The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: NASCAR Rivalries Unleashed And A Champion Returns by Danny Peters -- Tuesday March 19, 2013

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ONE: This One Isn’t Over

I think it’s safe to say that erstwhile teammates Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano will not be sharing a gentle game of hoops anytime soon. The acrimony between the two began – in public, at least – after the Daytona 500 in a Twitter war about the final restart of the Great American Race. The situation revved up to full-on animosity at Thunder Valley this past weekend after an on-track incident and a post-race altercation of sorts.


Denny Hamlin will want to avoid Joey Logano on track for a while, and on Twitter, too.

Hamlin, who could do with a quiet week or two at the track, essentially ignored Logano’s initial attempts at confrontation post race. However, he was much more acerbic later on Twitter.

“Last time I checked he had my cell and direct message button to choose from if he’s got a problem. Otherwise hush little child.”

It’s a line almost as good as Logano’s own firesuit comment at Pocono in 2010#! after Kevin Harvick spun him out on the final lap. The real question is what comes next? I’m betting this one is far from over, at least for Joey Logano. I can’t believe Logano would be stupid enough to try something on the high-speed two-mile Fontana track but absolutely expect some “contact” between the two at Martinsville after the Easter break, and at a track where Hamlin traditionally excels. This one isn’t over—not by any stretch of the imagination.

TWO: Play it Again Sam

What a phenomenal start to the Nationwide Series season it’s been for Team Penske driver Sam Hornish Jr. After a second place run in the carnage of the Daytona race, Hornish nursed a car that was damaged early to an excellent seventh place effort at Phoenix. He then won the race at Las Vegas in the dominant car; just his second win in 70 Nationwide Series starts. This past weekend at Bristol, Hornish picked up a fourth place effort; enough for an early 22-point lead over second placed Justin Allgaier.

The three time IndyCar champion and 2006 Indy 500 winner has not had the easiest of transitions to NASCAR; losing his full-time Cup ride after three tough and statistically terrible years. In 106 races, Hornish managed a solitary two top-5’s, 8 top-10’s and a meager 53 laps lead. But, as is appropriate for a man from town called Defiance, Hornish has remained resolute. He ran one Cup and 13 Nationwide races in 2011 before establishing himself again in 2012 in a full time Nationwide ride finishing a solid fourth in the overall standings, 105 points behind winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. This year he appears primed to go ever better and challenge all the way for a series title.

THREE: IndyCar Goes Green this Sunday

The green flag drops this Sunday afternoon on the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series in sunny St Petersburg, Florida: the first of 19 races that stretch from this weekend through the first week of October.

For the first time in six years the series has an American champion in Ryan Hunter-Reay who won a thrilling first championship at Auto Club Speedway last September. Back on the expanded schedule for the first time since 1989 is Pocono Raceway. A move, which will no doubt please the long-time fans of open wheel racing. The Series will also trial three double header weekends in Detroit, Toronto and Houston, running full points races on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. With the final double header at Houston coming before the last race of the season, you can’t help but feel these three weekends could be pivotal in what is likely to be a closely and keenly contested championship.

2012 saw the introduction of a new chassis and new engine manufacturers – a huge upheaval for the drivers and teams – but coming into the season there are no significant changes to the car or engine package, which should only promote even better racing. If you’ve not given the Series a chance before, you really should. You won’t be disappointed.

FOUR: My “Favorite” Track

This is my sixth full season as a weekly NASCAR columnist and for the most part I like to write about and accentuate the positives in the sport. There’s enough negative already. But if I’m honest, there’s no track I’ve bashed quite like I have Auto Club Speedway.

As always in any kind of sports journalism, the easy target is not the easy target for the wrong reason. For the most part the racing at the low banked, two-mile D-shape oval hasn’t been great. It is not, then, the ideal next location after a momentum building weekend at Bristol in terms of on-track action. (Despite all the empty seats in the stands: a truly sad sight to see.)

With the first off weekend the following week, NASCAR needs a good show on Sunday. The truth is, it’s not likely to happen. What you will hear, however, on good old shouty WE ARE FOX SPORTS is lots of chatter about four wide on restarts. That will be true, as Fontana is one of the widest surfaces in all of NASCAR racing. It’s cool…but it’s not as dramatic as it sounds. I’m not expecting much this Sunday, so I can only hope I’m pleasantly surprised.

FIVE: The Paul Menard Empire

After four races in 2012, following a solid top ten effort on the high banks of Thunder Valley, Paul Menard sat in ninth place in the standings, just 34 points behind then points front runner Greg Biffle. Menard finished 19th the following at Auto Club Speedway, slipping out of the top ten for the first and last time that season.

Four races into 2013 and it’s an eerily similar situation as the driver of the No. 27 Chevy once again finds himself in ninth place, 48 points behind leader Brad Keselowski, following a top ten run at Las Vegas and a ninth place at Bristol.

Will history repeat itself and Menard will return to mid pack obscurity? Or will the much-maligned driver finally show he belongs in the Chase with a strong regular season run?

Judging by the evidence so far, it seems unlikely. Menard has garnered half of the entire team’s four top tens. After a poor 2012 season, it’s not been the start anyone at RCR would have wanted. The good news is it’s still early.

But as the Yankees great Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra once said, “It gets late early out there.”

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Hal
03/19/2013 08:04 AM
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Please join me in boycotting the Fontana race by not watching. Tell others not to watch either. Send a message to nascar through low ratings.

Fontana is not a nascar track. It’s for open wheel racing. It’s boring and too long. Don’t watch.

Tom Dalfonzo
03/19/2013 10:09 AM
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I stated this in a previous article, but I would like to state it again. Why are we still even racing at Fontana? NASCAR needs to realize Irwindale’s potential and award it a Cup race, to kick Fontana off of the NASCAR slate. Irwindale deserves a Cup race, along with a Nationwide race and a Truck Series race, because it is a slam bam short track that fans will LOVE for sure. It is a travesty that Irwindale is essentially bankrupt while Fontana is still up and running. It should be the other way around.

Michael in SoCal
03/19/2013 11:57 AM
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As much as I agree with Tom Dalfonzo’s thoughts on abandoning Fontana and racing at Irwindale, the reality is Irwindale dowsn’t have the infrastructure nor space required to host a Cup or Nationwide race. A Truck series race might be something Irwindale could host, but it would be really really tight.

I concur with the boycott Fontana idea (I’m boycotting all of the cookie cutter races). ISC needs to tear Fontana down and replace it with a 2/3rd mile high banked short track.

john
03/19/2013 12:01 PM
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Irwindale would be wicked, but can the track support Cup teams? That’s the main reason more short tracks aren’t on the schedule, I think…

Bill B
03/19/2013 12:31 PM
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No, the reason that more short tracks aren’t on the schedule is because of greed. When the track building boom took place in the late 80’s and 90’s no one wanted to build short tracks because;
1) there is obviously more potential to add seats with larger tracks
2) other major racing outifts (IRL and F1) can’t run half mile tracks.

Short tracks can support Cup races if they are built to support Cup races. However building a short track limits future profit potential (greed!!!). Of course now that none of the tracks are selling out the ability to add more seats really is moot.
How could NASCAR fix this? Guarentee a Cup race to the next few people that will commit to building a short track. If NASCAR would make this commitment, and state that as a result some of the 1.5 mile tracks would lose a race, perhaps someone that currently owns a 1.5 miler would convert the configuration to a less than one mile track.

Kevin in SoCal
03/19/2013 12:58 PM
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I hope you’re planning on not watching the other “boring” races on the circuit too, such as Kansas, Chicago, Michigan, and Kentucky, other wise your words are just empty air.

Hal
03/19/2013 01:28 PM
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Kevin in SoCal,

I do indeed boycott those races and ANY track that I feel is boring. It’s not much, but it’s one thing that I CAN do to send my message.

Nascar listens when they lose money and fans in the stands…so this is what I do.

It’s MY belief that nascar needs to open it’s OWN bank book and spend the money to build quality tracks in places they want to be. Imagine another Bristol/Richmond type track in place of Fontana. They could do it.

Bill B
03/19/2013 03:19 PM
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NASCAR is ISC right? They do build tracks. They own about half of the existing tracks.

See my earlier comment involving the word GREED to understand why they wouldn’t build a short track.

Michael in SoCal
03/19/2013 03:49 PM
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I’ve gotta support Bill B’s comment about greed being the reason behind the lack of short tracks. Take a look at the recent history of speedway construction:

International Speedway Corporation (Nascar’s sister company)
Auto Club Speedway – 2.0 mile, built 1997
Chicagoland Speedway – 1.5 mile, built 2001
Homestead-Miami Speedway – 1.5 mile, built 1995
Kansas Speedway – 1.5 mile, built 2001

Speedway Motorsports Inc. (Bruton Smith’s company)
Kentucky Speedway – 1.5 mile, built 2000
Las Vegas Motor Speedway – 1.5 mile, built 1996
Texas Motor Speedway – 1.5 mile, built 1996

Note that I left Iowa Speedway (.875 mile track, built in 2006) because that track was not built or bought by ISC or SMI, nor does it host a Cup series race (although it should).

That’s seven brand new speedways built between 1995 and 2001, all but one of which are the dreaded 1.5 mile dual-use tracks (Auto Club Speedway is a 2.0 mile speedway). The thought was these speedways could seat upwards of 80,000 people, plus thousands more in the infield, and could be used multiple times a year hosting races for both Nascar and Indy Car. Well, the reality is that Indy Car did race at most of these tracks at some point, but with the exception of Texas and Auto Club Speedway, Indy Car has moved away from these tracks. And when Indy Car does race at these tracks, the attendance is sparse, especially when the crowd is spread out in a seating area that seats upwards of 80,000 people, similar to a Nationwide series race attendance.

A number of these tracks have been modified since being built – Homestead Miami, Kansas & Las Vegas have had their original low banking increased to graduated 17 / 18 – 20 degrees of banking to better accommodate heavier stock cars. But even with the additional banking, the stock car races on these tracks tend to be spread out, mostly single file racing for long stretches at a time, with most of the passing occurring on pit road or on restarts. This is mainly due to the fact that there is so much real estate for the cars to get spread out on, due to the length of the track. 43 cars on a short track take up a lot more respective real estate than 43 cars on a 1.5 or 2.0 mile track do. As the cars get spread out, the chances for side-by-side action get slimmer and slimmer, especially with most of the teams getting engines from a handful of suppliers.

So basically, greed has killed the short track, with the potential for hundreds of thousands of butts in the seats (and in the infield) trumping the great racing that short tracks offer. It’s a shame to thing we’ve lost races at great old tracks like North Wilkesboro, Darlington, and Rockingham and have had them replaced by tepid racing at Chicagoland and Kentucky. And there is no ill will to the race fans who attend races at these tracks, you don’t get to choose what racetrack is in your backyard and is the most convenient to go to. But, as a Nascar fan, I do hold a lot of ill-will towards ISC & SMI for being saddled with an over-abundance of highly similar race tracks that produce mostly dull races. This was a case of not seeing the forest for the trees, in that in building all of these palaces to speed and capacity, the track owners forgot that first and foremost, a race track should provide for good racing. A small detail missed, and many many boring races later we are still paying the price.

And for this reason, I will be boycotting the races at the cookie cutter tracks as much as possible. If I’m home, I’ll put the race on, but it will be in the background, and I will be taking advantage of the day to get something done. I won’t be dedicating my Sunday morning / afternoon (or Saturday afternoon) to watching a parade. I always thought parades were boring, even parades that move at close to 190 miles per hour.

And I’m making a point of posting my boycott plans because someone somewhere in those Ivory Towers in Datyona Beach might notice a trend there and start thinking different about where they schedule races. But I know in the end, the TV deals provide a heck of a lot of money to Nascar, ISC & SMI, and that the money from ticket sales is a secondary source of income for these corporate entities, and because of that, we’re most likely stuck with a lot of uninspiring race tracks for the foreseeable future.

Kevin in SoCal
03/20/2013 02:06 PM
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How many tracks have been demolished and rebuilt by NASCAR? I’ve only been watching for 10 years, but I know of Richmond back in the 80’s. What else? Does Bristol’s changing to concrete count?
NASCAR made a huge mistake in the fan’s eyes in giving Fontana 2 dates back in 2004, especially the sacred Labor Day date. But they’ve since fixed their mistake, and even shortened the race to 400 miles. The track provides much needed jobs and a boost to the local economy when it comes out here. Its no worse than the other “boring” tracks fans like to slam, but it gets unfairly treated due to NASCAR’s mistakes.

Michael in SoCal
03/20/2013 03:54 PM
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Kevin – You are right on regarding the treatment Fontana gets in relation to all the other tracks that produce similar ‘boring’ racing. And Nascar made it worse by adding a second race date, over Labor Day Weekend. Definitely Nascar’s fault there.

And for as much as I don’t prefer the racing at Fontana compared to the shorter tracks, the track itself, and the different layouts possible for other types of racing, it really is a top notch facility. It just doesn’t produce very good stock car races for me. But there’s nothing like the feeling of those 43 cars coming screaming through the front stretch on lap 2 to get your senses going!

phil h
03/21/2013 12:56 AM
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Bruton Smith helped kill the racing at North Wilkesboro and Rockingham so he could get his Texas Speedway going. The mecca of racing was always in NC, but thanks to Smith, it’s all but gone. Yeah, we got Charlotte, but it’s the cutter that all those other cookies came from!

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