The Frontstretch: Fanning the Flames: Closing The Inbox On The 2008 Season by Matt Taliaferro -- Thursday November 20, 2008

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Fanning the Flames: Closing The Inbox On The 2008 Season

NASCAR Fan Q & A · Matt Taliaferro · Thursday November 20, 2008


The offseason is finally upon us; but as they say, there is no rest for the weary. It’s been a blast talking with so many of you during my second season on The Frontstretch, so keep those questions coming and we’ll publish a few Fanning the Flames columns during the circuit’s downtime. Besides, some of the juiciest stuff happens away from the track, right?

Write this address down on a Post-It note (you’re welcome, Biffle) and keep it next to the computer: So, if a question hits while digesting that turkey or wrapping a present, you know exactly where to find me. And thanks again, everyone, for a fun year!

Now, let’s finish this season off with a smattering of questions.

Q: Just one question: How can NASCAR do NOTHING to Matt Kenseth for taking out A.J. Allmendinger [at Phoenix]? Thanks. — Dwayne Hargrove

A: The same way can it can allow Kyle Busch’s pass below the yellow line with four to go at Talladega stand in the Spring — then cause Regan Smith’s white flag pass in the Fall to get overturned.

The only ruling by NASCAR that is consistent is in the inconsistency of said rulings.

Q: What season in the modern era has had the fewest number of different winners (in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series)? And how does that compare to the 2008 season? — Mark Amende

A: Obviously, a reader who knows of my stats infatuation. Thanks for one last exploratory trip through racing-reference, Mark.

The fewest wins in one season in the modern era came in 1974. That year, five drivers (Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Richard Petty, Earl Ross, and Cale Yarborough) won all of the 30 races. In fact, Ross’ lone win (at Martinsville, the last for a foreign born driver until Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2007) means that basically Allison, Pearson, Petty, and Yarborough skunked the field.

The most wins in one season in the modern era came in 2002, the second year after the schedule had expanded to 36 events. 18 drivers visited Victory Lane that season, with Matt Kenseth of all people leading the series with five wins. Tony Stewart eventually won the title over Mark Martin in a race that went down to Homestead in November.

As for 2008 itself, we had 12 different winners, down from 16 in ’07 and well off 2002’s mark, Mark.

Some interesting trends were evident when I compiled the seasonal stats. Only once from 1972 – 1982 was there a season with double-digit winners (1980 – 10). And from 1983 – 2008 there has been but one season in which we had less than 10 winners (1985 – nine).

Finally, in the first five years of the modern era (1972 – 76), Petty, Pearson, Allison and Yarborough combined to win an astounding 120 of 148 races. That’s over 80 percent, folks. So, the next time you find yourself complaining about competitiveness …

Mark Martin can still get the job done, and because the talent’s still there, 2009 will be his best chance to finally win a Cup championship.

Q: Soon-to-be 50-year-old veteran Mark Martin has signed on to run a full Cup schedule for Hendrick Motorsports in 2009. What are the odds the old school legend wins it all before retiring? I’ll give him a 10 percent chance. — Dale Petty

A: Based on Mark Martin’s track record, I’d say the odds of him coming up a handful of points shy are pretty good. He lost it because of a NASCAR penalty in 1990 to Dale Earnhardt by 26 points; came up short to Tony Stewart in 2002 by a mere 38; and finished in the Top 3 in points an additional six times. How he’s managed to continue, I don’t know.

But I think Martin has a pretty good look at it this time. He’s managed to notch 11 Top 10s in each of the last two seasons in DEI equipment (and let’s be honest, he should have two wins — NASCAR screwed him out of the 500 and his crew chief screwed him out of Phoenix). So make no mistake, this soon-to-be 50-year-old can still get the job done — especially in Hendrick equipment — and he knows it.

“It just was an opportunity that I absolutely could not … I just couldn’t let it go by,” Martin said upon taking the ride. “I told Arlene when we talked about this that I’m pretty sure the last breath I took on my deathbed would be, ‘I should have drove Rick’s car when I had the chance.’”

Rick Hendrick knows it, too, which is why this won’t be some slapped together R&D effort — regardless of the performance we’ve seen out of the No. 5 car in recent years.

“It’s a legitimate shot at a championship,” Hendrick says. “He’s finished second four times, and I’d love to see him have an opportunity to get one. That’s what Junior wants to do, Jimmie wants to do, Jeff wants to do. If you’ve got four legitimate shots at it, hopefully one of them can get it.”

I see Martin easily making the Chase and giving it a solid run to Homestead. Of course, he’ll most likely lose the title by three points or something, but it sure would be nice to see him get the big hardware.

Q: Besides prima donna Joey Logano — who Gibbs is trying to force-feed the 2009 Rookie of the Year award by sandbagging his 2008 schedule and making him the new No. 20 successor to Tony Stewart — who else should we keep our eyes on? I know Danica Patrick isn’t sitting on the pole at the Cup level yet; has the IRL import craze died down? Are there any Busch-leaguers swerving to the big leagues? Or legacies inheriting a silver spoon ride? Who’s new? — Rowdy Rush

A: Prima donna? Wow, I can always count on Rowdy here to call it like he sees it — and to go out with a BANG. Well, the first name that comes to mind is Scott Speed, who I’m sure will give Logano a run for his money. And although Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola participated in too many events in 2008 to retain their rookie status, they’ll be lumped into the same boat, I’m sure.

Otherwise, Chad McCumbee is the only other ROTY candidate I see, and who knows what the true plans are for Petty Enterprises’ No. 45 (now No. 44). Brad Keselowski may do some spot duty for Hendrick Motorsports, but he won’t run any real amount of Cup races until 2010. And as for the open-wheel imports, well, that “experiment” is in the process of dying a slow and sordid death thanks to the stunningly bad performances of Dario Franchitti, Jacques Villeneuve, Sam Hornish, Jr. and Patrick Carpentier. Juan Pablo Montoya and A.J. Allmendinger will continue to lead that charge in 2009 — although, Hornish and Carpentier aren’t done trying to prove themselves just yet.

That’s all she wrote, folks. Enjoy the food, enjoy the family, and enjoy the fellowship of the next month.

Contact Matt Taliaferro

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Carl D.
11/20/2008 09:32 AM

Would I be correct in assuming that Mark Martin, while running for a championship, will be keeping the seat warm for Keselowski in 2010? I expect big things from Keselowski down the road; bigger things than I expect from Logano.

Matt T. -- FS Staff
11/20/2008 10:39 AM

You would, in fact, be correct in assuming that Carl. Mark and Brad will most likely split that ride in 2010. Not sure how Rick wants to handle the ROY situation, but I personally don’t think ROY is all it’s cracked up to be. Better to get him all the seat time they can and let him make a Chase run as quickly as possible.

11/20/2008 02:58 PM

Its hard to believe that anyone who knows stock car racing would still acknowlege the idiotic “Modern Era “ nonsense . The only reason for that stupid designation was to give RJ Reynolds a feeling of importance . There is only one NASCAR . It started in the 40s and continues today . Every accomplishment by every driver in the first year of NASCAR is just as important and means exactly the same as every accomplishment by every driver this year .

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
11/20/2008 03:44 PM

This is probably Mark Martin’s best look at it since 2005 – the year that he really should have won it, had it not been for “The Big One” triggered by Jimmie Johnson at Talladega. These two have a bit of a history at plate tracks. First in 2002 when Mark’s steering locked up under a parade lap, and he drove them both into the infield. His car was fine, but he was black-flagged as the race started and could never get his lap back. That cost him the title in 2002 – as did a bogus 25pt fine at Rockingham when he finished 2nd to Johnny Benson for a spring that came botched from the manufacturer was off by a hair. That was really a 13pt margin he lost it by. In 2005, Johnson got bump-drafted out of the way during the qualifying race for the Daytona 500 by Kevin Harvick (Haveawreck), taking out Martin, Burton, and Wallace, tearing up what Mark called his best 500 car ever. They repaired it in the garage area, but it was a shadow of its former self, and he refused to run the back up car.

He is my pick to win the Daytona 500 in 2009, and he will make The Chase. Look for a couple of wins out of him next year. Best bets are Dover, Lowes, Phoenix, and Brickyard. Still not sure that anybody can handle Knaus and Co. come Chase time.

If I am not mistaken, the Modern Era also is also in regards to no more dirt tracks being ran, and a standardized season of 30-something races, along with Winston’s involvement.

Señor Obvious
11/20/2008 06:57 PM

Michael, so in order to give RJ Reynolds a “sense of importance” everyone called the period after 1971, when NASCAR cut their races in half and shortly instituted a point system that went on for over 25 years in which the quality of the average entry advanced exponentially, the “Modern” era.

Not the “RJ Reynolds” era or the “Winston” era, but the generic, non-branded, “Modern” era.

And also not the “France II” era since he was the one who instituted all the changes that defined the modern era.

And you’re, so far, the only one who knows this to be the case.

And everyone who calls the last 36 seasons the “Modern” era is an “idiot” what don’t know no stock car racing.

Thanks for setting us idiots straight brother, but you’ll excuse me if we continue to call it the “modern” era. Old habits die hard for us no stock car knowing idiots you know.

11/21/2008 06:22 AM

Obvious , when it comes to re-writing history you are the best . What an imagination !


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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