The Frontstretch: Catch 21: Thoughts, Questions, and Observations Three Races Into 2009 by Danny Peters -- Tuesday March 3, 2009

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Catch 21: Thoughts, Questions, and Observations Three Races Into 2009

The Yellow Stripe · Danny Peters · Tuesday March 3, 2009


21, as many of you will know, is a lucky number in Las Vegas. So, here are exactly that many questions, observations, and thoughts – in no particular order – on the season so far as the series leaves Sin City to head back East:

Nothing changes for Casey.
New team, new number, new sponsor, new crew chief, new cool colors – same awful results. Casey Mears’ finishing positions so far this year have been 15th, 24th, and 30th in his No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevy, good enough for just 27th in Sprint Cup points. In a result-driven business, luck and running well are niceties. Results are what count… and midpack efforts just ain’t going to get it done.

All downhill for Elliott Sadler.
After conspiring to lose the Daytona 500 on the last lap (an accurate portent of his in-race radio chatter), Sadler’s results have trended south. Fifth in the biggest race of all was followed up with a 25th place effort at Auto Club Speedway and a two-lap down, 29th place run in Las Vegas. He needs a storming run and a strong finish in Atlanta, that’s for sure.

New colors — new Jeff Gordon?
Whether it’s the benefits of flying commercial in the offseason and reducing his carbon footprint, or perhaps the snazzy new paint scheme, there’s a real purpose – a vim and vigor, if you will – to the four-time champ this season. Despite a pit road entry miscue and severe right side damage with the blown tire that came from it, he still managed a sixth place finish and snatched the overall points lead at Vegas. As Jeff noted himself: “Three weeks in a row, I’ve felt like we’ve had the car that can win — and that’s quite a change from last year.”

Both Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano left Las Vegas smiling Sunday after sneaking away with season-best performances for their new teams.

Lucky 13 for Joey Logano.
Rarely will 13 have felt like such a lucky number for the rookie, who had his highest-placed Sprint Cup finish in six attempts. After an inauspicious start to the season (and indeed, his Cup career) riding around in the top 10 for part of the day and finishing well will be a great tonic to boost this youngster.

Where did that No. 33 come from?
Clint Bowyer has to be the driver whom I give the least props, which is not to say that I don’t rate him — I just don’t “expect” him to run so well. But the owner of the longest streak without a DNF (76 races) looks well placed to make a run at a third straight Chase berth, even with the new colors, team, and crew.

NASCAR redresses the balance.
After two weeks of nothing but success, you can’t help but wonder if the NASCAR Gods shifted the balance a little in the case of Matt Kenseth. A blown engine in just six laps saw the driver of the No. 17 Ford Fusion go from hero to zero in an instant, with his quest for three-in-a-row over no sooner than it had begun.

Everybody’s got Goodyears, he’s got Goodbyes.
So said Larry Mac as Kyle Busch hurtled into the late race lead – a great line he surely prepared in advance. As Busch assumed the lead from Clint Bowyer, the Vegas native keyed his radio and drawled, “Say Goodnight, Gracie.” Cocky, yeah, but heck; if you’re that good, you may as well flaunt it. This is racing, not crochet. (Sorry, dear readers: I once again appear incapable of writing an article this season without mentioning Busch the Younger.)

The Cat in the Hat and Mr. H are out of luck in Sin City.
In the ten Sprint Cup races run at Las Vegas prior to Sunday, Roush Fenway Racing drivers won six races, while Hendrick wheelmen have won the other four. All the pundits sagely predicted this trend would continue yesterday; as you know by now, it surely didn’t. Kyle’s win was the first for Toyota and just the second in history for a man not employed by Roush or Hendrick when driving this 1.5-mile oval.

Marcos Ambrose is keeping his nose clean.
17th, 20th, and 22nd place finishes are not much to write home about; but for Marcos Ambrose in his first full season at the Cup level, it represents a fine start. Here’s to hoping it continues; now, if Krista Voda would just stop imitating (appallingly) his Aussie accent…

Can Michael Waltrip keep it up?
When M-Dub announced at the start of the season he would vacate the seat in the No. 55 car if he ran badly this year, I really thought the writing was on the wall for the Owensboro, Kentucky native. But this season, the veteran of a quarter century of NASCAR racing has looked racier than ever before in his own equipment.

A weekend to forget for Denny Hamlin.
After a poor qualifying effort on Friday, two pit road speeding penalties, and a premature, fiery end to his first Nationwide race of the season on Saturday, Hamlin parlayed his inauspicious start into a lap down, 22nd place finish in the big show. Expect the Chesterfield, Virginia native to rebound over the next four or five weeks on tracks that suit his style.

A much better weekend for Jamie Mac.
In what will likely to be a futile attempt to keep his seat before he’s shunted to the Roush “B” team (Yates Racing) at the end of the season, McMurray’s shown some signs of life amidst another slow start. A 9th place finish at Vegas, after some poor luck in the first two races, was just the tonic he needed to get on track. Reunited with his old crew chief, Donnie Wingo, much is expected of the amiable McMurray this year. It likely won’t prove to be enough to hold onto the No. 26 ride; but he’ll go down trying, that’s for sure.

And a terrific Sunday for David Gilliland.
For the fourth-year Sprint Cup driver, a 14th place finish for a team that has no plans to run beyond Bristol must have felt like a victory. Whether it will keep the underfunded team running week in and week out remains to be seen; but at least for now, there’s some positive evidence to show potential sponsors.

Not the start Mark Martin was hoping for.
Time waits for no man, goes the old adage — and although he’s got plenty of races to right the ship, it’s not exactly been the blazing start Mark Martin hoped for, especially in such top notch equipment. My money still says he’ll bounce back and make the Chase, though, starting with a top 10 run at Atlanta.

Likewise, Brad Keselowski.
A popular preseason pick for the Nationwide Series crown, Brad Keselowski has had a horrible start to 2009. 22nd at Daytona was followed by a pair of 27th place runs, leaving him 244 points out of the lead just three races in. At the Sprint Cup level, he failed to qualify for the 500, then crashed in the first two laps at Vegas and finished 38th, 64 laps down. He’ll bounce back at the Nationwide level, at least — but the man’s dug himself an unnecessary early hole.

It’s much worse for Mayfield and Riggs, though.
Fair play to Jeremy Mayfield and Scott Riggs for keeping their appearances on SPEED Channel’s Trackside Live on Friday night. Both missed the Cup show in qualifying, and could have easily just packed up and gone home instead. Indeed, both find themselves behind the eight ball in what’s now a losing battle to creep inside the top 35. But in a sport increasingly weighted against the underdog, any form of success for either driver would be a terrific story of victory against the odds.

And speaking of beating the odds… go Max Papis!
Who doesn’t love a good underdog story, and Max Papis finding a way to launch a NASCAR career at the age of 39 seems more unlikely than most. I’m almost certain it’s not going to happen, but I’ll be rooting for the Italian every time he straps into a Cup car.

Allmendinger loses his “mo.”
After a terrific third place finish at Daytona, A.J. has had a dismal couple of weeks. The frenetic search for full-time sponsorship will not be helped by poor finishes, and perspective backers have hardly been wowed by the last two — both outside the top 20. Hopefully, the open-wheel convert bounces back at Atlanta – a track he’s run well at in his previous two visits to the speedway.

The disaster called Digger.
I have two new tactics toward Digger; the first is to ignore it completely, and the second is to count down the races until we finish FOX’s shows — and I no longer have to see the furry critter until 2010.

Spin Cycle.
There was more spinning than an Olympic cycling practice at Las Vegas this weekend. Watching car after car lose control – often to devastating effect – at both the Nationwide and Cup level left me feeling a little dizzy.

It’s not been great, but I still love it.
A great friend of mine back home in the UK is a huge F-1 fan. He really knows his stuff, goes to races and the like; so for the last year or so since I’ve been writing this column, we’ve engaged in some good-natured banter about the differences and strengths of our respective favorite forms of Motorsport. He’s watched some NASCAR here and there, but this Sunday, he texted me to say he was going to watch the Vegas race – to give stock cars another chance. I haven’t actually responded to him yet, though… largely because I’m worried what he’ll say. And based on the evidence of Sunday, it would be tough to argue against any criticisms he might have…

Yes, it’s true to say it hasn’t been the banner start to the season we all hoped for. In fact, it’s been anything but. But as I wrote before Daytona, there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful – some of which are listed above – and I still believe this to be the case. NASCAR has flaws, for sure, but I still relish my weekly dose of racing. And if all else fails, there’s always the fast forward button on the DVR if it gets really dull.

After Atlanta, we reach the first of four off weekends on the 2009 Sprint Cup calendar before we head to Thunder Valley. A full house and a fantastic race, Bristol style, might be just the antidote everyone needs…

Contact Danny Peters

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots


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03/03/2009 01:05 AM

Kyle Busch did not say that after taking the lead, his spotter did.

03/03/2009 12:31 PM

Paul’s right, it was Kyle Busch’s spotter Jeff Dickerson, who said “Say goodnight Gracie.” on the in-car radio.

Kevin in SoCal
03/03/2009 12:50 PM

Also there were 11 Sprint Cup races run at Las Vegas before Sunday. You’re right in that Roush won 6 and Hendrick won 4, but you forgot Ganassi winning with Sterling Marlin in 2002.

03/03/2009 01:38 PM

Once again, the anti-18 fans have more ammo to hate him. He had a faster car than Boyer, and was going to pass him no matter what, but he just had to put a bumper to Boyer. And to hear him explain his early years why he didn’t hang with the football players and cheerleaders made me laugh out loud and feel sorry for the dipsh!t at the same time. Kudos to the punk for stickin it to his nay-sayers but he’s just dorky-lookin. Erase 8 current years of dorkness and you have a superdork at 15. Whatever Kyle! Just shut your piehole and race your damn car already.

Stick a fork in Sadler, he’s done. He gave away the 500. I don’t understand why he even fought for that job. He’s gone the way of Hermie. I hope like hell we see him exit before the season is over.

Jamie Mac’s powerslide thru the corner was friggin awesome! It bested the best of the “king of swing” Biffle had ever done.

I gave the season a D. That craptacular 500 still stings, man.

03/03/2009 09:06 PM

Mark Martin….Was hoping for a better start…

It has nothing to do with him..More the “top notch equipment” blowing up before the race ended. And a crap call by Alan G. at Daytona. Do you know who was behind Mark when Alan called him into pit? Kevin Harvick, who just a few laps later pushed Matt Kenesth to the win…Things could have been oh so different.

03/03/2009 10:27 PM

I watch F1 for one reason. David Hobbs. I like to refer to F1 as technology on parade. About the only on track action, is when the “best drivers in the world.” Drive down into the first corner, & have a big wreck. Your buddy might really enjoy NA$CAR racing. It’s turning into the same kind of boring parade as F1. With the aero dependent cars deciding races in the pits. Just give NA$CAR better announcers, & he might feel right at home.

03/03/2009 11:51 PM

I have to give David Gilliland and the throw-together 71 crew a high five. second race together with little funding and they bring in a 14th position- good job underdog

03/04/2009 12:30 AM

Like him or not—sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t—Kyle Busch is the best wheel man out there right now, bar none. He gets it done or goes down swinging.

He also has a personality, like it or not. He says what he thinks, rather than being Mr. Bland spouting some whine with his cheese, like JG or JJ.

Ask the guys who made NASCAR, and I’ll bet they’d take KB, too.

If I had a car on the circuit, he’s the guy I’d want driving it.

03/04/2009 04:24 AM

Haha, Hi Dawg, I’m the “buddy” in question that Danny talks about. Now I would start talking about how to me NASCAR still feels a little like watching a fast moving traffic jam, but I fear I’ll stir up a firestorm if I do. I’m gradually learning the ropes here as Danny will tell you, and I must admit, the sideways slide of Jimmy Mac was truly spectacular during the last event. I just wish someone had only woken me for that part…..! No, I’m desperately trying to get into and enjoy NASCAR…but I’m struggling a bit at the moment. But hey, you get out what you put in to these things so I’ll keep going for the time being….!

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