Bryan Davis Keith · Tuesday August 21, 2012
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.
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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