from experiencing an embarrassing rash of flats on national TV will do nothing to promote good stock car racing, nor end the never-ending stream of track position-dependent events that have plagued the 2011 Chase.

All that testing means nothing if Goodyear doesn’t grow a pair and bring a tire that’s going to wear. And if past history means anything, there’s about as much a chance of that happening as there is Ryan Newman winning the Chase this year.

THREE: MWR’s Not Even Trying to Keep “The Franchise” on the Payroll

Why is MWR so eager to dismiss the only driver to win for their organization? Reutimann definitely got the short stick in this mess.

David Reutimann’s out, Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip are in the No. 00 car for 2012; so the story goes for Michael Waltrip Racing heading into the offseason. Cold or not, there’s an argument to be made for that to happen. Reutimann has been an also-ran for the entire 2011 campaign, an unacceptable state of affairs for the Aaron’s Dream Machine given how long and deep the partnership between the lease chain and the MWR organization is. What’s more, with Martin Truex, Jr. and the team’s flagship NAPA ride struggling, the No. 56 needs a teammate fast that can help right the ship.

But look at the numbers. The replacement for the driver 28th in points is one that’s 21st in points driving for powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, combined with another who is semi-retired that last cracked the top 25 in points back in 2005. One of those two may well be a future Hall of Famer, but they may as well rename this ride the Aaron’s “I Had a Dream” Machine.

Bad 2011 season or not, Reutimann is the guy that put Michael Waltrip Racing on the map. He’s got the only two race wins in team history under his belt, and has been the face of the organization through thick and thin. Remember what he once had to work with; MWR’s namesake failed to qualify for 11 consecutive races in 2007 and Michael McDowell made the highlight reels solely for wrecking spectacularly at Texas. However, those wins apparently had no value at all to MWR, who obviously made no effort to keep Reutimann in a seat.

The evidence? There’re still races to be filled in the No. 00 for 2012, and Reutimann didn’t get offered a partial schedule. Bobby Labonte is keeping the No. 47 seat despite JTG/Daugherty Racing’s technical alliance with MWR, even though Labonte sits even lower in the point standings than Reutimann. As it stands, the former Franchise isn’t even going to get a shot at bringing some sponsor dollars to the team’s currently parked Nationwide Series entry — the same car he drove to a runner-up points finish back in 2007.

Performance doesn’t make too much of a case for Reutimann against his release from MWR. Still, this change is a surprisingly callous move by an organization that owes a lot of the progress it’s made to Reutimann. His maturity brought respectability to a team that bears the name of a glorified TV salesman; and now, his reward is a pink slip.

FOUR: For God’s Sake ESPN, Take it Easy on Ricky

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Elliott Sadler have already had one heck of an exciting championship battle. So why do some media outlets feel the need to hype up the drama?

I received a number of fan comments in a recent Nationwide Series Breakdown column noting that ESPN seemed to be rooting for Elliott Sadler to steal the NNS crown from Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., continually covering the improvements that KHI’s No. 2 team was banking on while citing Stenhouse’s “rookie” credentials left and right. That slant came to light in a very ugly way this Saturday at Texas. Time and time again, with Stenhouse running in the top 10 and enduring only marginal losses to his points lead despite Sadler’s top-5 day, reference was made to Stenhouse getting unsettled in the car and not having the experience in racing for a title (anyone forget that he was a title contender heading into the ARCA finale at Toledo back in 2008?)

Never mind that, as mentioned in this week’s Nationwide Breakdown, new cars and new setups that have had Sadler and Co. convinced that they’d get the upper hand in this weekend’s races played out at Texas just like it did at Dover in OneMain Financial’s title race… it didn’t work. Never mind that the No. 2 team still hasn’t won a race in 2011.

For crying out loud, it’s a great title fight. Veteran vs. development driver. Ford vs. Chevrolet. The outspoken Virginian versus the intense Mississippian. Why does ESPN feel the need to constantly slant this story?

FIVE: Axing of Road America Truck Race a Big Deal

Despite rampant rumors to the contrary, the expected Truck Series race date at Road America will not come to be in 2012. Unfortunately, the commitment of television partners to other racing obligations took precedence (that Saturday sees the Nationwide Series and Grand-Am Series already racing with committed schedule dates). That left the Trucks with only the option of racing Friday afternoon, which made no sense seeing as how the majority of the fan base would be at work during that time.

Sure, that means that SPEED and ESPN are not available. Completely understandable. But that explanation is ignoring an inconvenient truth… that FOX isn’t going to pick up a Truck race to make it happen. It wasn’t all that long ago that the FOX network was televising two Truck races a year, attempting to cash in on an ever-growing segment of motorsports.

Fortunately, the Truck Series has continued to garner solid ratings on SPEED. But there’s something to be said about FOX not continuing their Truck telecasts… and not being available to make a return to road course racing happen for this series. Just another example of how the stock of what was once America’s fastest-growing sport continues to cool.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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Bill B
11/08/2011 08:59 AM

Maybe the only reason the championship angle mattered was because Kyle is a Cup driver and therefore a guest in the Truck series. If you don’t hold the cup guys to a higher standard in the lower series then they can race with total abandon and push the limit because if they wreck, oh well, no points to worry about. This puts the regular guys at an even bigger disadvantage then they are already facing. The cup guys have more experience, deeper pockets and better equipment and crew.

It’s similar to someone like Boris Said racing in the Cup road course race. He can bump and bang and make very questionable moves because he doesn’t care about points only the win. Meanwhile the rest of the guys on the track have to continually worry about the big picture.

11/08/2011 10:35 AM

Pardon? The damage to both trucks was completely fixable, and we’ve seen Hornaday AND Busch win in trucks held together with bubble gum and duct tape. Both of them hit the wall flush and would’ve been fine. Hornaday might’ve still managed a top 10 after repairing that damage.

11/08/2011 11:45 AM

Right on John – I think that either Bush or Hornaday could have made repairs to their trucks and come back and won.

11/08/2011 04:57 PM

To me, now that Hornaday was not injured is the fact that he could of had a Truck Championship taken away by the actions of Busch. How can that be rectified? I don’t think it can. Not only is the money for a championship substantial but the prestige of a championship is something money can’t buy. And what Kyle did could have very well cost Hornaday a championship because I agree with the other posters the damage was not that bad before Kyle wrecked Hornaday. Remember folks, some people have compared Kyle’s Penalty with other drivers. The thing that should be noted here is that time and time again Kyle has wrecked numerous drivers in all three series and has gotten away with basically a slap on the risk. That’s why we are here today, Kyle has not been punished like he should of been in the past or else we wouldn’t be at this point. And, to add insult to injury, a $50,000 fine and probation for two more race weekends is nothing for Kyle. Kyle probably makes ten million dollars a year, do you really think a $50,000 fine means anything to him. Come on Nascar, get real! This past weekend happened because Nascar and Joe Gibbs let it happen because they haven’t given Kyle any meaningful punishment to make him stop. There is no one that I know of driving now who has wrecked as many drivers as Kyle. And, as has already been said, Kyle has altered the championship race in a series that he was a guest in. Why would Nascar tolerate any driver much less anybody with the record of Kyle getting away with that? Kyle should have sit out the rest of the year and been placed on probation for the entire year of 2012. But, Nascar didn’t do the right thing. Now, next year when Kyle’s probation is off he can go back to wrecking championship contenders in a “racing” incident and the worst he will get will be probation and a $50,000 fine. Fine, Nascar and Joe Gibbs, you have created this monster by letting him get off with no meaningful punishment for so long when the next incident happpens and take my word it will happen, what are you going to do if he injures or kills someone which could very well happen? Again, except for sitting out the weekend, this other punishment is nothing to Kyle. Take my word Nascar and write it in the book, you have not seen the last of Kyle Busch and you had better hope no one gets hurt in the process because the blood will be on Nascar and Joe Gibbs hands because ya’ll have not gotten him under control with these meaningless penalties.

phil h
11/09/2011 12:13 AM

Reutimann’s better off to be gone from MWR…thats where drivers go to worsen their career,while Mikey draws a paycheck for numbskull antics on television.
Course you can’t blame Waltrip,if they’re willing to pay,take the money and finish 20th.

11/09/2011 05:24 PM

So, when are we going to start crying for the permaban of Brian Vickers from NASCAR and start petitioning his sponsor to drop him? He wrecked out a championship contender as well, plus a few others to boot.

If we’re inconsistent on this issue, we’re no better than NASCAR, you know.

11/10/2011 03:57 PM

This whole Hornaday/Busch issue is another reason why Nascar needs to ban Cup drivers from the lower series. Busch didn’t care because he wasn’t racing for points.

And like you said, Nascar gave him the most politically correct penalty without it affecting him much. His sponsors are a different story but in Nascars shoes, everybody wins. If he was a Chase contender, he would not have been parked for the Cup race. I would put a weeks paycheck on that.