The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... McMurray Got Screwed, Screwy Rookie Scheduling, And NASCAR's Fake Title Contenders by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday September 24, 2008

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Did You Notice? … Jamie McMurray’s crash at Dover was not just caused by Robby Gordon’s recklessness … but by missing the playoffs?

Let me explain. After the regular season finale at Richmond, Roush Fenway Racing GM Robbie Reiser made a number of pit crew switches to benefit the RFR teams set to contend for the championship.

“There were some members on the No. 26 car that were proven veterans,” explained Greg Biffle’s crew chief Greg Erwin at Loudon. “And both our team and the No. 99 has had some issues with one guy in particular on each squad. Reiser stepped up to the plate and decided, ‘Look, this is our best foot forward. These are what we think are our most experienced, under-the-gun-type players,’ and made the decision and allowed each of our teams to get some guys from the No. 26 car — and it’s helped. Without a doubt it’s helped.”

Sure it has – for them. Looking at the finishing order at Dover, you can’t complain if you’re any of those title-contending teams: Biffle, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards put together the first 1-2-3 finish for RFR since Homestead in 2005. But while their pit stops have shown significant improvement, you can’t say the same for the No. 26 car and McMurray. But what would you expect? After all, half his crew is spread out all over the rest of the organization. So at Dover, he lost four spots on pit road two stops in a row — including the last one he made before getting involved in that wreck with Gordon. If you put McMurray’s old pit crew in there, and chances are he doesn’t lose those positions … putting him further out in front of Gordon before the No. 7 Dodge lost control.

So, while Sunday was a great day for the sport – you had three guys from the same team battling tooth and nail for the win, putting the whole team orders concept to bed for the time being – taking away resources from non-playoff teams is a dangerous precedent to set. If I’m IRWIN Industrial Tools or Crown Royal, how am I feeling knowing that Roush publicly admitted he took his best people away from a team I’m giving financial support to? That would make me not want to send in my sponsor check for the last ten races, because heck, why would I send it to someone who hasn’t pledged to put my investment first on his priority list?

People have always wondered whether sponsors will start pulling out of non-Chase teams after race 26 … and the more instances like these become public, the higher the chance we’ll see something like that happen not too far down the road.

Did You Notice? … No one’s caring so much about the Rookie Of The Year program lately? I’m not directing that towards this year’s crop of freshmen, on track to be the worst-performing rookies in NASCAR history. Instead, it’s the fact that more and more, people aren’t subscribing to the series’ rules in order to preserve drivers’ future ROTY bids. Instead, teams are opting to get their selections the most experience possible, while forgetting about competing for the award altogether.

Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose are two of this year’s cases in point. Almirola’s going to be a full-time driver on the circuit for DEI in 2009, and he possesses both the equipment and the talent to make an all-out bid for ROTY. There’s only one problem, though: starting nine of this year’s 28 races, he’s well over the seven-start limit that eliminates him from participating in the program. As for Ambrose, he’ll likely participate in his seventh race this weekend at Kansas, with plans to run a handful more events before the 2008 season is complete.

Meet Scott Speed, NASCAR’s only driver with painted toenails… and currently Joey Logano’s only competition for 2009 Rookie of the Year.

As a result, both drivers will be in that no man’s land Carl Edwards and David Gilliland have been in recently: first-year full-time drivers on the circuit next year… but not quite rookies. And that’s a shame, because it eliminates the ability for them to participate in one of NASCAR’s most visible competitions, one that has positive ramifications both on and off the track. Here’s what I don’t understand in this economic climate: With all the attention given to the annual rookie race, why wouldn’t these two guys be restrained appropriately by their car owners so they can sell them as “ROTY contenders” to sponsors for 2009? Just the catch of being involved in a race that guarantees you air time is a little extra incentive for companies to sign on the dotted line – at least, that’s what I would think. But then again, I didn’t study business in college …

Oh, well … at least we have Scott Speed. If it wasn’t for him – and his eccentric personality, to boot – Joey Logano would run away with next year’s award in a snoozer.

Did You Notice? … That two races in, the only team to have each of their Chase contenders finish in the Top 12 in both events was – surprise, surprise – Richard Childress Racing? Currently, drivers Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, and Clint Bowyer occupy the fourth, fifth, and sixth positions in the standings, each of them no more than 106 points behind Carl Edwards for the title.

So, why don’t I trust RCR can be a championship force? After all, a fired-up Kevin Harvick – coming off his eighth consecutive Top 10 finish – said, “I really think we still have the momentum to win this thing.” To find out why, let’s check out the laps led so far between the Big Four during the first two races of the Chase:

Roush Fenway Racing — 460 (includes 35 laps led by Jamie McMurray at Dover)
Hendrick Motorsports — 230
Joe Gibbs Racing — 4
Richard Childress Racing — 3

OK, so let me get this straight. Two of Joe Gibbs Racing’s cars spent Dover in the garage, their #1 driver and point leader entering the Chase has led zero laps, and Tony Stewart’s been a non-factor – yet they still have more laps led than a team that’s finished 12th or better in every race to date? Right now, RCR’s working off a best-case scenario, and unless they can figure out how to run up front, they’ll remain consistent – consistently on the outside looking in at a title, that is.

Did You Notice? … Rick Hendrick’s public comments surrounding Junior’s need to calm down on the radio at Loudon don’t bode well for … Tony Eury, Jr.? That’s not just wishful thinking on my part … even if Junior’s the problem, there’s no way they’re going to get rid of the driver on the No. 88. You crazy? If Hendrick thinks Junior isn’t giving the information he needs to his crew, the only change he can make is to find another head wrench that’s capable of getting it out of him. To be honest, no one outside of Hendrick expected Junior to win a championship this year anyways. But as one source told me, the way things are going right now they’re concerned about fan reaction — because winning that title could take a little longer than expected. There’s supposedly a great emphasis being placed on the No. 5 car in 2009, as Mark Martin will take his last chance to achieve that long-coveted Sprint Cup title – and Hendrick has supposedly offered him “the best of the best” in order to make sure Martin gets the best opportunity to cash in.

Did You Notice? … The severity of Kyle Busch’s point swing? It’s 240 in just two races, folks … that’s a lot. But it also shows you how to never say never in this business. That’s why Alan Kulwicki made up 278 points in six races to secure that 1992 title. Too bad something tells me Kyle Busch has nowhere close to that underdog attitude he needs to make up a similar deficit.

Did You Notice? … How once the dust settled and I really got to thinking about it these last few days, NASCAR’s drug policy is equivalent to public posturing? With no published list of banned substances, heroin could be legal for all we know. But that’s all I’m going to say about that (Note: Shameless self-promotion coming!) … come back tomorrow for Jeff Meyer’s take on the subject.

Did You Notice? … Bobby Hamilton, Jr. saying he was talking to a Cup team about a ride for next year? With who … the Richard Petty Driving Experience? Seriously … I can’t let that one go. Almost all the open slots for next year are filled, and without a scintillating resume for either the Cup or Nationwide Series the last few years, it’s hard for me to chalk up that statement to anything more than a Cup team playing with poor Bobby’s head. His best-case scenario is hoping Rensi gets a sponsor for 2009…

Did You Notice? … How my column from last week sucked? Yeah, it really did. I can never really predict the future, but turns out I was dead wrong about A.J. Allmendinger and Team Red Bull after all – they’re parting ways, much to my chagrin. Between that, messing up Steve Hallam’s NASCAR future (he’s working with Michael Waltrip, not the sanctioning body itself), and completely missing the boat on Joey Logano’s Sprint Cup equipment, it wasn’t the best of efforts from me.

The way I see it, journalists should be held to the same accountability as the superstars they cover. It’s only fair. So, I apologize for some sloppy reporting, and look forward to reverting back to the high standard of factual excellence I look to deliver in each of these columns. It’s a standard you should not only expect from the media … but one that you all deserve.

Until next week…

Contact Tom Bowles

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Michael
09/24/2008 07:56 AM
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There is no question at all about where the blame for poor performances at HMS lies . Strictly drivers . Gordon has not been getting it done . Maybe off track distractions . Maybe burned out on racing . Maybe just falling off a little . Earnhardt simply does not know how to communicate what needs to be done to the car to make it better . We’ve seen that the DEI cars were apparently not as bad as he insisted they were . And Tony Eury Jr. is not a mind reader . He can’t fix a problem if Dale Jr. can’t tell him what the problem is . Tony Eury Sr . went through the same problem with Dale Jr. Boy did they battle constantly on the radio . Dale Jr. is just not going to be able to coast on his last name . If he truly wants to be a championship caliber driver he is going to have to learn how to communicate what he wants from the car to his crew chief . And thats going to require some hard work and intensive learning on his part . Otherwise , he can continue to be an average race car driver who makes lots of commercials and endorsements .

Douglas
09/24/2008 08:34 AM
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Quote: “People have always wondered whether sponsors will start pulling out of non-Chase teams after race 26 … and the more instances like these become public, the higher the chance we’ll see something like that happen not too far down the road.”

How True! How Sad!

From the git-go of the fabulous “CHASE”, I for one have been very voiceferous AGAINST the Chase format for many reasons, including the fact the 31 “remaining”, or “eliminated” cars/drivers, get VERY, VERY, little mention during broadcasts, and are basically ignored with 12 cars/drivers garnering ALL the attention and TV exposure!

Now we have the teams themselves tampering with the 31 “non-chase” cars/drivers, creating yet another reason not to sponsor after race #26!

There is a “car/driver” rating system used in the advertising field, and the way it works is each car/driver combination is rated at the end of each race on how much “exposure” they got on TV & such. This ultimately affects how much money a team can ask for when it comes to sponsorship. The more “documented” exposure, the more $$$$ roll in.

Why do you think the Mikey’s of the world try to “block” the leaders as they attempt to pass? Because then his car is shown along with the leader on the big screen, thus adding to the “exposure” time.

Big bucks involved!

(sorry Mikey, but I think that is true at times with you), but it does work!

Yes, if I was IRWIN TOOLS, or CROWN ROYAL, I would be screaming bloody murder that my team has been tampered with to make another sponsors car run better!

As stated time and time again: THERE IS NOTHING GOOD ABOUT THE CHASE FORMAT!

marshall
09/24/2008 09:14 AM
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Robby Gordons’ recklessness ??? I know for a fact that you know enough about racing to recognize how ridiculous that statement is . Robby was racing . That is his Job . Now if you feel that hard racing is reckless , good luck making that case . In fact , race drivers are under no resrictions whatsoever regarding who they can race or who they cannot as you very well know . I also am not aware of any regulation against a driver losing control while doing his job . Jamie and Robby had a crash . Get over it and move on to something important.
Yeah , i’m sure the Irwin people are livid over the crewman swap . You havn’t met very many marketing people from corporations involved in NASCAR i guess . Their overriding concern each week is that their banners are up and the suite is stocked with food . Most of them couldn’t tell you the names of anyone on the team they sponsor , other than the driver , owner , and rarely the crew chief . So i doubt that “ crewman gate “ was a very big issue at all . And since it made very little difference in the outcome of the 26 cars finish position , again , let it go . You could just as easily say that if Jamie were a better driver he could have saved the spin and continued on .

big alice
09/24/2008 11:26 AM
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I have said, since Jr first came to the cup series, he will NEVER win a championship with Eury. Jr needs somebody he repects…someone he won’t try to boss around…it’s anyones guess as who, if anyone that might be.

Doug
09/24/2008 12:40 PM
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I’ve got to disagree with you that RFR screwed over Jamie Mac by Robbie moving key personel once the chase started. Thats is Robbies job as a GM!

Jamie had the same equipment and same number of races as the rest of the RFR drivers to make the chase. He failed to. Miserably failed to make the chase. If Crown royal and Irwin are upset that crew mebers are changed then they need to be upset at the driver that put them out of the chase first. Jamie consistantly makes bad decisions in driving and calling for adjustments.

Besides Crown Royal and Irwin need to wonder where the 26 car is going to be after 2009. Especially with the rumors of Menards talking with Yates Racing and the possibility of a third team there.

RJ
09/24/2008 12:43 PM
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Go figure, when Kyle B drives hard into the corner and loses it and takes out JR at Richmond, it was just a “racing deal” but Robby is racing hard and loses it and gets into Jamie then that is reckless. I wonder if it was a racing deal or reckless when Jamie was running on the apron and took JR out even though JR slowed down and took the proper approach to the pits. I am sure that this was not reckless but the astute racing abilities of Jamie. How many races this year where you simply see the drive get unexpectedly loose and get into some other driver, that happens in racing but I guess some people just simply miss those moments.

Señor Obvious
09/24/2008 12:59 PM
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“why would I send it to someone who hasn’t pledged to put my investment first on his priority list?”

Wait a minute, are you trying to actually put forth the idea that Roush Fenway marketed the 26 team as “The best of the best of the best”?

I tend to think that the 26 was marketed as the bargain team that could be used as another marketing tool in the field for sales reps and their best corporate customers.

Watch the Miller High Life ad where the the beer delivery guy takes all the High Life out of the corporate suite at the ball game (wow, big loss there) where no one is paying attention to the game. Very much like the corporate suites at any NASCAR event. Some are paying attention, but nobody from the company really cares if that team wins or loses, they’re just happy to have their clients in a captive area for four hours straight.

To most of the sponsors, it’s more of a marketing and advertising vehicle and they could care less if their driver finishes in the top 10 in the standings. As long as they can include a known face and a recongnizeable car in their ads, or have a show car and even a mediocre driver at their tool or new car show to draw in the customers for a couple of hours, and they see a return for their investment, they’re good.

Sharon
09/24/2008 01:49 PM
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Why are we even talking about Jamie McMurray? He is overrated and overexposed. I cannot figure out why he gets the attention he gets. He has done very little in the sport. As for the crew swap. big deal Jamie would have wrecked out regardless.

Bill
09/24/2008 02:29 PM
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Jamie McMurray did get the raw end of the deal with Roush. Between Races 26 and 27, they swapped crew members off of his team to benefit those that made the Chase. That team had been showing steady improvement, especially during the second half of this season. Now, they have to take two steps back because of the swap in crew members. Considering what was done and what the author of the article contends, McMurray got the raw end of the deal to say the least.

Many of you are arguing that he is overrated and what not. So what? He still has a right to do the best he can do and when somebody comes behind you to do this, it demoralizes a driver. When you look at the results a year from now, will you remember that they screwed the #26 team with the crew member swap? No, you won’t. Do you know that this type of thing has been done in the past? No, you don’t and neither do I.

The #26 team has never gotten priority treatment to say the least. When Kurt Busch left, many of the crew members were dispersed among all of the Roush teams leaving the #26 to rebuild on its own. Even the #6 pretty much stayed intact.

I will not come out and say that Jamie McMurray is the best driver in the field. But I will say that he is better than his position in the standings and it very much can be attributed to the quality of the crew members. That was magnified here in the past couple of races.

Connie
09/24/2008 02:54 PM
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Has anyone else noticed that since JGR Nationwide teams got nailed for cheating if now the cup cars are no longer being naughty and that is part of Kyle’s problems? Maybe they fear Nascar will be watching them closer than before? Hard to cheat with Nascar over their shoulder.

jaymatt
09/25/2008 12:42 AM
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Jamie Who? If I were Crown Royal and/or Irwin tools, I’d be looking for another car to sponsor, not because of the crew changes for the Chase (read “joke”), but because Roush saddled them with a second-rate driver. McMurray has always been over-rated. He’s a third-tier driver who gets lucky once in a while because he’s running for a top-notch team. If Roush wants that car to be anything but R&D, another driver is necesary.

masondrew8
09/26/2008 10:18 AM
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On Hendrick giving Mark Martin “the best of the best”…. That would only be true if he were putting Martin in the 48 car with the 48 crew and Knauss. That would be his best shot at a championship. Putting him with a team that can’t even make the chase will not get it done.

masondrew8
09/26/2008 10:22 AM
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Kyle Busch has 240 points to make up vs Kulwicki’s 278 points but Kulwicki had to beat 2 guys, Busch has to be 11. A little more of a longshot.

john
09/30/2008 04:22 PM
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I don’t think it’s really fair to say that jamie is overrated. It would be a lot better to say that he has terrible luck. most of the races early in the season where he had bad finishes were ccaused by him being wrecked by someone else and in fact if he had finished twentyeth on each of the occasions where someone else wrecked him ( harvick at the glen, kyle bush at pocono etc) he would be in the chase right now, not to mention the caution at the end of the michigan race that got dale jr. his first win. And even before they swapped out his crew members I don’t remember ever seeing him pick up any positions on pit road. I will admit being a fan its frustrating reading about him battling a tight condition throughout every race, you’d think after that happened a couple times he’d just tell them to make the thing to loose to drive and work back to it or something.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
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

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 SI.com.