The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Send the Brickyard Packing (and the Restart Rules...and the Points System) by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday July 31, 2012

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ONE: The Brickyard Has to Go

Back in 1994, when the Brickyard 400 was an inaugural event, there’s a reason it sold out and was instantly one of the sport’s marquee moments. Taking the green flag there was more than tackling a storied oval. It was a story of triumph for how the backwater racers of NASCAR had surged from down south, become prominent in a way open-wheel racing used to be, and brought their beating and banging onto Indy’s home turf. It was the equivalent of planting the flag in the enemy’s capital city.

Nearly 20 years later, the event is old news, Indy a conquest long since mastered. Now, late July at the 2.5-mile oval is just another companion weekend, a race with sparsely filled grandstands, start-and-parks aplenty… and an absolutely horrendous on-track product. Both Saturday and Sunday’s events were not races, they were parades, cars snaking their way at high speeds around a gargantuan oval. Short of 2008’s tire debacle, this one was as boring a race at the Brickyard as has been seen… and this track’s seen plenty of boring, boring races. It didn’t matter that there was a Nationwide event accompanying the big show this year; fans simply got 650 miles of crap instead of 400.

NASCAR has made its point at Indy, having taken stock cars and all their non-refinement to a track that still stands an entity to itself, the Rose Bowl of motorsports. But just as time came for college football to say to hell with keeping the Rose Bowl significant, we’re going to a playoff system, NASCAR has reached that moment as well. There’s no longer the lure of 250,000-person crowds to keep stock cars on a decidedly open-wheel race track. Indianapolis is a been there, done that deal for NASCAR racing now… meaning instead of something novel and special, fans are stuck with what can be reliably counted on as one of the most painful events of an already marathon season.

What’s the solution? There’s plenty of tracks out there worthy of a Cup race that would put on a show worth watching (try Iowa or a third road course). Even better, maybe shorten the schedule by a week. It certainly hasn’t hurt the competition in the other two series.

I’ve long been an advocate of giving every venue capable of hosting a Cup race at least one bite at the apple a year. So call me a hypocrite… but stock cars cannot race well at Indianapolis. Therefore, stock cars should not race at Indianapolis.

TWO: The Restart Rules Need to Go

Leave it to NASCAR to take a perfectly good and compelling title chase and mess it up with a subjective and inconsistent call from the tower. What was fine for Kyle Busch was not fine for Elliott Sadler, who lost what likely was going to be a Brickyard victory (seeing as how making a green-flag pass for the lead Saturday was about as likely as Congress balancing a budget) for allegedly jumping the restart. It didn’t matter that Kyle Busch took a huge lead early in the event doing the same damn thing when Kasey Kahne got off to a slow start. It didn’t matter that the replays clearly showed Sadler was getting all but bowled over by teammate Austin Dillon from behind, and that leader Brad Keselowski had indeed spun his tires on the restart. Nope, NASCAR threw their nasty black flag, threw rhyme and reason out the window, and all but eliminated Sadler’s points lead for their troubles.

Elliott Sadler’s smile was nowhere to be seen Saturday after poor officiating robbed him of what seemed a surefire win at the Brickyard.

Having been covering this sport for the past five years, perhaps the one conclusion I can draw from my experience is that when something is not absolutely black-and-white, NASCAR will get it wrong. Their only consistency is inconsistency, their only skill getting the call wrong. Driver safety? That’s a black and white issue; keeping drivers safe prevents death. NASCAR’s done admirably in making this sport safer since losing a Petty and an Earnhardt within 12 months of each other. But talk about the yellow line at plate tracks, maintaining minimum speed under caution conditions, restart lines… if there’s a gray area, the call will never be the same, and competitors end up getting hosed for no good reason.

So take the double red lines, the ability of the leader to restart the race, take it all away and have it done by the flagman. When they drop the rag, the field goes. The leader already has plenty of an advantage in making a lane choice; if they’ve got the faster car, it doesn’t matter where the race starts, they’ll get away. Take any and all ambiguity out of the equation…when the flag drops, go. One change is all you’ll need to eliminate the nonsense about etiquette in a driver’s meeting, of officiating mucking up points races, and fans turning the television off over bad calls.

THREE: Penske’s Commitment to the ‘Dinger Could Save a Career

Even the most optimistic ‘Dinger fan knows full well that their hero will not be racing a Sprint Cup car again in 2012 following an indefinite suspension for violating the sport’s substance abuse policy. Returning to a car this year is no longer the objective… somehow keeping a career on track now is. And, based on my observations this past week it certainly appears that Allmendinger has an ace in the hole: the loyalty of one Roger Penske.

Sure, it may be nothing more than well-written press release material spoon-fed to ESPN. But if reports are true that Penske and the ‘Dinger are in almost daily contact, that the Captain still is seeking to have his underperforming signee stay racing and paired with his organization even after this latest episode, AJ Allmendinger may well be in a comfortable position for 2013. Not in the sense that Shell/Pennzoil is going to readily hand the keys to the No. 22 back over; after all, any sponsor that dumps a Cup champion in Kurt Busch for using foul language isn’t about to forgive a failed drug test, no matter what said drug is or circumstances are. No, look for ‘Dinger to bounce back in 2013… in a Nationwide Series entry.

Just look at the wonders a step back has done for Sam Hornish, Jr. An accomplished open-wheeler that wrecked enough cars to make Danica Patrick blush during his time as a Cup driver, Hornish is now a week-in, week-out contender in the AAA ranks, getting seat time he should have gotten five years ago.

Think about it from Allmendinger’s perspective. Your image is in tatters, and everyone’s most recent memory of on-track performance is seeing a Chase-worthy team crash headfirst into a lake. You keep things solid with Roger Penske, complete the “Road to Recovery” program, and take the wheel of a stout Nationwide Dodge that’s capable of winning. The spotlight dims, the competition level dips a bit, and another open-wheel convert gets valuable seat time and some experience winning.

There’s plenty of signs right now that even through all the trials of the 2012 season, the ‘Dinger is still in the Captain’s fleet. As long as that’s true, know that the popular Californian’s career is far from over.

FOUR: Earnhardt As Points Leader Shows Just What’s Wrong With Them

Mr. Letarte, take a bow. To get Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s No. 88 team to the top of the standings, considering just how underwhelming they’ve been at Hendrick Motorsports the last few seasons is no small feat, but it has been accomplished. On the backs of a win at Michigan and 15 top-10 finishes in 20 starts, Junebug is the Sprint Cup points leader heading to Pocono.

Just goes to show how little winning still matters in this sport. Junior leads the standings, including five drivers that have won more races and have been no slouch on consistency either (all repeat winners in 2012 are batting at least .500 when it comes to finishing in the top 10). What’s more, teammate Jimmie Johnson has an identical number of top 10s and has won two more times… yet he’s fourth in points.

For all the good that will come from having Junior the leader and a title contender in 2012, try explaining to an outsider… and to a lot of race fans, for that matter… how does that make any sense whatsoever? Yes, Junior has had a fantastic season to date, the best he’s enjoyed since leaving DEI for Hendrick. But having said that, the No. 88 is not contending for the win every weekend (it’s been five races since Earnhardt, Jr. even led a lap). The team and car have not led more than 10 circuits in only three events in 2012 (less than any other squad running inside the top 5). And yet they’re on top of the points.

This isn’t an Earnhardt, Jr. criticism, per se, it’s one about how this sport keeps score. In the end, ESPN’s guilty of false advertising… something indeed does beat first place. It’s called finishing seventh every weekend.

FIVE: Might as Well Give Him the Trophy

Prior to Sunday, Jimmie Johnson had won three Brickyard 400s… 2006, 2008 and 2009. He won the Cup Series championship in 2006, 2008, and 2009. Considering the form the No. 48 team displayed this past weekend, does anyone need a map drawn here?

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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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Stephen Hood
07/31/2012 06:30 AM

I’d like to see a drag race after the flag drops. I realize NASCAR is invested in giving P1 a reward for being P1 , but the reward is choosing a lane. @ the drop of the flag (or flash a green light) hit the gas. I do think the cars should be required to maintain lane position until they hit the start/finish.

07/31/2012 07:28 AM

na$car still does not get it!!!! Another reason not to attend/watch.I think those in charge should also be tested randomly like the drivers.

KY Boy
07/31/2012 07:28 AM

While you where writing this, you should have been looking at your facts. I understand that a lot of you dont, but look at the points gained in Jrs and Jimmys worst 3 finishes this year. No, I’ll wait! AAwww, ok! Consistency has beaten winning a bunch of races for as long as I can remember(ala Matt Kenseth 03). Sounds to me like you should be writing about something else!!!!!

07/31/2012 07:59 AM

KY, isn’t it a bit early to be into the beer?

07/31/2012 08:58 AM

Here is something that just gets on my nerves. The rhetoric of the television networks.. They are just mouth pieces of NASCAR. No matter how truthful, they would never utter such a comment as “Both Saturday and Sunday’s events were not races, they were parades, cars snaking their way at high speeds around a gargantuan oval.” There is no reference to low attendance and lord forbid a specific camera shot of empty seats. Instead all we heard is Jimmy and Jeff have kissed the bricks and kissed the bricks over and over. Just say they have four wins at Indy, just the same way you would refer to their wins at Martinsville.
The shows such as Speed’s “Race Hub” and ESPN “NASCAR NOW” just won’t take NASCAR to task, perhaps they are fearful of the secret fines for comments detrimental to racing. No really, am sure in the contracts there is a clause where the networks cannot be critical of NASCAR. To borrow a phrase from Fox News there is nothing “Fair and Balanced” when it comes to NASCAR and its spin control of TV coverage.

At least some of the print media will tell it like it is! Such as “Front Stretch”. Keep up the good work!

Carl D.
07/31/2012 10:32 AM


No need for a map. I agree, just give the #48 team the trophy, turn off the lights, and would the the last guy out please close the door. Sure, I’ll miss the remaining 3 short track races, but it will be worth it to spare us all the intermediate track races and the carnage-fest at Talledega. While we’re at it, let’s petition Brian France to void the entire 2011 season. It was obviously an unholy abberation since JJ didn’t win the championship. In fact, let’s spare the fans a lot of wasted time and just declare Jimmie Johnson Champion-in-Perpetuity.

07/31/2012 11:26 AM

Well, let’s see. We got to watch our annual Indianapolis Sunday parade. That makes JJ this years home coming king. Worst race I’ve seen in years. Give a second race back to Darlington and get rid of this debacle.

07/31/2012 11:48 AM

Just for fun … I have been keeping a “Points Standings” this year with the following formula: 10th – 1 pt (yep … must finish in the Top Ten to get points!); 9th – 2 pts. (twice as many as 10th!); 8th – 4 pts. (see where I’m going here?); 7th – 8 pts.; 6th – 16 pts.; 5th – 32 pts.; 4th – 64 pts.; 3rd – 128 pts.; 2nd – 256 pts.; 1st – 512 pts. Only the Top ten get points … and every position is worth twice the points as the next position behind. I’ll bet that would increase “racing for the win” and put a damper on “points racing.” Right now, the Top Five would be 1st – Tony Stewart, 2441; 2nd – Jimmie Johnson, 2411 (only 30 points behind!); 3rd – Denny Hamlin, 2112; 4th – Brad Keselowski, 1642; 5th – Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 1568. Would love to hear y’all’s opinions!

Sherri T
07/31/2012 11:51 AM

Let’s just move everyone over to IRP! That used to be the best Nationwide race of the season. Sure would be more interesting to see both series race there instead!

07/31/2012 11:59 AM

Yep, same old same old.Watched the first 10 laps and saw the 48 coming, then turned it off. Went out and enjoyed the summer day with a hike. It’s the “Chad and Jimmie Show”.#6 here we come.#7and #8 within the next 5 years. Championships that is.Heck of a team,but how boring. A fan since the 60s but been drifting away the last several years.

07/31/2012 01:33 PM

An EXCELLENT article. Send it to nascar. No wait….nascar doesn’t give a flip.

Send it to Bruton Smith, who actually listens to fans.

Mike In NH
07/31/2012 01:46 PM

Every year at this time some driver is at or near the top of the standings without wins, and every year someone at this time writes how winning doesn’t matter anymore. Then at the end of the year, whoever is the champ has won races – especially true since the Chase made wins count for bonus points. Same old same old can apply to journalism as well as races.

Just for giggles, add seven points for each win, so that each win is worth 10 points instead of three, to the standings. Not much changes; Kahne moves up a few spots but is still outside the top 10 even with 14 more points added on, Dale’s in the points lead, and some non-winners are still in the top 10. But Kahne’s in the chase now – why? Because of WINS, since he’s not in the top 10. So I guess wins count for something after all.

Explain to an outsider Dale vs JJ? Simple: in a close race points wise, it’s important to actually finish the race too, even if it’s a bunch of laps down – JJ would be leading but for all his great finishes and wins, he also has 3 DNF’s. If finishing wasn’t important, then you’d have guys throwing caution to the winds and wrecking as they drove over their heads trying to win the race.

Finishing in the top 5 or even top 10 is NOT easy in a Cup race, though some guys make it look that way. Get past the top 15 drivers, and T5-T10 finishes get a lot more sparse. Being able to consistently land in the top 15 should be rewarded, and the points system does that.

How about some suggestions how to change the system so that wins are “more important” – rather than bitching.

I’ve heard folks suggest the mulligan idea, and that’s not a bad one – a “provisional bad finish” (get used to the word provisional, it’s back for next year’s qualifying).

Another thought, maybe finishes below 15th shouldn’t get any points, and points be awarded from 1 to 15 (plus 3 more for the win). Might make the mid-pack racing more interesting for sure, but then, a team could show up part way through the year and get some good finishes to get into the provisional qualifying positions (assuming Top 35 is gone) with a lot of ease (read that: part time teams affiliated with big teams) as most of the smaller teams would finish with few or no points race after race.

Those ideas all prove one thing, there is no perfect system. Tweaks to the current system might help, but too much tinkering might unbalance a system that right now awards consistency and, yes, for the 12 chasers, wins.

07/31/2012 02:31 PM

I like the idea of increasing the points for a win and I would make further changes.
1. give points during the race to encourage racing for the whole event not just the last ten laps. 25% of the points at the end of the first third and second third and 50% at the end.
2. Only cover expences for qualifing getting rid of the start and park people who are stealing the fans money. Sure there would be some short fields but N.A.S.C.A.R. has been fooling themselves and the fans long enough THERE ARE NOT 43 CARS THERE TO RACE NOW face it and find a way to get more cars.

Kevin in SoCal
07/31/2012 02:33 PM

The hype-machine media and the unwashed masses of Junior fans like to promote that he is now leading the points, but the truth is he didnt take over the points lead. He got it when Matt Kenseth got in a crash and finished 35th. Nothing special about that in my opinion. The truth will come after this weeks race.

Chris in Tx
07/31/2012 03:54 PM

2 birds, one stone…run the Indy road course.

Maybe even run it grand-am style and have the NW and Cup cars run the race at the same time as a 4 hour endurance race :p

KY Boy
07/31/2012 06:45 PM

@ RickP Its never too early!!!!

07/31/2012 07:09 PM

At first I was upset to find that my DVR forgot to kick in and record the race. Then I found out that it was a JJ parade – and I no longer cared !! I like the Old Timers point system – send it to NA$CRAP. Also like Sheri’s idea of running them both at IRP – notice I still call it IRP!! Was always one of the best Nationwide races of the year.

07/31/2012 09:11 PM

Earth to KY Boy…Earth to KY BOY, FYI when when the 10 race Do-Over starts in Chicagoland, Poor JuneBug will only be in 5th place at best. So enjoy your delusional ‘AMP’high while you can. A championship ain’t going to happen. BTW KY Boy I got 2 more Jr. and a Princess Sparkle Pony die cast signed at Indy last fri. Got to take advanatge you Jr. Nation Suckers while I can and make some $$$ off the Earnhardt name like Ralph does.

07/31/2012 10:58 PM

Bryan, you suggested a third road race, I agree..keep it at the Speedway . There’s a road course there, just in case you didn’t know it. Be a hell of a lot more interesting.

And yes, those incompetent fools at NASCAR screwed Sadler. Hard to believe they could be that obtuse about what happened.

Steve K
08/01/2012 06:19 AM

If you asked me who was in the points lead, I would tell you the 48, 14, and the 2. Points get reset after Richmond and the car with the most wins is in front. Points do not mean a thing before Richmond as long as you are in position to make the chase. Enjoy the “lead” not 88. You better start winning after Richmond if you want to make it last.

KY Boy
08/01/2012 05:13 PM

Everybody thinks Jr fans have his name on the trophy. Truth is we are really happy to be in contention at nearly every race. After the struggles the last few years, we are just enjoying this season. You all are the ones making the fuss about it. Jr has a good shot at it, but if not, its not the end of the world. I just like seein my driver run good.