The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Imaginary Feuds, Keselowski's Accusations, and Villainizing Villeneuve by Bryan Davis Keith -- Monday August 20, 2012

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ONE: The Jr/Jeff Feud…Move Along, Nothing to See Here

If anyone needs further proof as to how uneventful a race Michigan was, even with the multitude of Hendrick Motorsports engine failures, just take a look at how much of an issue was made of the supposed Jeff Gordon vs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. feud. In case one missed the race (or dozed off during it), there was a moment on lap 82 where Jeff Gordon’s radio stated that he should have wrecked his teammate in the No. 88. Later in the afternoon, when Gordon went behind the wall with engine troubles, he elaborated that he was upset with his teammate pulling a four-wide move in the first half of the event and a slide-job to follow.

Take one listen to Gordon’s final remark in his interview, and one should have completely written this off as a spur of the moment frustration and nothing more: “I don’t care who does it, I’m going to show my displeasure if they do something like that.”

Go figure…the driver of the No. 24, already suffering through a weekend the entire team acknowledged was subpar, got upset that he got cutoff. Was it worth a replay right around a restart? Absolutely. But to think it required a follow-up interview with Jeff Gordon, a Twitter update from the pit studio and headlines abound that there was something simmering between the two teammates was blowing it out of proportion to put it politely.

TWO: Keselowski’s Continuing Push at Penske Racing

While Keselowski’s doing plenty of talking on the track with his second runner-up finish in as many weeks, his post-race remarks surrounding his former home at Hendrick Motorsports may well end up being a bombshell for weeks to come. Keselowski spoke after Sunday’s race (and after being blown away by Jimmie Johnson during the final run to the checkers) that his No. 2 car couldn’t find that gear needed to compete with the Hendrick machines because their cars “have parts and pieces moving after inspection that make the cars more competitive.” He went further, describing how while the Hendrick camp takes their setups to the edge of the rulebook, Penske Racing opts to play it safer to avoid the tarnish and penalties associated with getting caught.

While there’s nothing specific that Brad referred to or that was observed this particular weekend in Michigan, there’s no shortage of precedent to suggest that HMS would try something like that (Jimmie Johnson’s motorized window in the 2006 Daytona 500, the questionable rear-ends multiple teams ran at Dover a few seasons back). Though Keselowski didn’t do his argument any favors with his tone…the whole “it’s OK, I’m just saying” vibe never won over anybody.

What it does display, though, is the latest chapter in the former Hendrick driver’s quest to completely remake Penske Racing. He’s already gone a long way in doing so…the team’s now vaunted Nationwide Series program was a requirement for the Captain to sign his services in the first place. But whether those persuasive skills are going to persuade an organization long known for its clean-cut professionalism to go down the route of the No. 48 team in terms of aggression with the rules…well, all signs don’t point to yes.

That being said, it’s quite the statement where arguably the hottest driver not in a Hendrick-backed car is essentially trying to say publicly (albeit through the back door) that they need to act more like the team they’re trying to catch.

Jacques Villeneuve has had his run ins racing NASCAR but was villified far more than deserved during the broadcast of the Nationwide Series race from Montreal.

THREE: Jacques Villeneuve Episode a Scary Precedent for Entry-Challenged NNS

Taped segments made prior to Saturday’s race at Montreal essentially asked Nationwide regulars if they were scared of racing with Jacques Villeneuve. The broadcast booth all but demonized one of the most accomplished drivers in the field. NASCAR.com today devoted a front page article to the question of whether or not the Nationwide Series, already strapped for cars and funded drivers as is, should cap the number of part-timers allowed to participate in races, with the No. 22 car as the image. All of this because of a racing incident that took out NASCAR’s princess.

Jacques Villeneuve was unjustifiably upset with Justin Allgaier following Saturday’s race…but his frustration beyond the No. 31 was more than understandable…and justified. Speaking to Canadian media after the event, the 1997 F1 champion went on a predictable rant about the kids-gloves applied to Danica Patrick on-track, that the incidents he was involved in really weren’t a big deal…etc. This story unfolded exactly as one would expect.

Here’s the bigger question…will Villeneuve come back in 2013 for NASCAR’s dog and pony show? What the hell kind of example does it set when a racer with absolutely nothing to prove to anyone involved in motorsports turns to NASCAR and finds nothing but hostility?

NASCAR and those that make money off the Nationwide Series need to look good and hard at just how many of the 43 cars they’re lucky to get every weekend have no sponsorship or are start-and-parking before releasing the hounds on about as big a name as they come in road racing.

FOUR: Brian Scott’s Ever-going Security

Brian Scott’s been the Nationwide equivalent of Jeff Gordon with regard to having hard luck during the 2012 season, suffering from a spin in the middle of Saturday’s Nationwide race and rebounding only to run out of gas coming to the checkers. Of note though, across the border in Michigan, Kyle Busch’s truck had the Scott family’s Shore Lodge painted all over the hood and quarterpanels, keeping the brainchild of the team’s biggest name driver on the track.

Earlier this season while doing a radio hit at Dover, I was posed the question as to whether or not Scott would be able to keep a ride at JGR, whether or not the results he posted on-track improved. My answer was no. I’m going to have to revise that statement, as a small piece of news coming out of this weekend besides JGR being all but irrelevant at Michigan was the team’s legal action being taken against a one-race sponsor on the No. 11 car (Trans-Lux) for missed payments.

Brian Scott’s not a bad driver, but he’s failed to meet expectations in his time at Gibbs, and he’s torn up plenty of cars to boot. Having said that, if a team with some of the most loyal backing in the garage in Home Depot, FedEx and M&Ms paying most of the bills is having to pursue legal action against a minor associate sponsor, well, the $7 million or so Scott’s family resort is chipping into the coffers at JGR and Kyle Busch Motorsports may be more valuable than I thought.

FIVE: Mark Martin the Perfect Chase Teammate

Mark Martin was again the class of the field before finding the nasty edge of pit wall around the midpoint of Sunday’s 400-miler, but his value as the driver of the No. 55 is really shining now as the Chase nears. Whatever the reason, be it a rejuvenated Martin or an influx of talent at MWR, the No. 55 car and the entire MWR operation are running better than at any time in team history…and the team’s two likely Chase entrants in Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. are primed to have a big-time advantage should they make the big dance.

That advantage? A full-time teammate with loads of experience that not only can test set-ups…but is sitting on set-ups already that can win. Signing Mark Martin was far more than a strong marketing strategy for Aaron’s…it may well prove to be an ace in the hole this fall if Michigan was any indication.

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Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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Wallbanger
08/21/2012 06:03 AM
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Jacques Villeneuve’s conduct in previous Nationwide events clearly show why he commands little respect in the NASCAR garage area and from the media. He richly deserved being dumped from the lead whether by design or accident. I reacted to Villeneuve’s post-race tantrum just as most fans did. Drivers are learning to race him the way he races others. Mess with squirrels and you get your nuts cracked.

SB
08/21/2012 06:11 AM
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I wonder if the fans were as impressed with Villeneuve when he drove through a fellow Canadian and spun him out on Saturday? Apparently he’s willing to wreck anyone on the track, not just Danica or other full time drivers. And, since the only logo on his car was Dodge, perhaps he isn’t haveing much better luck finding sponsors. I have to wonder if he’s so frustrated at having (at best) limited success in cars that he obviously considers inferior, that he thinks winning by eliminating everyone else in the field proves his superiority? Wasn’t it just a couple years ago that he announced his intentions to run full time in Nascar…and then didn’t because he couldn’t find a sponsor? Bottom line…if you’re going to punt cars out of your way, don’t cry foul when they do it back to you. Makes you look like a crybaby and a sore loser.

KY Boy
08/21/2012 06:17 AM
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Right on guys! He respects nobody out there. Has nothing to do with Danica for me. He’s just a jerk

Wallbanger
08/21/2012 06:39 AM
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I’m not so sure that Tagliani didn’t intentionally sit parked out of harm’s way in order to draw the caution that ensured Jacques would run out of gas on the GWC.

Carl D.
08/21/2012 07:44 AM
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Maybe it’s the purist in me, but in my opinion Villeneuve really didn’t belong in the Nationwide race. At least the Cup regulars who race in the Nationwide series usually have some roots there. Villeneuve is just an opportunist whose opportunity didn’t work out like he thought it would. No doubt he’s a heck of a racer, but I suspect his presence was primarily a marketing strategy to sell tickets.

Bill B
08/21/2012 11:20 AM
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We all know that road course ringers don’t care about points and will often race with wreckless abandon- checkers or wreckers.
At least most of them try not to be too blatant about it. Villeneuve on the other hand goes out of his way to disrespect the regulars racing for points. They should ban him until he learns some respect and his place as a visitor.

I know we aren’t supposed to condone such behaviour but I am still chuckling about “the shoe”.

just talking
08/21/2012 11:20 AM
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Many of us complain about drivers points racing and not going for wins. So, I am not going to criticize Villeneuve one bit. Tough road course racing is all – with the possible exception of the hit on Tagliani. Plus the race was exciting.

Bob
08/21/2012 11:35 AM
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Totally agree with “just talking”. Four years all we’ve heard is crying and whining from NASCAR fans that drivers lack personality and are unwilling to use the fenders . So which is it? Do you want points racing or to go for the win?

Tim
08/21/2012 11:53 AM
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Wallbanger is right about Villeneuve. Bryan maybe you missed the Nationwide road course races for the past two or three years before the Danica wreck, but Villeneuve was out of control in all of them. Danica was just the last straw. I’ve lost a lot of respect for him in the past couple of years and hope Saturday was the end of his NASCAR career.

Carl D.
08/21/2012 11:57 AM
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Bob…

I have no problem with points racing if everybody has the same thing to lose or gain. There’s been some kind of a points system in place since I’ve been watching stock car racing and that’s a long time. What I have a real problem with is when some drivers have to be concerned about points and some don’t. Villeneuve had nothing to lose by being overly agressive. Algaire, Stenhouse and Sadler had to play by a different set of rules.

Dennis
08/21/2012 12:43 PM
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Villeneuve has improved. I enjoy watching him race. The only person he took out on Saturday was Tagliani and that was pay back for an incident earlier.

underbird
08/21/2012 12:45 PM
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Didn’t Sadler sound like a little girl, complaining about Jaques driving in the interview. He’s become such a putz since he lost his third tier ride in SC.

john
08/21/2012 01:09 PM
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I’m a Canadian, and grew up idolizing both Villeneuves. I’ve also spent the better part of 5 years trying to defend his driving in NASCAR, but after Road America I gave up. He’s turned into a complete trainwreck, like a lot of open wheel drivers running part-time entries, who think “hey I’ve got fenders, I don’t need to care about the cars around me anymore!”

He’s an absolute disaster. Not because of his skill, obviously all the laps led show he still has the scary speed he had back when he drove for Williams. But he doesn’t have the attitude to make this work.

So yes, I support Nationwide drivers questioning whether he should be there or not. I’m shocked Penske put him back in the car, to be honest.

JD in NC
08/21/2012 02:20 PM
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No doubt that Villeneuve can wheel a car. Tagliani bumped him early in the race, got him out of shape and took the lead. Allgaier did the same. The problem I have with Jacques is that he doesn’t do the bump and run. He just drives through people, like he did Tagliani later in the race. And to top it off he bitches about the 31 in the post race interview. When Tagliani caused the wreck late in the race it looked to me like he was performing a Banzai move to get to the 22. I also think he stayed stopped on the track to make sure the caution came out in hopes of running Jacques out of gas.

Red Carey
08/21/2012 02:47 PM
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just talking
08/21/2012 11:20 AM
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Many of us complain about drivers points racing and not going for wins. So, I am not going to criticize Villeneuve one bit. Tough road course racing is all – with the possible exception of the hit on Tagliani. Plus the race was exciting.

Bob
08/21/2012 11:35 AM
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Totally agree with “just talking”. Four years all we’ve heard is crying and whining from NASCAR fans that drivers lack personality and are unwilling to use the fenders . So which is it? Do you want points racing or to go for the win?

Amen to that!!!!

Earner
08/21/2012 02:50 PM
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Seems to be some missing fact checking here: Villian-uve has been getting Nascar drivers (running the season) annoyed at him for 4 yrs of p/t driving & has at least 14 enemies out there not just the “princess”… & I have never cheered so hard for someone to take him out so much (used to be a JV fan in the F1 & Cart days) ..There is no room in Nationwide for this clown as he really thinks he’s the supreme guy out there in junk style cars…I think it’s time to just take him out on lap 1-3 & not worry about him for the day…After a while people like Penske & the other smaller teams will think this isn’t the guy to be in their cars…Then he can go back to his snobby little buddies over in open wheel or sports cars or GT’s where he fits in…Oh Yeah he dosn’t have a job there either..wonder why ..Brian you can’t really be an accredited reporter (just a blogger I expect) & real classy in montreal with the fans throwing a shoe out for the restart …My neck of the woods (lawful) thats an arrest & a 4000.00 fine…montreal …real classy place

Stephen Hood
08/21/2012 03:35 PM
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Sadler may have sounded like a putz but in the race when Danica was wrecked by Villianuve, Sadler was also wrecked by Villianuve. His critique of the Villianuve is from his own experience.

Wallbanger
08/21/2012 06:54 PM
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“So which is it? Do you want points racing or to go for the win?”

“going for the win” doesn’t mean getting on somebody’s rear bumper and driving through them without lifting.

There are accepted methods of getting past another stock car and JV hasn’t a clue how to accomplish that. The way JV turned Tagliani as compared to the way Allgaier passed JV shows the contrast.

john
08/22/2012 12:56 PM
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I’d also like to point out that JV caused a massive pileup of wreckage at one of the two Australian V8 Supercars races he ran last year (I forget if it was Surfer’s or Sydney)… You guessed it, under braking into a corner while trying to somehow overtake 3-4 cars.

They don’t much like him over there either—the Bottle-O team didn’t have him come back to drive. He recently ran another V8 race, but for some underfunded backmarker team.

Jim_812
08/23/2012 05:42 PM
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There isn’t much I can add to what has already been said. JV drives like like an ass and then acts as if he is owed an apology afterward. He doesn’t deserve to race in the NNS series if he is going to continue to drive like he’s in a tank rather than a racecar, and then get out and say “I don’t care” about what happened on the track between himself and drivers racing for points.