The Frontstretch: 5 Points to Ponder: Yellow Flags, Timely Contracts and Lost Enthusiasm by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday November 6, 2012

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5 Points to Ponder: Yellow Flags, Timely Contracts and Lost Enthusiasm

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.

Travis Pastrana joining Roush Fenway Racing will bring success and sponsors to both the team and the rookie Nationwide driver.

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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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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Steve K
11/06/2012 02:30 AM

As a Ganassi fan I was more than thrilled when they announced they are going with the Hendrick Chevy engine. Every car with a ECR engine (1, 42, 29, 31, 27, 78) has been running like dog meat this year. You make an interesting point about the seasons the Dillon brothers are having great seasons. One could conclude that Mr. Childress is putting all of his resources in his grandsons careers. There is nothing wrong with that, but if I were one of his other drivers I wouldn’t be too pleased with that. Kevin Harvick is one to watch next year. He is too good and too competitive a person to be held back by the Childress team. Paul Menard brings his own sponsorship. If given the opportunity to go to another team with is, would he take it?

11/06/2012 05:45 AM

The uncanny reliability and lack of spins in this era has made the controversial debris cautions a necessity to keep it interesting.

And Kyle and Tony are two of the biggest hypocrites in the sport so they should hold off on judging others..

11/06/2012 06:56 AM

Dillon Brothers? You can see it coming. Granddaddy will make space no matter what or who he has to let go to move up his grandsons to Cup. Richard will have to play his outdoor sportsman/hunter card to milk as much sponsorship out of Bass Pro Shops as possible. The Dillion Brothers may not be as appealing to sponsors as they are to their Granddaddy. Remember Daytona 500 winners Kenseth and Bayne, as well as Champion Tony Stewart have had sponsorship problems. So The Dillion Brothers are living a dream. One has to wonder if they could make it in the outside world without their Granddaddy’s first class equipment and his deep pockets.

11/06/2012 12:34 PM

Anybody who doesn’t think there is politics and gimmicks in Nascar is a fool.

11/06/2012 12:54 PM

Hearing rumblings of Jamie Mac #1 losing his ride in cup and going to Nationwide. Any truth to this?

Tin Man
11/06/2012 05:16 PM

Richard is doing what any loving grandfather would & should do. It is refreshing to see drivers who were raised in the sport and love it, instead of the corporate parrots now driving. RCR will never received the benefit of the doubt as long as Robin(g)Pemberton is around. Anyone remember 1990 when he was crew chief to Martin and they lost the championship to the 3 car because of an illegal carb spacer?

11/06/2012 10:53 PM

Obama looks to get 4 more years. The economy will go into more debt and most likely a terrible depression.

You really think more folks will be going to nascar races?

Sample Contracts
11/08/2012 05:29 AM

I agree with the Keselowski words, it is the part of the racing game.

11/08/2012 04:15 PM

Well Mr. Keith, You certainly never fail to entertain with your comments every week. No matter how ridiculous they may be. It wouldn’t be a normal week though unless you took a shot at Tony, Kyle, Danica or any combination.

Your seriously calling out Tony and Kyle for speaking their mind? Really? It couldn’t be the fact that you dislike both of those drivers would it? Naw. Couldn’t be. And Jimmie’s vanilla comment proved what again? That Jimmie’s vanilla? Got it! Thanks for the clarification.

I wonder if Mr. Pastrana struggles in the NW series next year if he’ll be subjected to the same scrutiny as Ms. Patrick you so love to do. As of this date, Ms Patrick has 1 more professional racing series win than Mr. Pastrana.

When the Dillon brothers show up to the track with a less than stellar car and make proper adjustments during the race to take a bad car and make it good, then I will be impressed, not until. The job is a whole lot easier when the car is stout off the truck every week.