The Frontstretch: Four Burning Questions: Military Sponsorships and Chase Hopefuls by Summer Bedgood -- Thursday July 12, 2012

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How big of a distraction will the A.J. Allmendinger debacle be for Penske Racing?

Now that we’ve had a few days for the shock of Allmendinger’s suspension to wear off, it’s time to start looking ahead. While we don’t know for sure what is going to happen to Allmendinger long term, we do know that Sam Hornish Jr. is once again filling in this weekend in New Hampshire.

Will the drama with the No. 22 car and fill in driver also affect the No. 2 team and Brad Keselowski and their hopes for the Chase?

I can’t help but think that this isn’t a good thing for Penske Racing, and that No. 2 team especially. The distractions alone of trying to figure out what to do about it is enough to be detrimental to the organization, but they still have a dog in this fight with Brad Keselowski.

But where does that leave them? Even though Hornish will still be in the car and the team as a whole will still be competing, how much can a different driver in the cockpit help with note sharing and communicating? Maybe not much … but, then again, maybe a lot. We’ve seen that communication takes time to build up, and while Hornish has been a part of this team before, there will be an acclamation process if Hornish remains in the car long term.

Of course this is all hypothetical, but it’s worth wondering how it will affect a potentially championship contending team if the situation takes a turn for the worse for Allmendinger.

With Army pulling out of NASCAR next year, where does that leave Ryan Newman?

I’m not going to go into a long rant about how stupid I think all of this is, because most people seem to agree with me. Instead, let’s look at whom this impacts the most: Newman.

Newman is already in a contract year and while it seems like Stewart-Haas Racing wants to keep Newman, this has to be a blow to that plan. But where could he possibly go? The only realistic options seem to be a team adding a car—like Roush Fenway Racing or Richard Childress Racing—but otherwise there aren’t many quality rides open.

Basically, it all comes down to the dollar sign. Newman will be in the Cup Series next year, but SHR is looking less and less likely every day.

Is there room for drivers like Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon in the Chase?

It’s a little unnerving to think that last year’s championship runner-up, by a tiebreaker at that, might not even be in NASCAR’s playoff system. Outside of the top 10 in points and ineligible for the wild card spot, Edwards hasn’t even been close to his 2011 ways.

Meanwhile, if Jeff Gordon didn’t have any bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all. In 18 starts this year, only 10 times has Gordon finished on the lead lap, and many of the incidents he’s faced this year were not of his own doing. Now sitting 17th in points without a win and far removed from any chance of a wild card, his Chase chances are slim.

Yet, they’re still there, as well as for Edwards. Edwards especially can make something happen even with just a win, which theoretically shouldn’t be very difficult for what last year proved to be a championship caliber team.

However, a win for Edwards means he’s knocking someone else out. That means either another wild card or a current Chase driver. If Edwards wins and is still outside the top 10 in points (which likely won’t happen, but stick with me) he would effectively knock Joey Logano out of the wild card spot. While that’s not exactly far-fetched, consider the fact that Edwards hasn’t won yet while Logano has. Not to state the obvious, but it says a lot about Edwards’ season. As of now, it doesn’t really seem likely or possible. If Edwards wants to do it the other way and wiggle his way into the top 10, that means he’ll need to knock another driver out. Who will that be? Clint Bowyer? That’s unlikely since some upcoming tracks are some strengths of Bowyer’s. Brad Keselowski? Not going to happen. Keselowski is pretty safe no matter what happens.

It seems like these two drivers, or anyone else for that matter, are going to have some stiff competition. While I’m in no way implying that the top 12 is set, I am saying that whoever ends up breaking in is going to have to earn it.

How would fans react to another back-to-back champion?

I know I recently said that it’s still too early to make championship predictions—and I stand by that—but with Tony Stewart’s win in Daytona, this is still a discussion worth having. It was just over a year ago when Jimmie Johnson finished his five-year reign as champion, though we didn’t know it at the time. Other than Johnson fans, everyone hated it. No one likes to see the same ending to every movie they watch, and they certainly don’t want to see the same ending to every NASCAR season when they devote so much time to it every year.

However, Stewart is on a roll right now. Sure there is a long way to go, but what if he wins back-to-back on the heels of an unpopular dynasty? What’s a little bit funny about NASCAR fans is they not only criticize drivers for not winning enough, but also for winning too much. It’s not hard for them to tire of seeing the same driver up front every week (or every year).

While we haven’t seen an extreme example of that since last season, I don’t imagine that another back-to-back champion would have fans doing anything other than groaning, “Not again!” But I could be wrong. Personally, I don’t care who wins the championship, as long as it’s exciting. If Tony Stewart wins the next five championships the way he did last year, I’m all for it! My intuition, however, tells me I’m in the minority. Parity is a popular concept in this sport, and it seems to me that fans want to keep it that way … right?

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Lydia
07/13/2012 06:39 AM
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If Stewart should win this years championship, I think the fans will be excited. Part of the disappointment of seeing Johnson win over and
over and over … was Johnson
himself (sorry)! Love him or
hate him …Stewart makes a
loud statement in our sport.
Johnson on the other hand,
has been labeled bland and
vanilla…with a crew chief
known for pushing the “cheat”
button way too many times.
I’m not saying Johnson’s label
is just…but in a sport that has
just “tested, tried, found guilty,
and hung AJ Allmendinger”… before all
the facts have come out…it
seems perception is
everything.

Vicki
07/13/2012 08:48 AM
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I’m all for Jimmie coming back to take his 6th trophy! I want him to get 8 before his career is over. Nothing against Stewart but I’m a Johnson fan!

Countray
07/13/2012 10:34 AM
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I’m a Stewart fan who drinks the Johnson Hater-ade. Nothing excites me more than the prospect of Tony winning another, and nothing excites me LESS than the prospect of Johnson doing the same. That being said, as much a Stewart die hard as I am, I would be all for it if, say, Harvick, or Hamlin, or KyBu, or Biffle, or someone like that won it. I do like a LITTLE variety in my life.

EricT
07/13/2012 12:30 PM
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I’m a Stewart fan, have been since he came on as the junior driver to MY driver, Bobby Labonte. I haven’t always liked Tony’s actions (slapping the recorder out of a reporter’s hand is as bad as, say, ripping up a reporter’s notes), he has always been his own man, and unwilling to be bland. That said, I’d be just as happy if Newman, Keselowski or DE2 won the championship this year. But no bland drivers, please. Nice as they are, JJ or Kenseth just don’t inspire me, and for whatever reason I dislike Harvick, Biffle, Hamlin and Bowyer.

I also find it interesting that people talk of Gordon’s chase chances, while if he could make it, it is just as realistic that Ambrose or even Montoya could get in with one oval win and Watkin’s Glen.

Doug
07/13/2012 08:25 PM
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The government says that they can’t afford the military sponsoring cars. I wonder if that is because they owe 615 million dollars for shipping crate rentals that are still in the Eastern countries waiting to be returned