The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Struggling Sagas, Effortless Wins And Doin' The Dew by Danny Peters -- Tuesday August 6, 2013

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ONE: Hamlin’s Horror Show:

2013 has not been Denny Hamlin’s year and that’s putting it mildly. Hamlin, who sat out four races with a broken back earlier in the year, finished dead last at Pocono Raceway on Sunday; a track at which he has won on four previous occasions including a sweep in his rookie year. The driver of the No.11 FedEx Camry lasted just 15 laps of the scheduled 160 before making hard contact with the Turn Three wall. Hamlin drove his stricken machine straight to the garage and parked for the day.

Compounding matters, Hamlin then got into another Twitter war calling Kyle Petty a moron. Regardless of the veracity of that social media missive, Hamlin should simply have moved on and ignored the often controversial analyst’s comments. If Hamlin fights back against everyone, he’s going to wear out his typing fingers. Whether you are a fan of Hamlin’s or not, it’s hard not to have sympathy with him given the way his season has imploded.

But the truth is he would have been better taking a page from Sprint Cup rookie Danica Patrick’s book who responded to Kyle Petty’s barbs with a blunt and forthright, “I really don’t care.”

Without a win, and teetering on the outside of the Chase, can Keselowski still pull a Cup out of his 2013 season?

TWO: Can Keselowski Repeat?

All told, it wasn’t a bad weekend for Brad Keselowski. He picked up his second win in 96 attempts as an owner courtesy of Ryan Blaney in the Camping World Truck Series race at Pocono and followed it up driving to a Nationwide Series victory at Iowa: the third win in the last three races he’s run in the second echelon. And on Sunday, he finished a hard earned sixth place in the Cup Series, moving up a slot in the standings to 12th position, just seven points out of the all-important tenth place.

After a blistering opening to the season with two fourth place efforts and two third place finishes, Keselowski sat atop the points standings after the race at Thunder Valley. Since then the 2012 Sprint Cup champion has slipped gradually down the rankings to his current precarious position of 12th – at this stage out of the Chase and crucially still winless.

“I don’t feel quite as comfortable with [the car] as the one I had last year and that is not so much a reflection of the car itself and how it was built from the team side or NASCAR side, but more some of the rules and things we had developed in last year’s car not being available for this year’s car,” said Keselowski.

So should fans of the Blue Deuce be worried? I’m saying no. Don’t forget Brad has lost 30 points this year through penalties (with those he’d be comfortable in the top 10) and a glance at the way he finished the final 15 races last year (2 wins, 7 top-5’s and 10 top-10’s) also suggest he comes on strong when the pressure mounts. And that for me is still the biggest factor. Keselowski has both the confidence and the know-how as to what it takes to be a champion; something very few drivers can match. He’ll make the Chase and he’ll be a threat, mark my words.

THREE: More Hendrick Dominance

Another week, another win for Hendrick Motorsports making it six wins on the season for the four-team juggernaut and eight in total if you include the two wins for Stewart-Haas Racing who receives HMS support. This time it was Kasey Kahne who not only picked up his second win of the season but also pretty much secured his spot in the Chase. Kahne was followed home closely by Jeff Gordon with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fifth. Jimmie Johnson, meanwhile, sat on the pole and dominated the early going before a cut right tire saw him slap the wall hard on lap 76 and at one point was a lap down in 28th place. Johnson somehow rallied to a 13th place finish. Even when he has a bad day he still salvages something good.

For the second straight year HMS will likely have all four cars in the Chase and absolutely the driver to beat in Jimmie Johnson. A lot of folks are talking up Matt Kenseth, and rightly so – he’s had a great season, but he won three of his four races in the first 11 on the schedule and his other win at Kentucky owed much to Johnson’s late restart error (remember Johnson led 182 of the 267 laps.)

If they are not already, the rest of the garage should be deeply concerned. HMS is setting the standard right now and no other team is even that close.

FOUR: Road Course Racing

I can’t wait for the Sprint Cup circus to get at it this week at Watkins Glen International for the second and final road course race of the year.

Cast your mind back to last year’s race which was perhaps the best race of the year and certainly one of the most exciting finishes with all manner of mayhem and carnage with the lead swapping hands more than once. In the end, it was Marcos Ambrose who took the checkers holding off Brad Keselowski in an epic battle. So enthused was the second place finisher that he even high fived Ambrose’s crew on their way to Victory Lane.

“We were both cool about it and didn’t dump each other,” Keselowski said. “This is what I think racing in NASCAR is supposed to be — hard-nosed, going for the win, bumping and rubbing, without any of that intentional wrecking nonsense. Marcos gets that.”

Ambrose seconded the point noting, “It was great racing with Kyle (Busch) and Brad (Keselowski), and that’s the way racing should be.”

Here’s hoping for more of the same this weekend and perhaps a third straight win at the Glen for Ambrose. He’s a lock for your Fantasy teams this weekend, folks.

FIVE: Living Portrait

A quick final point this week on the new Dale Earnhardt Jr. Mountain Dew commercial which if you’ve not seen it yet, can be found here. It is supposed to be a living portrait of the man himself, representing his many interests.

At first glance it does seem a little bit off the wall, but after watching it a few times I’m starting to really enjoy it. Too often NASCAR ads lack creativity and zest focusing on obvious puns or simple racing truths. This ad certainly breaks the mold and I applaud the creative folks for going way beyond the norm for racing commercials. I know not everyone will agree, but that’s the beauty of the ad industry.

When all is said and done it will shift plenty of product.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum
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JP
08/06/2013 07:46 AM
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First off…get well Stewart.

I think Hamlin is just extremely frustrated with everything that’s happened to him this season. Better luck next year.

Brad K.? Let’s not forget that it was Kez and Kenseth who were the two who could catch the 48…and Nascar went after both. No excuse for not winning…but all the teams in the garage know what the game is.

And the game is….The Nascar Hendrick Cup Series. Amazing how that 48 car can be so consistently good everywhere it goes. So all these other super smart teams and drivers can’t do the same thing? Things that make you go “Hmmmm….”

More road course racing please. And put one in that dreadful Chase.

Carl D.
08/06/2013 10:57 AM
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Watkins Glen is the make-or-break race for Keselowski. If he has a good finish (top 5, maybe top 10), he makes the chase. If he wrecks or gets shuffled back late in the race, he misses the chase. If Stewart misses more than one race, Brad’s chances increase slightly, but he still has to get past Biffle or Gordon or win a race. The clock is ticking.

Hank
08/06/2013 11:59 AM
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I think Keselowski and his gang are finally getting their new car stuff together, and they have been running better, just bad luck it seems like. I’d like to see him in the Chase, not only to attempt to defend his championship but to add some spice to the mix. It’s awful boring when guys like Kurt Busch, Keselowski, Stewart don’t make the Chase, yet we will have all the vanilla drivers in there.

If NASCAR was Baskin-Robbins, they’d only have 5 flavors. And that’s not a good thing

Carl D.
08/06/2013 12:51 PM
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Moron, n. A racecar driver who needs back surgery and whose season is basically shot to hell, but who stays in the racecar for the remainder of the season anyway, risking further injury and permanent damage.

Steve K
08/06/2013 06:35 PM
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I am going to guess BK wishes he was still in a Dodge. The Fords have just been third fiddle this year.

DoninAjax
08/06/2013 08:22 PM
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If “passing is not racing” then I guess “not passing is racing.”

I wonder what Stewart was doing in the Sprint car when he had his accident?

kb
08/06/2013 09:10 PM
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I have zero sympathy for Dennis Hamlin, and I know many who don’t as well. He just doesn’t appear to be a smart or likable driver. His ego gets in the way of any critical thinking skills he may possess, and he always ends up sounding like a bully, a whiner, or not very bright.

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