The Frontstretch: Fanning The Flames: Don't Hate The Players, Hate The... Owners? by Matt Taliaferro -- Wednesday April 11, 2007

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Fanning The Flames: Don't Hate The Players, Hate The... Owners?

NASCAR Fan Q & A · Matt Taliaferro · Wednesday April 11, 2007


Carl Edwards is quickly putting Kevin Harvick's 2006 Busch Series campaign to shame. Up 321 points over, um, whoever happens to be in second (Dave Blaney), the Columbia Flash has registered back-to-back wins on the junior circuit, never finishing worse than 6th all year. By comparison, Harvick was up 146 points at this juncture last season, with zero wins and three finishes outside of the Top 6 to his credit.

Running roughshod over his competition, Harvick moved on to win the Busch Series title by a record 824 points. Well heck, forget about coming close to breaking that record; Edwards could be up that big by this season’s halfway point.

On a date with destiny, Cousin Carl took home his latest, greatest Gibson guitar from Nashville Superspeedway last weekend in what was, at least through the first three-quarters of the event, an interesting race. For the first time in a long time, there weren’t a plethora of Nextel Cup marauders pillaging the purse, giving some Busch Series regulars a rare chance to shine towards the front of the pack rather than salvage whatever they could.

The funny thing is, I don't place blame on Cup drivers for dipping into the Busch Series. In my opinion, the reason we will continue to have Buschwhackers — CoT or not — is because the owners are forced to place Cup drivers in the seat of their Busch cars in order to satisfy their sponsors. You think a potential sponsor gets more excited about a full season with Brett Rowe learning the ropes or with Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray splitting time behind the wheel? Yeah, that's what I thought.

But Nashville proved a rarity in parity, so to speak. Acting as a standalone event on Easter weekend, that meant there were only seven full-time Cup drivers entered for the race. Making matters even more interesting, cars were impounded, meaning that once they qualified, teams were prohibited from making any changes to their car until that first precious pit stop on Saturday afternoon. Without the Nextel Cup practice the Cuppers are accustomed to having before the Busch event, the Pepsi 300 left every driver on equal ground until the race’s second half, when Carl and the Roush boys finally hit it right on the setup, leaving the competition behind to eat their dust.

While those special circumstances provided a pleasant mixup towards the front of the field, I don't expect to see many more Busch races like the Pepsi 300 from Nashville for the remainder of the season. There’s too many companion races with the Cup Series and too many sponsor dollars willing to bank on Biffle, Burton or Bowyer as opposed to giving Kevin Hamlin, Danny O'Quinn or (my new favorite) Cale Gale a chance at Saturday glory. While those drivers may shine when placed on equal ground, they simply don’t have a chance with too many Cuppers around.

Onto some questions. I'm having a great time hearing from you guys, so keep ‘em coming! The address, as always, is

Q: I've read that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has set a timetable for getting his contract with D.E.I. signed. That sounds to me like he and his sister are turning up the heat. Is there really a chance Dale Jr. won't resign with D.E.I., or is this just simply the next step in the process? — R.T.

A: A bit of both, I assume. Earnhardt, Jr. and sister/business manager Kelley Earnhardt Elledge have given the D.E.I. brass 45 days to get this deal done. If they don't have an agreement in place by Memorial Day weekend, I'd say the odds of Junior donning the No. 3 go up exponentially.

If I were betting my Mustang, though, I'd say they’ll get the deal ironed out. D.E.I.'s new guru of all things global, Max Siegel, is too savvy a guy to let an asset like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. slip through the company's fingers. Hopefully, Siegel also realizes that the management at D.E.I. is merely running the place like a museum…not a race shop. I can't help but think Junior would change that for the betterment of all the race teams.

Q: Can life get any worse for Mikey? How much grief can one human withstand? — Alan O.

A: Well, he still has his health (barely), his family, and all that hair; so he's got that going for him, which is nice. I've been told NAPA has given him four weeks to get the race team right. What will happen if he doesn't? That, I'm sad to say, I do not know.

As for his ’04 Daytona Déjà Vu (see Wimmer, Scott for more info): I hope we have heard all there is to the story. Honestly, I do. But man, it has more holes than Elliott has hunting dogs.

Q: Does the Nextel Cup schedule make any more sense to you than it does me? Six weeks in, and they already have two weeks off. Then, they run 14 races before another off-weekend, followed by another 17 straight weeks to end the season. Can't the off weeks be spread more evenly? — BGNfan

A: Yes, they could, but that would make too much sense. Actually, when we break the schedule down, it looks like this:

Two races / off-weekend
Four races / off-weekend
Five races / All-Star Weekend (we'll call this a semi-break)
Eight races / off-weekend
17 races to end the season.

The only real problem I see is the 17 straight weeks at the end of the year. An off-weekend that separates the regular season from the Chase is the one place I believe NASCAR needs to insert an open date.

And before I go, I have one last piece of business: Since I was unable to participate in this week's Mirror Driving, I feel I need to make my prediction for Texas (in the interest of keeping the heat on Tom Bowles in the season's prediction standings). So, I’m saying Clint Bowyer ponies up in Ft. Worth for his first career Cup win.

Now, why don’t you fans pony up with some questions for next week’s column! Email Matt at with your questions, comments, and concerns about what’s going on each week in NASCAR Nextel Cup.

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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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Fanning the Flames: Of Daytona, Danica, Dale, and Duels
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2009 Season Review: Ryan Newman
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Fanning the Flames: The Crew Chief Carousel and Other Assorted Oddities