The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Chase Trickery, Missing the Show, NNS Turns 1,000 by Danny Peters -- Tuesday September 10, 2013

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ONE: Newman the Only Winner in Sad Scenario


After the dust settles, Ryan Newman’s Chase berth will be the only positive point taken away from the MWR race tampering scandal.

Ryan Newman described the events of Saturday night’s Richmond race as the toughest he had faced in his 30-year racing career. Monday’s proceedings might just rank as his most surprising. In a landmark decision by NASCAR, all three Michael Waltrip Racing drivers, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers, were docked 50 pre-Chase points while General Manager and Vickers’ spotter Ty Norris was suspended indefinitely. NASCAR also levied a $300,000 fine on the MWR organization; an amount NASCAR President Mike Helton described as “the most major fine in our history in terms of a dollar amount.” The deduction in points sees Truex Jr. ousted from his Chase berth with Newman picking up the suddenly spare place in the playoffs.

Kudos to NASCAR for reacting so swiftly and decisively to protect the integrity of the sport especially given the public outcry and Twitter meltdown as fans and commentators alike vented their collective spleens.

But for Jeff Gordon it means little. Had the race stayed green he would be in the Chase and Joey Logano would be on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, Bowyer who appeared to deliberately spin out can still win the championship. And Truex Jr., who played no actual part in the incident, is still out.

Addressing this point in particular, Helton noted, “We look at the incident and only the incident, because we know from experience that if you try to look at the ripple effect of an incident, you can’t cover all those bases. You can’t ever come up with a conclusion that is equitable and credible across the board.”

And whilst that is a fair point ultimately, when the dust settles on this incident and we get back to the serious business of racing for a championship the only real winner will be Ryan Newman.

TWO: A Wide Open Chase

The start of the tenth iteration of the much hyped and much derided Chase for the Sprint Cup is just five days away, the one thing we know for sure is that we’ll have a new champion this year with Brad Keselowski (more below) missing out on the big dance after a valiant effort at Richmond. And the truth is you can make a case for nearly every driver being the one to lift the big silver trophy at Homestead.

Jimmie Johnson, despite his poor form of late, has to be considered a favorite as does Matt Kenseth a decade removed from his only championship to date. Perhaps this is the year Kyle Busch puts it all together or Carl Edwards, with the momentum of his win and finishing as the regular season points champ, finally gets it done?

And then there’s Kevin Harvick who so many thought was a lame duck headed into 2013. Could he ride off with a championship for the only owner he’s ever known? Clint Bowyer has shown he knows how to stay in contention deep into the Chase. And don’t rule out Joey Logano who Richmond aside has been the hottest driver in NASCAR over the past month and a half.

Then there’s Kasey Kahne who knows how to win and also how to navigate the five mile-and-a-half circuits in the Chase. That leaves us with four drivers: Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Kurt Busch: All of whom still could put together an immaculate string of races and get it done albeit less likely than some of the names I’ve mentioned earlier. In short: the Chase is wide open and anyone, yes anyone, can win it. Should be fun to watch it unfold.

THREE: The Champ Misses the Chase for the First Time Since 2006

For the first time since 2006, the defending champion failed to make the Chase field. Seven years ago, it was Tony Stewart who missed out on the Chase after picking up his second championship the year before.

Now, in 2013 it is Brad Keselowski who has missed out despite a stellar effort at Richmond International Raceway last Saturday night especially in the first 300 laps of the race.

“I don’t really have any emotions right now,” said Keselowski post-race. “We weren’t good enough to make it and we didn’t. That’s the reality.”

It is, however, instructive to note that Keselowski missed a top ten berth by 32 points (31 more points would have tied him with Logano in tenth who would have held the tie-breaker with the one race win). Why is that number significant? Simply put because Keselowski lost 31 points this year from NASCAR penalties. Had he just needed one or two positions on the final restart the story may have been very different.

That aside, Keselowski was blunt in his assessment of his program: “We have work to do. At the end of the day, the thing about points is it is the best measuring stick in sports. You know who deserves to be where because the results speak for themselves. We didn’t have enough results to get where we needed to be.”

FOUR: Chicagoland: Not the Best Place to Start the Chase

The trouble with racetracks like Richmond is that by comparison the cookie-cutter tri-oval of Chicagoland Speedway seems almost pedestrian. This will be the third consecutive occasion the Chase has begun at this track and the only real point of note from the past two races are the drivers who’ve won the race. In 2011, it was the injured Tony Stewart and last year it was Brad Keselowski. Both drivers went on to win the title outright so clearly that’s something of a lucky omen for this weekend’s winner; assuming, of course, they’re ensconced in the Chase. The track has developed something of a reputation for being a “fuel mileage” race and last year’s race was no exception with just one quality pass for the lead occurring on the race track. Let’s hope that the thirteenth Cup race at the circuit will be a lucky one and we get a truly compelling start to the Chase. That being said, I won’t be holding my breath.

FIVE: One Thousand Up for the Second Series

And finally this week, Friday night’s Nationwide Race marked the 1000th race in NASCAR’s second echelon. The Series was formed in 1982 from a late-model sportsman series with some help from sponsorship from Anheuser-Busch under the Budweiser brand for the first couple of years. From 1984 to 2007 the second tier was known as the Busch Grand National Series and then latterly the Busch Series before Nationwide took over sponsorship seven seasons back. NASCAR President Mike Helton describes the Series as “a perfect blend of young and veteran drivers, providing some of the most compelling and entertaining racing in motorsports.”

To some extent that’s true but to really live up to that goal, NASCAR needs to find a way to stop the Cup drivers moonlighting their way to the vast majority of wins. Just four of 25 races this year have been won by full-time drivers in the Series (Regan Smith twice and once apiece for Sam Hornish Jr. and Trevor Bayne) and that’s a sorry statistic. To true really make it a perfect blend, NASCAR needs to find a way to outlaw the moonlighters (doesn’t that sound like a good old NASCAR phrase?) The revised points system was a step in the right direction but change is still needed and it’s time it happened.

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Steve
09/10/2013 09:13 AM
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It’s been overlooked that had Gordon stayed out during last caution, Logano would not have gotten wave around and would have been stuck in 25th place. Gordon would have the lead and could have dropped as far as 8th and still made Chase. Bad call by Gustaffson, cost Gordon a spot.

Glen H.
09/10/2013 09:19 AM
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Overlooked in all the chatter about Bowyer is Edwards jumping the final restart. NASCAR is more than happy to have the Bowyer incident in the news to cover up that non-call.

Carl D.
09/10/2013 09:23 AM
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Nascar should have banned Michael Waltrip from the tracks for the remainder of the year. Even though they didn’t, he shouldn’t show his face at the races. He can say what he wants about trying to help his teams and what-not, but the fact remains he should be embarrassed by his organization’s behavior, himself included.

Fed Up
09/10/2013 10:19 AM
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NA$CAR should penalize themselves for “action detrimental” by letting Edwards jump the restart. They have lost all integrity! Wonder how FOX feels? One Hall of Fame announcer; one Hall of Shame announcer.
Didn’t take Mikey long to come up with the “split second decision” defense. Fox should can him immediately to protect their product.

janice
09/10/2013 10:27 AM
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hope mikey is paying ty norris a nice bonus for being the fall guy.

i wonder how toyota feels about all this negative press. i know any press is good press, but it’s the 2nd time they’ve been in this boat with waltrip.

jerseygirl
09/10/2013 10:47 AM
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With Gordon out of the chase, I don’t have much interest in the last 10 races. I simply don’t care who wins the fake championship.

NASCAR only acted because of the outcry on social media – if they could have ignored it, they would have, the same way they ignore the restart issue.

The outcry this time was just too loud.

I agree about the track at Chicago. Fortunately the weather forecase for this weekend in my area is predicted to be great. I can tell you that I won’t be inside watching NASCAR on tv.

Ditch the chase, this gimmick has lost its appeal to the masses.

Sherri T
09/10/2013 11:13 AM
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I can’t believe that Boyer is still racing, he of all of them should be penalized for race fixing. But I suspect that even though he’s still in the chase, he may be penalized by the “self regulation” of his competitors… At least I hope he will be.

Bill B
09/10/2013 12:02 PM
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Steve,
That might be. Menard took two tires and fell back to 5th. Hard to say what would have happened with 4 old tires. Plus there was nothing to keep Vickers and Bowyer from staying in the pits even longer which would have had the same effect on raising Logano’s finishing position. Could have went either way.

Ken
09/10/2013 12:32 PM
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Re: Edwards jumping the restart. Last night on RaceHub, they went through that restart literally frame by frame. Menard had the lead after the cars passed that dreaded restart box, and in fact was leading to withinabout 5-car lengths before the line. The replay clearly showed Menard fishtailing and hitting Edwards in the side, but he was still leading. That was when Edwards went. When they replayed Carl’s interview, he said that he heard Menard’s engine revs go up, so when that happened, it meant either Menard spun the tires, or he was taking off. That was when his car fishtailed. Menard apparently had even admitted to that. No harm, no foul on Edwards’ part!

Re: Bowyer’s spin also helped Joey Logano. Really? Why would a Toyota driver help a Ford driver! That was just a coincidence that Logano got help in that situation.

Re: The penalties against MWR. There was one big one left out. Michael Waltrip receiving a lifetime ban from the broadcast booth! Well, I can dream, can’t I?

Upstate24fan
09/10/2013 12:48 PM
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I’m happy NASCAR acted, but still upset that Bowyer got away scot-free. The worst offender still has a shot to win the Championship. Though I’m sure Hendrick and SHR will make sure that doesn’t happen. Bowyer’s penalty should have been either assessed for the Chase, or it should have been a 100 point pre-Chase penalty that knocked him out of the top-10. Michael Waltrip should have had his “hardcard” revoked for the rest of the season, and the crew chiefs of all MWR cars should have received multiple race suspensions.

Also, I agree adding Chicago to the Chase has done nothing. Maybe if Indy installs lights and paves the aprons for 2015 the Chase should start there. My suggestion is that when it comes time to repave Chicagoland, they shorten it to a 1 mile highbanked track.

NaBUru38
09/10/2013 03:39 PM
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Of course that the Chase is wide open. Kenseth won 5 races, but has only a 15-point gap with the non-winners. That’s very unfair.

Bonus points for wins should be increased dramatically. I’d even give no points to drivers 21th and on. My points system would be 30-20-18-17-16-15…, so the bonus points would be 10.

JD in NC
09/10/2013 03:50 PM
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A lot of people want Clint out and Gordon in. NASCAR simply cannot make the straight up swap. They handled the penalty the only way they could. That is assess a points and dollar penalty like always. The fact is no one can prognosticate what would have happened in the last seven laps if Bowyer had not spun on purpose. Gordon could have wrecked on the next lap, or more likely, NASCAR could have thrown a fake debris caution. The only other way they could have handled it would have been to assess all MWR drivers a 100 point penalty (like upstate24fan states above). This would have taken the 15 out and put the 24 in, while still playing by the general penalty format.

Sam Alexander
09/10/2013 04:41 PM
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What a mess. I have to say, though, that as an EXTREMELY casual racing fan that I was going a bit bonkers when I read the penalties levied on the bottom line during MNF. It’s bad news, but NASCAR actually comes away with a lot of publicity for its playoffs.

JD in NC
09/10/2013 05:07 PM
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Michael Waltrip has always been the biggest corporate shill in the garage area. I would imagine he is spending most of his energy this week trying to calm a group of very pissed off sponsors. 5 Hour Energy’s facebook page was getting slammed by mad fans after the race. The ultimate penalty for MWR would be to show up at Chicago with three solid white race cars, or at least with the 15 having blank quarterpanels.

Kevin in SoCal
09/10/2013 05:51 PM
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I remember a few years ago when NASCAR said anyone who ties for 10th place would still make the chase. This was called “the Jr rule” when Dale Jr was hovering just outside the cutoff. Is that rule still in effect?

Bill B
09/10/2013 06:35 PM
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Ken,
In order for Truex to get the last lucky dog (Kahne had the other locked up with 2 wins) Logano had to finish in the top ten or he’d be the other lucky dog. Check it out. Truex needed both Newman to not win the race and Logano to make the top 10.

kb
09/10/2013 08:20 PM
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People are acting like Logano is the villian in all this, he still would have had a wildcard? My head is spinning, am I correct on this? But even with that situation I believe Logano from the points diff from the last race and where he finished and Truex finished Logano still had Truex by 11 points? confusing. One thing I do not agree with is letting Mr. Rotten Season show up for one race and Gordon get in the Chase again. He got his Hail Mary last year via the rain gods of Pocono. In the big scheme of things Logano is in, where he belongs. He raced his okele off this year and if he didn’t have that 25 point doc, his name would even be mentioned. This whole thing is a horrible mess, and nobody is happy about it. But I believe this really isn’t anything new, this was just overt by MWR, if in fact it was really intentional, which is funny, Nascar penalized em’ without saying they were guilty.

bud sudz
09/11/2013 01:18 AM
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kb—Had Newman won, he and Kahne would have claimed the wildcard with two wins, Gordon theoretically would have made the Top 10 and Logano and Truex would have been out.
The Championship has been “played with” before, as Childress has started additional Start and Park cars to assist Earnhardt’s finish in the last race (perfectly legal, mind you) Also, Gordon took out Bowyer last year at Phoenix, ending any Championship chances. Karma/Revenge at its’ finest perhaps.

dmann
09/13/2013 09:05 AM
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nothing new this past week, only the drivers did it instead of na$crap doing it.

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