The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? Junior Stressed Out? Said Rained Out? And Why Did McDowell Pout? by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday August 13, 2008

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Did You Notice? … That Dale Earnhardt, Jr. looks a little haggard lately? In virtually every single interview I’ve seen him do over the past two months, Junior’s answers are so slow and meticulously constructed it feels like he’s processing the question in slow motion. I feel like it’s either one of two things – it’s either Junior’s stressed out, or he’s still adjusting a bit in his new role at the more politically correct Hendrick Motorsports.

Remember, the Most Popular Driver is also in the midst of figuring out his own identity after leaving the family-owned team and the comfort of a beer sponsor for two backers in Mountain Dew and the National Guard in which he’s expected to be a role model for kids and adults. Add in the increasing demands of his JR Motorsports team, and it’s clear Junior’s got a lot on his mind these days. And have you noticed that in almost every post-race interview he does, the words “I’m proud of my team?” are mentioned – regardless of whether they played a part to cost him the race or not? Hendrick Motorsports drivers not named Kyle Busch have made it a point never to publicly throw anyone from his team under the bus. But just once, wouldn’t it be nice for Junior to vocalize what so many of us have been thinking – “I would have finished 5th, but my freaking cousin blew the call once again. He’s really got to stop doing that!”

Did You Notice? … That marketers on Watkins Glen might have more luck bringing fans in if they knew how to spell names of the series’ biggest teams. On billboards all over the Central New York region advertising the Watkins Glen race last weekend, one of the messages advertising the race – in large white font above photos of the Harvick-Montoya clash – were “Gibbs vs. Hendricks.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see any Hendricks Motorsports on the entry list this weekend at the Glen. Hmm … I guess they must have pulled out at the last minute.

Did You Notice? … That after the shock of Truex resigning with DEI subsided, it was revealed the contract was only through the 2009 season. And despite all the happy faces this weekend, I don’t think this announcement necessarily means Truex was always 100% committed to resigning with the No. 1 car. Remember, this organization claimed they had an option to pick him up for ’09 anyway based on Truex’s contract, a legalese portion of fine print which could have been debatable in a court of law. It’s certainly possible that if Truex recognized DEI would take him to court over that option, it was easier to resign with his team than to go to whatever other options were available. No matter what happens from here though, this much is clear: Max Siegel has exactly nine months to turn things around before his primary driver jumps ship. And the clock starts … now.

Did You Notice? … The sheer aggression of the Nationwide Series race at the Glen versus the conservatism of the Cup race one day later? Those who watched both races know exactly what I’m talking about. On Saturday, we had Kyle Busch take out both himself and mild-mannered Jeff Burton while fighting for the lead; Burton retaliate to regain the top spot; point leaders Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer take each other out while fighting for position; and Brad Keselowski put forth a valiant, aggressive effort to get a Top 10 finish with a wounded car.

Compare that to the Cup race the following day, where the end of the event saw Tony Stewart scared to pass Kyle Busch because he didn’t want to risk precious points that could get him in the Chase. Behind him, Marcos Ambrose didn’t want to hit Stewart, for God forbid Stewart wrecks and he gets blamed for taking out a Chaser. There were 11 lead changes in the Nationwide Series race, while the Cup race only had eight – and most of those switches were based on strategy.

Wasn’t the aggressiveness of the drivers supposed to ramp up before the Chase? Right now, I’d take another twenty races of moderate aggression under the old system versus one all-out slugfest at Richmond.

Did You Notice? … That Kyle Busch could easily be in great shape to tie or surpass Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty’s modern era total of 13 wins in a season. I know it’s been talked about a lot, so I won’t spend too much time on it: but, we still have three races left on the schedule at tracks Busch has won at already this season – and convincingly at that. If you give him victories at two of those three tracks – Talladega, Dover, and Atlanta – that already pushes him up to ten wins. Busch was also a contender at Texas, Charlotte, Richmond, and Fontana earlier this season, racking up Top 5 finishes and leading laps in each race. Let’s say Busch gets lucky and racks up wins in three of those four – that pushes us to 13, and we’ve still got seven other races we haven’t even mentioned left on the schedule. This is fast becoming not just a career year for Kyle Busch; it’s one he can push to a level that’ll go down in the record books as one of the best of all time.

Did You Notice? … Boris Said’s comments about always qualifying the go-or-go-homers? In case you missed it, Said believes the sport should hold a separate session for whoever’s not “locked in” to the field on Saturday morning if qualifying is ever rained out. This way, part-time teams like his who come to a select number of races each year still have a shot to make the field fair and square.

Considering Said’s team lost $250,000 by missing a race they would have almost certainly made without the rain, it’s clear he might have been a little biased with those comments. But that doesn’t mean his message has no merit. Just allowing full-time teams to slip by with a mulligan discourages these part-time programs from coming to the track each week. And I think it’s important to give those teams an opportunity to succeed. After all, wasn’t the whole concept of this sport based on the fact Joe Schmo should be able to come to any track with his independent team and have the opportunity to compete with the best of ‘em? Providing opportunity is not sending a team home due to rain before they even have a chance to make a lap on the track. With the Top 35 locked into the field, you can bet qualifying those other 10 cars at the Glen would have taken no longer than a half an hour at best. I think it’s something NASCAR should seriously look into if they’re looking at keeping this kooky system for 2009 and beyond.

Track workers clean up the mess left as a result of Michael McDowell “just racing hard”. A total of nine cars were damaged in the ensuing wreck and an estimated $1 million in equipment was destroyed.

Did You Notice? … Michael McDowell’s comments after triggering the nine-car wreck that took out nine cars, destroyed David Gilliland’s No. 38 and sent Bobby Labonte to the hospital? “I was just racing hard,” he said after the wreck. “And really, it doesn’t look much different than how it was with Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton yesterday — but I’m sure they’ll make a big deal out of it.”

Yeah, it was exactly the same, Mr. McDowell; in that wreck, no cars got damaged, and in yours, we had a 40-minute red flag. Sorry to make that such a big deal! Certainly interesting that 24 hours after that incident, McDowell was temporarily ousted from the No. 00 in favor of veteran Mike Skinner. After seventeen races and no Top 20 finishes, you could already see the reasons why — and after Sunday, you could hear them.

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Kevin in SoCal
08/13/2008 01:30 PM
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I didnt see Tony Stewart intentionally hanging back and not challenging Busch “because of the points and the Chase.” I saw Tony’s car not handle as well as Busch’s, and he wasnt as fast. If Tony was intentionally hanging back from Busch to maintain his spot, why did he allow himself to get so close to being passed by Ambrose and Montoya?

I suppose you could argue that he was blocking and keeping Ambrose and Montoya from getting close to Busch, but that’s not the Tony Stewart I know.

marshall
08/13/2008 03:24 PM
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Actually i think one Hendricks might have pulled out of the race . The 24 didn’t but might as well have .
You sound as though you are surprised that the Chase isn’t breeding more drama . How could such a format do anything but DECREASE the competition !
The cars outside of the top 35 certainly should not have their own qualifying session . This mess called NASCAR Cup is already manipulated enough . If NASCAR plans on sticking to this ridiculous rule , then why should they then make a special exception for the cars that wouldn’t need a special exception if not for the ridiculous rule .
Michael McDowell made a racing mistake . It had some very unfortunate consequences for other drivers , but nevertheless it was an accident .

Michael
08/13/2008 06:59 PM
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McDowell has been taking all the heat for the wreck, but Gilliland visibly turned down on him in attempted retaliation.

mkrcr
08/13/2008 07:55 PM
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Gilliland visibly turned down in an attempt to make the corner as McDowell visibly turned left to retaliate for lack of talent.

D Jones
08/13/2008 08:52 PM
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I think the qual rules in place are just fine. Teams that show up each week deserve the chance to race when qual is rained out. Boris needs to pick up the pace or quit whining.
Regarding Jr, why is he so hoarse after the race?
Here’s what NASCAR should do about the chase. Get rid of it. Then before the last 10 races say they were kidding and start it up again. Whoever is there is in the chase.

Douglas
08/14/2008 08:58 AM
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Isn’t NA$CAR style qualifying silly?

They have two days, Friday & Saturday, to get a group “qualified”, but if the first session is rained out they just ignore qualifying in total!

Why not create a system where all speeds during the practices are counted, as they are, and if the “official” qualifying is rained out they set the field on their practice times?

Or hold Qualifying on Saturday? Gee! Something could be worked out so that the fastest cars get to race! Wouldn’t the paying spectators like that idea?

How novel for NA$CAR! the “fastest” cars get to race, the slowest go home!

I am a genius!

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

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