The Frontstretch: Four Burning Questions: Earnhardt Revenue, Blown Engines, and Rough Road Courses by Summer Bedgood -- Thursday June 21, 2012

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If Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win did so much for the sport, what if he doesn’t keep it up—starting this weekend?

For once, the storyline hasn’t been Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick, or literally anyone else. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win set off a storm surge in the world of sports, and was arguably the most anticipated moment in the last four years. Racetracks jumped on the opportunity, with tracks like Texas Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway using the win as a marketing tool, and ticket sales and NASCAR merchandise spiked the Monday following his victory.

To say the least, Junior sells. But what happens from here on out?

The very storyline that NASCAR needed so much has finally happened. But if this momentum doesn’t carry on through the rest of the season, it’s not likely to continue that way. A society dominated by short attention spans and professional football won’t keep these numbers elevated if Earnhardt’s numbers don’t stay that way either, starting this weekend in Sonoma.

However, the numbers indicate that isn’t going to happen. In 12 starts at Sonoma, Earnhardt has never finished inside the top 10.

I’m not saying that one poor finish is going to sink the sport. What I am saying is that this can’t become another shot in the dark victory that turns into another long winless drought if anyone expects this new-found excitement for the sport (at least for Junior Nation) to stick around.

Kyle Busch’s smoke trails of late have been far removed from these at Richmond.

Can Kyle Busch recover from three blown engines?

Speaking of Sonoma, there aren’t many drivers who could use it more than Busch. Three consecutive blown engines, two of which were at tracks that are known for engine issues, have Busch in a hole. While Sonoma has some challenges of its own, blown engines aren’t normally at the top of the list, and Busch already has a victory at the first road course on the schedule.

Even with the recent failures, however, Busch is still 12th in points and has plenty of time to get back inside the top 10. At the very least, a wild card should be attainable by that No. 18 team.

There’s a “brother’s blown temper” joke in here somewhere, but we here at the Frontstretch just don’t stoop to that level.

Why have road courses become the new short track?

It used to be that fans looked towards Bristol and Martinsville for some good ol’ fashioned beating, banging, and temper tantrums. Now they just look to Kurt Busch!

OK, that was a cheap shot. In all seriousness, road courses are almost a replacement for the tamer versions of short tracks. Last year at Sonoma, there were more angry drivers in the garage area than at Bristol. In Road America, you’d be hard pressed to find a car without a dent, scratch, or donut on the sheet metal—or on the egos of their drivers.

I didn’t personally used to be a big fan of road courses. The slower speeds and winding tracks would drive me bonkers, and I was always happy when they were over and done with on the schedule. However, since the advent of double-file restarts and a more level playing field, they have become some of the most exciting races on the schedule … in my opinion anyway. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments.

Regardless of Edwards’ denial, can he recover from this runner-up slump?

I won’t blame mechanical issues and a little bit of bad luck on this “slump,” but Edwards has been sorely lacking on the performance end. Sure his eight top 10s through 15 races this year might look good (not great) on paper, but not when a lack of victories is what took the Sprint Cup Series trophy out of his hands in 2011.

Edwards has denied over and over that there is a chip on his shoulder from last year and that it is at all affecting his performance. He might be right … but he also might be full of it. This slump hasn’t become legend in the sport because people like to talk out of their ass. People talk about it because, well, these drivers are only human and to come so close to a dream of theirs only to have it taken away like that has to weigh on their minds. I can’t imagine it doesn’t impact the way they operate at the racetrack, even at a subconscious level.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Edwards start picking up the pace a little bit later in the season, but I doubt he’s going to get back to championship level before the end of 2012. Maybe 2013.

Connect with Summer!

Contact Summer Bedgood

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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
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Andy90
06/22/2012 03:55 AM
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I grew up on road racing so I love it. I’d like to see them run the full courses at Sonoma & the Glen though. And Road America in the Chase.

My ideal road race would be the old short wheelbase, less powerful Nationwide cars against the larger hi-powered Cup cars. Open the race up to all Nationwide and Cup racers. Run whichever car you like and the fastest forty make the field.

SB
06/22/2012 08:32 AM
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Give teams close quarters, narrow tracks and a sense of urgency, and you get what made Nascar so popular in the first place. With the advent of the ‘cookie cutters’, road courses are the last vestige of the ‘good old days’. What the COT, ‘modern’ tracks and the chase haven’t managed to emasculate are the road courses. I’ve always found them exciting and challenging, expecially since more drivers have become better at turning left AND right.

Sherri T
06/22/2012 09:04 AM
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I agree Summer. I never used to like the road courses because I thought they were boring, but now days, you just don’t get that kind of racing anywhere else! I used to like the short tracks because they really had to race to win there, but that’s changed too, so as SB says, the real racing comes out at the road courses and I really enjoy them now.

pepper
06/22/2012 09:25 AM
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Listen kiddo, Jr Nation has and will stick around as long as Dale Jr drives. We have outlasted moronic broadcasting and vitrolic and negative writing from the media. The only thing that will dislodge us from this sport is the retirement of Dale Jr.

Road races? It seems to me some of the drivers literally remove their brains, place them in the hauler, and proceed to drive like they’re headed for the emergency room. Very little skill or talent is needed to drive like a fool. Leave the road courses to the open wheelers where viewers can at least admire the surroundings at beautiful locations.

Tom
06/22/2012 09:54 AM
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I think Nascar should add two more road course tracks to the schedule, Road Atlanta and VIR!

Carl D.
06/22/2012 10:05 AM
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Add me to the list of fans who have come to enjoy the road races. Part of it is the physical nature of the races themselves, and part of it is seeing a few different faces up front.

JD in NC
06/22/2012 11:33 AM
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Over the last couple of years, I have looked forward to the Sonama race more than any other race on the schedule. I would be happy if 75% of the Cup races were to take place on either road courses or short tracks. Aero push on the intermediates is killing the sport.
Andy90 has a great idea. Run the Sprint and Nationwide cars during the same race, much like the different classes in an ALMS race. That would be incredible!

Randy S.
06/22/2012 12:37 PM
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Jeez! Talk about short attention spans! Here we are, less than a week removed from Jrs win, and we’re already talking about whether he can keep saving NASCAR by keeping up. Why can’t we just enjoy the win for what it was, a great day for Jr, his team, NASCAR, and Jr nation. So obviously he hasn’t done great on road courses, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a great year so far, and won’t continue to, regardless of the 2 road courses. All I know is that he is going to Sonoma with a positive attitude, so anything is possible. And even if he doesn’t keep it up, haven’t you learned by now that his fans will stick with him no matter what? Go 88!

Michael in SoCal
06/22/2012 12:56 PM
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I enjoy the road course races, and I’d like to see more of them. My only issue with road courses is that many of them are rather large tracks, where the cars get spread out too much (for my racing tastes – I prefer short tracks). I’d love to see one of the more dull cookie cutter 1.5 mile tracks torn down and a tight road course be built in the track fingerprint. That could make for a fun racetrack. I know, never going to happen, but we can dream, right.

Michael in SoCal
06/22/2012 12:58 PM
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Uh, I think I meant footprint, not fingerprint…