The Frontstretch: Eight Thoughts After Eight Races by Danny Peters -- Tuesday April 22, 2008

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Eight Thoughts After Eight Races

The Yellow Stripe · Danny Peters · Tuesday April 22, 2008

 

Technically speaking, we’ll be at the quarter pole mark following the conclusion of the rollercoaster ride at Talladega this Sunday; but, with a brief pause in the relentless slog that is the Sprint Cup schedule, it’s a good time to put out eight thoughts and questions with eight races of the 2008 season in the books.

1. We had a 50th Daytona 500 to be proud of…

It is often the case in sport that the “big” occasion doesn’t live up to the pre-event propaganda, but the 50th running of the Great American Race was not one of those instances. Now, it’s fair to say this finish wasn’t an instant classic; but it was far from a damp squib. Yes, the finish, while undeniably exciting, was not as dramatic or spectacular as 2007, nor did it contain cars crossing the finish line upside down and on fire. But as the lap counter ticked down in the 2008 edition, the tension ratcheted up notch-by-notch in the last 25 circuits. With three laps to go, Tony Stewart looked set to break his Daytona 500 0-fer; but in the end, it was Ryan Newman, courtesy of the an answered prayer in the form of a push from teammate and erstwhile “Smoke” nemesis Kurt Busch, who took the honors in the most prestigious of all NASCAR races.

2. The cookie cutter tracks might be snooze fests all season long…

Judging by the fiasco that was Fontana, the relative lack of excitement at Atlanta (a track that traditionally produces good racing) and a Texas race that was so dull it could have cured insomnia, it looks like we could be in for some dreary afternoons when the circuit hits the mile and a half to two mile tracks. The decision to schedule an extra testing date at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in early May will hopefully prove to be a prescient one, providing some answers for the many teams still scratching their heads. And if not, with a ton of cookie cutter tracks still to run, we could be in for afternoons when the only way to keep yourself awake is to prop your eyelids up with matchsticks or tape them open Ricky Rudd-style.

3. Toyota is for real…

At the start of the season in my Wishes for 2008 column, I wrote that I hoped Toyota would do well – or at the very least, better than last year. I opined that while they would win races, making the Chase the Championship was a step too far. Well, after eight races, that prediction is looking shaky to say the least. The Joe Gibbs Racing triumvirate of Busch, Hamlin and Stewart are all very genuine threats to be sitting at the head table at the Waldorf Astoria come December. But it’s not just JGR that was having issues, either. Brian Vickers has more than surpassed expectations, recording Top 20 finishes (with a high of ninth) in every race so far. Michael Waltrip Racing has all three drivers locked in the Top 35 while Mike Skinner is making short shrift of the early season deficit in that department created by A.J. Allmendinger. Only Dave Blaney has struggled in this arena, but he is five points off the precious 35th slot.

So, is Toyota for real? You bet they are.

4. Will Dale Junior ever win another race?

Of the 18 articles I’ve written for Frontstretch so far, no column provoked more debate like my piece on Junior. In the end, it turned into a war between the posters in the comments section – completely off topic to what I was expecting – so just for kicks, that why I’ve entitled this point in the way I have. And in answer to my own question — before I get unwarranted hate mail — I’ll say yes, Junior will win again. But will he win as many as the six races some were predicting preseason? I’m not sure. But win he will this year. More importantly, though, he’s putting together a solid first season with HMS, and at this stage, he is their most consistent driver (with Johnson fast catching up). Ultimately, though, it should be the big picture that Junior’s fans are most concerned about because he has the equipment, the speed and the desire to win it all this year. As for the first race trophy, Talladega’s as good a place as any for Little E to break the winless streak.

5. The inside walls needs safer barriers (like yesterday)…

While there can be no doubt NASCAR has made tremendous strides in the field of safety – changes that have without a doubt saved lives and prevented serious injury – there is still one gaping hole in the plan, specifically the inside walls. The ferocity of Jeff Gordon’s crash at Vegas and his barbed post-race comments just highlight the need to address this issue once again. There are significant costs involved in the process; but working with NASCAR, surely a way can be found. Driver safety is paramount, and installing SAFER barriers on the inside walls needs to happen sooner rather than later before something terrible happens.

6. The Rookie Class of 2008 looks distinctly average…

Or, if you prefer, the rookie class is horrible. Sam Hornish, Jr. is the highest placed of them all right now, sitting in a lofty 33rd; but were it not for the points swap with Busch the elder and a commendable 15th place effort at Daytona, he’d be way outside the Top 35. Regan Smith picked up a 14th place at Martinsville but other than that the efforts of those who bear the name of this column (The Yellow Stripe) on their rear bumper have been mediocre to say the least. It’s still early, but you get the impression that the Raybestos Rookie of the Year will be more a process of attrition with one driver ending up the winner, than a case of one of the current crop of candidates making a sustained charge for the prize.

Dale Jarrett’s competitive racing career is over; but his new broadcasting duties at ESPN have only just begun.

7. Marquee names have massive sponsor woes…

In any economic downturn, one of the first areas where a business looks to trim costs is in their advertising and sponsorship budgets. The dollar figures required to decal a Cup car for a full season are astronomical as it is, and they look downright stratospheric when your driver is running 30th every week and barely rates a mention. Even teams with big name drivers have to creatively piece together the sponsorship puzzle with multiple primary sponsors. The nature of the economy will always be boom or bust… and so it goes with NASCAR. The fact is, by comparison, the sport punches well above its weight with longterm commitments from more Fortune 500 companies than any other sport. But with Petty Enterprises losing General Mills and Yates forced to try ridiculous but brilliant marketing ploys (for me, the 11 million paint scheme was genius) the sponsor problems seem more magnified than ever before.

8. Dale Jarrett will be missed on the track, but is a welcome permanent addition to the ESPN crew…

The calm and dignified exit from Sprint Cup points racing of Dale Jarrett told you everything you needed to know about the NASCAR Hall of Famer. A fitting tribute at Bristol, as a 37th place finish sealed the deal for DJ in the Cup Series full-time. After the race, he slipped out of the UPS Camry and seamlessly into the Nationwide broadcast team. His wisdom and insight provides something different in the booth; and it can only be hoped he has a great car on the night of the All-Star race when he runs his final (final) race. A win at Lowe’s Motor Speedway would be a fitting end to a storied career for Jarrett.

Wondering why you couldn’t reach the Frontstretch yesterday? We apologize for the inconvenience; a switch to a new server host caused our site to go down temporarily. But here’s the good news; we should now be in good shape to handle the overwhelming traffic coming in each day from readers like you! Thanks for making us one of the fastest-growing racing sites on the web; we’ll take a few growing pains for the additional readership, and we’re hoping you keep coming back for more.

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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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©2000 - 2008 Danny Peters and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Mark
04/22/2008 09:23 AM
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Will you ever stop inventing reasons to write about Dale Jr. ? Really going out on a limb there by predicting that he will in fact win again .
Sponsorship problems for the teams are a far more serious problem than you can imagine . The sport can’t withstand losing many more teams . But the sponsors and potential sponsors are realizing that Bill France WAS NASCAR , and the show , along with the advertising possibilities , is just not there without him .

Kevin in SoCal
04/22/2008 12:20 PM
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They have to write about Jr and say positive things or his overzealous fans will bombard them with hate mail worse than we Jr haters can come up with.

Don
04/22/2008 12:39 PM
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Could always write about the HUGE mistake Hendrick made trading Kyle for Jr.
Traded a racer for a name.

Matt T. -- FS Staff
04/22/2008 01:02 PM
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Like it or not fellas, Junior is one of the biggest stories of 2008. Be that because of his surname, his popularity and/or the fact that we was the biggest free agent in 20 years who just happened to land with the sport’s best organization. The fact that he has led the HMS charge thus far and actually not won despite being oh-so-close adds even more fuel to the fire.

Mr. Peters doesn’t include Junior for hits, he does so because Junior is one of the big stories in the sport. Need proof? Three people have posted here and all three want to talk about Junior.

Larry
04/22/2008 01:24 PM
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Kyle is on a roll, that is true. But we have seen this before, he will fade as have all the other fast burners. Hendrick, made the right move, he’s too smart not to.

Kevin in SoCal
04/22/2008 01:34 PM
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I posted because I want to STOP talking about Jr so much. There are 40-45 other drivers that could be talked about, some have even won races and Cup championships, unlike the most-exalted Jr.

Connie
04/22/2008 01:36 PM
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3rd in points a mistake? LOL. Boy does Don have it bad. Lets be real – Hendrick should have dumped Casey Mears and kept Kyle. As much as I like Casey he doesn’t set the world on fire and he is another driver that carries a well known name. Kyle is a VERY good driver (a bit to wreck less) but he is also a handful like his brother Kurt. Look for him to have many championships. It will take a owner that can help mature him (if thats possible)to get him there and Gibbs has a track record of being able to deal with difficult drivers.

Hey everybody if your driver isn’t in 1st or 2nd that means their owner made a mistake at hiring them. At least thats what Don says.

Thank you Matt – I have been saying for a long time that a article that mentions Jr will get more hits than any other articles. Just read FS articles and you will see that other article barely get comments. One about Jr will go on for days. Mostly bashers who can’t handle the fact that their driver is a better driver and not the most popular. They can’t grasp that the best isn’t always the most popular.

Mark
04/22/2008 02:29 PM
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Dale Jr. is one of the biggest stories in the sport because writers and TV analysts constantly tell us he is . Kevin in SoCal is correct . You columnists have the entire rest of the field to write about , including car owners , crew , crew chiefs, as well as drivers . What about
“ When will Dave Blaney win “ What about “ Will Joe Nemechek Win again “. But darned if you don’t all seem to end up with Jr; and /or HMS . By the way Matt , Hendrick has a long way to go to be considered the “ sports best organization “ . Best of all-time would probably be Petty , maybe Childress or Junior Johnson . Current best would be Gibbs or maybe Roush .
And not one fan on Earth is so unsophisticated in the ways of ad revenue to web sites , to believe that hits are not the main concern of this or any other internet site .

Matt T. -- FS Staff
04/22/2008 04:00 PM
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Sorry Mark, but I wholly and respectfully disagree with everything you said.

“When will Dave Blaney Win?” is not one of the biggest stories of the young season because Blaney has NEVER won a points race and drives inferior equipment. In short, he’s not a championship contender. Junior is after making a very highly-publicized jump to an elite team.

As for the best organziation, if you don’t think HMS is still No. 1 after winning half of the races last year … well, everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Lastly, we as Frontstretch contributors are neither encouraged nor instructed as to what we should write about. And we’re certainly not swayed by the management staff to “be sure and include Junior, Stewart, Gordon, etc.” because they get hits.

I’m interested as to what everyone else’s “Eight Thoughts After Eight Races” are. Is the performance (and circumstances surrounding) the most popular driver since Bill Elliott really not worth mentioning? (This coming from a fan since the early ’80s that has never been a card-carrying member of Junior Nation.)

True Fan
04/22/2008 04:58 PM
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Danny Peters frontstretch’s rookie of the year!! Great article.

Mark
04/22/2008 04:58 PM
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Matt, if you really believe that Blaney and other drivers don’t deserve your limited attention because they drive “ inferior “ equipment ( by far the dumbest statement a auto racing writer could make ), then i would say you deserve to lose , and hopefully have, lost most of your readers . Just please show honesty and integrity with all of us and don’t continue to pretend to be interested in NASCAR . You are only interested in a small group of drivers who are in the thick of the points race after only a handfull of races . And as anyone who knows anything at all about the sport can tell you , Jr. will only be a championship contender when the the season gets a little closer to the last race . The points right now mean nothing . Race fans check out your site to get inside info and differing views on the sport , not just your personal favorite drivers , or the driver of the week . We get more than enough of that on FOX each week . Why not save us all some time and just tell us which drivers we should pay attention to , and which ones we have been wasting our time on because they drive
“ inferior “ cars .
We didn’t realize that race drivers were not important unless they were among the top in the sport .

Mark
04/22/2008 05:07 PM
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And as for Bill Elliott winning favorite driver , the true story of how that was accomplished has been out for a number of years . I’m not sure you want to lump Dale Jr. in with Elliott concerning the Fans Favorite Driver voting .

briggs
04/22/2008 07:42 PM
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Jr is popular because he looks so good in wrangler jeans. he cant race better than my mom

Matt T. -- FS Staff
04/22/2008 11:18 PM
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Mark, here’s the God’s honest truth: If I only answered questions concerning drivers such as Blaney, Nemechek, et al, in ‘Fanning the Flames’ each week, you’d realize real quick that the column would no longer be in existence. The media gives the fans what the fans want — and specifically what they ask for in a column like Fanning.

And I meant no offense to Blaney throughout this thread — he just happens to be ‘the name used’ — but when Blaney does something newsworthy, believe me, we’ll be more than happy to devote a column to him. I’d welcome the divergence as much as you.

Kevin in SoCal
04/23/2008 06:14 PM
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Sure Jr is third in the points now, but I think he’s only finished in the top 5 in points once. He’s also missed the chase twice in four tries, while the other “great” drivers have made the chase at least 3 out of 4 tries. He’s a legend only in his fans minds.

Matt T. -- FS Staff
04/23/2008 09:04 PM
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Junior has three top 5 points finishes to go along with 17 career wins. That ain’t bad. I guess I’m here and you guys are there. That’s cool. We can agree to disagree on this one!

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