The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? Biffle's Bump, Penske In The Dumps, And Multi-Car Expansion Trumps All by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday April 2, 2008

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Did You Notice? … In the wake of the RCR sponsorship announcement on their long-awaited fourth car, the widening gap in NASCAR between the haves and the have nots? Let's assume for a second that Joey Logano does so well in the Nationwide Series this year, Joe Gibbs Racing chooses to start up their fourth team for the 2009 season. That means you would have no fewer than five organizations at the four-car limit: Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt, Inc., Roush Fenway Racing (five teams), Gibbs, and Childress. Behind them, you'd have another four programs with three cars, at least two of which are also looking to expand in 2009: Penske Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, and Gillett Evernham Motorsports.

That's a total of 37 cars fielded by ten teams; the other ten teams racing full-time in Sprint Cup would be fielding a total of 13 cars, and none of them are more than a two-car team. How in the world are they going to compete? The multi-car resources are draining all the money, all the sponsorship, and all the top-level help away from the bottom tier of the racing circuit.

With that in mind, it's looking more and more like those bottom ten (BAM, Wood Brothers, Team Red Bull, Hall of Fame Racing, Petty Enterprises, Front Row Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Bill Davis Racing, Robby Gordon Motorsports, Yates Racing) are in a race for survival, not success. The few that get investment help - like the Pettys, for example - may expand to three or four cars, increasing the likelihood they'll stay on tour. But by the end of 2009, don't be surprised to see five, six, or seven of the organizations I put in this paragraph put out to pasture or merged with someone else. It's just the way the business is leaning these days; and I don't see any pressure or rules enforcement from NASCAR to make it stop.

What's even more scary to think about: a 2010 lineup with eleven owners, 44 cars, and a franchised system. You think it's not possible? No one thought the Chase was possible, either …

Did You Notice? … That along those same lines, a total of 53 different cars have attempted to make at least one race this season. That's on track for the lowest total of different "car owners" this decade; the current record is 73, set during the economic downturn of 2001. Need any more signs the Sprint Cup Series may be getting a little too exclusive? Back in 1994, the number of entries that attempted the first Brickyard 400 alone topped 80 cars.

Did You Notice? … That while Petty Enterprises was announcing a solid marketing plan involving Bobby Labonte, Labonte himself was quiet? That should tell you all you need to know - although you shouldn't count out Scott Wimmer for the No. 33 ride just yet. If NASCAR makes tweaks to the past champion's provisional - and such a change is not out of the question - Wimmer could easily put himself in the running should he pile up some more wins in RCR's No. 29 Nationwide car.

Chad McCumbee will get another shot behind the wheel of the No. 45 this weekend. Will a Texas-sized effort put him at the front of the line for future vacancies with Petty Enterprises?

Did You Notice? … What seemed to be Kyle Petty's false sense of security that the No. 45 would make the starting field at Martinsville? It's not like the confidence came out of nowhere; this team hadn't missed a race since the 2004 season finale, and Petty had survived several brushes of being on the wrong side of the Top 35. But after the way that car has run all year with Petty in the seat, did the veteran really believe that qualifying in Martinsville was a shoe-in? Now, all eyes will be on Chad McCumbee this weekend at Texas; with the Pettys at a crossroads and Kyle's driving career nearing an end, one good run could lead to the beginning of a big time opportunity for this youngster. On the bright side, I think this guy can get the job done; he's had a remarkable start in the Craftsman Truck Series with mid-level equipment, and nearly won the CTS race at Texas last Fall. In an age where development drivers are at a premium, he's towards the top of the list.

Did You Notice? … That the most telling scuffle coming out of Martinsville wasn't Michael McDowell - Jeff Burton or the Busch brothers banging each other to pieces; no, it was Matt Kenseth vs David Gilliland. Here's a guy in Kenseth who has spent six months getting involved in incidents not of his making with Carl Edwards and David Ragan, but then refusing their apologies even though both drivers happen to be his teammates. Then, on Sunday it was fellow Ford driver (and semi-teammate) David Gilliland who bumped Kenseth, sending him spinning; it wasn't more than 100 laps later before the No. 17 repaid the favor, dooming the No. 38 to a 24th place finish.

So, if you're counting at home, that's three of seven Ford drivers Kenseth has been involved in conflicts with this year. I have the utmost respect for Kenseth - think he's a great interview and one of the funniest guys out there - and I know he doesn't want to be looked at as "the leader" of the Ford camp. But sometimes, great accomplishments get packaged with great responsibility, whether you like it or not; and last time I checked, prolonged squabbles with half the Ford faithful isn't exactly the prime definition of "leadership."

Did You Notice? … That since their 1-2 finish in the Daytona 500, neither Ryan Newman nor Kurt Busch have finished higher than 10th, leading a total of three laps between them. In the meantime, new teammate Sam Hornish, Jr. has raced his way right out of the Top 35 and a guaranteed qualifying spot. Wasn't Busch a darkhorse championship contender? Did Pat Tryson stop coming into work this offseason or something?

Did You Notice? … As my colleague Amy Henderson briefly pointed out this week, that Greg Biffle got himself a free pass at Martinsville by causing a wreck? It's such an egregious violation of the rules, I had to point it out again. Here's the scenario: Biffle is the second car one lap down. Television replays clearly show the No. 16 tapping the back bumper of Lucky Dog hopeful Ryan Newman ahead of him - causing him to slide into the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson and cause a two-car wreck. While those cars spin out, Biffle soldiers on, passing Newman and putting himself into Lucky Dog position as the yellow flag waves. Yet, even though NASCAR saw the TV replays, they reversed an initial decision and gave Biffle his lap back … without explanation.

Say what? Let me tell you, if I'm the second car a lap down at Texas this weekend, I'll be wrecking the Lucky Dog ahead of me first chance I get if it's that easy to get back on the lead lap! Last I checked, that's not how the rule is written … but then again, how often does NASCAR follow the rules?

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?
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Lynnsy
04/02/2008 07:27 AM
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I’m glad someone is starting to notice perhaps Kenseth isn’t such a innocent victim all the time. If that had been Edwards that did what Kenseth did this past weekend every NASCAR writer would be talking about steroid use and bipolar disorder. It seems Kenseth might have some issues of his own and maybe Edwards isn’t the crazy monster everyone seems to think he is.

Jerry F. Mallard
04/02/2008 07:34 AM
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To all that haven’t been out there racing… Matt Kenseth is just a racer! This incident was on the track! Matt contains himself off the track better than most!

Travis Rassat
04/02/2008 07:34 AM
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I know it will never happen, but I’d like to see a 3 car per team limit.

Margo L
04/02/2008 09:44 AM
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I don’t think there is the slightest doubt that France is going to franchise the sport .
Kyle Pettys’ heart just doesn’t seem to be in it . At least not as a driver . And with what he has been through , i couldn’t really fault him for that . But he has proven to be a great human being with his charity work , so more power to him in what ever capacity he turns to in NASCAR .
Anyone who is suprised by Biffle creating his own lucky dog doesn’t pay very close attention to the replays . It happens all the time . And as Dale Jr. has shown , sometimes all you have to do is half-spin by yourself to bring out the yellow and get your lap back . Of course short track racing rules don’t allow that sort of behavior . If you cause a yellow ,or stop or slow on the track to bring out the caution ( or sit on the track pretending your car won’t re-start and then miraculously get it started just after the yellow is waved ) , you go to the back of the pack . And many short tracks revert back to the previous lap for lining up the re-start , so there is nothing to be gained by spinning out the car in front of you , or intentionally causing the caution . NASCAR should really look at adopting some of these ideas . But as we all know , NASCAR does not like to utilize any ideas ( soft walls ) that they didn’t come up with first .

Bob Whitehead
04/02/2008 09:55 AM
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I couldn’t agree with you more on Kenseth. His world definately reloves around himself. A legend in his own mind. I’m sure he feels “rained on” with Jack taking Robbie away, but he needs to “cowboy up” and be a leader.

Lynnsy
04/02/2008 11:32 AM
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Keep in mind Jerry using your car to get even with someone on the track is a lot more dangerous than faking a punch at someone off the track.

J.D. Burns
04/02/2008 06:55 PM
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did you notice Kenseth was penalizd for pitting out of the box after Burton tried to drive through the 17 car? i’m sure after that his day got worse. how come noone mentioned robby gordon hitting everything but the pacecar?

Gary Yates
04/02/2008 09:59 PM
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Did You Notice? Some fans are getting to the point they don’t care what NASCAR does.

Johanna
04/03/2008 02:55 PM
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Thank you! I too am glad that others are seeing that Matt is not the “I am innocent at all times, cause I’m perfect” angel he claims to be! His fans say it and a lot of the media buys into it, but ask DJ, Edwards, and about 15 other drivers. They know Matt is not as innocent and perfect as he says he is!

nascarroots
04/03/2008 06:42 PM
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did you notice kenseth was penalized for getting hit on pit road for being outside his pit box but johnson got no penalty he was clearly outside his on the lap 165 caution

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
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