The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Pole Conspiracies, Smoke Rising and the Great American Race by Danny Peters -- Tuesday February 18, 2014

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Five Points to Ponder: Pole Conspiracies, Smoke Rising and the Great American Race

Five Points to Ponder · Danny Peters · Tuesday February 18, 2014


ONE: And We’re Back

The NASCAR offseason is just about the shortest in all of professional sports. So why does it always feel like ages between the checkered flag at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the start of Daytona Speedweeks?

I’ll leave that answer to those more qualified in the study of neurosciences in the human brain, but I for one was itching for some on-track action after what was for much of the country a bitter, frigid winter. Unlike in years past, the offseason was chock full of announcements, from new qualifying formats to a completely new way of crowning the champion — replete with snazzy monikers for the different Chase segments — and not to mention a slew of other stories (the return of the No. 3, for example) and other controversies.

All this change bodes well for what might be the most unpredictable season we’ve ever had. Yes, we can all make predictions about who might be the champion and who’ll be racing for a title in the final race, but no one has any idea how this new format will play out — and that should spice things up considerably. The Sprint Unlimited was a robust appetizer, the Budweiser Duels will ratchet up the excitement a notch on Thursday afternoon and then it’s the big race this Sunday. Can’t wait.

TWO: Pole Conspiracies

I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next, but those suggesting that NASCAR somehow contrived to fix Daytona 500 qualifying so that the No. 3 Chevrolet of Austin Dillon would start the race on the pole need to get a life — and quick.

In its return to the Sprint Cup Series, the No. 3 won the pole in Daytona. Too good to be true?

Sadly, it’s a repeat of 2013, when there was all the whispering about Danica Patrick’s pole-winning qualifying run. It truly is fatuous nonsense. Why on earth would NASCAR do it? What is the upside in a race where qualifying means essentially nothing? Yes, seeing the legendary number atop the scoring tower for the most storied race in the sport is fantastic and historic. It’s also not going to put one more butt in a grandstand seat or garner one more set of eyeballs on the TV broadcast. At best, it’s a minor sideshow that will be forgotten by about the second lap.

And, just for the record, Dillon is the fifth rookie to start the 500 on the pole, following Patrick, Jimmie Johnson, Mike Skinner and Loy Allen. Richard Childress Racing cars have always been fast on restrictor plate tracks and this run is just another example of that long tradition of excellence for Richard Childress Racing at Daytona and Talladega. Nothing more, nothing less.

THREE: Smoke Signals

Wasn’t it great to see Tony Stewart back on track in the Sprint Unlimited after a 15-race, seven-month absence from serious competition? Stewart is one of the true great characters of NASCAR and his absence was sorely felt last season by fans, media, officials and competitors alike.

Stewart’s night ended early in the Unlimited, though as part of a nine-car melee on lap 36 of the 75 scheduled laps. “I was a little nervous about it because I knew we were going to hit nose-first, but it doesn’t feel bad at all,” Stewart said post-race — and that is good news. Crashes are as inevitable as death and taxes, so at least he’s got the first one out of the way early on.

Now his thoughts will turn to winning the big race for the first time in 16 attempts. As you would expect, Stewart is confident. “I always like my chances here,” he said. “You can’t win 19 races here and not win the big one at some point.” Don’t be surprised if he finally gets it done on Sunday — and what a popular result that would be.

FOUR: The Great American Race

Sunday will mark the 56th running of the Great American Race, a tradition that stretches all the way back to the roots of NASCAR in 1959. Lee Petty won the first Daytona 500 in what was a hugely controversial finish; initially, the judges gave the win to Johnny Beauchamp, only for the Petty patriarch to be adjudged the winner after three days of review and assessment.

Since then, the roll call of Daytona 500 winners reads like a history book of NASCAR Hall of Fame types, as is right and proper for such a prestigious event. It’s been the first race of the season since 1982 (a fact I’ll admit I didn’t know before I began writing this article; I had erroneously assumed it was longer). It certainly is a strange thing to have the first race of the season be the biggest and to have the largest purse. But on the other hand, it starts the year off strongly, and that’s important this time more than most with the myriad of changes. Bring it on. Enjoy the race, folks.

FIVE: Seventh Heaven for Johnson

And finally this week, it’s the time of year where we all make predictions and prognostications as to how this season might transpire.

As I mentioned above, this season is harder to call than perhaps any since the Chase began in 2004. No one has any idea exactly how the new format will break down with the three elimination points and the winner-take-all race at Homestead.

All that being said, my tip to win it all this year is Jimmie Johnson. Not exactly a brave forecast, I know, but something in my water tells me this year is the one during which Johnson joins Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt atop the list of most championships. I know Johnson divides opinion — with the vanilla label bandied around him like it’s a bad thing. But for me, Johnson is hands-down the greatest driver of this era (and that’s saying something, with the level of competition), arguably the greatest of any era. Winning a seventh title will cement a legacy that already needs no embellishment.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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02/18/2014 02:46 AM

..Danny Peters, I don’t know what to say about your innocence as to how marketing and hype works. It’s Brian’s passion and the Daytona 500 pole is a big deal to him getting the world to notice his storyline. Last year “first female”..this year “the number 3 is back”. Dave Moody in his blog, he basically accused millions of independ thinking Americans as being tin foil hat nuts, well from reading some of the Kool Aid, drinkers rants claiming Nascar is above board, I would have to say some of you “journalists” wear the tin foil hat if you believe for one minute that these divine remarkable stories of rookies at the season opener at Daytona are legit. GEEZ.

02/18/2014 07:32 AM

Come on man. RCR led the testing in January with the 3 car being the fastest. All the RCR cars are up front. To say its fixed is well…..dumb!

02/18/2014 07:40 AM

‘get a life’, seriously? Come out of your little bubble and enter the real world especially the NASCAR world where BF is in charge. He’d do anything to provide a little uumph to his fading show.

Just take a look in the last few years…..the 10th anniversary of Dale Sr.‘s death and guess what Dale Jr. wins the pole. After a two years of hype, Danicant Patrick enters the Cup arena and guess what, she just happens to win the pole. Finally, it’s the big, “emotional” return of the #3 to the Cup series. And wouldn’t you know it, wonder of all wonders, it wins the pole at Daytona.

Yup, it is really is hard to believe that some think that NASCAR is rigged.

02/18/2014 08:37 AM

How can you say winning the pole doesn’t mean anything? The top 2 cars are GUARANTEED to start there, no matter what happens in the qualifiers. If the 3 gets taken out in the qualifier and he isn’t on the front row he doesn’t make the race. Where did the 3 finish in points last year? Not good for Brian.

Anyone want to bet a certain Hendrick car can’t be passed again this year and wins the 500?

There’s no evidence at all for the tin-foil brigade, is there?

02/18/2014 09:16 AM

Nascar pole conspiracy? I doubt it.
Pop POp asking the engine builders to give grand son a bit more Horse power a possibility
Austin beating Flying Ryan straight up in equal cars is questionable.Looks like the 78 team didn’t get the memo, almost won the pole

02/18/2014 10:29 AM

It was supposed to be a 3 and 88 front row this year but Dale Jr. screwed up.

You media who blindly drink the Nascar kool-aid without question even though past precedent has proven Nascar’s various manipulation techniques over the years need to “get a life”. Sorry Mr Peters, but most of us have a brain and can see right through Mr. France’s agenda.

And trying to tell people what to think doesn’t win you any fans. I will have a hard time taking any of your articles seriously in the future.

Michael in SoCal
02/18/2014 10:53 AM

It’s lunacy to try to argue with lunatics.

02/18/2014 11:17 AM

Jimmy Johnson the best of all time….BS!! Chad Knaus is the best crew chief of all time and without him JJ is just another driver with one or two championships!!

02/18/2014 11:30 AM

LOL, Danny, don’t you remember the amount of press that NASCAR got last year because Danica was on the pole? It hit ALL the media markets, including those who don’t care a whit about NASCAR. The return of the “3” is big news for NASCAR and it will also hit all of the media and Dillon is locked IN on the front row.

I like RCR and it’s fine but telling everyone that people who question it need to get a life is laugable.

02/18/2014 11:42 AM

There’s plenty of things wrong with NASCAR, and I have ZERO doubt that they use caution flags to modify the outcome of races.

But fixing Qualifying seems rather beyond them.

Bill B
02/18/2014 12:13 PM

This just sheds light on the fact that so many have watched NASCAR walk the fine line between sport and WWE for so long that everything is suspicious. I would say this is reaping what they sow given their lack of transparency, heavy handed tactics and inconsistency over the years. Now people are asking why are fans so quick to question the legitimacy of NASCAR? Come on, how can we not?

02/18/2014 12:14 PM

You guys thinking the 3 car gets to stay on pole no matter what have no clue of the rules. If the car gets obliterated in the Duel Thursday night than the back up car will start the parade/warm up laps on pole but will start in the back by Stewart and Danica. There are no guarantees other than NASCAR manipulating something to get some result good or bad.

02/18/2014 12:56 PM

Brian, it is you who has not a clue and are missing the point..we are aware of the back of the pack rules..look at the big picture Brian.

02/18/2014 01:02 PM

And the word around Brian’s Big Top Circus Tent is that the front row was suppose to have Dillon and Jr. PT Barnum France is none to happy about that, no doubt.

02/18/2014 04:11 PM

I didn’t bother to waste the time reading Moody’s article – the title told me it would be another diatribe against the fans. Over the years, his disrespect for the fans has turned me off enough that I cancelled my Sirius radio subscription because there was no value to listening to any of it other than the race coverage. His paycheck comes from NASCAR’s related enterprises, of course he’s going to say its the fans that are crazy.

As Bill B pointed out, NASCAR has created the credibility issue that exists between the sport and the fans and yet seems baffled that the fans are no longer willing to simply believe and accept whatever they are told.

JD in NC
02/18/2014 04:52 PM

The Daytona pole would be very easy for NASCAR/BZF to manipulate. They hand out the restrictor plates. 1/128 bigger holes are going to gain a few ponies under the hood. With NASCAR’s recent track record no tin foil hat is even needed to believe they would be more than willing to give the sentimental 3 a bit of an advantage on pole day.

Brian in PDX
02/19/2014 02:01 AM

Danny, spends some time reading up on the history of Nascar before you tell folks what to think. But then “…a new job, working at an ad agency for Sprint brought him in contact with NASCAR” will make one want to put a positive spin on anything as long as a paycheck is involved. GinaV24 and RickP have nailed it. If you can’t see the emotional upside to these two contrivances as anything but beneficial to Nascar, maybe you need to cover another sport. I’m really tired of Nascar manipulating the Daytona 500 Pole to milk every bit of attention they can, first with DP and now the #3, all under BF. Go back and read RickP & GinaV24’s comments. They ring true.

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