The Frontstretch: Fact or Fiction: Post-Race Mistake, Start And Park Problems, And Truck Changes? by Frontstretch Staff -- Tuesday September 27, 2011

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With eight races left, major NASCAR storylines are heating up as we head towards the stretch run of stock car racing’s nine-month season. Take a look at some of the sport’s big controversies and how we, the Frontstretch Staff think they’ll turn out in a wide-ranging edition of Fact or Fiction.

FACT: Tony Stewart Is A Contender For The Championship

After two straight wins to start the Chase, Tony Stewart is looking like he’s in championship form.

I’ve read all of the articles casting doubt over Tony Stewart and No. 14 team and whether they can keep up the roll on which they’ve started the Chase. I mean, who can blame the media for being so down on a team that barely made the playoffs and failed to visit Victory Lane before Chicagoland Speedway last Monday? After all, Stewart had just 11 top-10 finishes in the first 26 races this season before following up with back-to-back wins to open the Chase.

But let’s consider a comment Stewart made in his post-race interview Sunday afternoon.

“Well, we got rid of some dead weight earlier this week. So, it made it a lot easier. It’s been a big weight lifted off our shoulders. Just sometimes you have to make adjustments in your life and we did that and it has definitely helped this weekend for sure.”

Since there haven’t been any announcements of team changes or dismissals, we all know what that “dead weight” most likely was, and obviously Stewart is alright with it since he’s the one that mentioned it in his post-race interview. Perhaps that “dead weight” was a big distraction for much of the season and he’s since shaken that monkey off of his back and can place all of his focus on the race team for the remaining eight races this season — Dover, Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead.

Stewart boasts a combined 12 wins at the remaining eight tracks on the schedule and has posted double-digit top-10 finishes at each track except Kansas and Homestead, where he’s only made 11 and 12 starts, respectively. Simply put, top-10 finishes are just as important as race wins when it comes to putting together a championship run. Remember, Jimmie Johnson had just one victory during the Chase last season and in 2006, but he also only had one finish outside the top 10 in 2010 as well — 25th at New Hampshire.

Sure, the owner / driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet only holds a mere seven-point lead over Kevin Harvick, but with the new points system awarding roughly one-third of the points of the old system, you could compare it to a 21-point lead in previous seasons.

I am in no way guaranteeing that Tony Stewart will win the championship. The only way to do that is to have NASCAR fix the final eight races, and that’s just not right. But Stewart’s burst out of the gate in the first two races of the Chase isn’t a fluke and shows that the two-time champion, who missed his usual summer peak, is seeing significant improvement in team performance at a time when it matters most. Beth Lunkenheimer

FICTION: The KHI Ride Swap Between Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Cale Gale For Kentucky Speedway Isn’t Important

On Monday, Kevin Harvick, Inc. announced a ride switch for Kentucky Superspeedway between Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Cale Gale. Instead of piloting his usual No. 33 Chevrolet, Hornaday will instead wheel the No. 2 Hollywood Casino Chevrolet while Gale will run the No. 33 Rheem Heating, Cooling and Water Heating Chevrolet Saturday evening.

While it is a departure from the norm, it’s a very important decision for KHI. In their final season in the Truck Series, the No. 2 team currently leads Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 18 by 33 points in the owner standings and hopes to close out their ten-year run in the series with an owners’ championship, since the likelihood of a Driver’s Championship is slim-to-none. Also, team owner Kevin Harvick will be in Dover, Delaware and unable to pilot the No. 2 like he has on so many occasions. Hornaday is simply the better driver to put in his place to protect that points lead over the No. 18.

Aside from the obvious behind-the-wheel experience advantage, Hornaday is a four-time series champion that has seven starts at the 1.5-mile oval in Sparta, KY. In those seven starts, there are two visits to Victory Lane and a whopping five finishes inside the top 15. Sure, the last two starts at Kentucky Speedway haven’t been the best for the Truck Series veteran — 29th in 2010 and 27th earlier this season — but Hornaday’s performance has been on the upswing lately.

On the flip side, Cale Gale has just a single top-10 finish in the Truck Series and has just two Nationwide Series starts at Kentucky Superspeedway — a 13th in 2007 and an 18th in 2008 — so it only makes sense that the driver with more experience at the track and a better overall performance record would get the nod when making the decision of who will hold on to the owner points lead.

Of course, there are no guarantees come race day on whether either truck will make it all the way through to the checkered flag, but the driver does make a difference. And Ron Hornaday, Jr. is the driver to lean on when it comes to something as important as a championship. Beth Lunkenheimer

FACT: NASCAR Must Address The Start-And-Parks This Offseason

They’ve been around for years, to the disgust of some and the outright ignorance of others. In fact, there’s even a solid cross-section of the Sprint Cup garage that welcome the start-and-parkers, cars who begin each race with no intention of going the distance. With the options for employment few and far between these days, it’s a way to keep a job in stock car racing, right?

Up until now, NASCAR hasn’t done much to stop the practice of pulling in after only a couple laps on the track. Instead, the sanctioning body seems to be helping to establish a growing business model in order to bank some easy cash. A team, you see, that runs less than 100 miles, then parks doesn’t have to spend money on tires, rent a pit crew or even worry about paying full price for a motor. And during flareups, officials have nagged full-time start-and-park cars to go the distance about once a year. Each week, they select one of them for a full, teardown inspection at the R&D Center, costing that program tens of thousands of dollars as their pull-apart, then rebuilding process also causes each team to bring out a backup car.

But think a moment: With seven full-time start-and-park programs minimum, you’re looking at dealing with that expense maybe five times a season. It’s still not enough to erase the profit margins. Otherwise, the teams wouldn’t be out there each week.

However, their existence also does nothing to continue to grow the legendary level of competition NASCAR likes to tout on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, there’s still no quick fix to handle this problem; NASCAR refuses to reduce the number of cars on the grid from 43 to a far more manageable 36. But based on what we saw this Sunday, it’s an issue the sanctioning body can no longer continue to ignore. A total of eight cars parked it early at Loudon, a season high equivalent to 18.6 percent of the field taking well over $550,000 in purse money. Taking a look ahead, those numbers are only expected to increase in 2012; none of the S&P cars have sponsorship, while the closure of Red Bull Racing combined with the loss of perhaps one, maybe two other full-time teams means you’re looking at a dozen cars lining up to simply park it each week. Can NASCAR stomach a full one-quarter of the starting field each week making a few short parade laps, then heading to the garage? You figure some sort of rule has to come down to eliminate this practice… right? Tom Bowles

FACT: Kurt Busch’s Car Should Have Gotten A Second Look

There was an interesting omission noticed Sunday night from a usually mundane list of cars selected for post-race inspection. You had Tony Stewart, the Loudon race winner, followed by second-place Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards. Sounds normal enough, right?

Wrong. Here’s a hint as to who might be missing: his car almost didn’t make the starting grid after being held for what seemed like days in pre-race inspection. Yes, Kurt Busch found himself escaping from scrutiny after a 22nd-place finish left him one lap down and out of contention. That ugly ending, hurting him deeply when it came to the Chase was probably the reason NASCAR left well enough alone. But considering the team was kept hanging for so long, officials concerned about not just timeliness but possible violations why not add some follow through? If President Mike Helton thinks things have gotten serious enough he needs to talk to owner Roger Penske in pre-race… wouldn’t you think a second check to ensure everything’s legal after the checkered should come naturally?

In this case, it didn’t. But I’m sure Clint Bowyer, one year removed from a Chase-killing 150-point penalty was sitting back today, catching up on this situation and shaking his head. Tom Bowles

FICTION: Modifieds Are A Strictly Northern Racing Division

The Whelen All-American series awards its national championship to a driver who competes at a track which hosts a weekly feature series that is eligible for points, whether it is dirt or asphalt, modified or late model. While there is no official demarcation, it is generally regarded that the dirt is in the Midwest, the asphalt is on the coasts and in the South, and Late Models race in the South and West while the Modifieds race in the Northeast. While that might be the popular belief, the fact remains that not only is there a viable tour in the South for Modifieds, they were originally raced in the South.

There is no question that three of the four most famous race tracks to host weekly Modified races are located in Connecticut. Thompson International Speedway, Stafford Motor Speedway and Waterford Speedbowl have all been hosting NASCAR weekly racing series events since the 1950s. These tracks were the stomping ground of Richie Evans and Jerry Cook, the two most famous and successful Modified drivers in the history of the sport. The long and storied traditions of these tracks and the ardent followings of the Modifieds roaring around their tight confines could easily convince a casual fan that the only real Modified racing takes place in that area of the country.

It may very well be the hotbed of Modified racing, and the home of the Whelen Modified Tour, but it is not the only area, nor is it the original location, of Modified racing. NASCAR also has a Southern Modified Tour and during their schedule they race at the true home of Modified competition. Bowman-Gray Stadium is the longest running weekly NASCAR race track in the country, having hosted its first Modified event on May 18th, 1949.

Modified racing may have a dedicated Northeastern fan base but, the fact remains it was born and lives in the South…

How steeped in tradition is it? Bill France started the racing at Bowman-Gray, Bill France Jr. met his wife Betty at the track, and Ben Kennedy, the great-grandson of Big Bill France competed there in a K&N East race this Summer. The television series Madhouse was about the racing at the famous track, which routinely brings in 10-15,000 fans every week for their weekly racing program. The competition in the Southern Modified ranks is every bit as competitive as that in the Northern ranks, as evidenced by Burt Myers winning the North/South shootout on two occasions.

Modifieds are certainly the most popular racing vehicles in the Northeast and the best who have ever driven them came from the tight bullrings of New England. While those facts are unquestionable, the racing in the Modified division in the South is just as competitive and just as intense, showing the true roots of the sport were firmly entrenched in Carolina clay well before they ever set down in New England. – Mike Neff

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Bertus
09/27/2011 03:41 AM
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Start and parks could be handled better by adjusting the calculated purse by the percentage of laps completed.

The amount of money then freed up could be spread amongst all the teams.

A quick example of the basics would have Tony Stewart’s winnings jump from $254083 to $290678.

Andy Lally would have earned $86966 ($80300)

Dave Blaney (not really a S&P) would have made $21538 ($70600) and biggest loser would have been Travis Kvapil who would only have pocketed $2326 ($69767)

The above principle is not perfect, but could be improved by having a guaranteed as well as flexible portion. All contingency awards as example should really not participate in the proportionate increase. On the other hand a team that qualified should probably get back its entry fee and the cost of 1 set of tires.

Randall
09/27/2011 08:06 AM
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I would say the purse is the best way to approach it also. Nascar purses are much “flatter” than they used to be. A simpler approach might be to just have a severe dropoff at 39th and below. None of this precludes the promoter or sanctioning body from paying “tow” money to a guy who truly had bad luck and finished 43rd.

Arnold Decker
09/27/2011 08:07 AM
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Stop the fuel milage races

Matt L
09/27/2011 09:25 AM
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I understand the reasoning behind the Gale/Hornaday swap. It’s a smart business & points move.

But it stinks as a fan. It’s like Jeff Gordon switching numbers for a week. All that #24 gear is useless. Does anyone care if KHI wins the truck owners title? Does anyone even care about any of the owners titles? Only the business end does.

As for the S&P’s. Some of these teams have been around for three seasons now. Even a few one-off sponsorships have not materialized into bigger deals for these teams. The sport is in stagnation. It’s a sign for the sport that something has to change. We’ve never seen this many parks in Cup before. Rather than punish the S&P teams, the business model has to change.

Russ
09/27/2011 09:25 AM
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Before slamming the start and parks, ask yourself why they are there? They are there because Nascar wants them there! Are the rumors true about a minimum field because of a clause in the TV contract? if not there has to be a reason they are allowed.
Also with the elimination of any viable new teams by the TOP 35 rule what do you expect? Would you rather it just be the top 35 cars from 2011 allowed to race forever more? If you want to get in you have to buy a team from HMS, RCR, etc? Thats the alternative.

Dennis
09/27/2011 10:35 AM
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I like the proportional purse by laps completed idea.

I’d say NASCAR hasn’t clamped down on the S&P’s because they want a full field.

SHOEMAN
09/27/2011 12:39 PM
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Dump “ THE CHASE “!

Doug in Washington (State)
09/27/2011 01:50 PM
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NASCAR won’t do anything about the S&Ps.

But they could:

1) Require all teams to have full, qualified pit crews in order to pass pre-race inspection.

2) Require all teams to purchase(lease) the required number of sets of tires, and not allow ANY sharing of tires.

3) Any car that scores a DNF for parts failure gets that part confiscated for inspection. If it’s really broken, the part gets returned in 3 weeks. If it’s NOT broken, it’s confiscated for the rest of the season. (DNF’ing for “Handling” or not meeting minimum speed means the car gets confiscated, and “Driver Fatigue” means a 2 week vacation plus needing a full medical recertification to drive again)

4) Pro-rate the prize money based on laps completed. Yeah, that’ll hurt a team that really blows and engine or wrecks early, but that should be a rare occurance.

Or, Last Place pays $1. At least that would make it interesting to see each team try NOT to be last.

FS_Amy
09/27/2011 02:06 PM
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I may be the only voice of dissent on the start-and-park situation, but I don’t believe these teams should be penalized. I certainly don’t believe in prorating money based on laps completed, that would be grossly unfair to a legit team who had a problem or a crash, especially at tracks like Talladega where a dozen or more cars wind up not able to finish due to no fault of their own. I also fail to see exactly who the start-and-park teams are actually hurting. I understand about the spirit of the sport and all that, but they are openly ridiculed and fans know they aren’t legit.

But the real problem I have with penalizing them is that there are two kinds of teams doing this. The ones doing it as their business model are wrong and yes, unsportsmanlike. But there are others doing it because it’s the only way they can race, and they face ridicule and hatred to show up and turn a few laps in hopes that they will find a sponsor and be able to run full races. Those teams should hardly be penalized for trying desperately to make it in the sport, and unfortunately, NASCAR can’t distinguish between the two. For example, Joe Nemechek does go the distance when he can scrape up a sponsor, and I’m positive he would run every race if he had backing each week. The No. 13 parks on occasion because they only have backing for about 25 races. They show up and run as long as they can those other weeks rather than staying home in hopes of learning something that will help them when they do find funding for a full race.

If NASCAR wants to eliminate start-and-park teams, they need to find a way to funnel sponsorship to those sorely underfunded teams (too many “Official Whatevers of NASCAR, not enough sponsors) and/or reduce the cost of sponsorship to encourage new sponsors to come on board and partial sponsors to cover a whole season. Sponsorship is the key to ending the situation. Punishing teams who are giving everything they have to race and try to find a sponsor is not.

Don Mei
09/27/2011 02:23 PM
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No point in my re-inventing the wheel. The economics of Nascar are completely screwed up and in drastic need of attention. FS-Amy has it right 100% when she says “If NASCAR wants to eliminate start-and-park teams, they need to find a way to funnel sponsorship to those sorely underfunded teams (too many “Official Whatevers of NASCAR, not enough sponsors) and/or reduce the cost of sponsorship to encourage new sponsors to come on board and partial sponsors to cover a whole season. Sponsorship is the key to ending the situation. Punishing teams who are giving everything they have to race and try to find a sponsor is not.”

olddirttracker
09/27/2011 04:47 PM
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I do not have a problem with teams such as Joe Nemechek or Tommy Baldwin who truly want to race, I have a major problem with scumbags like Phil Parsons who enters 2 cars, has good equipment and good drivers. this is his business model with no intention of anything otherwise. Heres a former driver, a so called unbiased media personality just bottom feeding. I have no respect for him and wish Nascar would close the loophole that allows him to do this. Many years ago more than once I made it home after a problem during a race on tow money but never ever did i lay down on the fans for a profit.

CH
09/27/2011 04:49 PM
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I have one number to type when it comes to S&Ps….

36, I mean look at what they have done in three years, two start and park years and finally a sponsor. Now you have another full time team. Just give it time and the same will happen to the 46.

Now cars like the 55 and 60 which are run to gain extra money for teams that are racing the whole race with no sponsorship (13 for the 60/50, and 34,38 for the 55) those should be left alone too. It’s NASCAR’s fault that they have to do this. They allow teams like Childress/Roush/Hendrick to charge WAY TOO much for sponsorship causing multiple sponsors for one car, which then causes a lack of sponsors for the underfunded teams.

I REST MY RANT.

old farmer
09/27/2011 05:52 PM
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A solution: s&p twice, bench that owner & car for a month. Anyone who doesn’t intend to race shouldn’t be on the track taking up space.

Not enough cars to make a 43-car field? Who cares? We want to see a race to the finish, not a race to the garage.

DoninAjax
09/27/2011 07:03 PM
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Maybe Tony’s big weight was winning an Outlaw race.

And doesn’t metowe sound like a dating service?

DoninAjax
09/27/2011 07:08 PM
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To me the start and parkers get mentioned just as much after they go to the garage as other drivers who drive the whole race.

Contact Beth Lunkenheimer