The Frontstretch: Fanning the Flames: Blue Humor Gone Bad, Revenge, and What's Eating Junior? by Matt Taliaferro -- Thursday October 7, 2010

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Fanning the Flames: Blue Humor Gone Bad, Revenge, and What's Eating Junior?

NASCAR Fan Q & A · Matt Taliaferro · Thursday October 7, 2010


Have ya heard the one about a window, a Kleenex and a TV producer?

What’s that, boss? Too soon?

OK, how about the one where a guy in a yellow suit drives into this joint in New Hampshire, orders a bowl of Cheerios and says, “Hey, have you seen my rear end? The guys at the shop have been massagin’ on it for a month.”

Huh, boss? No good either?

Sorry folks, the blue humor isn’t flying today. Check back with me after Homestead.

In the meantime, send your questions to me using our trusty little link, and I’ll get you in next week. Now on to your emails …

I started watching in 2003 and I still really like it and follow it weekly. I hear fans say how different the cars are since the good old days. I’ve been to four races sine ’03 and wonder how the cars SOUND different at the track today compared to 20 or 30 years ago.
— Phil Dake, Naperville, Ill.

A: The engines have a more high-pitched scream than they used to. It once was a throaty, low growl. Head out to your local short track and listen to the street stocks. That’s pretty close, but not quite as loud. Good question, by the way.

Enough with the Busch bashing! Kyle ran up on Reutimann and the in-car audio told the story. Reutimann got out of the gas in the middle of the turn and Kyle was so close he couldn’t let up in time. It’s hard racing. That’s all. Kyle is supposed to be on his tail and looking for a way around. I like Reutimann, but that was more his fault than Kyle’s. Sometimes I think fans just bash on Kyle because he is an easy target.

I don’t have a problem with Reutimann getting his revenge, either. He felt he was wronged again, and sometimes you have to make a stand. This isn’t five-year-olds go kart racing. Let the boys have at it!
— Mark

David Reutimann wasn’t just retaliating against Kyle Busch last Sunday; he made a statement to the rest of the series that he isn’t going to be pushed around.

A: From my point of view, it’s hard to argue with anything you said. I think this incident pre-dates Kansas (think Bristol and Busch calling out Reutimann’s driving talent). His imitation of a pinball over the last month — being knocked around by everyone from Ryan Newman to Kevin Harvick to Kyle Busch — forced Reutimann to take a stand. And honestly, if you’re going to make a statement, using a Chaser as the target will get everyone’s attention.

And more so than any Chaser vs. non-Chaser issue, I was just glad NASCAR let it lie.

I have a question pertaining to the performance of Hendrick Motorsports’ car No. 88. What is the (No.) 88 team doing to the car each week that is creating so many problems for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. each and every weekend that the 24-48-5 do not have? Where does the REAL problem lay?
— Lorraine Fabian

A: Boy, if that isn’t the million dollar question. Let’s eliminate a few things. Primo cars/chassis: Check. Reliable engines: Check. Unlimited resources: Check. Tier-A teammates to share info with: Check. That covers most of your at-shop, unloading and practice session variables.

We’ll skip qualifying, because no one has ever confused Junior for Ryan Newman on Friday, even when he was racking up 18 wins.

I guess that leaves race day. And quite honestly, I don’t know that anyone has identified the true root of the issue or “Rich” Hendrick would have fixed it, but I can tell you what I see. I see a driver and crew chief that most weekends have a decent (not great) car somewhere between the quarter and halfway mark. I then see a racetrack that transitions from day to night or cool to hot and a team that doesn’t anticipate the change, not making proper adjustments to stay one step ahead of the game. I see a car that looked somewhat racy at one point out in left field by the three-quarter mark of the event. I hear a crew chief and driver that do not seem to be speaking the same language, and I sense frustration and a loss of confidence.

It’s tricky competing on the Cup circuit with the last name Earnhardt — and crew chiefing for him. There’s pressure and expectations and a legion of people — fans and non-fans alike — that are watching and judging. This may sound simplistic, but I swear if I were Hendrick I’d throw the coffers at Tony Eury, Sr. and tell him to straighten this mess out. And if I were Junior, at some point I’d have to admit to myself that the decision to join the white-collared, buttoned-up world of Hendrick Motorsports wasn’t the right one.

Hey Matt. I enjoy listening to you, Tom and Braden on the podcast. I thought you hit it on the money last week when you said if NASCAR wanted to gain the fans’ trust and be viewed as a credible body they would open the doors to their inspection process. Agreed, Matt! I think fans want to believe NASCAR and their rulings because no one wants to think a percentage of their fav sport is being manipulated!

Be open with us, NASCAR! Tell us the facts. Don’t be sidestepping the questions, and it will go a long way toward gaining the fans’ trust. Thanks for the time, Matt!
— Samantha K.

A: Thanks for tuning in to the podcast, Samantha. We certainly have a lot of fun producing it. Yeah, I stated that a more open-door policy would go a long way toward lending a credibility that many observers feel is lacking. I wouldn’t expect cameras rolling while every inch of a car at the R&D Center was being inspected because NASCAR doesn’t want to divulge specific teams’ info, but a well-written or detailed explanation is in order.

I can’t tell you how many times over the last three weeks friends have asked what, exactly, was so illegal about Clint Bowyer’s car at New Hamsphire. “How could sixty-one thousandths of an inch be worth a penalty of that magnitude?” they wonder. It’s often hard to explain, besides to say, “Well, that’s NASCAR …” Some expert, right?

Of course, the irony of it all is that Bowyer’s car probably was illegal, and NASCAR probably called a spade a spade. It probably got it right, going by precedent. Trouble is, fans presume the wizard is really behind the curtain over in the corner, pulling levers and turning knobs, operating without transparency and ruling with an iron fist.

A little clarity on NASCAR’s part would earn a lot of much-needed fan trust. Throw in a dash of understanding by both sides, and we’re be getting somewhere.

Thanks for sticking around to the end, folks. I miss Loren Wallace. Or was it Lauren? Or Warren? Whatever. Gone but not forgotten.

Thursday on the Frontstretch:
MPM2Nite: A Not So Fond Farewell To Fontana in the Fall
Changing Lanes: Well Worth Changing Channels to Watch
Dialing It In: Where Does ESPN Go From Here? Why Fans Are So Mad
When Joking About NASCAR Stupidity Becomes Reality
Fantasy Insider: Johnson, Fontana Go Hand-In-Hand … But Who Else?

Connect with Matt!

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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Keeping it REAL
10/07/2010 12:55 AM

Since when is Hendrick blue collar?? Think that was supposed to be WHITE collar.

10/07/2010 03:49 AM

Put some damn mufflers on these cars. You go to the track and can’t hear yourself think. I enjoy Daytona as the cars sound good but are quieter with the plates. You can actually hold a conversation with someone next to you. Went to Atlanta one year and am never going back. It is like assault and battery with the sound levels can’t even hear yourself think. I could only imagine Bristol or Martinsville. The Audi R15 and Peugeot 908 LeMans series cars would run circles around the COT and they are very quiet.

10/07/2010 07:20 AM

When he joined Hendrick, all he seemed interested in was the paint schemes.Maybe he traded his racing career for purdy cars? They are purdy, but I liked the red better.

Matt T. -- F.S. Ed
10/07/2010 07:28 AM

Mistake corrected, REAL. It happens…

Stephen HOOD
10/07/2010 07:43 AM

Johnson runs great, wins allot, and occasionally has an off day to confuse his rivals. Jeff Gordon consistently runs well, has a bunch of top 5s and 10s, yet can’t seem to tune the car in enough to win. He seems to have a similar fading problem to Junior, yet when his car falls off, he’s usually running in the top three or four so he ends up finishing ninth.

Mark Martin has been as out to lunch in ’10 as Junior. Junior/Martin are within 2 points on driver rating, Junior has led more laps (barely) and has completed more lead lap laps. Others have blamed Junior’s inheritance of a few 5 employees for Martins trouble, and they may have a point, although I think there is a deeper issue in the 5/88 shop that is seen occasionally in the 24/48 shop. I have to believe there is a shop/car/chemistry problem.

I am a Junior/Stewart/Harvick fan with an occasional man crush on Johnson. I love it when Junior is up front. I think it makes NASCAR a better sport. You can feel it in the fans. The energy level rises 10 fold. A similar thing happens when Stewart gets the lead, although not as much. I believe NASCAR has a Junior problem and they need to get with Hendrick and poor some energy into solving the problem. Lifting the testing ban might help. I know the old adage that the drivers come and go but NASCAR is always racing. Well, I don’t think there is anyone in the garage right now that will bring fans back to the track like a resurgent Junior. No one else has the backstory nor the charisma to bring butts back to the stands and to the television. If Junior started winning and running in the top 10, I guarantee there would be an additional 25,000 fans in the seats and 1,000,000 fans watching on TV. It seems like it would be worth it to get to the root of the problem.

10/07/2010 09:02 AM

Matt and Lorraine: The problem with Jr., starts with Jr.. If you have ever watched Jr. give an interview, he simply isn’t very articulate. This translates over to a difficulty describing what he is feeling in the car, and what he wants to feel. This begins in practice, and carries across the entire weekend.
The problem with Sunday is that Jr. argues with every crew chief (except Tony Sr.) about the changes to make to the car. As a compare/contrast listen to Jimmie/Chad vs. Jr./any crew chief he’s had. Jimmie tells Chad the the car is loose, and Chad responds he will do_____. Jimmie is like cool, and let’s Chad work his magic. On the other hand, Jr. tells his crew chief that the car is loose, and the crew chief says he will change ______. Jr. is like, NO, don’t touch that, or that, or that, or that. Until the Crew chief’s only real option is to tell Jr that they could change drivers. Of course no crew chief would actually say those words out loud, BUT EVERYONE THINKS IT, YOU CAN BE ASSURED!
So to summarize, Jr. doesn’t get the information conveyed well in practice, and won’t let the crew chief have control over the car during the race.
The real question is: Why is it so hard for Rick Hendrick to see what is going on?

10/07/2010 09:54 AM

Jacob. I don’t know where you get your information, but I listen to JR on raceview every week and he gives as good information as most of the other drivers. He gives feedback after a few laps, and asks questions.Unfortunately, the car just doesn’t get better. JR’s main complaint is a lack of speed. I hear him saying “I can’t find any speed in this car” a lot. Now if a car comes off the hauler slow, it is not going to improve much tinkering with it at the track. Do they need to spend more trouble in the wind trouble?? I don’t know.You can look at Jr’s speeds during first practice and know what his weekend is going to be like; if he practices in the high 20’s or low 30s’ it is going to be a long weekend. As to him telling his crewchief what to do, doesn’t he have an associates degree in automotive technology; lf so he may have more of a idea what makes the cars tick than some other drivers. As to not being articulate in an interview; he is know to be a shy introvert and if that is so, I am amazed to does as well as he does in an interview. I agree; Mr Rick needs to make POPS an offer he can’t refuse to come and straighten the mess out; I don’t see any other solution.

10/07/2010 11:07 AM

Lorraine Fabian the problem with Jr. is Jr.

He is not a good race car driver. Ralph is out after a few seasons if his name were Smith.

Was the 48 torn down after JJ’s win? I agree, if trail courts can be open, so could the inspections.

But then NA$CAR would not be able to create their Show.

10/07/2010 11:24 AM

when a race car is set up by the crew chief and he can’t get it right how in this world is a driver supposed to get any speed out of it. everyone wants to blame JR, but why can’t they let Chad just one time set his car up to speed and then maybe Lance could learn a few things?? if the dang car has no speed what is Jr supposed to do?? yeah just like he does….set in the stupid thing till the race is over and then try to explain to every media person why his crew chief is not able to do his job?????? i don’t think Rick would go for that one. Rick is making a mint off Jr,,,,,why does he care if he wins or not,,,,he is trying to get JJ up there to beat Dale Sr’s record. And it is coming. Jr needs to dump Hindrick and go some place he will be appreciated and can drive a GOOD car as we know he can. He didn’t have toooooo many problems getting the WRANGLER 3 in victory lane. Of course Lance wasn’t in charge of that race. the handwritting is on the wall.

10/07/2010 11:29 AM

Another reason for the sound being different is the implementatiion of the SAFER barriers. Depending on the size of the track, the engine noise bounces off of the steel walls differently than it does concrete. Depending on where you sit in the stands you really notice a difference.

Kevin in SoCal
10/07/2010 01:10 PM

I go to the racetrack to HEAR and SEE the cars. 43 cars screaming down the frontstretch at 180+ MPH is a treat to me. Dont ever change that. If its too loud for you, get some ear plugs. I enjoy 8000 horsepower Top Fuel Dragsters at the NHRA track too. And yes I wear my ear plugs.

10/07/2010 01:23 PM

YankeeGranny: The reason Jr. can’t get speed out of his car, is Jr.. I know you can’t possibly be saying that HMS cars are slow.

Obviously, you are just one of the millions of Jr. fans that will look for ANY reason to blame EVERYTHING but Jr..
Have fun, the rest of your life will be spent making excuses.

10/07/2010 02:20 PM

The change in sound is mostly due to the size of the engine. A big block 426 or 427 was limited to about 7200 rpm and growled down the straight at 180 mph. The short block (358 limit) is “whining” now at 9000 plus rpm. The F1 cars are screaming with an 18000 limit.

I can remember Doug Warnes at Nilestown around 1968 trying to get to 9000 with a 283 and the engine saying “Nope!” by blowing itself to pieces.

The exhaust setup can make a difference too. 180 degree headers sound different than the normal setup.

10/07/2010 02:30 PM

Jacob. I am saying ,in words of one syllable so you will be able to read and understand them, that, if a car comes off the hauler and is not able to run as fast as the other cars, it is not the fault of the man driving the car, it is the fault of the people setting up the car. The driver drivers the car he is given, if it is slow it cannot compete with the other cars and will run in the back of the pack. The driver can say how the car is working at any given minute, but there are only so many changes that can be done during a race. Face it, Lance is not the brightest bulb on the tree where being a crew chief is concerned, but he does a good job of making a bad car worse. Facts are facts, excuses are excuses and Jr haters are idiots. You have fun, too.

10/07/2010 02:37 PM

First let me say I am not a fan of Reuti nor really any Toyota driver.

If Kyle had called out Reuti’s driving talent before why would he drive so close to him since he believes he has no talent? I personally try to stay away from stupid drivers (mostly texters these days and some drunks) on the highway. That may even mean speeding up and get around them or hanging back until I am sure they are in control and then pass. Kyle could have either attempted to pass or hung back until the right time to pass. If he believes Reuti can’t drive than he has to drive smart around him. And plus cars let up all the time going into turns and get back on it going out of the turns. So he should expect the car ahead of him to let up.

I do not like him but there is no denying Kyle is a great driver!! He does not have to drive dirty to win races but he wants to be the man in black of Nascar and or just plain likes to wreck other drivers. I am just glad someone finally gave him some of his own medicine and glad it looks as though no other cars were hurt because of it. If he does not win the championship he has only himself to blame. Kyle and Carl do not respect the 42 other drivers and put their lives in danger when they play these wrecking games. Plus the money that these guys cost the other teams.

10/07/2010 02:41 PM

Stephen: Nice perspective on the 5/88 issue. I recently put it this way. 24/48 = A-team, 5/88 = B-team. That’s how they are garaged. The B team has not had the speed that the A team has had for most of the year. Maybe the information sharing they claim to have is only within each team. How’s that for conspiracy theorizing?

Carl D.
10/07/2010 03:41 PM

All Hendrick cars are NOT created equal. A Chad Knaus car will be faster because of… you guessed it… Chad Knaus! A Lance McGrew car will be slower because… he’s NOT Chad Knaus. I’m not saying that Junior doesn’t bear any blame… it’s his job to let the crew chief know what the car needs during the race, and I think he still has a ways to go in that area.

There’s no need to hate Junior. Last time I looked he hadn’t stomped on any puppies or made any babies cry. He’s just a guy with a famous last name trying to do what he enjoys and make a living at it, same as you and me. The fact that he’s been unsuccessful of late is no reason to treat him like he’s Nancy Pelosi.

10/07/2010 07:47 PM

granny: I guess it’s a good thing that I’m NOT a Jr. hater. I AM, however, realistic and not blind, deaf, and/or stupid.
The Hendrick Chassis will be made on jigs that deviate very little. The engines are machined and made to spec using CNC lathes and are as close to identical as possible.
When the car comes off the hauler it doesn’t know whether, Jr., Jimmie, Jeff, or Mark is driving it.
The difference in speed DOES come down to what the drivers can communicate and how the Crew Chief interprets that information. Mid-pack to front-pack speed differentials come down to the VERY SMALL adjustments made at the track. If you understood racing at all, you would get that.
Now go back, and figure out how to blame this weekend’s 37th place finish on the sun setting in turns 1&2 while it was rising in turns 3&4.

10/07/2010 08:14 PM

Matt, In either Chicago or Michigan, the announcers said that JJ & JG had the 2 new 2nd generation cars. None for Jr. I guess that takes care of your ‘primo chassis’ & ‘unlimited resources’ also. Mark & Jr. have both said that they don’t have ‘speed’. Mark is 15th in pts & Jr. 17th. I had thought that since Jr. brings in more money than any of the other drivers, probably all of them put together, that Rick would jump at the chance to get a chance to get a proven cc like Addington for him last fall. Didn’t happen. Why not…? It would probably help if you did some research before wrote an article. I believe that Jr. will not be competitive as long as he yoked to Rick. Have you ever heard of the 25/88 r&d running competitively for a championship…? No! If Rick wanted Jr. winning, he would be. I don’t believe that Rick wants Jr. winning. I believe that Rick wants 8 championships for JJ so that he can break the record by Earnhardt & Petty. Jr. probably doesn’t have the tricked up shocks that JJ does where they have to let his car, i.e. the gas in the shocks, cool before it can pass post-race height sticks. For years Roush denied that Jeff Burton was running r&d for him, & after years he finally admitted it.

I believe that Brian France could pull off a huge public relations coup for himself, & make more money…by dipping into some of his petty cash fund & buying or doing whatever it takes to get Jr. out of HMS. It would fill seats at his tracks to have Jr. running up front and winning again, which I do not believe that Rick is every going to allow. If Rick wanted Jr. winning, he would be. He doesn’t & it isn’t going to happen as long as Jr. is yoked to Rick. Free, Jr.! :)
Kevin in SoCal
10/07/2010 09:27 PM

And how many Jr fans thought Dale was going to win 5 races a year and win the championship after signing with Hendrick? My, how quickly opinions change.

10/07/2010 10:30 PM

Way to go. Agree with you 100%.
What makes you an authority on how the HMS cars are set like cookie cutter cutouts? Do you work there; or for NASCAR? Or are you just a fan with an opinion like the rest of us?

10/07/2010 11:13 PM

To Connie, You wrote what I was going to say. Great post. ;)

10/08/2010 06:05 AM

Bowyer’s car wasn’t 64/1000’s off, it was 64/1000’s beyond tolerance.

For an example with less mind-boggling numbers, I sew in a parachute factory. There is a specific component I make that has to be sewn to a 1/16th tolerance.

There is a place on that component where I have to sew 3 lines of stitching on top of or beside each other 1/8 from a fold. When I’m done I put a ruler on it.

If one of those threads just touches the inside of a line 1/16 of an inch from that 1/8 inch mark the component is good. But if that thread is just one thread’s width further along, about 1/32 of an inch, so that it lies beyond that line the component is out of tolerance and won’t pass inspection.

Commercial sewers and race car builders are both human so there is a tolerance built in to allow for slight imperfections in the manufacturing process. But if you’re outside your tolerance you fail inspection.

Of course its not so serious for me because all my QC inspector is going to do is ask me to pick and resew. Maybe tease me a little because I have a reputation for extremely high pass rates on my work. But nothing out of the paycheck. :D

10/08/2010 01:35 PM

I don’t know what to say.


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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