Bryan Davis Keith · Tuesday November 6, 2012
ONE: Debris Will Decide This Championship
The Jimmie Johnson/Brad Keselowski finish this past Sunday was a battle well worth watching, and an example of strategies battling it out. Paul Wolfe’s decision to trust his driver’s intuition and go with two tires late even as the rest of the field took four would have panned out sans the rash of cautions to close the event. But there’s no doubting that Chad Knaus considered that in choosing to put four tires on the No. 48 car. And that extra rubber allowed Johnson to build his biggest lead of the Chase at the track that nearly cost him title number five two years ago.
What the situation did resolve, though was just how vulnerable this Chase is to the myriad of yellow flags for phantom debris that have plagued NASCAR racing all 2012 long. Even the end of Sunday’s race saw one yellow flag thrown for debris (granted, for a car hitting the wall) but there was still no footage whatsoever of masses of sheet metal clogging the groove. Like it or not, without those yellow flags, Keselowski had the horses to steal this one from the No. 48 team.
Debris yellows make it less important to hit the right setup, as they provide ample opportunity to adjust race cars. They can also negate carefully rendered strategies. Instead of allowing a crew chief to play the odds of track conditions and who’s racing who where on the track, it throws the element of the sanctioning body wanting a TV timeout into the equation.
Sure, cautions will always fly that mess up pit cycles, two-tire calls and every other element of strategy under the sun. But having it happen for no good reason should not, but very well might, decide this championship. It already cost a contender a win.
TWO: Pastrana to Roush Will Yield Results
As our own website reported on Monday, Travis Pastrana is headed to Roush Fenway Racing as a teammate to 2011 Daytona 500 champ Trevor Bayne in pursuit of the 2013 Nationwide Series championship. With a half season of races already sold, Pastrana brings some much needed cash to the Roush Fenway organization that has shrunk from three Nationwide cars to one for this year.
On paper, he’s the perfect compliment to Bayne. Bayne, even for being exuberant and well-spoken, is far from a flashy presence. Pastrana brings flair and name power that even Bayne can’t touch, giving Roush’s Nationwide program a strong 1-2 punch for potential sponsors to look at. There’s also the advantage that Bayne, among the title favorites for 2013, will have a teammate to bounce setups and other information off of; it’s a luxury that Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has not had for this season.
As for Pastrana himself, getting into a Roush car is about the best thing he could do for his career. As Danica Patrick has demonstrated throughout 2012, the parity of equipment in the Nationwide Series is more pronounced than ever. Driving a top-tier car without the hitting the wall is almost sure to guarantee top-15 finishes on a weekly basis. Pastrana was knocking the door on those type of results now… even before getting weekly seat time. An effective measure of development or not, Pastrana will be able to put results on the board next year in a Roush car and contend for the top 10 in points. Doing all of that will equal TV time and sponsor exposure for the former extreme sports star.
It’s a win-win scenario for driver and team alike.
THREE: Bruton Smith Right on With “Eager” Comments
While Bruton Smith’s comments on scheduled cautions to break up green flag racing and his support of the Chase remain from outlandish to unfortunate, he was right on in stating that drivers “are not as eager” in this day and age. Case in point, the rip-roaring finish fans were treated to at Texas this weekend. Brad Keselowski took it to the edge, raced Jimmie Johnson as hard as he could, eventually yielding on the race’s final restart (after he’d traded paint with the No. 48 car a few laps before).
When asked about his aggression on the track, Keselowski quipped, “I raced hard and I’m sure some would say dirty. Hell, anytime you run close to certain guys you’re racing dirty according to some people.”
Like Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch. Two of NASCAR’s supposed bad boys mouthed off in post-race remarks that Keselowski was racing like he had a “death wish” and that based on past experience that aggression “[didn’t] surprise” them.
Meanwhile, it was none other than Mr. Vanilla himself, Jimmie Johnson, that acknowledged Keselowski “did a nice job of getting it right up to the edge and we brought home racecars.” In short, for all the hard racing, nobody got wrecked, and the race was worth watching.
Two drivers characterized as too plain or too arrogant put on a great show, and the drivers named Smoke and Rowdy cry foul. Suddenly all those empty grandstands make a lot more sense.
FOUR: Hamlin On to Something About the Dillon/RCR Garage?
Look, don’t get carried away. Read this weekend’s Nationwide Series Breakdown to remind yourself Denny Hamlin acted like a complete moron post-race on Saturday. But besides making an obvious statement (yes, being Richard Childress’ grandson has its benefits), Hamlin may well be on to something about the reality of that garage… just how much is it swinging in favor of advancing the talented Dillon brothers?
The results speak for themselves… both the Truck and Nationwide operations are running like gangbusters despite their relative youth in their respective series, while the Cup program has stagnated in 2012. Elliott Sadler has chosen to leave the team’s Nationwide program despite scoring four race wins and being a threat for the championship in their equipment.
That could be written off as Sadler wanting to go somewhere which has a Cup ride soon to open… but the same can’t be said for Truck Series regular Joey Coulter, who despite having scored his first win this season and having the benefit of steady backing from family and investors has revealed that he is shopping around with other teams for 2013. There is no Cup seat problem for Coulter, who’s at least a few seasons away from making that jump. And his equipment has been more than competitive.
Which begs the question… if the teams are running so darned well, why is there an exodus on hand for all drivers not named Dillon?
As good as they are, those two youngsters are going to need teammates. Suddenly they’re starting to shorten in supply.
FIVE: Enough Conversation Already!
Tony Stewart informed the media over the weekend that talk of hosting a Truck Series race on the dirt at Eldora had not gone past the conversation phase.
Look, getting provisional qualifying and testing back is fine and dandy. But fans deserve more than just getting back what was taken away. Give us a freaking dirt race already!
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