The Frontstretch: Fanning the Flames: Investing, Qualifying, Red Flagging, And The Team Of Destiny by Matt Taliaferro -- Thursday June 12, 2008

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Fanning the Flames: Investing, Qualifying, Red Flagging, And The Team Of Destiny

NASCAR Fan Q & A · Matt Taliaferro · Thursday June 12, 2008

 

So the deed is finally done, huh? You know, I don’t always know what to think about these “investors,” as we call them, buying into the sport. Doesn’t it give you the sense of buzzards circling a road kill? Do these firms actually plan on sticking with the program, or are they carpetbaggers intent on making a few quick bucks and getting out, leaving an organization looking like MB2 after Bobby Ginn wrecked it? Don’t get me wrong; if the infusion of cash helps a team like Petty Enterprises return to championship form, I’m all for it. I just hate to think of the repercussions if one of the firms were to cut and run.

I’ll say this about Boston Ventures, though; I’ve been told they are a very strong company — even more so than Fenway Sports Group. That’s important, because you couldn’t say that about some of the other investors interested in P.E. before falling out of the running. And re-upping with Bobby Labonte is the gem of that whole deal. As much as Kyle and Richard, Bobby is the rock that an organization like P.E. must have to be competitive. I hope we have more exciting things to write about at Petty Enterprises very soon… I really do.

OK, let’s get to it here. A couple of really cool questions this week … keep ‘em coming in, and I’ll get ya next Thursday. Here’s my little red link.

Q: Why does NASCAR forbid crews from working on the cars during a red flag? And what’s up with Dover? That was the most boring race I have ever witnessed. They should move that race to a track where you can pass.
— Judy & Don

NASCAR stops every team from working on their cars while under red flag conditions in order to keep a level playing field.

A: Well, a red flag stops all action on the track, which also puts a halt to official scoring. If cars in the garage are allowed to continue to work on their machines, they are given a competitive advantage over those sitting still on the race track. If a red flag period were to last one hour, a team with a damaged race car could possibly repair the damage to their car and have their boy back out without losing a lap once the race resumed — theoretically, anyway.

Therefore, NASCAR stops all action on and off the track. In short, it’s a matter of keeping the playing field level for every competitor, regardless of circumstance.

As for Dover, I still think it’s a matter of figuring out the new cars. The drivers just aren’t comfortable with the feel of the things yet, and off the record, most anyone would tell you they hate driving them. Dover was hardly a classic, that’s for sure; but I thought it was better than Pocono last Sunday. Either way, at the current pace I don’t foresee two dates at both of these tracks for much longer.

Q: Hi Matt. I just wanted to share an observation on the racing so far this year: According to NASCAR.com, of the 13 points races, there has been only one race won from cars starting outside the Top 9 (Clint Bowyer started 31st at Richmond). This year’s winners have an average starting position of 6.9, with four races being won from the front row (no one has won from the pole).

By comparison, at this time last year eight of the 13 races had been won from outside the Top 9. Last year’s winners had an average starting position of 14.23, even with Jeff Gordon winning two races from the pole and Jeff Burton being the only other front row starter to win. Six of the races were won from 20th or worse, with Kevin Harvick starting in 34th to win the Daytona 500.

In my opinion, this indicates a couple of things — there’s not much passing going on up front, and teams apparently need to put more effort into qualifying. For example, people talk about how Tony Stewart is not doing very well this year compared to his teammates. I don’t think it’s because he’s not driving well. I can’t remember him really ever being a strong qualifier, and if he isn’t qualifying up front, he’s also apparently not putting himself in position to win. On the other hand, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have been qualifying better.

I personally enjoy a good “come from the back of the pack” type of win, but those just aren’t happening so far this year. Perhaps that is why some people are saying the racing is boring this year. I am not going to jump out and blame the new car, Toyota, Kyle Busch, Darrell Waltrip, moon phases, etc. It’s just an interesting trend I’ll be watching, and I thought you might find it interesting, too. I’m curious about what you think of this. I don’t have time right now, but I’d also be curious to see what percentage of the Top 5 finishers are starting up front — a quick spot check indicates that there are a couple of guys making decent runs from the back, but they just aren’t quite getting to Victory Lane. Maybe I’ll crunch some more numbers on that.

Keep up the great work at The Frontstretch — I always look forward to getting the newsletter and hearing what you folks have to say!
— Travis

A: That’s some interesting stuff, Trav. After crunching numbers for a day on this, I ended up back where I started; so, I’m harkening back to question No. 1 when I say the only explanation I can give you is the new car. Track position is just so vital and those who unload close — who have done their homework at the shop so all they have to do is fine-tune it to the driver’s liking — are the ones who typically are fast all weekend. You’re either real close or totally off with the new beast … and the gap between the two is as wide as Michael Strahan’s antlers (shout out to The Jungle there).

I thought I could make a correlation between the new car and old car being the difference in the ’07 qualifying stat you threw out. However, my research shows that of the eight qualifiers outside of the Top 9 to win in the first 13 races, the number was split down the middle; four winners with both the new and old cars. That was surprising — I thought for sure it’d be heavily favoring the spoilered beauts.

I did find that the percentage of Top 5 finishers that qualified within the Top 9 positions in 2008 was a robust 49.2 percent. Also, if you throw out Bowyer’s Richmond gift, where he started 31st, the average starting spot for a race winner in ’08 rises big-time to 4.6. Again, back to where I started.

Hope this made sense. I’m going to powder down some Goody’s now.

Q: Hey Matt. I’m writing about another Matt, Matt Kenseth, who looks to have found the groove! He did the same thing in 2005 and made the Chase. They have momentum on their side. Is this a team of destiny or what!? Thanks!
— Trace Stewart

A: Team of destiny? Maybe, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, and chemistry is such a fickle thing. I talked to a crew chief before the season, and he expected a seamless transition atop the pit box from Robbie Reiser to Chip Bolin:

“They’re the cornerstone of the Roush Fenway organization right now,” he told me. “I don’t think the crew chief change is going to hurt. They’ve been talking about it for a couple years. It still takes some time to fully adapt, but there’ll be plenty of motivation for them to step it up.”

That’s the reason I was so surprised when the No. 17 pulled a Barbaro out of the gate this year. I think the CoT threw Matt a slight curveball, too; he only earned four Top 5s in the 16 CoT races last year, and he makes a lot of the setup calls. Combine the ever-developing chemistry between driver and new crew chief with Matt’s continued feel for the new cars, and you’ve got a team back where it should be.

As you said, the numbers clearly back that up: Four straight runs of seventh or better have Kenseth up to 15th in the standings from 22nd. Watch it, boys! Somebody’s about to get bumped…

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mad-dog 20/20
06/12/2008 07:28 AM
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One or two more bad finishes from Matt and they’ll be room less room under the bus!

31Fan
06/12/2008 02:09 PM
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Regarding Travis’ point, as a Jeff Burton fan I’ve watched him stink up the field in qualifying but he always seems to finish with a top 5 or a top 10. My point is there seems to be at least one team that can figure out how to tweak a slow car throughout the race and get it up to the front.
My guess is that the learning curve is still pretty steep among the teams about how to fix a set up that isn’t working when it comes off the hauler. The 31 team seems to be able to do it, I figure the rest of the teams won’t be too far behind.

 

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Contact Matt Taliaferro

Recent articles from Matt Taliaferro:

Fanning the Flames: Of Daytona, Danica, Dale, and Duels
2009 Season Review: Tony Stewart
2009 Season Review: Ryan Newman
Fanning the Flames: Closing the Inbox on the 2009 Season
Fanning the Flames: The Crew Chief Carousel and Other Assorted Oddities