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!
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
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.
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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