The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: JJ, SHR, KuBu, Canada, And Thursday Nights by Huston Ladner -- Tuesday June 11, 2013

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This past weekend featured solid, but not spectacular racing. There were some interesting battles, but dominant cars from dominant teams dominated the races. Certainly some side-by-side action would have been welcomed, and there was some at Iowa, but just not enough everywhere else. That doesn’t mean there weren’t a lot of things to be gleaned from what happened.

Jimmie Johnson looks awful comfortable holding that trophy. Why wouldn’t he? He is, after all, the best.

ONE: Jimmie Johnson

On that dominant topic, there’s the 5-time champion. Johnson and company look poised to run away with the summer. Chad Knaus seems like he’s done what he’s always done and that is to figure out what works. The past two races have shown that he’s now got a handle on the Gen-6 car – much to the chagrin of other drivers and likely most of the fans.

With a Chase berth in hand, the team can now tinker with all kinds of different things and set themselves up for the drive to that 6th championship. Is anyone else yawning at this point? (Even Johnson’s crew looked like they had a been-there done-that emotion with the win.) Sure, it’s great to see excellence in action, but it’s also a bit boring to know how the story ends before you’re halfway through the book. Maybe these thoughts are an overstatement, as a team can get hot in the Chase and steal it like Tony Stewart did, but right now things don’t have that feeling.

TWO: Stewart-Haas Racing

Look, another segue! Tony Stewart won at Dover and looked rather strong at Pocono. He was able to do something that almost no one else could, and that was to drive through the field. At a place where track position dictates much of a driver’s performance, his late charge at the tricky triangle evidenced that SHR has figured out something about the new car. That Ryan Newman crossed the line in 5th would indicate the team is on the rise.

But is it really? After Dover there was the knee-jerk one-race reaction that SHR was moving into the game that Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports have been playing. This idea is skewed. Stewart’s win at Dover was an excellent confluence of things going right, and the Pocono results might be a result of the team testing there – something no other team did. Next week’s race at Michigan will be the best indication of whether they’ve made the leap.

THREE: Kurt Busch

Busch earned a 7th place finish at Pocono and now sits 15th in the standings, 21 points out of the Chase cut off line. Though Furniture Row Racing has a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing, they are still a one car team, and don’t have teammates with which to bounce ideas off. Whether or not you like him, Busch is displaying that he really is one of the most talented drivers in the garage.

There are two questions that come about: Does Busch have a legitimate shot to make the Chase? Earlier in the year that notion came off as far-fetched, especially as he was driving for a team that has never proven to be stout – Regan Smith’s Darlington win aside. Right now, however, Busch is running up front, and with a win and continued strong performances, there’s a likelihood he makes it.

This success raises the question: Is he the hottest property out there? His contract runs out at the end of the season and he’s been on his best behavior. Long rumored to be a possibility at Childress, might another organization like Gibbs or even Roush go after him?

FOUR: Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

Something is wrong here. Those pompous, erudite, sipping mimosas with their pinkies out, Formula One open wheel goofballs visited North America at Canada’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve this weekend. The crowds looked great – as they usually do. And the racing was what one would typically anticipate. So what’s the problem?

How come neither of the top American driving series go to this track? NASCAR would babble that Nationwide does go there and has success. That they don’t want to take away from the Watkins Glen race. That they don’t need another road course. That market saturation or some blah blah blah. IndyCar’s excuse might be a little different as the sanctioning fees might be out of their range at the moment. The truth is that Canadians are supportive of any race that happens there and that both of these series need to look at what they’re doing and look north of the border.

FIVE: Start Times

For those without a DVR, this weekend was a fustercluck in trying to watch racing. Had the Iowa Nationwide race not been postponed until Sunday morning, then the only motorsports event that could be watched without conflict was the Truck race at Texas. And when the Nationwide race ran, it then conflicted with both the F1 and Cup race. What is it with the people in power and the TV networks that makes them all go toe-to-toe rather than recognizing that there are a limited number of fans and that conflicts water down all the numbers?

Here’s more of the problem. Who is it that decreed that motorsports events must be run on the weekend? Thursday night, when the most notable contribution to the TV schedule was the return of Burn Notice, would have been an excellent time to hold either the Trucks or Nationwide race. There was nothing on! Rather than cram the schedule, why not look for opportunities that shows a progressive attitude. If the NFL, MLB, NHL, and Soccer can all have events other days of the week, why can’t racing?

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Steve K
06/11/2013 02:23 AM

IndyCar is rumored to be looking at Quebec, but Quebec City and not Montreal.

06/11/2013 02:35 AM

One of the reasons INDYCAR doesn’t go to Montreal-it did in 2005 under Champ Car sanction-is that the circuit is only allowed two race weekends a year. F1 has one, NASCAR/NASCAR Canada has the other. Until that changes, I can’t see INDYCAR going to Montreal.

James N
06/11/2013 06:52 AM

Actually, I think the reason NASCAR left Montreal this season is because the race promoter Francois Dumontier demanded a Sprint Cup race at Montreal or run the Nationwide race on a Sunday morning 9 am. Otherwise, the NASCAR weekend wouldn’t be profitable. I find that hard to believe since it seemed there were always good crowds there. I think NASCAR would have preferred to stay at Montreal but the promoter said otherwise.

The promoter group Octane basically threw the Montreal Nationwide race and the IndyCar Edmonton race to the trash can due to money problems, so I’m not real happy about their decisions, but I guess money talks. I will miss the Montreal Nationwide races.

06/11/2013 10:53 AM

I went to Montreal for the NASCAR race for two years. Had a ball. The Canadian fans are fantastic; generally they are MOTORSPORTS fans, not NASCAR fans so the conversations included discussions of Formula 1, Indycar, MotoGP, etc. The main problem in Montreal was the horrible NASCAR officiating. They displayed how little they know about road racing by constantly calling full course yellows whenever someone spun off in a safe area such as the hairpin. One year I was there Rusty Wallace’s kid spun two or three times at the hairpin and they called a full course yellow every time.It affected the tempo of the event.

06/11/2013 01:08 PM

Hope Jimmie wins the title this year. Really want him to get to 7

06/11/2013 05:15 PM

NFL Thursday nite football sucks, MLB plays over 100 games a year everyday and nite during the season. Don’t know if a lot of people watch soccer or NHL Thursday nites. But if I want to watch racing on weeknites, I would prefer my local short tracks!

06/11/2013 08:16 PM

good article, im a kurt bush fan and had to laugh when you mentioned a possibility of a return to Roush. id rather him stay at furniture row!