The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Vickers Vexed By Pit Road, The Five-Lap Farce, And Nationwide's Double Standard? by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday August 5, 2009

Go to site navigation Go to article

Did You Notice? … How much pit road mistakes have played into the momentum of teams this season? It started in Daytona, when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. missed his pit en route to what’s been a disastrous season. Between Juan Pablo Montoya’s speeding penalty causing controversy at Indy, failed gas gambles like Michigan’s 1-2 stumble by both Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle, and botched pit stops by Carl Edwards’ crew early on in the year, it’s a place where momentum can be lost in the blink of an eye … er, lugnut.

Nowhere was this more evident than Pocono, where pit strategy proved critical in putting drivers like Montoya, Sam Hornish, Jr., and Clint Bowyer up front when it counted. But for every pit road winner, there’s also a washout, and this week I noticed that Team Red Bull’s No. 83 crew were the ones making the biggest mistakes. Check this out: During a series of four yellow-flag stops, Brian Vickers lost a total of 31 spots, dropping outside the top 10 each one of those times and having to fight back during those frantic double-file restarts. Eventually, he’d work his way through traffic (finishing sixth), but it was too little, too late as the leaders were halfway to Watkins Glen by the time he broke free.

A disastrous showing by the No. 83 pit crew at Pocono was just the latest example of Team Red Bull’s failure to take the next step… and that could leave driver Brian Vickers on the outside looking in on the Chase.

I mention this problem because Vickers is clearly emerging as the biggest threat to crack the top 12 of anyone currently outside the Chase. Right now, he’s just 104 points behind 12th-place Greg Biffle, with two tracks ahead in Michigan and Atlanta where he could easily start from the pole. Leading the series with five of those already, the No. 83 has certainly learned how to start a race up front. Now, they need to figure out what Denny Hamlin finally retaught himself during Monday’s final few laps – how to close the deal.

Time and again, TRB puts itself in position only to make some sort of costly mistake. How many times have we said about Vickers, “What if …?” What if that left-rear tire doesn’t go down during the final laps at Indianapolis? What if the crew makes sure all the lugnuts are on during the 600-miler at Lowe’s last year, a race Vickers dominated until a loose wheel came off? Or what if Vickers had a setup capable of leaving him out in clean air during those five pole-winning races, where his car has been so far off he never even led a lap during two of them?

Red Bull has done a fantastic job of playing the underdog these last two seasons. But here’s the thing about being an underdog; they’re named that for a reason. More often than not, that label comes packaged with the penalty of a mistake or the cold reality of being slightly less talented than the favorites.

Don’t get me wrong; I feel like Team Red Bull’s No. 83 is on the verge of top 5 contention week in, week out. But to get there, they need to act like it. Mistakes like the ones on pit road we’ve seen over the course of the year are simply not acceptable for someone going for a title.

Of course on the flip side, good pit stops don’t always get you to the promised land. Just ask Edwards, who had his crew have one of their best days of the season at Pocono only to not have a car capable of working through traffic on restarts. But on a day when the driver is clicking on all cylinders, it’s critical no mistakes are made on pit lane to back them up. So don’t be surprised if days like Vickers’ at Pocono come back to make the difference after race No. 26 at Richmond.

Did You Notice? … That in the midst of entertaining the masses with their antics on the race track, both David Stremme and Robby Gordon were hit with a five-lap penalty for rough driving? Man, what is this sport doing to itself … I was talking to several people after the race, and one of the first things they mentioned was how fun it was to see two drivers go at it on the track like the old days. But instead of letting Stremme and Gordon settle the matter amongst themselves, NASCAR decided to play the role of high school principal and sit both drivers on pit road to think about what they did, wrecking not once but twice to cause two cautions within the matter of ten laps.

OK, now let’s think about this one for a second. First of all, a five-lap penalty really didn’t matter for either driver at that point; both Stremme and Gordon had their cars so beat up after not one but two wrecks, neither one was going to be all that competitive. And did NASCAR consider what would happen to both drivers after that penalty? They returned to the race track right next to each other for double-file restarts, the only two cars five laps down fighting for position all the way to the end of the race. That’s like sitting the bully with the kid he just beat up, punishing them both equally, and then saying, “Please don’t do that again,” leaving the room and turning your back – giving the bully a free shot at making another swing. The way Gordon was talking on the radio just before he and Stremme tangled a second time, it was clear he wasn’t afraid of any NASCAR officials; so to be brutally honest, they were lucky the duo didn’t go at it again

Look, I personally don’t think either driver was more at fault. Gordon was mad that Stremme turned him into the wall (even though that hit wasn’t the one that caused his first major spin). Stremme was the one that eventually turned Gordon a second time, something he chose to do after Gordon was acting like a pesky fly around him after the restart. It’s the type of tit-for-tat stuff that happens at local short tracks all over the country, all the time; and while it put fans on their feet, it also taught both drivers a lesson by messing up their race cars and robbing them of top 20 runs each one so desperately needed.

So why did NASCAR have to step in and keep order here again? Sometimes, things work themselves out on their own; but as we’ve seen with this sport all too often this decade, they have a tendency to rock the boat for no apparent reason. Yes, I know you have to have some sort of order on the race track. But in this case, I think NASCAR was a bit too conservative, and in the process may have set a precedent that could come back to bite them later in the Chase (should the same thing happen to two drivers running inside the top 12.) Can you imagine if someone lost the championship due to rough driving? Come on … that’s like an official calling too many fouls in basketball. What a doomsday scenario that would be …

When are we going to sit back and just let these drivers race?

Did You Notice? … Every time the Nationwide Series takes one step forward, it seems to wind up taking another step back. Last week, in announcing the addition of Ford’s Mustang for a mid-2010 debut – part of the new Car of Tomorrow initiative that looks 10 times snazzier than its predecessor on the Cup side – it looked like the series was on the verge of establishing an identity.

And then, just like that, two bullets came flying at the series, cased the form of two Cup drivers taking rides from Nationwide guys fighting for a spot in the top 10 in points. First, Scott Lagasse, Jr. was released from his ride in the No. 11 Toyota despite four top 10 finishes in 21 races that left the team a solid 12th in the standings. Instead, as our own Bryan Davis Keith reported on Friday, the team has now turned to Cup veteran Denny Hamlin to run the next few races with no concrete plan for 2010. Not even giving the rookie a full season to prove himself, the CJM team moved forward even though their sponsor was interested in seeing their driver continue to develop.

Mike Bliss’ victory at Charlotte back in May might as well be news to team owner James Finch, who handed the 2002 Truck Series champ a pink slip for being sixth in NNS points.

Meanwhile, over at the No. 1 car James Finch has chosen to release veteran Mike Bliss following a 14th-place finish at Iowa. If Lagasse was a bit of a head-scratcher … well, let’s just say this one was absolutely mind-boggling. Bliss had not only a win but ten top 10 finishes this season, consistently being one of the few drivers capable of running with the Cupwhackers in a series where a dozen still participate each week, running roughshod over the rest of the competition. Sixth in points, Bliss has already surpassed the three top 5 finishes he’d accumulated during all of last season (he has four through 21 races). And Finch responds to that success …. with a pink slip? What more did he want his driver to do? After all, the Cup drivers get double the practice time and they often have double the resources, which kind of makes them hard to beat. But apparently, Finch has decided if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em … so Ryan Newman is the driver expected to replace him at Watkins Glen and beyond.

Earlier this season, it looked like the Cup drivers were slowly scaling back in a series that doesn’t offer the benefits it used to now that their Sunday cars are different. But when two of the stronger “Nationwide-only” teams (and I put that in quotes, because both programs get some degree of support from Joe Gibbs and Rick Hendrick, respectively) … anyways, when teams focused on the Nationwide Series feel forced to use Cup drivers in order to remain competitive, the series loses its individual identity as a result. And after a bit of a lull, it’s still an awful reminder that this problem won’t go away until the series mans up and finds some way to even the playing field when the Cup drivers come to play.

Did You Notice? … Kasey Kahne has as many top 5 finishes in the last three races (two) than the other cars on his team have during the entire season? No wonder RPM can’t find sponsorship … Elliott Sadler, Reed Sorenson, and yes, even A.J. Allmendinger, it’s time to step up to the plate.

Did You Notice? … Today is the birthday of both Jimmie Johnson crew chief Chad Knaus and Mark Martin crew chief Alan Gustafson? I knew the Hendrick teams shared a lot of information, but this is a first. Add in a birthday by Jeff Gordon this Tuesday, and there’s a whole lot of cake-eating going on in the HMS shop this week. No word on whether this is Chad’s real birthday, or he’s just stretching the rules to get an extra cake …

See you at the Glen!

Contact Tom Bowles

NASCAR NEWS, RIGHT TO YOUR INBOXAND IT’S FREE.
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:
Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
Tech Talk with Tony Gibson: Taking Stock Of Danica Patrick In Year Two
Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
Going By the Numbers: Top-10 NASCAR Variety Hard To Come By In…
Truckin’ Thursdays: Lessons Learned Just Two Races In
Fantasy Insider: Team Revelations For NASCAR’s Short Tracks

FREE NEWSLETTER! CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP

 

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

SB
08/05/2009 06:34 AM
permalink

Stupidly penalizing Stremme and Gordon 5 laps simply pointed out the LACK of a penalty for Denny Hamlin for wrecking 2 innocent bystanders. And Nascar wonders why people say they selectively enofrce the ‘rules’?

john
08/05/2009 07:33 AM
permalink

James Finch is retarded.

Sharon J
08/05/2009 07:37 AM
permalink

I don’t give much credit to winning when the driver needs to wreck 2 cars to get that win.

Oldsmo-Bill
08/05/2009 07:44 AM
permalink

C’mon, you guys! A penalty for Hamlin? Get real! Penalties are for the little guys – the big (money) boys get…are you ready for this?…PROBATION! Mark my words: if any of the chasers gets out of line after Richmond, you’ll start seeing that particular word thrown around mercilessly. (That is, of course, assuming that all 12 of the chasers are of the NA$CAR-approved status)

marshall
08/05/2009 08:32 AM
permalink

5 lap penalty ? Not too hard to figure out . Johnson was already three laps down , Nascar found an easy way to help him leap frog over two other cars by making them 5 laps down .

KenKars
08/05/2009 09:35 AM
permalink

I have never been a Mike Bliss fan, but it seems like every time he has not been caught up in somebody else’s wreck this season he has had a very good finish. Don’t know what Finch is thinking in dumping him.

greg
08/05/2009 10:29 AM
permalink

Denny Hamlin is a horribly pathetic wreckless crybaby…this is nothing new! Yet he’s given the win, just cuz nascrap thinks it makes a good story. Idiots!

JIM
08/05/2009 12:16 PM
permalink

Reutiman should wait till chase to get even

Doug Scholl
08/05/2009 01:27 PM
permalink

Does Denny Hamlin attend drivers meetings? Has he not been clear on the double file restart rules that a driver must hold his lane until the start finish line? Why does he always get a warning or no action. That whole advancing posistion under the yellow line at Daytona and Talladega just doesn’t apply to that #11. I didn’t know that FED EX was the leading distributor of teflon products too.

Oldie
08/05/2009 01:59 PM
permalink

“No word on whether this is Chad’s real birthday, or he’s just stretching the rules to get an extra cake …”

LOL. Of course he’s with the Hendrick team so he can get away with it.

Oldie
08/05/2009 02:02 PM
permalink

“Reutiman should wait till chase to get even”

I wish drivers did this to Jimmie….he has a habbit of knocking people out of the way for the win…just like Dale used to do.

He admitted it in an interview this week.

Linda
08/05/2009 03:03 PM
permalink

Oldie name Jimmie’s wins that he has moved someone to get. You’re showing your ignorance.

Tim S.
08/05/2009 09:32 PM
permalink

Finch has released drivers before (Johnny Benson several years ago) for no good reason so no one should be surprised. Maybe the Cup win went to his head.

John Trussell
08/05/2009 10:12 PM
permalink

Is it a coincidence that Kahne is running better than his teammates in the last month or so — when he has the new Dodge engine and they don’t?

(Yes, I realize he was already having a better season than the other three, but the gap seems to have widened recently. It’s a fair question to ask, I think.)

 

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.