The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... The Father's Day Love For Junior, Sorenson's Pending Pink Slip, And Goofus And Gallant by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday June 18, 2008

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Did You Notice? … And I know it’s been mentioned countless times already, but three days later I still can’t get over the irony of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. winning his first race for Rick Hendrick on Father’s Day. The bond these two share has been well-documented, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize what was on both of their minds during that special day. I mean, just think about what Junior said in Victory Circle; the first points-paying win in two years, to the point where a monkey was clearly lifted off his back, and he referenced Happy Father’s Day about three times.

For both, it was not only the continued validation of a partnership they both firmly believed in, but another moment in which they shared the pain of past experiences to cement a bond that’s rapidly becoming family – not car owner, not friend. Of course, Junior always wanted the car owner who would come up to him in Victory Lane and truly be appreciative of his driver and their success; what he didn’t have with his stepmom, he now has with Hendrick – but this additional bond, now that’s a real bonus for both of them.

The only thing I can’t help but think though when I see the two of them together, sharing in the moment; what must Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon think? Especially Gordon … for years, he was Hendrick’s golden child, and now he’s fighting against a partnership that’s stronger than anything he may have ever had with his boss. That doesn’t mean they’re not close; but with Gordon’s team needing a little bit of tender loving care, will the pangs of jealousy one day creep up? You’d hope they won’t, but as we move forward and Junior wins more and more often, this organization will become a bit harder to balance between the four cars than it is now …

Did You Notice? … That in light of Brian Vickers’ scoring mistake, how in the heck NASCAR could have that problem with their electronic scoring loops system? As I understand it, can’t they just press a button on a computer and it’ll show exactly where each car was positioned at the last scoring loop when the caution came out? If not, NASCAR needs a new timing and scoring system. This is 2008, folks; in an era where instant replay is being considered in even archaic Major League Baseball, it shouldn’t be difficult to come up with a system that would easily freeze the field and ensure no scoring decisions when the yellow comes out would have to be subjective judgment calls.

You have to feel for Vickers, too; if you look at the tape of that final restart, he’s not exaggerating. Martin is holding him up, just enough that his momentum is killed going through turns 1 and 2. And when you’re involved in a green/white/checkered finish, you can’t afford to lose two turns like that.

Did You Notice? … Reed Sorenson’s replacement in the No. 41 Dodge – even for just the road course race – doesn’t bode well for his future with the team. Looking back at history, most longtime fans remember the inglorious removal of Jimmy Spencer from a Watkins Glen road course race in 2002 in this very car; back then, he was replaced by Pruett and shoved into a third, part-time effort, a move that caused Spencer to DNQ.

By that point, Ganassi had already made the move in his mind to dismiss the veteran after just one season, a highly-debated decision within NASCAR circles that was widely viewed as a mistake. Spencer’s replacement, Casey Mears, was given far more leeway by his boss; he struggled more than Spencer did initially, but eventually earning his stripes driving the No. 41.

Reed Sorenson’s time driving the Target Dodge may quickly be coming to a close in his third season with the team.

Ganassi was supposed to be displaying the same type of patience with the 22-year-old Sorenson; but it seems that in year three, that patience wears thin about as fast as Dan Wheldon wants to slide into a vacant No. 41 Dodge. The bigger question for Sorenson will be whether he’s about to go out to pasture the way of Casey Atwood, or whether he’s proven enough that a plum ride will open up for him, like the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. It’s going to be one or the other – and he’s going to need to prove himself over these next few months to show car owners like Childress they better take a chance on him; because right now, I’m not so sure they will anymore. Third years are the time for growth, not regression … and this team has regressed so much, car owners are definitely going to take notice of that.

Did You Notice? … That the juxtaposition of Kyle Busch and Joey Logano as teammates Saturday night reminded me of the old Goofus and Gallant strips? If you ever read Highlights when you were a kid, you know what I’m talking about; the children’s magazine looks to teach you manners by showing a guy who does everything right in comparison to the one who does something wrong.

So, here’s the race unfolding at Kentucky, and Logano is doing everything right in only his third start. He’s not overdriving the car, he’s learning the ropes and gaining experience riding behind his teammate. In the meantime, Busch is all over the place, aggressively working his way through the field to get to the front before complaining like heck over the radio his car is way too loose. Eventually, he overdrives the thing, crashes out, and all but hands the trophy to an 18-year-old rookie who’s supposed to be learning from him.

It definitely made me wonder what it’s going to be like when the two become teammates on the Sprint Cup level; it’s the next Dale Earnhardt versus the next Mark Martin, and while the two get along their driving styles would appear to be completely different. How that’ll mesh in terms of sharing information and support will be interesting to see …

Did You Notice? … That if Dale Earnhardt, Jr. doesn’t get that caution with three laps to go at Michigan, Jamie McMurray could have very well won that race in Ford’s backyard of Detroit? Talk about what a backdoor save that would be; he could have singlehandedly forced Roush’s hand and put the team in a difficult spot as to whether he’d be retained for 2009.

Luckily for them, McMurray and the No. 26 ended up having to pit for fuel during the green/white/checkered … dropping them out of sight and in position again for McMurray to be fired whenever.

Contact Tom Bowles

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HankZ
06/18/2008 12:46 PM
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Gordon jealous of Jr winning? I highly doubt that. Maybe envious (what racecar driver wouldn’t be envious of a competitor beating you), but certainly not jealous. I give the ol newly gray haired Gordo less than 5 years and he will be done. Which, in turn, will set himself up to be in Hendricks front office for life. I would bet he is working on it right now. Then, he can cheer for all of their teams’ cars.

JL
06/18/2008 12:56 PM
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Wow, just wow. Yeah, Gordon with his 4 championships and 81 wins looked really jealous congratulating Jr. in Victory Lane this past weekend. Why the need to stir up controversy where none exists? I guess Tony is stewing with jealousy over Kyle too, huh? Give me a break. Tony and Jeff are two of the most accomplished drivers in the sport and pretty much have nothing left to prove.

Bill
06/18/2008 01:17 PM
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I would say that your final comment was pretty harsh. The #26 team goes from contending for the win, having to put fuel in the car for the green-white-checker, and finally finishing in 10th position. How in the world can you say that McMurray ‘dropped out of sight’? A tenth place finish is dropping out of sight? And, salvaging a tenth place finish out of the race when they could have gambled and finished with Mark Martin at 25th or below. It seems to me that there should be some kudos there, not a slam for a team that made the best of the situation. A tenth place finish is hardly a reason to cement dropping a driver.

D Jones
06/18/2008 11:16 PM
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Tom,
You’re right on about Goofus (Busch) and Gallant (Logano). So far, I like Joey. Let’s hope he doesn’t “mature” like Kyle.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

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