The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Have At It, Boys ... They Certainly Did by Danny Peters -- Tuesday November 23, 2010

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Five Points to Ponder: Have At It, Boys ... They Certainly Did

Danny Peters · Tuesday November 23, 2010

 

As someone who follows the Sprint Cup series with a pretty serious level of devotion — it’s nigh on impossible to write a coherent weekly column if you don’t keep up, after all — the final checkered flag of the season always comes as something of a rude shock. You see, after ten months of racing, the off-season, however short, feels just a smidgeon empty. Of course, those nearest and dearest to me won’t mind so much, as I’ll actually be able to plan my weekends around something else other than 43 like-minded maniacs driving three and a half ton cars to the limit of their capacities. But before we put to bed the 2010 season, it’s time for one final iteration of Five Points to Ponder: Championship style.


They did it again! The No. 48 accomplished the impossible, taking home their 5th Sprint Cup in-a-row. Long Live the King.

All Hail King Jimmie:

There’s nowhere else to start, really; you could even argue that every single one of these five points should be about the newly minted “Five Time”. Whatever you think of Double J, you can’t do anything but hold your hands up and say he’s remarkable. This year in particular, not least because for much of the season the No. 48 team seemed just a tick off the pace. The really scary part for everyone else is you can take it to the bank that Chad Knaus will work his gnarly little fingers to the bone this off-season. The prohibitive favorites for 2011 will be back even stronger, which can only be a massively terrifying thought for the chasing pack. Say what you will about the Chase, but all the drivers play to the same system, the same rules, and Jimmie and Chad have absolutely mastered the Chase format. He is a worthy champion, no question.

Chin Up Denny Hamlin:

During the course of the season, Denny Hamlin talked a number of times about the fact that he’s repeatedly found ways to screw up the Chase. His argument being that to win one you have to lose one first. To me, in the previous four years, other than his rookie season, he’s never really been in contention all the way to Miami-Homestead. So if Denny wants to talk about truly losing one, then this was the year. Simply put, though, it’s absolutely no disgrace to lose to Jimmie, and despite what his constant critics would tell you, a fair and rational analysis of the entire No. 11 team this year is that they’ve stepped up to be counted and overcome adversity time and again. Yes, in the final denouement he didn’t win a maiden championship, but an 8-win season is nothing to be ashamed of, not in the slightest.

As Hamlin said post-race, “I knew before today that we have a lot to be proud of as a race team. And I know every year I’ve been in the Cup series, I’ve been better than I was the previous year.”

He’ll be back raring to go next year, you can count on it.

A Happy Season for Harvick:

In the end, Kevin Harvick was never truly in serious contention at Homestead, but the very fact he was there or thereabouts headed into the last race speaks volumes for the “night and day” improvement in Richard Childress Racing this year. All told, Harvick ended up with 3 wins, 16 top-5’s and 26 top-10’s (both the latter marks are career bests), an average finish of 8.7 and just 41 points out from hoisting the biggest prize of them all. Now there are those (frankly moronic) fans who will continue to bleat long and hard as to why Harvick was the real “regular season champion,” but this would be a specious and spurious claim. Yes, in 2003 under the old points system, Harvick would have been the champ but we’re not using that system and the idiots that keep propagating this nonsense about the real points champion should learn the difference and shut the (insert your own expletive) up. That aside, Harvick had a tremendous year and it augurs well for him in 2011 and beyond, even if his wife does wear the firesuit in their family. (Sorry, couldn’t resist one last mention of that.)


You might have missed it…Carl Edwards had a dazzling finish to his season. Two back flips!

Two Backflips in Two Weeks for the No. 99:

Lost, somewhat, in the hyperbole of the closeness of the Chase was a second straight victory for Carl Edwards after going 70 straight without taking the checkered flag ahead of the pack. The real question, however, is whether or not this was just some end of season “flash in the pan, we’re all tired” sort of form or a sign of what’s to come from Ford and the fledgling FR9 engine. For Jack Roush and co., the hope is for the latter because despite placing three cars (Biffle, Edwards and Kenseth) in the Chase, the reality was the RFR cars were never really serious contenders. Still, it’s good to see Edwards have some joy at the end of a tough season as, for me at least, he’s one of the good guys.

Have At It Boys…They Certainly Did:

In January of this year, NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition, Robin Pemberton, uttered what would become one of the most quoted phrases of the year, “We will put it back in the hands of the hands of the drivers and we will say, ‘Boys, have at it and have a good time.”

Turns out that’s exactly what happened. As a NASCAR columnist, I naturally read a lot of the other writers (the competition, I guess) and it’s saddened me some how negative so many of my fellow scribes have been all year long. Yes, there have been some turgid races but for the most part, this season has been pretty damn exciting, from Jamie Mac’s emotional and unexpected Daytona 500 victory right down to the very last lap this Sunday. Yes, there are problems in the sport – big problems — I’m not immune to that, but for me the fans have had their money’s worth this year. Here’s to more of the same in 2011.

And Finally, One Last Thing: This is my last column of my third year as a fully fledged NASCAR writer so I just want to take a moment to very sincerely thank all of you who’ve read my ramblings and those that have commented (yes, even the haters). As someone who six years ago had not one iota of knowledge of NASCAR, I’m proud to be able to have this forum, week in, week out and I look forward to writing more in 2011. Enjoy the off-season folks. Happy Turkey day….See you in Daytona.

Contact Danny Peters

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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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Gordon82Wins
11/23/2010 06:41 AM
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It’s not that the racing is bad, Danny. It’s that we know for the first 26 races none of it matters, and over the last ten pitting at the wrong time can cost a driver a championship.

Jacob
11/23/2010 07:37 AM
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Danny,

Do you want to talk about “frankly moronic”? Go back and read your ENTIRE article. During the off season, you should legally change your name to “Frankly Moronic”

But, hey, half empty stands and TV ratings falling off a cliff let’s have more of the same in 2011!
brian france, you, RandyNacho (and his 25 other screen names) all say this is good for the sport. Couldn’t be an IDIOT in that list, could there?

MJR in Springfield Va
11/23/2010 08:03 AM
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Danny, Danny, Danny….. 3,500 pound cars are not “three and a half ton cars.” A ton is 2,000 pounds. Now go back to your room and do the math again, and this time show your work in the left column of the paper. You newbies crack me up sometimes. Happy Thanksgiving.

Johnboy60
11/23/2010 08:49 AM
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“Frankly Moronic”….Is this your new screen name Danny? I think you have aptly named yourself!

Steven
11/23/2010 10:08 AM
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Don’t listen to them Danny —- it was a bold stance to take, and I applaud you for it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the old system back, but just because Harvick would have won the tally doesn’t mean he would have been a champion.

Drivers race to the point system they’re competing under. This is lost on far too many fans. Thanks for taking a stand, Danny.

Carl D.
11/23/2010 11:39 AM
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Whew! Talk about “Boys have at it”… that should be the Frontstretch comment section motto.

Hey Danny… I don’t agree with you in your assessment of fans who consider Harvick as the regular season champ being morons. But it’s your column and your forum; I can respect that. Too bad that other commenters feel the need to insult writers they don’t agree with as well as others who post comments. I’ve never understood why the editors don’t ban trolls and trouble-makers, or at the very least give us the ability to block certain posters.

EZ
11/23/2010 12:31 PM
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Could have only been written by a newbie. Bad at math.

Don Mei
11/23/2010 01:21 PM
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Sigh..I give up. The inmates have taken over the asylum. Is there no civilty anymore?

Ohio Matt
11/23/2010 01:41 PM
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I can’t hold it in any longer. I have to completely disagree with any and all defenses of the “Chase.”

Most of stock car racing fans that I converse with(and we’re talking about quite a few people) absolutely despise the Chase. Not because Jimmy wins it. Not because Jr. fails to make it. Not because ESPN talks about nothing else but it. They despise it because it is CONTRIVED.

NASCAR had a certain personality prior to the last decade and a half. That personality not only drew the fans in, but it kept the old ones hooked. However, from that point forward, decisions made by the sanctioning body and general trends that are arguably attributable to the sanctioning body, either directly or indirectly, have eroded that personality: Sponsors don’t want the old veteran driver- not good for commercials, here’s your faceless 23 year old no one’s heard of to drive a quality ride. Now smile for the camera!; Short tracks don’t meet our marketing philosophy anymore, here’s another cookie cutter track in a desirable market- enjoy the parade!; Half the guys running Cup are faceless anyway, so why really bother with driver development in the lower series, here’s your bully….er…. I mean Busch/ Nationwide series champ; Clearly a season of hard work is not what the fans want to see in a Champion, so…..we give you….. the BY GAWD CHASE!!!!

A championship should represent the entire season. A season of highs, lows, struggles, and perseverance. A team should be challenged to bring their “A” game every single week. Find a way to work through a slump. And ultimately be better than everyone else. You can say “race the points system you have” until your blue in the face, but that old Winston Cup trophy that represented every race that season just MEANT MORE.

Bottom line: The Chase system rewards a ten week hot streak. 26 weeks of accomplishments are reduced to, at most, a minimal benefit. All for the sake a drama. For the sake of excitement. For the sake of ratings. When you have a surging Johnson, a slumping Harvick, and a hot Hamlin all in the mix, how much more excitement do you need? I would suggest that you need none. I would have been thrilled to watch Johnson chase down Harvick over the course of the season by virtue of his and his teams hard work. NOT by the virtue of an artificial points reset. And if Harvick wins by 300 points, well, he deserves it.

If the goal of the Chase was fan alienation, then NASCAR gets a A+. I don’t need NASCAR to create contrived excitement for me. I was perfectly content attending or viewing a race and hoping to see my driver pick up a win. In my book, there are 36 weekly championships to be had. And the driver that outperforms all the other guys at the end of the season deserves that season championship. “Parades for points days” in order to preserve the almighty Chase spot just doesn’t do it for me. That, apparently, goes for a lot of other fans as well. The best racing, hands down, that I witnessed in 2010 happened on a Saturday night at Midvale Speedway in Midvale, Ohio. Those drivers were invested. Those fans were invested. And it was a he** of a show. No gimmicks required. With all of the recent decisions to improve ratings, attendance, excitement, and the bottom line, NASCAR is no longer capable of inspiring that investment. And, in my opinion, the contrived Chase is the most offensive reason behind that feeling.

KyCupFan
11/23/2010 02:30 PM
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<—— bows to Ohio Matt!

That post should be copied and pasted to any discussion regarding “The Chase”, it is dead on!

Steve
11/23/2010 03:47 PM
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Hell, mail it to Brian France. Based on his astonishment that a reporter met someone who hates the Chase he obviously is really out of touch with what is going on in his sport. Well said Ohio!!

RandyGoldman
11/23/2010 04:52 PM
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he said “surging Johnson” hahahahah

Razz
11/23/2010 05:20 PM
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Frontstretch should fire Danny Peters. I’m sure Brian France would hire him in a heartbeat. Calling the fans (you know, the people who actually make it possible for you to collect a paycheck) morons fits right in with NASCAR’s ignorance these days. I expected a little more class from this website. Maybe when you see your number of hits start to decline you can blame it on the start times or something.

Chris
11/23/2010 05:25 PM
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I have to agree with Ohio Matt.

Lets introduce the “Chase”, the “COT”, “debris” cautions, etc.

No “Chase” format in F-1, IRL, Nationwide, or CWTS, but hey, lets “tinker” with the most popular form of motorsports and see how it works.

Is it working?

RamblinWreck
11/23/2010 06:14 PM
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Ohio Matt,
Good call on 36 weekly championships. If I buy a ticket to a race, I want to see drivers caring about that race and not its championship implications. Case in point: I went to Talladega this year not because it was in the Chase (which it was), but because it’s not too long a drive, they had good ticket deals, and quite frankly, I wanted to see a race at Talladega. I’d gladly go back next year in the spring where I expect the drivers to run pretty much the same because racers want to lead every lap and win every race.

How doe this tie in to the Chase? Well, Danny has made an assertion about myself and many fans which I find particularly unsavory. I’ve always found race fans to be some of the nicest, most friendly people I could hope to meet. And that’s after I’ve loudly booed their driver and they’ve done the same to mine at introductions. We don’t call each other names… but that’s beside the point. The question is, “is there any relevance to looking at points under the old system?”

I see three options. One option is that drivers race the same no matter the points system because racers want to lead every lap and win every race. And if they have to settle for not winning… well, they’ll come home with the best finish they can and try again next week. A race at the beginning of the year is therefore no different than one at the end, whether the points say so or not.

Option 2 is that some drivers care less about the races during the Chase. I can’t see much evidence for this. Johnson hasn’t been handed these titles because the other 11 drivers stopped caring as much about the races (although it did help him that the Hamlin-Ford duo performed a remarkable choke this past Sunday).

Option 3 is that some drivers care more during the Chase. Johnson and Knaus certainly seem to, at least. There’s little argument that they run better at the end of the year. Does that mean they’re holding back in the first 26 races? I’m not saying they don’t win during the spring and summer, but they aren’t exactly the best team on the track in the first two-thirds of the season every year. And if my sport’s champion is holding back most of the year… if I go to races and the drivers and crews are sandbagging, the best cars are at the shop instead of at the track… well, I’d feel pretty cheated going to a race in the spring or summer and thinking that someone isn’t trying as hard as he could be. That just screams “I don’t care about this particular race, ticket-buying fan.” If I ever got that vibe at a race (from a driver I actually pull for; I realize a chicken fraction of the field tries to avoid racing at ‘Dega), there’s no way I’d ever buy another ticket. But that would be un-racer-like, so I think we can discount this option too, right?

That leaves us with option 1: racers don’t race differently when there’s less on the line because they want to win every race and lead every lap. By that reasoning, the driver who earns the most points on the racetrack should be in some way considered the best that year, no? Because even if Sprint doesn’t think so, I do, and I’ve said why in a manner that doesn’t seem all that moronic or idiotic to me.

mazakrash
11/24/2010 11:17 AM
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This has been the year of drivers deliberately destroying equipment without punishment, many WWF moments. The year of Danica, fawned over by Nascar and the media. The year Denny crashes into Biffle and blows his Championship hopes. The year Busch shows his talent and his arrogance. Congrats to Jimmie Johnson, truly a champion.

gopapa
11/24/2010 11:28 AM
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For you people that say there is no racing in the first 26? How the hell did the top 12 make the chase? They RACED their way into it. 26 races, only the top 12 make it in. You don’t get in by riding around points racing. Stop crying about no racing in the early part of the season. I saw plenty of it.

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