The Frontstretch: Five Points To Ponder: Helton, MWR, Kes, AJ, And Iowa by Huston Ladner -- Tuesday June 25, 2013

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Five Points To Ponder: Helton, MWR, Kes, AJ, And Iowa

Huston Ladner · Tuesday June 25, 2013


Congratulations to Martin Truex Jr., for snapping his streak of not winning a race in 216 attempts. That’s SIX years, and with a number of frustrating second-place finishes to compound his misery. And a congratulations to A.J. Allmendinger for winning at Road America, and in doing so pouring out his emotions to the camera. (When was the last time a driver kissed the camera?) And then on the open-wheel side, James Hinchcliffe continued his ascent in the IndyCar standings by winning at Iowa. All three of these races bring to mind some things that should be considered. Here we go:

ONE: No Hurry

Road course racing continues to gain favor amongst fans of NASCAR. Mike Helton has even remarked that having a road course in the Chase would be a good idea. Unfortunately, Helton also mentions that NASCAR is in no hurry to do such a thing. This comment seems to strike not only as a confusing statement towards adding a road course, but also NASCAR’s indifference towards its fans.

Are Mike Helton and NASCAR executives making a mistake by not putting a road course in the Chase?

What is going on here? Though NASCAR made continual changes to the car, especially with regards to plate racing (tandems, no tandems), the organization persists in ignoring fan interests in a number of things. The main one here is the schedule. Of course, part of the reason is the NASCAR – International Speedway Corp marriage, which means that they would regard taking a race away from one of their tracks as heresy of the highest order. But hey, whatever, keep giving fans a product they don’t want, and maybe they won’t go to those tracks either.

TWO: Michael Waltrip Racing

Sure seems like it’s been a long time since Michael Waltrip was caught trying to use rocket fuel in his car at Daytona in 2007. And then there was his decision to use chrome wheels in an effort to bring more attention to his cars. Oh, and let’s not forget that MWR was on the brink of folding before they were able to get an outside investor to keep them afloat.

With Martin Truex Jr., winning on Sunday, the team can now boast that both of its full time drivers have wins in the past calendar year. Both drivers are almost locked in to make the Chase this year. Clint Bowyer’s runner-up finish in the standings last year also indicates that this team is one that now can race with the so-called elite of Gibbs and Hendrick. The point to ponder here is, that even during the economic meltdown, Waltrip was able to build a successful team – how come no one else has been able to do that? Is he that good of a salesman?

THREE: Brad Keselowski

The reigning Cup champion is having a strange year. His cars have frequently been fast, but he doesn’t really have the finishes to show for the effort. He’s had his crew chief suspended, and still performed relatively well. He’s had his knuckles rapped by Helton and Hendrick, yet he keeps spouting what he wants. He’s 9th in points, but having not won yet, he could easily miss the Chase as drivers like Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch are only 20 points or so back.

So what’s the deal, is he a contender or not? Has the transition to Ford and the allegiance with Roush made it difficult for him to get going? Note that his teammate, Joey Logano, is only 15 points behind Keselowski. Perhaps things have settled down a bit now that Sonoma is out of the way, and he returns to a track, Kentucky, where he’s had some success. This weekend serves as a benchmark as to whether Kes and Paul Wolfe are going to be contenders this year. Keep an eye on the deuce.

FOUR: A.J. Allmendinger

Last season, Allmendinger got caught doing a banned substance, was suspended, lost his ride, and seemed destined to be another driver out in the cold. But he followed the rules, acted contrite (step 1), went through the Road to Recovery program (step 2), then hung around the garage and did whatever he could (step 3), finally getting some time with the about-to-fold James Finch #51 team.

On Saturday, Allmendinger won at the Nationwide race at Road America in a Penske car. Congratulations to him. The program worked, he’s rehabilitated and NASCAR can show that if you do what you’re told you’ll get back in the sport. But does the program really work or is Allmendinger just fortunate enough to have worked for Penske, who has peppered him with IndyCar and Nationwide rides? Allmendigner is the pioneering test case in NASCAR as to whether or not a driver can resuscitate his (or her) career after a substance issue. In a way, NASCAR needs a success story to show that it works, but one also has to wonder if he was just in the right spot.

FIVE: Iowa

NASCAR fans may have forgotten, ignored, or been indifferent to IndyCar running at Iowa on Sunday (at the questionable time that went head-to-head with the Sonoma race). This column is not going to espouse that the IndyCar race was the best race ever in the history of mankind and that everyone who missed it should now go contemplate the meaning of his or her life. No, that would be, as my niece says: ridiclious.

But what Iowa showed again is how broken the racing is on 1.5 and 2 mile tracks. With both Nationwide and IndyCar having raced there in the past month, there was the chance that one them could be a dud, but both featured wheel to wheel racing through much of the field. As much as there is a drive to deservedly add another road course to the schedule, there should also be a push to tear down one of the cookie cutters and build another pseudo-Richmond. But as you know with all things NASCAR, there’s no rush.

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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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06/25/2013 10:59 AM

Nascar tear down a cookie cutter for racing at a venue that has better chances of good racing? Pshaw. They will just build a casino. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

Michael in SoCal
06/25/2013 11:11 AM

Nascar, ISC & SMI have basically dug their own grave with all these boring 1.5 – 2.0 mile cookie cutter tracks they built during the boom years. Let’s take a look:
1995: Homestead-Miami
1996: Las Vegas & Texas
1997: Fontana
2000: Kentucky
2001: Kansas (and the new spiffy casino!) and Chicagoland

7 tracks, 6 of them 1.5 mile cookie cutter (except for Homestead which is just a flattened cookie) and a 2.0 mile cookie cutter. And these tracks are in addition to Charlotte, Atlanta & Michigan, all built in the 60s, all cookie cutters.

Why not build a half miler in there at some point. Maybe a 3/4 mile Super Bristol?

Oh no, they built the same track in different parts of the country, over and over again. Which leads to the same boring racing, over and over again.

Good to hear that ISC is spending two thirds of its capital improvement budget over the next few years upgrading Daytona’s frontstretch. That’s going to improve the racing at all those cookie cutter tracks. Just like this Gen 6 car will make the racing better too.

It ain’t the car, it’s the tracks.

06/25/2013 12:33 PM

The economics of track ownership in NASCAR really makes the “cookie-cutter” problem a hard one to solve. ISC and SMI have invested millions of dollars in these tracks, and won’t just tear them down or move races to tracks not owned by them. Ideally, I’d love to see a Kansas race go to Iowa and the Texas Chase race go to the Circuit of the Americas. However, I just don’t see that happening.

06/25/2013 02:11 PM

Want to see a potential glimpse into the future?

Go see the “Nashville Superspeedway” (which is NOT located in Nashville BTW). A lot of money sunk into that place and it just SITS there…available for testing though.

TONS of money spend, roads built, etc. BUT….BUT…..the wrong kind of track in the wrong place. Now it’s dead.

06/25/2013 02:27 PM

Nascar will wait until their at critical mass situation before they’ll listen to the fans..the 1.5 Dull-D has been awful going further back & I suspect that nascar was wishing the cot et al would fix that …Great move guys..Nascar better start listening or may be some upstart league will sign up the 1/2-3/4-1 milers in upto date cars (pushrods?) & draw that audience away…I know I’m always looking

Old Timer
06/25/2013 02:42 PM

Once upon a time, Michigan races were always quite exciting — the cars changed, not the track. As for Atlanta — WORST mistake Bruton Smith made was redesigning the track (in 1997). The old front stretch is now the back stretch, but he should have done what they did (later) later with Darlington — just turn the track around (Atlanta had same issue as Darlington — the buildable land was all on the [old] back stretch side). The old layout of two 1/4 straights with two 1/2 mile turns made for VERY EXCITING racing for 35 years!

06/25/2013 03:33 PM

NASCAR will continue to ignore their fans because in their eyes, the fans ARE stupid. I don’t know if Kenny Wallace continues to pound that point every week on Raceday with his “listen up, race fans” shtick since I stopped watching that show 4 years ago.

We used to go to 10 races a year and we had a great time. Now we go to Martinsville, Charlotte once and Dover (because it’s close). I’ve been bored into taking a nap at both Charlotte & Dover for several years and as far as I’m concerned we went to our last race there in June.

Earner and Michael are right. NASCAR/ISC overbuilt the Dull-D’s (I like that description), then changed the car to a brick on wheels, added the chase and voila, boring racing! Helton & his crowd are never in a hurry to do things unless it profits them.

06/25/2013 03:58 PM

Kenny Wallace and DW are two characters that show
what is wrong with nascar.
Does anyone remember Benny
Parsons and Ned Jarret both of which had the combination of character and class, We don’t get
character or class from the jokes that are wallace and dw.

bud sudz
06/25/2013 06:58 PM

A couple of points—-
First, Homestead was built as a cookie cutter to Indy, not the current tracks. The turns were flat and too difficult (John Nemechek lost his life in a Truck there).
So, they redesigned it and rounded the corners, but kept it as a flat track.
The second re-design led to the current configuration, which has IMPROVED the racing.
Second, the Tri-Oval and Double-Dogleg layouts are for the fans in attendance. If you are in the seats on a straight frontstretch (or backstretch), you cannot see the action directly in front of you. The angled “straight-aways” improve the viewing angles.
The issue is not the tracks, it’s the aero package and the high corner speeds.
The best racing is at the road courses (slow corners/passing zones), the short tracks (slow corners, allowing for out-braking, bumping, etc) and tracks like Darlington (before the new pavement) and Rockingham, where tire-wear leads to slower-corner speeds and multi-groove racing as drivers look for grip.
Although I am not an engineer, three things should fix this sport—(1)Change the aero to not allow the cars to “suck down” to the track,(2) have a tire provider manufacture a tire that provides both wear and safety, (3) return to a 22-gallon tank, so the pit stops are for tire wear vs. fuel mileage.

06/25/2013 11:26 PM

another thought – instead of reconstructing tracks, call an audible during the season scheduling – take the 5 tracks that have 2 dates, take the worst date, make that an empty slot and replace it with 5 tracks to run at – i’m pretty sure the owners will do whatever it takes to get a race at their venue. Then you get the added benefit of not having a huge notebook when you head to the same 18 or 19 tracks annually. just a thought and yes, this will be hard on teams, track owners, and the sport – but this is probably the furthest thing from cookie cutter out there…

and i agree with bud sudz on the changes to the car – They did a PHENOMENAL job on the new look, but remove the side skirts, let air under the car, welcome back to racing, and goodyear, stop bringing flinstones tires to races, half a race on left sides isn’t strategic, it’s boring. I still enjoy the sport, but hate that the fake debris cautions are the only thing to bring excitement back to some of these tracks.