The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? Ganassi's Trial By Fire(d), The Trials And Tribulations Of The Woods, And ... Morgan Shepherd? by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday April 30, 2008

Go to site navigation Go to article

Did You Notice? … That at Talladega, the No. 21 Ford driven by Jon Wood had to pull in the garage after just one lap in order to fix radical adjustments made in qualifying to get the car in the show. Now, I know it looks like I pick on the Wood Brothers every week, but it’s hard to ignore them when they continue to make major mistakes. There were seven other cars who qualified on time for this race, and none of them had to spend nine laps in the garage area to fix their cars within the first five laps.

What the heck did the team do to the car to make it that urgent for them to go behind the wall? Couldn’t Wood have just lost the draft, driven really conservatively, and hoped a caution came out to fix the issues? Killing your chances for a good finish before you’re even 10 miles in probably isn’t good for team morale; how can you gain points on the Top 35 when you’re putting yourself in a position where you’re simply trying to leapfrog cars that wreck? But to me, the best part of the whole thing was the post-race press release, in which crew chief Mike Smith attempted to be optimistic.

“Jon stayed back far enough, when the big wrecks happened, he was far enough back where he could slow down with nobody behind him who could crash into him,” explained Smith. “It played out nice. I know it wasn’t the finish that everybody wanted, and it wasn’t the finish I wanted – it’s in the right direction and we gained points, and we were at Talladega. So, it was a good thing.”

Who knew one of the most feared teams in motorsports a generation ago would one day simply be happy to be at the race track. And it’s one thing to stay at the back of the draft and miss the wreck when you’re on the lead lap; it’s another thing altogether when you’re nine laps behind.

OK, I’ll stop picking on them now. I want this team to succeed; but seriously, they’re driving me crazy.

Did You Notice? … That a subtle way in which Brian Vickers and A.J. Allmendinger chased the pole at Talladega could change how the entire field qualifies at restrictor plate tracks in the future. Typically, the two lap sessions are monotonous as can be, as most cars follow what’s called a “corkscrew” theory. Spending the first lap utilizing the high groove at the top of the track, drivers then use their second lap to hug the inside line in order to get the most speed possible out of their restricted engines. The whole thought process behind that has been that the cars spend their first qualifying lap getting up to speed due to restrictor plates; and because of that, it’s supposedly a necessity to build momentum during that “throwaway” lap, in order to pick up as much as a full second during lap number two.

However, Vickers and Allmendinger had a different strategy. Hugging the inside line during both their qualifying laps, their times weren’t much different from lap one to lap two; but both of them put forth strong performances that put them solidly within the Top 10. Dario Franchitti followed their lead, and actually posted a slower qualifying time on lap two because of it; but it didn’t matter, as the non-Top 35 car slipped into the field in the 43rd and final slot.

Will all these changes make Talladega qualifying more bearable to watch? Probably not; but it was interesting to find out that after 20 years, the whole theory behind “building speed” for a pole run on the second lap is now a bunch of hogwash with the CoT. The engines may still be restricted … but they don’t take two and a half laps to get up to full song. Maybe about half that …

According to published reports, Sterling Marlin may be on the verge of reuniting with the team that fired him after eight years behind the wheel of the Coors Light Dodge.

Did You Notice? … Speaking of teams outside the Top 35, if the No. 40 team hires Sterling Marlin to drive its Dodge at Darlington in place of Dario Franchitti, that means Ganassi will have employed the last two drivers he fired in the matter of three weeks. Marlin drove the No. 40 car from 1998 – 2005, compiling four wins and 26 Top 5 finishes before he was unceremoniously dumped in favor of “younger talent.” That was David Stremme, who lasted two seasons in the car with just three Top 10 finishes before Ganassi lost his patience to the wandering eye of open wheel talent. After just two years to prove himself – and with improving results – Stremme was pulled in favor of the IRL’s Dario Franchitti.

Of course, Franchitti has struggled since coming on board, leaving the No. 40 struggling for sponsorship and overall direction. But Stremme filled in admirably at Talladega, putting the team in contention for a win before a last lap crash relegated him to 28th. And Marlin’s Darlington record isn’t too shabby, either; he won the Spring race in the No. 40 Dodge back in 2002.

All this has me scratching his head as to why Ganassi wants to reach back to grab those he thought were no longer good enough. There’s so many other substitutes out there; why open yourself up to criticism by employing drivers you didn’t think were worthy enough for you such a short time ago?

Secretly, I’m hoping Franchitti misses one more race so Ganassi hires Jimmy Spencer as a sub … just to compete the trio of wrongfully unemployed.

Did You Notice? … That Morgan Shepherd’s 13th place finish at Talladega with his underfunded, Racing With Jesus program should be commended; that is, until you consider it’s the first time he’s actually chosen to finish a race since July 3rd, 2004. Since then, the No. 89 had racked up 49 straight “DNFs” in both the Nationwide and Cup Series, making a total of $1.6 million for bringing a car to the track that, many times, had no intentions of completing more than a few laps of the race. In the process, through qualifying he’s knocked out dozens of teams that have every intention of going the distance.

Am I awed by the fact that Shepherd can still get the job done at 66 years old? Absolutely. But am I going to stand up and applaud someone for choosing to finish a race, something most competitors have as their primary goal every week? Absolutely not.

Did You Notice? … That even the two unsponsored Yates Racing cars are running better than Jamie McMurray at Roush Fenway right now? That’s gotta hurt.

Did You Notice? … Tony Stewart’s attempts to throw reporters off the trail by claiming he had offers from “several manufacturers,” including Ford and Dodge.

Ford? Come on, Tony … last I checked, they renamed Ford Roush Fenway Racing … and that team is downsizing, not looking for replacements. And can anyone really see Stewart driving for a Dodge program that’s been floundering for the better part of two years?

No, what Tony’s doing is smart; he’s trying to bait reporters into following false trails that don’t lead to the right answers. But this one’s going to continue to stick by his story … I’ll be waiting for the Haas CNC announcement with baited breath.

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
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
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

04/30/2008 02:18 AM

Thomas – “What the heck did the team do to the car to make it that urgent for them to go behind the wall? Couldn’t Wood have just lost the draft, driven really conservatively,”

Simple answer he had to play by the rules in force, i.e. top 35 and impound.

Wood qualified without fan belts for the alternator and power steering pump.

Because the car was impounded they couldn’t replace them prior to the green flag because NASCAR ruled the changes were more than that should be allowed.

It was a stupid decision, they should have taken the rear of the field penalty for making the changes and raced from there at the green.

You may have noticed Marlin and Nemechek pitting early, 18th lap I believe, they did the same came in to replace fan belts. In addition Marlin also used an undersized battery during quals and that had to be replaced during that stop.

04/30/2008 03:36 PM

What I do like about Gnassi is he isn’t afraid of criticism. Maybe letting Stremme adn Sterling go were mistakes but giving Spence the boot was a long time coming.

Richard Reid
05/01/2008 08:21 AM

You need to get out of the arm chair and buy yourself a cup team, you seem to know how to make everyone run better.Some times teams have to make decisions based on there sponcership needs, and come on your not giving up any cash, but I’m sure that the Woods brothers would love to listen to you if you send them a couple of million.

05/02/2008 08:34 PM

Richard Reid – “You need to get out of the arm chair and buy yourself a cup team, you seem to know how to make everyone run better.”

Yeah, it’s hell when an opinion is expressed isn’t it?

Most especially when it differs from the one you hold. When that happens some people call out the Whambulance.


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Did You Notice? ... Drivers Still Make A Difference... But Silly Cautions Don't
Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Free Agent Lynchpin, Uncomfortable Reality And Gambling
Did You Notice? ... Toyota Trouble, Limping Into Action And Testing The Waters
Did You Notice? ... Keep On Asking, And You Will Receive A Qualifying Sigh Of Relief

If you want to know more about Tom Bowles or to view all of his articles here at the Frontstretch, check out his archive and bio page.

Want even more Tom Bowles? Check out Tom's archive at