The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Debris, Double Duty and Detonations by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday September 25, 2012

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Five Points to Ponder: Debris, Double Duty and Detonations

Bryan Davis Keith · Tuesday September 25, 2012


ONE: The Joke That is the Debris Caution

It’s to the point that the TV cameras don’t even bother acting like they’re trying to find debris on the track. It’s no longer a surprise, but an expectation; a Sprint Cup race will be stopped on multiple occasions for debris on the track, whether or not anything is actually out there. Frankly, I’m amazed there hasn’t been more fan outrage and expressed frustration from the teams that their competitions are being interrupted whenever the sanctioning body gets the impression that the field is too strung out or ESPN needs a commercial break (yes, that’s me speculating, feel free to write in if you think of any other motivation.)

This is a fine example of why a caution should be thrown…we saw none of this on Sunday. Just yellow flags for mystery debris.

It’s the reality of any sport, it can’t all be non-stop action. Baseball will have dull innings, but umpires don’t throw batters a bone by calling balls to force a walk and put baserunners on. Football officials don’t call fouls on the team that’s up 42-0 to help get the Division II opponent back into the game in the third quarter. Soccer officials don’t award penalty kicks in the 60th minute when two teams have settled into a passing game, biding their time for the right opportunity. If any of these incidences were to occur in a stick-and-ball sport, it’d be a scandal of epic proportions. So, how is it acceptable that the biggest sanctioning body in stock car racing gets away with bunching up the field and wiping away leads at will?

If fans want to see scheduled cautions, then speak up and ask for heat races instead of endurance events. If teams are OK with having the “sport” they compete in manipulated by an invisible hand at will, well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The job market is bad after all, and more often than not these days it’s all about toeing the industry line that the sport is as good as it ever has been, without serious issues.

For those keeping score though, a playoff race was stopped, the field bunched up, and pit strategy dictated three freaking times by the officials. For all those folks out there that argue NASCAR racing isn’t a sport, the sanctioning body’s making the case for them.

TWO: Does Kyle Busch Need to Start Looking?

As my colleague Mike Neff noted, while Joe Gibbs Racing has endured a number of engine failures following changes to their power plant provider this season, the failures have disproportionately affected Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team, who saw another top 5 run go down in flames on Sunday with a bad cylinder (the team finished a distant 28th after a front row start.) Just as I wrote a few weeks back, after the No. 18 team missed the Chase, the driver himself needed to be looked at as a place where change needed to be directed (no, I didn’t say fire Kyle, all you Rowdy fans out there put the torches down.) However, there needs to be hard questions asked here. Is Kyle’s driving having an impact under the hood?

It’s no secret that Busch pushes his equipment about as hard as anyone racing motor vehicles today. Who can forget seeing Busch win the Southern 500 a few years back despite hitting the wall at least half a dozen times? But pushing cars to the absolute edge is a live by the sword, die by the sword practice…just ask Ricky Stenhouse Jr. following his weekend at Kentucky.

It’s not hard to fathom that Busch’s relentless style behind the wheel is impacting JGR’s Toyota power plants more than that of say, teammates Hamlin and Logano. And the question has to be asked as a result, if Toyota’s premier engine provider can’t build a motor capable of keeping up with Busch’s driving style, is there another manufacturer that can?

In an era of spec cars, what’s under the hood is one of the very few elements left where a manufacturer can really make a difference. Busch is talented enough to shop around…and maybe he should be if this latest Loudon race was any indication.

THREE: Is Roush Regretting Cup Races for Stenhouse?

Rewind back to 2009. Denny Hamlin ended up pulling double duty at Dover despite knowing full well the Monster Mile was one of the worst tracks on the circuit for his No. 11 team. One tussle with Brad Keselowski later, Hamlin’s head was completely out of the game. He limped to an 18th place finish in the Cup race 24 hours later, and was an afterthought in the 2009 Chase.

This weekend sees a different situation but same risks for Nationwide Series title contender Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is slated to pull double duty for only the third time in his career. Stenhouse, unlike with his start in the Daytona 500 back in February, is not locked into the field for Sunday’s race, meaning he’ll have to spend the first part of the weekend working on qualifying and ensuring he actually makes the 43-car starting grid. No matter what a team owner or press release wants to say, that’s going to distract a driver, especially one needing to make a statement at the Cup level as he seeks sponsorship to make a full season in 2013 happen.

And all of this at a track that absolutely bit Stenhouse earlier this season; the No. 6 car didn’t last 50 miles before Stenhouse spun himself hard into the interior retaining wall in the Spring race, the second in a stretch of four consecutive ugly races that ultimately made the NNS title race as close as it is right now.

So the situation is as follows: Richard Childress Racing made a statement at Kentucky and now have the Nos. 2 and 3 teams riding a wave of momentum into Dover. Stenhouse, meanwhile, is coming off another self-induced disaster and headed to a track that he has limited notes on, seeing as how the car left Dover in the spring in pieces. Not exactly an optimal weekend for a development driver to be a go-or-go-homer on the Cup side.

There’s a very relevant question to be asked here. What possessed Roush Fenway Racing to put a NNS title contender in that position? Even without the Kentucky wreck, this points chase was rather tight.

Either this was a big-time oversight by Roush, or the Nationwide title really doesn’t mean that much anymore. The fans at Kentucky didn’t seem to think so anyway. All 50 of them.

FOUR: Top 35 Sandbagging…Two Months Early

On the Nationwide Series side, the No. 24 of SR2 Motorsports appeared to start-and-park, lasting only 52 circuits before a “vibration” sent them to the garage. On the Cup side, Tony Raines parked the No. 36 car on Sunday after completing 68 laps, the fifth time in the last 10 races that Tommy Baldwin Racing’s second car did so. And yet, both of these teams are sitting comfortably in the locked in part of the top 30 and top 35 in their respective series, with no real pressure coming. The closest Cup team to the No. 36 is a part-time effort from the Wood Brothers, while the No. 24 is actually ahead of Go Green Racing’s No. 39 for the 30th and final Nationwide slot (the No. 23 car, 17 markers back, is the next challenger.)

Oh, the beauty of it all. The top 30/35 rule was put in place to protect sponsors from the horrors of having to actually be fast enough to qualify for the races they want to advertise in. Instead, it’s protecting teams to the point that they can run the better part of a quarter-season without competing and yet show up to Daytona in 2013 with no fear at all of qualifying—whether or not some company out there was crazy enough to put the millions being asked for on their car.

This rule has absolutely got to go. It’s already bad enough that Chase races and Nationwide races alike are struggling to produce racing at the front of the field. There’s no reason to keep rules in place to incentivize teams at the back not to race either.

Besides, there are already plenty of start-and-parkers out there already. It’s not like they’re going to get lonely.

FIVE: Olsen’s Story a Reminder of Why the Field Needs to Stay Open

He finished 11 laps off the pace in 33rd, scarcely a blip on the Sylvania 300’s radar screen. But having said that, it was very cool to see Mike Olsen, a two time East Series (then North Series) champion make his Cup Series debut at Loudon. Loudon has long been one of the few tracks where the East Series regulars still make appearances (Matt Kobyluck, Joey McCarthy and Ted Christopher also come to mind), and there’s something to be said for that.

With everything gone wrong with NASCAR, one of its still existent features is that, even limited by those asinine top 30/35 rules, anybody can show up to race. It’s always fun to see the big stars come for their rare visits, but there’s something also to be said about seeing the local hero out there on the same track. Hats off to Frankie Stoddard for making that happen.

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09/25/2012 06:56 AM

Fans have been complaining about fake debris cautions for the past couple years. We have been studiously ignored. BZF has made it abundantly clear that he is lording it over an ‘entertainment’ rather than a sport. With all the stupid new rules and a phoney ‘playoff’, The TV networks don’t seem to mind, since they basically only cover the front third of the field. You can only bang your head against a wall for so long until you just give up. Unfortunately for many of us, we’ve not just given up on bad rules, we’ve just given up on Nascar altogether.

Ol Guy
09/25/2012 07:37 AM

SB is correct! Many of us have just about given up completely on NASCAR

Jacklegged Nascar Expert
09/25/2012 08:49 AM

Coming Soon-Rick Flair as Flagman.

09/25/2012 09:35 AM

I have stopped watching. This was a sport I fell in love with in the late 60’s. Even as recently as 2004 it was must see for me. After that, I started DVRing races, then I started fast forwarding through them, then I recorded them but deleted them without watching. now I don’t bother. I just come to Jayski’s and read a few articles. rhe sport nowSUCKS!!! I will never watch another race on TV nor will I ever travel to another. Brian France you SUCK!!!

Bill B
09/25/2012 10:14 AM

I am glad someone has taken a stand on these fake debris cautions. NASCAR should be ashamed of themselves for their transparent and blatant manipulation of the on-track competition.

I am very close to not watching anymore if this keeps up.

09/25/2012 10:27 AM

Well, the racing in Cup has been such a boring, steaming pile of cowdung this year. Trucks are the only series worth watching thanks to shorter races, more action and less points racing.

Carl D.
09/25/2012 10:34 AM

Rowdy has been driving BTTW and being hard on equipment his whole career. There’s no reason that I can think of why this should all of a sudden be an issue for him. No, this is about JGR cars, TRD engines, and whatever Dave Rogers is doing to them.

09/25/2012 10:42 AM

The worst party of the phony debris cautions is that they don’t come out when Junior is winning. So it’s official that NASCAR will help Junior win, and fans cannot trust the integrity of the outcome. So why shouldn’t NASCAR get compared to wrestling?

And when you think about it, the Chase is the ultimate debris caution.

Very well put Bryan, although I think there is more disgust about it than you realize. I don’t think it’s a small reason for empty seats.

09/25/2012 11:26 AM

Well said about Chase being the ultimate debris caution. And it’s so pointless too. I’m far more interested in the season long version of the Chase in the Nationwide and truck series, following two or three guys battling for the championship rather than this stupid reset of points where you force 12 guys to point race for most of the Chase and everyone else too scared to get in their way.

Dave Blake
09/25/2012 11:32 AM

It’s not just debris cautions that I question. One car will spin out into the infield, get rolling right away, leave nothing on the track, and we get a caution for enough laps to let the lead cars and then the lapped cars make pit stops!

09/25/2012 12:36 PM

I only read Jayski now,and only the articles that aren’t Nascar press releases. More and more the feeling seems to be a sport that is in decline.

09/25/2012 01:39 PM

All the more reason to watch the Truck series for real racing, folks.

09/25/2012 02:45 PM

I seriously hope Roush comes to his senses and withdraws Stenhouse from the Cup race at Dover. Ricky needs to concentrate on repeating as the Nationwide Champion. I want to hear Brad Daugherty cry when Ricky beats Elliott!

09/25/2012 02:48 PM


Slow down, your equipment is not as good as you are and if by chance you get everything just right and the stars get in alignment. nascar will have to throw debris caution every 5-10 laps because the other drivers do not drive as hard as you do.

Most of your fellow drivers are driving the chase and just want points and have forgot the real name of the game is to try and WIN RACES.

Yes I know you have to finish to win, but to say don’t drive so hard because we are blowing engines, I believe Denny was the one who was blowing engines last year and they changed engine builders.

Bill B
09/25/2012 03:13 PM

“don’t drive so hard because we are blowing engines”

That would have been a perfect statement without the “engines” LOL

Carl D.
09/25/2012 03:39 PM

As Larry the Cable Guy would say, “that’s funny, I don’t care who you are.”

Jacklegged Nascar Expert
09/25/2012 04:11 PM

Look at New Hampshires TV ratings. Is there any doubt that most people prefer athletes over drivers?

09/25/2012 07:48 PM

I grew up in the Charlotte area, live in Canada now, but stock car racing has always been in my blood. What we see today is not racing, it is where can I finish to get the most points. Heard from Elliot, heard from Stewart, heard it from most drivers. Debris, it is a joke. Go to your local short track, that is racing….there are no points they want to win. The points they do get are meaningless. I used to watch NSACAR every weekend, have not seen a race in months, actually Daytona 500 I watched and that was it. What BS this sport has become. The sponsors know also, they are all pulling out.

09/27/2012 09:45 AM

The only thing I can come up with in the Stenhouse issue is that maybe he wants to give him more practice time. That or its a sponsor commitment and nothing more.

Top 30/35: Since teams are being priced out of the sport, is it any wonder that you have start and parkers locked into fields? The costs are out of control. I don’t blame the teams, I blame Nascar for this.

Thank you for mentioning Mike Olsen. They actually talked about him a bit on the telecast too. I was shocked. Being from New England I have seen Mike race alot. Quality driver and glad to see him get a Cup start, even if it was for an underfunded team. Kudos to Stoddard for putting him in the car.