The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: The Pains and Gains of Plate Racing by Danny Peters -- Monday July 8, 2013

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ONE: Plate Pain for Kahne:

Kasey Kahne, more than most, will be glad to see the back of the restrictor plate tracks for a little while after wrecking for the third time in three plate races in 2013.

“It’s frustrating. I’m somewhat used to it this year,” said Kahne post-race. “I’ve hit a lot of walls this year. I don’t know. It’s the way it goes. These tracks can be tough and things can happen that you don’t have any control over.”

Saturday night’s poor finish—albeit through no real fault of his own—highlighted the inconsistent nature of Kahne’s season. Yes, he has a win (Bristol) and five top-5’s, but he also has 3 DNF’s and 5 finishes of 32nd or worse, three of which have come in the past five races.

Kahne acknowledged his erratic form after a 38th place at Michigan just three weeks ago. “I think one of my biggest downfalls since I have been in this series is being consistent. That is something I’ve worked on. I have really wanted to get better for a while. In order to win the championship you need to win a little bit more, and consistency is the only way to do it. You can’t fall out of races and get in wrecks and things like that.”

TWO: Tough Night for Logano:

Leaving Kentucky Speedway last weekend with another strong run and a fourth place finish, Joey Logano had every reason to be optimistic. On the back of one of the best six race stretches of racing in his career (5th, 7th, 10th, 9th, 11th and the aforementioned 4th place) Logano had moved into the top ten in the points standing and looked poised to start cementing a bid for a first ever Chase berth in five full seasons of racing. But as is often the case in racing, you can come down to earth with a bump quick; or in the case of Logano a hard hit into the outside wall of Turn Two with just 71 laps of the scheduled 160 in the books. Logano did get back out on the track but finished some 55 laps down in 40th place.

“It was a big hit, but a bigger hit in the points, really. It’s just a bummer,” said Logano, following his wreck. “The Shell/Pennzoil team has done a great job all year gaining up some points. We’ll lose a lot here, but we’re not out of it by any means.”

Following his lowly finish, Logano now sits in 15th place, just 16 points out of tenth, so he’s absolutely correct in his assessment. However, after such a solid spell of racing, Saturday night’s finish certainly derailed some of the positive momentum of the past few months.

Denny Hamlin takes another hit at Daytona. Will the pain ever stop?

THREE: Even Tougher Night for Hamlin:

Another week and another horrible night for Denny Hamlin who endured a vicious wreck with just eight laps to go. It was the third such brutal hit in the past six races (Dover and Kentucky being the other two) and another blow to what has swiftly devolved into the worst season of his otherwise stellar 22-win, nine-year career.

Hamlin initially wobbled, slid back up the track and made nose first contact with the outside wall before AJ Allmendinger, with nowhere else to go, slammed hard into the side of the No. 11 FedEx Camry lifting Hamlin’s vehicle off the ground and spinning it around.

“It was like a Days of Thunder thing,” said Allmendinger. “All the cars moved, and Denny appeared in front of me, and I hit him about as hard as I could.”

With Hamlin’s Chase hopes now extinct there are those that say Hamlin should get out of the car, have back surgery and come back strong in 2014. I’m no medical professional but unless the doctors are mandating it, I don’t see why he should just because the points situation looks so dire. Hamlin’s never been the quitting type and I don’t see him starting now. There’s plenty of fight left in the No. 11 team and I’d bet several wins before the season is out; starting with perhaps this weekend at Loudon.

“We’re still going to fight until we get to Richmond, no matter what happens,” crew chief Darian Grubb said after Daytona. “And we’re not going to quit all the way to Homestead, even if we don’t make the Chase. We’re going to try and win as many races as we can. We’ve got fast cars, we just have to finish.”

FOUR: Next Up: Loudon

Before the last off-week of the Cup Series this year we have the final race of the six-race TNT broadcast stretch at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This will be the first of two trips to the 1.058 mile-long flat track in the next ten races. With the second visit being the second race of the Chase, Sunday’s 301-lap, 318-mile race is a crucial component for those with serious championship aspirations. You can’t win the ten-race Chase “spectacular” after two races, but you can certainly lose one with a terrible finish.

So in some senses, especially for those already looking set for the Chase, this first trip to Loudon is a test session ahead of the more vital race on September 22nd. And speaking of test sessions, several teams did just that at “The Magic Mile” a couple of weeks ago including a full complement of drivers from both the Stewart-Haas Racing and Roush Fenway Racing teams and both Penske Racing drivers.

“The [two NHMS] races are fairly close to each other,” said Joey Logano. “The amount of things that change, they change pretty quick so if you can test somewhere and race here twice in a pretty short span of time, it becomes a pretty good advantage.’’

FIVE: Good Job, Mikey:

Finally this week, a quick shout out to the irrepressible team-owner, part time commentator, pseudo analyst, Fox Sports grid walker and restrictor-plate race only driver Michael Waltrip who finished in fifth place on Saturday night – his second top-5 in three races in 2013 following a fourth place run at Talladega earlier this year. Often a figure of fun and something of an easy target for NASCAR writers, the 29-year, 773-race veteran showed he still knows exactly how to wheel his way around the high banks of a track where he secured three of his four total career victories: two of which came in the Daytona 500 (2001 and 2003).

Waltrip who was running his 51st race at Daytona was spun on pit road by his own driver, Clint Bowyer, ending up facing the wrong way in his pit box.

“We were just really fortunate because we got in a wreck on pit road and the team did an amazing job of fixing the car,” said Waltrip. “It was dragging the ground and they put some packer in the front, got it off the ground. We spend months building these cars and meticulously tweaking every inch of them, and they jacked me up and dropped me on a block of wood to get the nose off the ground and we were able to drive it to fifth.”

Good job, Mikey. Good job.

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07/09/2013 07:53 AM

Plate racing is not racing.


totally bored with NASCAR
07/09/2013 08:44 AM

Agree with JP. Sorry that there is a plate race in the dumb chase, stupid crapshoot.

Mikey gets more press as an owner/sometime driver than he did full time.

I watched the condensed version of the race on Speed’s VL and was glad that I didn’t waste my entire Saturday night on it.

Carl D.
07/09/2013 12:55 PM

The only comment I have with regards to Hamlin is that he needs to consider the recovery time for his back surgery. If he has the surgery in late November, he has to be race-ready by mid-February. I’m no doctor so I’ll just leave it at that.

07/09/2013 09:22 PM

Both Waltrips are a sham!! Mikey boy is a real live walking commercial for toyota and nothing more. wish they both would disappear!

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