The Frontstretch: Fact or Fiction: Did New Asphalt, Earnhardt Come Through In The Clutch? by Kyle Ocker -- Monday February 14, 2011

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Between Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s pole-winning run and Saturday night’s white-knuckle finish, there’s plenty to get excited about heading into this year’s 53rd annual Daytona 500.

FACT: The new Daytona asphalt will make for an exciting 500

Saturday night, the new asphalt on the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway took its first NASCAR test in a live race setting.

Turns out some offseason studying paid off.

The Budweiser Shootout broke the race record for lead changes and saw cars running speeds of up to 206 mph, with drivers slicing and dicing while maintaining the two-car tandems that have existed at superspeedway races since the introduction of the Car Of Today. Even more impressive, there have been nearly 30 Daytona 500s with less lead changes than there were Saturday night, an amazing accomplishment considering the boring, single-file route some of these Shootouts often take.

No more. And with only 0.058 seconds separating the top-2 drivers at the end of the shootout, February 20th can’t get here quick enough.

FICTION: NASCAR needs to look at limiting two-car pairups

When the Sporting News reported NASCAR’s supposed search to make adjustments that would limit the two-car pairups that have become prevalent recently at the Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, I nearly did two Carl Edwards-style back flips. Racing during the Budweiser Shootout was just fine with the multiple two-car pairups. And, the races have all ended with close margins at the superspeedways since the drivers began using the two-car tandems.

My take? NASCAR needs to change things that actually need changing. It’s time to quit worrying about petty stuff and start focusing on the problems that are causing the TV ratings to drop and the overall decline in interest in the sport, especially among the younger demographics.

Editor’s Note: NASCAR didn’t listen, enacting two rules that will work to slow speeds through changes to the car’s cooling system. See Matt McLaughlin’s column for more.

FACT: Letarte may be able to tame Earnhardt

One of Steve Letarte’s goals coming into his first season as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was to improve Earnhardt’s language and attitude in attempts to get the driver back on track. And while Earnhardt crashed in the second segment on Saturday during the Budweiser Shootout, his demeanor on the radio has changed.

Yes, there were still a couple of four-letter words that rhyme with “duck” said over the team’s radio, but they weren’t used every other word. While Earnhardt was not smiling – who would be after a wreck? – he stayed calm in interviews and was by no means out of control on or off the track.

It’s still early and the Budweiser Shootout isn’t a points race, but it appears the new driver/crew chief tandem have made some headway. Certainly, the pole is a good sign Earnhardt has the speed to compete; now, it’s just a strategy of putting a complete race together in order to win a second Daytona 500.

Contact Kyle Ocker

Monday on the Frontstretch:
Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2011 Bud Shootout Race Recap
Access ARCA: On ARCA’s Grandest Stage, Bobby Gerhart’s Performance One of Mastery
Heartbreak On Valentine’s Day: Can New Rules Tear Apart NASCAR ‘Couples?’
Running Their Mouth: 2011 Budweiser Shootout
The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same: Daytona, Latest Example
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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
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Jacob
02/14/2011 07:15 AM
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Kyle, as you said last week, you are a “noob”, so welcome to FrontStrecth. I don’t know if you are new to NA$CAR, or just writing about it.
Dale Jr. has been through enough crew chiefs at this point for there to be a familiar theme. He always starts out on good terms with them and is patient and cool. It’s only after he can’t articulate his needs to them, that the anger begins to show. With one race, one that had absolutely nothing on the line having been run, it is far too early to say that there has been an improvement in Jr.‘s demeanor. Even all of speedweeks won’t tell anything. Watch what happens between the time that they leave Daytona and when they arrive in Talladega, that is what will show how well Steve can communicate with Jr..

randy “needonemore?”, “volcanonacho”, “dansmom”, JACOB goldman, do you have any of your petulant comments to make using my name? I hope not, but you probably do, so have at it.

marilyn
02/14/2011 11:42 AM
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ok jacob…..quit bashin DALE JR….race season don’t start til sunday! if u can’t say nice things about the drivers then don“t say anything. that would be an impovement!!!!

Surfcaster
02/14/2011 12:03 PM
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@Kyle Ocker – By your write-up on this foolish racing (Or so called) Saturday night, I really think somehow you must be related to Brian France. Tell me it ain’t so.