The Frontstretch: Fanning the Flames: The Next "Secret" Fine, McGrew's Mistake And RPM Divorce by Matt Taliaferro -- Wednesday October 20, 2010

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Fanning the Flames: The Next "Secret" Fine, McGrew's Mistake And RPM Divorce

NASCAR Fan Q & A · Matt Taliaferro · Wednesday October 20, 2010


As a paint scheme aficionado, I was thrilled to see Budweiser go to a black base on the No. 29 next season. Still classy, and more than a little Bad-A. Besides, that car should be black. Don’t you think?

Anyway, there’s plenty to get to this week, so I’ll spare you the pleasantries and unamusing anecdotes. Here’s your link to reach me. Make me proud.

Last time it was Bowyer, now Harvick and Kyle are jumping on NASCAR for questionable cautions. I’ll ask again if they will get the same treatment that Hamlin and Newman got for calling out NASCAR. It seems to be a weekly thing now!
— Damon

A: Yeah it does, and looking back at my response to your question last week, I realize it looked as if I sidestepped it, which wasn’t my intent.

Truth is, neither I nor anyone else knows exactly what constitutes a “secret” fine from NASCAR. Maybe the brass in Daytona felt the backlash from when the Hamlin and Newman knuckleslap went public and decided to chill on the under-the-table muzzle measures. Harvick and Busch sure took ’em to task last weekend, though, and Bowyer the week prior. Color me bewildered.

So Kyle Busch stomps away from his wrecked car in 2007 at Texas and the media crucifies him as a punk who quit on his team. But when Kahne won’t get back in a wrecked car, the media comes to his defense. Kyle CAN’T WIN with you guys. I’d play up the bad boy image, too, if I knew that it didn’t matter. Congratulations Kasey, you got another free pass because you’re media friendly.
— Anna B., Columbia, SC

Though Kasey Kahne’s outburst at Charlotte was a poor means of handling his lame-duck status at Richard Petty Motorsports, Kahne has delivered results for the team throughout the 2010 season.

A: OK, first, let’s not paint the entire media corps with the same brush, because I’ve not seen Kahne get a free pass in every article I’ve read. Also, this is an entirely different situation than what we witnessed back in 2007.

At the time, Kyle was not a lame duck driver at HMS. That race took place in April, and if you remember, it was well past Memorial Day weekend (when Rick Hendrick made his “no room at the inn” comment) before Busch’s ouster was brought to light.

Third, you’ve got to understand that what is happening at RPM is an all-too-familiar dynamic that’s played out countless times between a lame duck driver and the team he’s leaving. Kahne feels he’s been giving 100 percent but not getting the same effort in return.

At some point, everyone has his or her breaking point and says, “Screw this.”

Let’s be honest: that organization has known from before the start of the season that Kahne would walk. Along with Harvick, he was the biggest free agent in the series and, more so than Harvick, could call his own shot. Throw that out for a moment, though, and examine his results from April 13 — the day RPM released a statement confirming Kahne would not return in 2011. Despite the lame duck status, Kahne has outperformed his RPM teammates with six top-5 runs (plus a New Hampshire run that had “victory” written all over it until the engine grenaded). A.J. Allmendinger, Elliott Sadler and Paul Menard have combined for two top-5s.

Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis have known for weeks that they are running the oldest chassis in the shop and, comparatively speaking, have still been able to make chicken salad out of the deal.

Could Kahne have handled the situation better? Probably. Could the organization? Absolutely.

Editor’s Note: As of late Wednesday night, Kahne was released from his full-time ride at RPM for the final five races. Aric Almirola will drive the car at Martinsville, while Kahne will move to the No. 83 of Red Bull Racing five races early. For more information, click here.

Loudon is the only race Jr. has been close to competitive in since [the] Firecracker 400. He questioned McGrew on two tires vs. four at Charlotte. He falls like a rock even when he qualifies well (not often). The car doesn’t get better during the race, and that means there is a communication problem. For the love of God, can someone tell Rick that this relationship ain’t working??? How much more obvious can it be???
— Jeff D.

A: I don’t know what to tell you, Jeff. Yours is the same complaint I’ve heard a hundred times over — and your assessment of the No. 88 team’s performance is pretty spot-on. I truly believe Junior is a championship-caliber driver. I really do. I also believe McGrew has the chops to be a race-winning crew chief on a consistent basis. But for whatever reason, the numbers aren’t adding up between the two.

Rick Hendrick has his hands full trying to right the ship at Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s No. 88 team for 2011 and beyond.

The Martinsville race will be a telling one. It’s easier for a driver to wear out a car on that tough ol’ paperclip than at some other tracks. If he’s melting tire beads and abusing the brakes, we’ll know Junior is over-driving. If he’s losing track position because of pit calls (track position is extremely important at the congested half-mile track), that’s not necessarily Junior’s fault. Plus, Martinsville is historically one of Junior’s best tracks.

Anyway, were I Rick Hendrick (oh, imagine the possibilities …) I would have made a change at the start of the Chase. It not only gives the new crew chief ample time to gel with the driver in preparation for 2011, but the intense media and fan scrutiny would take some of the glare off my four-time champions who, when this whole dog ‘n’ pony show started, were each gunning for No. 5.

Hi Matt. Thanks for the weekly chats! I’ve read you talk about it before, but now that Jamie has three wins, how ridiculous is it he isn’t racing for the championship? Three wins puts him tied for second with Harvick and only Jimmie and Denny have more. That’s good company. Win & you’re in, right?
— Jacqueline Timmel, Missouri

A: I’m all about win and you’re in, but only for drivers within the top 20 in points. I don’t think a guy ranked 27th stunning the world at Talladega a la Bobby Hillin, Jr. is that deserving. And I do think there’s something to be said for keeping yourself competitive, but let’s call a spade a spade: Even if Marcos Ambrose had won a road course race this year, he’s not competitive on a weekly basis, as his 26th-place ranking will indicate.

Wins are just so huge to race fans. I think the sanctioning body has lost sight of that, and I think the follow-up question justifies a “win and you’re in” format: What will you remember more about this season five years from now? That Jeff Gordon finished fourth in points with zero wins or that Jamie McMurray broke through with three huge wins? That’s a no-brainer for me.

I know a few drivers were quoted a month back as saying they’d be fine with winning the championship with zero victories. Fine, I’ll buy that. But who realistically believes they can do that with a team like the No. 48 showing it to the field every week? Hell, if I’m gonna finish second or fourth or 12th or 25th in the standings — if I’m not going to win the championship — I’ll take Jamie’s three wins over just about anything, including a runner-up points finish.

Thanks for sticking with me till the end. Before I let you go, check out the video clip of the week. Actually, just skip on through to the 3:20 mark. I’ve read a lot of journalists say that today more than ever, we need more Tim Richmonds in the sport, and they’re right. But we also need more Sterling Marlins.

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Thursday on the Frontstretch:
Tim Richmond – To The Limit
Dialing It In: Hamlin’s Time To Strike
Voices From the Heartland: Brian France’s Denial Appears Contagious!
Fantasy Insider: Johnson’s Numbers Great, Gordon’s Staggering At Paperclip

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
Tech Talk with Tony Gibson: Taking Stock Of Danica Patrick In Year Two
Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
Going By the Numbers: Top-10 NASCAR Variety Hard To Come By In…
Truckin’ Thursdays: Lessons Learned Just Two Races In
Fantasy Insider: Team Revelations For NASCAR’s Short Tracks



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Carl D.
10/21/2010 10:09 AM

I’m going to repeat what I’ve said as recently as yesterday…

If one of my drivers signs a contract to drive for another owner next year, and another one of my drivers signs a contract to stay with my team and be the face of my team in the future, the driver who is committed to me gets the good equipment. That’s the price Kahne pays for leaving. He doesn’t deserve to be in dangerous cars with faulty brakes, but he ain’t getting my #1 chassis either.

Carl D.
10/21/2010 10:14 AM

P.S…. Who in their right mind wouldn’t rather be Jamie McMurray than Matt Kenseth this year?

10/21/2010 11:49 AM

Thank you. The 29 SHOULD be black. It is the 3 after all.

10/21/2010 02:02 PM

Hey, can ANYBODY verify the story on, that Roush briefly reposessed RPM’s Talladega cars and engines? They are also reporting that Kahne was released because RPM owed him a “substantial” amount of back salary, can that be independently verified? Finally they attribute an anonymous souce within RPM with stating that the team is in turmoil, and several team members are worried about getting paid and the future of their jobs.
I know the editor and writers peruse the site’s posts routinely even if they don’t write add to the posts. Can anybody verify any of the allegations that Speed has posted?

Richard Petersen
10/21/2010 04:06 PM

So yea, I hope I am not the only one who is waiting for 2012 to come for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Face it Rick, just sign on Kasey Kahne for 2011. Dale Jr needs to go back to DEI where he belongs. He was doing way better than what he has gotten there at Hendrick. In face, if I am not mistaking, I believe he was out performing you too.

10/21/2010 07:18 PM

Last weekend at Charlotte, JJ & Mark had 2 brand new cars. Junior drove the first car Lance made for him when he took over as cc in July, 2009! It is a testament to his skillful, quick driving and intestinal fortitude, that he finished as well as he did. If Rick wanted Jr. winning, he would be. But Jr. isn’t winning. Why not…? He is driving junk & r&d with a “weird, wacko, alien” setup that Chad sends over. Jr. needs to get out of Rick’s clutches, now, before Rick finishes destroying his career. Get out NOW, Junior!

10/21/2010 10:16 PM

Earth to Marybeth from planet AMP. It takes an Alien to know an Alien. Looks like another 25th to 30 someplace finish at Martinsville as Dale Jr. drives hard to the back of the park to barely finish ahead of those pesky Start & Parkers.

Matt T. --
10/22/2010 10:53 AM

Jacob: Kahne this morning (Friday) said that he’s paid up with RPM. It’s my understanding that RFR repossessed some Talladega equipment but returned the chassis yesterday. Not sure about the engines. Evidently, RFR will deliver equipment piecemeal as they get paid for it.


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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