The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Road Racing, Ruffling Feathers And Fond Farewells by Danny Peters -- Tuesday August 9, 2011

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Despite the inclement weather this past weekend, we got there in the end with a truly packed day at picturesque Pocono Raceway on Sunday. Not only did we finish the truck race in the morning, we also squeezed in the ARCA event following the rain delayed five hundred mile Cup race: not to mention, the repairs to the flag stand the previous day after it was knocked down by a Truck Series hauler on the way into the infield. You can’t make this stuff up, as the old cliché goes. So, with just five races remaining – three of them at night – before the Chase field is set, the pressure is cranking up and the tension is simmering to the surface which is where we’ll start this week’s edition of Five Points to Ponder: Triangle Style.

Turning Left and Right…Watkins Glen will provide more than just unusual twists in the road.

ONE: Watkins Glen Could be Quite the Race

I realize there is a massive disparity in opinions amongst NASCAR fans with regard to stock cars turning left and right but I, for one, am firmly in the camp of road racing being a good thing. Road racing has been on the schedule since the days when seatbelts were considered an accessory, and, despite its critics, both races are here to stay for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, this Sunday afternoon’s tilt at Watkins Glen could be one of the more compelling events of the year with a slew of different agendas across the 43-car field coming into play on the 8-turn, 2.45-mile circuit in upstate New York. Expect the likes of Bowyer, Biffle, Montoya and Kasey Kahne (to name but four) to really challenge for that all-important victory and expect others to gamble on fuel etc. One way or the other, it should be exciting to watch.

TWO: Keselowski Showed True Grit

I’ll be honest and say I’ve never been a particularly big fan of Brad Keselowski but this season my opinion has changed significantly – much of which has been down to Twitter where you can really get a sense of the No. 2 wheelman’s personality. In addition, and really more importantly, he seems to have learned that there are times to hold fire on track – rather than take the uber-aggressive approach — and this has paid dividends. Now with two wins under his belt, his earlier victory at Kansas was fuel mileage aided, and back in the top 20, Keselowski has a superb chance to make his first Chase. I’d be shocked if he made any sort of sustained run at the title, but it’s a sure sign of his progress this year. Given the severity of his wreck just four days before, Kes’s victory at the Tricky Triangle was all about grit, guts and determination which makes me think of his erstwhile nemesis – Denny Hamlin – and his victory at Texas last season, two weeks after he had ACL replacement surgery.

THREE: Denny Hamlin is Struggling

Speaking of last season’s first loser, Denny Hamlin continues to struggle through a trying season. As you would expect, he led the field on Sunday for some 65 laps – including a milestone 5,000th lap led in his Sprint Cup career – but a pit road miscue turned a top-5 (or better) finish in a disappointing, humdrum 15th-place run indicative of his season. Said Hamlin on the Friday prior to the race, “We’re in the spot now obviously where we feel like we would really like to have a second win to kind of lock ourselves in. We feel like it would be a safe assumption. But, we’ve got to get back to consistency as well, so it’s a tough balance. Obviously, reliability has been a big issue with our stuff here lately so we’re just trying to work through all of that and get it better.”

Now the chances are Hamlin will still make the Chase, (that Michigan victory is looking significantly huge) but whether he can put it all together over a ten-race stretch seems to be, well, something of a stretch. There’s work to be done for the No. 11 team, that’s for sure.

FOUR: Five Time and One Time Square Off (again)

I get that everybody in the garage likes and respects Five Time, but it is about time someone ruffled his supremely preened feathers a little. Step forward, Kurt Busch, who is as unapologetic to Johnson as he is to his crew over the in-car radio. (And while I’m on that topic, he really is a whiny little ingrate during most races. If I was on his team, I’d a socked him in the face now, for sure.) Fact is, though, it’s good to see someone play aggressor to Double J and the lack, thereof, of this sort of behavior to the five-time champ has always bemused me some. So here’s hoping this is a feud that runs right into the last ten races because it’s about time someone made Jimmie a little uncomfortable – he’s had it, seemingly, too easy for way too long now.

FIVE: A fond farewell to Doc and Rose Mattioli

And finally, congratulations to Doctor Joseph Mattioli and his wife Rose who announced their collective retirement this past weekend. For the Doc, it will be the culmination of fifty years of hard work; much of which was swimming against the tide of public sentiment who felt Pocono shouldn’t have a second date and shouldn’t run 500-mile races. This time last year I got to run a stock car at the triangular track and it was truly one of the best days of my life. But almost as fun was spending time talking to the Doc and Rose after my run was complete. It was a genuinely riveting conversation covering a wide range of topics – many of which were nothing at all to do with racing – and a real pleasure to sit down and just shoot the breeze with them both. As the Doc noted over the weekend, “I felt that going on 87, nobody lives forever and I better get out of here while the getting’s good.”

I wish them both a long and happy retirement. Well-deserved…

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Stephen HOOD
08/09/2011 08:41 AM

I saw two things that impressed me this weekend. First, Keselowski beat Kyle Busch (and Jimmy and Kurt for that matter) mano y mano. You write that 5 Time needs someone to rattle his cage. I think the same is true of KyB. Keselowski outdrove Busch on the final restart and kept him in his taillight decals for the last twenty laps. When has that been done? I know Kyle comes in second occasionally, but he usually starts four or fifth on the restart. At Pocono, Kyle got beat starting from the front row. I’ve been impressed with Keselowski since he started racing at JrMotorsports, and I think he is developing into a great racer. He shows no fear and mental toughness behind the wheel and on Sunday he beat two of the best in the business.

Second, Stenhouse’s victory at Iowa was another example of the up and comer putting the hurt on the superstar. Beating Carl to the checkers was a great example of brinksmanship that I hope revives the NW series. When the Cup guys start having to worry that the NW regulars might kick their ass, this could enliven a series which I feel has become way to predictable. If “the winner is Busch/Edwards/Keselowki/Harvick” becomes less and less predictable, I think people will be more apt to tune in instead of tuning out.

08/09/2011 11:54 AM

Johnson needed that, and needs more. He has an air of entitlement that no other car is allowed to be within a foot of him, unless it’s his nose under their bumper. Kurt raced him hard and perfectly clean.

I look forward to Watkins Glen too. And the road courses and short tracks are the only Nationwide races I bother to watch.

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