The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: The Young, the Old and the Future of NASCAR by Bryan Davis Keith -- Monday November 19, 2012

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Five Points to Ponder: The Young, the Old and the Future of NASCAR

Bryan Davis Keith · Monday November 19, 2012


ONE: Truck Schedule Key to NASCAR’s Future

For all the talk that Brad Keselowski is generating for being the bridge that NASCAR needs to get back to its core fans after his beer-guzzling exploits celebrating Penske Racing’s first Cup title, it’s all perhaps a bit premature. Keselowski has always been brash, old school and outspoken, much to the annoyance of many fanbases (just ask any Hamlin or Edwards fan). The fact that he won a Cup ahead of both of those stars isn’t going to change that opinion.

The future of NASCAR is with the Trucks, and visiting the short tracks that built stock car racing.

Rather, the bridge to those fans lost is being discussed on the third tier of the Truck Series, with the latest rumors pointing to Truck races at Greenville-Pickens Speedway and Eldora Speedway for 2013 pending the successful implementation of SAFER barriers. The incorporation of one of the more lauded short track facilities in the country and what would be NASCAR’s first national touring series dirt race since 1970 is about as old school an undertaking as the sanctioning body has tackled in recent memory. More importantly though, it returns big-time NASCAR racing to the type of venue that is all but guaranteed to put on a good race (a la Martinsville).

Seeing how the sport handles a return to venues such as these, and how the crowds respond, will go a whole lot further towards determining if a bridge is actually being built between NASCAR’s current state and their past fans. After all, Brad Keselowski’s buzz isn’t something that’s going to last.

TWO: Age Requirement Lessening a Bad Sign for Viability

Having said that, the good news that the Truck Series will likely get to play host to some exciting races in 2013 was tempered by another announcement…that the age restrictions in the Truck Series will be cut from 18 to 16 for 2013. I already dealt with this topic earlier this season when 15-year-old Clint King made his ARCA debut, stating that there really is nothing to be gained by series putting the equivalent of older schoolchildren in race cars. I posit that point again.

Furthermore, this is NASCAR we’re talking about. They make changes to their modus operandi for one reason and one reason alone; the almighty dollar. What does this move to allow 16-year-olds to race in the Truck Series mean? It’s simple. Without allowing younger kids with rich families earlier access to Truck racing, the series will likely have a much harder time fielding a full entry list of 36 trucks per week, or go the way of the Nationwide Series with an armada of start-and-parks making up the grid.

This is not indicative of a change in a driver development paradigm as was stated during Brian France’s village idiot address. Drivers were coming through ARCA and the East Series at a young age even a decade ago when NASCAR set the age requirement at 18 after Kyle Busch set a blazing pace through the developmental ladder. Nope, just like ARCA, NASCAR needs rich kids with backing and it needs them now.

THREE: Logano/Gordon Issue Could Become Just That

In issuing his PR statements over the weekend that he regretted his melee-inducing actions at Phoenix a week ago, Jeff Gordon acknowledged that he had exchanged phone calls with Joey Logano over the week between Phoenix and Homestead. Logano made waves during the fallout when he tweeted that he had lost respect for Gordon, a hero of his before he made it to NASCAR’s biggest stage. Logano had apparently called Gordon following the incident, and Gordon’s follow-up call “didn’t go so well.” Long and short, there’s apparently some tension between these two Cup regulars, even if it hasn’t manifested itself anywhere on the track.

Logano has to be careful here. Gordon, regardless of being out of line in the desert, came through in a big way and proved that he’s still got it by rebounding to win the season finale race. Gordon’s got a few more years left in him, and he will be running up front for those years.

For a youngster who’s on strike 2 of his career and still yet to live up to the tremendous expectations that accompanied his meteoric rise at Joe Gibbs Racing, being on any sort of bad terms with a four-time champion and a title contender, especially one as influential as Gordon, won’t help him any. Logano had every right to tweet after the fracas, but if he’s got a sword to bury after their phone conversations, well, new teammate and champ Brad K might want to give the kid some advice, fast.

FOUR: Keselowski’s Nationwide Lesson

Speaking of Keselowski, Brad’s championship in Cup is distinctive as he ran more Nationwide Series races in the same season (21) since Matt Kenseth won the 2003 title having made 14 minor league starts. On the surface, one may go as far as to conclude that Keselowski has finally disproved the notion that a Cup title can’t come with such a concentration of starts across other series.

But that would be ignorant of the fact that Keselowski made a much-publicized move to cut back his Nationwide Series schedule during the Chase, even at the intermediate ovals that long were populated with Cup drivers using the Saturday races for extra seat time. In doing so, Keselowski avoided any situations such as the one endured by Denny Hamlin at Dover (one that saw Hamlin get into it with then Nationwide Series regular Keselowski ironically), and kept his attention focused on the Cup car and adjustments that ultimately won the championship for Penske Racing and the Blue Duece.

Two lessons to be taken here, both rather obvious. One, being a bit scatter-brained during the regular season (i.e. jumping between different race cars) is no big deal as long as you can maintain the top 10 in points. Second, being focused on the primary objective during the Chase leads to Cup championships.

FIVE: JGR’s Missing Piece

What I wouldn’t give to hear Denny Hamlin’s un-PR-filtered take on Keselowski beating both him and teammate Kyle Busch to his first Cup championship. The time to stew over that may be short-lived for attitude-filled duo over at JGR that has time and time again come up short when the big prize is on the line. For they may finally be getting their missing piece courtesy of Matt Kenseth next year.

Ever since Kyle Busch joined JGR in 2008, there has been a literal void of senior leadership among the driver corps. Tony Stewart was doing everything he could to find an exit from JGR that season, and from 2009 to present Busch and Hamlin have been the senior drivers, acting like overgrown children on the track with team management that appeared unwilling to reign them in.

Now, with Kenseth coming, there’s finally going to be a no-nonsense presence in that garage, one that knows full well how to bring a Cup home. Assuming Kenseth rubs off even a little bit on Hamlin and Busch in 2013, JGR may finally have a title contender capable of closing the deal.

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11/19/2012 11:33 PM

I will support ANY driver from ANY team that is NOT in a Hendrick car who shows he can win and is not afraid to take them on.

Thank the racing gods for Brad K. I will still support Kyle and Denny but Brad has done what the others have not.

(Oh, and Brad…uh, watch your back now…you just beat the Hendrick/Nascar machine…I’m just sayin’)

Phil H
11/20/2012 01:31 AM

Carl Edwards,Kevin Harvick,Denny Hamlin…hahahaha don’t you know its killin’ them!
That lil so and so you used to bitch about when you invaded the NAT series just won a Sprint Cup Title over your Major League teams.
With a 2 car team,in a Dodge no less!!!

11/20/2012 06:11 AM

Phil K you are right on!! Gotta add Dale JR, Kasey Kane, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Boyer, Juan Pablo, heck the list is almost endless. You know, its gotta be hard to be humble for most of these guys. When you get your butt kicked by a brash kid. Again right on Brad!!, anybody but Hendrick!!

11/20/2012 07:03 AM

Some of the afore mentioned drivers have such a ferocious sense of entitlement; it is so good to see them humbled and brought back to earth by an old school champ, even though he’s only 28. WTG Brad!

Carl D.
11/20/2012 08:09 AM

Sometimes the good guys DO finish first. Still, I think that what BDK said about Matt Kenseth rubbing off on Kyle and Denny has some merit. Those guys have the talent and the resources, they just need the maturity. Today, however, it’s all about Brad. It’s been said already that his championship is the breath of fresh air that the sport needed, and I agree with that. He’s so real in a sport that has become so out of touch to the traditional fan. He even got me drinking Miller Lite, even when it’s not on sale. That’s a HUGE accomplishment.

Jacklegged Nascar Expert
11/20/2012 10:16 AM

Does Hendrick still own 51% of nascar?

just talking
11/20/2012 10:26 AM

On your first point – any decision to get better RACING is for the good. Nascar needs to start there. Short tracks generally provide better racing. (I know points and the Chase has diminished short tracks some, but still.) So good move Trucks!!

As for the anointed ones – Denny, Carl, and Kyle – what do you have to say about Brad now? They must be fuming.

Don’t have a problem with the others, they never seemed as arrogant or phoney as Denny, Kyle, and Carl.

Brad is a tough tough driver though.

As for Gibbs – what happens if Kenseth takes off over Denny and Kyle next season? There will not be happiness in that garage. Hope Kenseth does well – quiet, class act. Rousch was nuts to let him go – regardless of any excuses.

11/20/2012 11:43 AM

Greenville-Pickens, Eldora, and Mosport on the same schedule with usual NASCAR tracks—now THAT’S a championship!

Carl D.
11/20/2012 11:50 AM

Greenville-Pickens is about an hour or so from my house. It’s a pretty nice facility, too. Bring on the trucks.

11/20/2012 12:54 PM

The change in age requirements in the Truck series is only for road courses and tracks 1.1 miles or less. So it won’t come into play a lot of weeks. You should read the rule change, not just the headline, before you talk about it.

11/20/2012 11:49 PM

I am sure Kyle and Denny will be fine, Matt will be a great addition. Brad did get what the others did not but lets not hail him the 2nd coming just yet. He got lucky, not just skill. You need luck but he got lots this chase. He did not score the most points of all drivers during the chase, see Kyle Bush, he got real lucky at a couple races, wrecks all around him and no fall out his way. Brad is good but more seat time can only help, hope he races some Nationwide.