The Frontstretch: Fanning the Flames: Confusing Contingency Awards, NASCAR's Aero Dependence Gone Awry, And Rain-Outs by Matt Taliaferro -- Thursday March 12, 2009

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Once again, some random, midweek thoughts whilst sitting on the front porch swing and enjoying the blooming Bradford Pears on a rare 70-degree afternoon in March here in Nashville:

  • Atlanta attendance listed at 94,400? Try 9,440.
  • I don’t care what you may think of the FOX broadcast crew’s coverage, the cutaway car is very well (if not under) utilized.
  • Sorry, I meant the FORD cutaway car.
  • Like many, I have my doubts as to whether Sam Hornish, Jr. has a viable future in the sport; however, it was fun watching him drive what looked like a winged sprint on Thursday Night Thunder around the joint for laps at a time. That is, of course, until he took out Bill Elliott when the inevitable happened.
  • I guess Mike Joy had it right when he referred to Hornish as “Sideways Sam.”
  • Speaking of Bill, the No. 21 has the classiest paint scheme on the circuit. No contest, so don’t bother arguing.
  • The Kobalt Tools 500 presented by Verizon, the AT&T Race Break, Race Highlights on V-Cast, AT&T Fastest Pit Crew of the Year Award, Verizon Speed Shot … it’s ironic and sad how NASCAR is more than happy to accept Verizon’s and AT&T’s money via commercial advertisements and race features, but I’ll be damned if a team in need of funding can have a nickel. Exclusivity agreement my eye …
  • Who amongst us believes, as I do, that George should’ve put A.J. in the 43, not Reed?
  • When the commentators tell us there is three-wide racing all over the track and the producer shows us a roof cam shot from the leader, I tend to yell at the TV.
  • And finally, I guess if what Alan Kulwicki did was a Polish Victory lap, then what Kurt did was a Polish Victory Lap, Polish-style.

Sorry ‘bout that last one. Here’s your link. You know the drill — give me a shout this week with questions, comments, opinions or random off week chatter. Come to think of it, an early off week sounds like a perfect excuse to go chase some pre-spawn bass up at the lake …

Hey Matt. My friend and I were talking after the race and I noticed on the internet that Ryan Newman was awarded the WIX Filters Lap Leader of the Race [at Atlanta]. We talked about it, and I did some looking and couldn’t figure out why. We were both always of the understanding that the driver that leads the most laps should win it. What’s the story?
— Bethany

A: From a WIX Filters press release dated February 19, 2009: “…to be eligible for this contingency program, race teams must run the WIX Filters contingency decals on their front fenders and use WIX oil and air filters on their race cars during the season.”

Seems that of the eight drivers to lead a lap last Sunday, Ryan Newman (who only led three) won the award solely on the basis of running the sponsorship decal. Hey, look on the bright side: had Newman not led those three, the award would’ve gone to Joe Nemechek for leading one circuit during a lap 13 caution period. Well earned, huh?

Unfortunately for Kurt Busch, who led 234 of the event’s 330 laps, K&N does not sponsor a contingency award. Mobil 1 does, though. The Mobil 1 Command Performance Award goes to the winner of each race or the next highest finishing eligible competitor. That was Kurt on Sunday.

Matt Kenseth is the fourth driver to win a rain shortened Daytona 500.

I’m late on this, but wanted to know how many times the Daytona 500 has ended early because of rain? Thanks.
— Corby Patterson

A: Four times, Corby. Fred Lorezen won in 1965 when the race was called after 133 laps; Richard Petty did it the next year after running 198 laps; Michael Waltrip was the beneficiary of rain in 2003 on lap 109; and of course, Matt Kenseth was your all-wet winner four weeks ago.

Matt, how valid is the claim that the CoT cannot pass because it has aero push? I ask because I’ve seen the claim from fans critical of the CoT, but it doesn’t jive with what I have read and heard from drivers.

Thus far into 2009, I’ve seen many cars pass, both in the pack and for the lead. In fact, the only case where I can imagine the claim applying would be at Fontana toward the end when Jeff Gordon tried to hunt down Kenseth and take the lead. But, I’ll argue that considering Gordon was smoking the tires greatly, both when he was hundreds of yards behind Kenseth and as he got within 50 feet of him. It really looked like a case of using up the tires (overheating them) as opposed to aero push.
— Andrew

A: I agree with you on the point that Gordon burned up his tires trying to run down Kenseth at Fontana. That said, it’s tough to predict how much trouble he’d have had getting around had he gotten to him. Could’ve been a handful… or he might’ve just drove on past. Who knows.

I do know for a fact that aero push is a huge problem with this somewhat new car, though. And it’s not just the fans that are critical. Just this past week, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. called it “one helluva an excuse for a racecar.” When Junior calls out the car so blatantly when NASCAR has instructed the drivers to ease up on the bashing, you know it’s getting frustrating inside the garage.

Of course, Junior isn’t the only one. After last Fall’s Texas race, Jimmie Johnson addressed your question to a tee:

“I was really shocked at how bad the cars drove in traffic. It was really unfortunate… you would catch people, and the guy in front of you would run your pace.”

“I really think we need to look at some changes to help these cars not be so aero dependent. They are safer, they are doing a lot of things the right way, but we really need to look at making some changes so these cars can have a little more downforce.”

And before anyone has a chance to fire off that this statement is dated and therefore inconsequential, be reminded that NASCAR was adamant that no changes would be made to the car during the offseason.

Naturally, there will be exceptions to the rule. The plate tracks are an exception to every rule, and the shorts and roadies aren’t affected by aero push and the like. But those big intermediates, where dirty air just clogs everyone up — that’s where we see the aero phenomenon. And it isn’t unique to this car. The last generation of bodies the teams used before the full-time switcheroo to the CoT were aero dependent as well, and that’s why NASCAR was constantly fiddling with the height of the spoilers.

So yeah, Andrew, it remains an issue, but one that most drivers are fearful of being forthright about. Trips to the NASCAR hauler ain’t fun, after all.

Before I go, here’s a tip for those frustrated with the broadcasts: If you have a satellite cable provider like DISH Network or DirectTV, do like I do and simply skip the pre-race show and start watching the DVD’d telecast 45 minutes into the race so you can fast forward through the commercials. Your life will be free from cartoon gophers, insurance cougars and, by and large, Chris “Guy Smiley” Myers.

Trust me, you will feel so much more at peace with the world and all around you by resisting the urge to watch bad television.

Contact Matt Taliaferro

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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03/12/2009 03:58 AM

Thank you for someone in the media saying it. I’m still amazed when I find out that anyone watches a race live any more. Whether or not you want to watch the pre-race is up to you, but you save at least an hour skipping the commercials.

And I have to admit at yelling at the TV all the time too when they are not showing good action. They love showing the “speed cam”, the wall mounted camera that shows the speed better than anything else, during every single frickin’ restart. An aerial view would be much better for the restarts. There is a lot of action going on then, and unless they show a replay, you don’t get to see it.

03/12/2009 07:34 AM

Artie Kempner is the WORST director in all of sports broadcasting , and he proves it every week . The picture rarely syncs up with the commentary because Artie is instructing the camera men to stay on his favorite driver . He’s been pulling that stunt for years . You’ll notice that even when he tells a camera man to put the talked about car on screen , he usually tells them to make it a wide shot or to pan slowly so his favorite driver is in the shot as well .
I really think Frontstretch should do an indepth look at the influence of aero over the years . The cars of the sixties and seventies had rudimentary aero devices and designs in many cases
yet i really don’t remember any driver saying they couldn’t pass because the car got too tight . Did the cars get too tight to pass someone in those days ? Did the drivers simply not notice , or care , and just figured out a way to get it done ? I think it might be very illuminating to talk to a large cross section of the drivers from those days and get their feelings about what was going on in the car . The speeds were very similar ( faster in some cases ) so that shouldn’t be an issue . And i don’t mean interviewing DW and calling it a day . Cale , Bobby , Donnie , David , Richard ( Petty and Childress ) , Junior , Ned , Fred Lorenzen , the possibilities are huge .
By the way , Bill Elliot took out Bill Elliot . Sam lost control as drivers do , and Elliott chose to go low instead of high . Didn’t work out . But you’ll notice in the replay that other cars managed to avoid Hornish .

03/12/2009 07:59 AM

(Ahem) Ummm, Matt: don’t you mean the “ASK.COM FORD cutaway car”?

03/12/2009 08:39 AM

You are correct – “Exclusivity agreement my eye …” NA$CAR is a money-hungry, money-grubbing, tight-fisted dictatorship. All they are truly interested in is their bottom line. I have said it before and will say it again (I even have tee shirts printed with it on it).

NA$CAR and what it really stand for:

All we
About is

Matt T. -- FS Staff
03/12/2009 09:19 AM

Olds — I gave Ford credit because I drive a Mustang. I have no allegiance to! (Spoken like a true NASCAR guy, huh?)

03/12/2009 12:09 PM

Matt – Regarding those features of the broadcast that are sponsored by Verizon, AT&T, etc., those companies are paying FOX, not NASCAR. Fox (and the other broadcast partners) goes out and gets their own advertisers and sponsors to help pay their expenses in broadcasting the race. Verizon & AT&T are not sending checks to NASCAR as you imply.

L Taylor
03/12/2009 12:34 PM

Ryan, in the 60’s and 70’s there were two big differences.
1. There were far fewer races run on intermediate and larger tracks.
2. They had way less horsepower.

I honestly don’t know if anything that remotely resembles a “stock car” could avoid aerodynamic issues at the speeds they run these days.

The problem is most evident on 1.5 and longer tracks.

I doubt that aero push will be much of a problem at Bristol!

Matt T. -- FS Staff
03/12/2009 12:44 PM

Allisong, the point is that NASCAR is OK’ing the participation of Sprint competitors in one avenue of the sport but not another — and the area it is excluding them from is the one that demands the most corporate/sponsorship participation.

And if you think NASCAR isn’t seeing a portion of advertisers’ dollars to its bottom line … well, you aren’t very familiar with how the sanctioning body does business.

03/12/2009 01:55 PM

Matt, the broadcast networks were not part of the Sprint contract with NASCAR. They are free to do business with whomever they choose. I’m well aware that some of the money FOX earns from the advertisers does make its way to NASCAR when they pay the rights fees, but NASCAR is not “OK“ing these advertisers, in fact they have no say in that area.

03/12/2009 03:32 PM

Actually the cars of the sixties and seventies had virtually the same power . Remenber they were 427 cubic inch in those days .
There were certainly enough 1.5 mile tracks in those days to make an accurate comparison . And i don’t think the comparisons need only be made on 1.5 mile tracks . There seem to be aero problems for the COT at almost every size track .
And anyone who believes that aero is not a factor at Bristol isn’t paying attention .

03/12/2009 03:47 PM

Here is an important point when it comes to race cars of the 60’s and 70’s vs what they have today.

Watch the film from those decades and the point to focus on is the fact that air traveled UNDERNEATH the car.

There were no splitters, or valences that went all the way down from the bumper of the car to the track.

Therefore, because the air was traveling under the cars as well as over the cars, you got no “aero push” as it is called now.

The air did not build up in front of the cars as an invisible buffer that pushes other cars as they do now with splitters or valences.

If those two encumbrances were removed, in conjuction (this is important) with lowering the horsepower, then you would take stock car racing back to the days of passing at will.

And a much better show!

Nascar, though, even 20+ years later still is paranoid about a car (like Allison’s) going in the fence, which is why the speeds must be reduced if you let air under the car.

Roof flaps will mitigate a lot of lift, something they did not have in the ’80’s.

I could go in infinite more detail but you get the idea.

Air needs to travel UNDER the car as well as over.


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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