The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Reut Gone Wild, NASCAR Legacies, And Saving The Summer by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday July 14, 2010

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Did You Notice? … How much has been made of David Reutimann’s upset win at Chicagoland Saturday night? From television to the tiniest column on the web, I can’t get away from it. Entire columns and segments of shows are now being devoted to whether he’ll make the Chase, as if the man has turned into some sort of potential superstar overnight.

Um … huh? Since when did LeBron James turn pasty, white, and 40? I will say Reutimann is one of the nicest, most genuine people to walk the NASCAR garage. Talent-wise, he’s been underrated in both performance and potential for years. But let’s not get carried away here by one little victory, as impressive as it may be. Last time I checked, viewership at Chicagoland was down by over 200,000 people.

Come regain perspective for a minute. This shocking upset – as lovable as Reutimann is in that insular garage world – isn’t big enough to make fans outside it suddenly pay attention and turn on the TV.

It’s all part of the problem when a sport goes downhill; every positive moment gets immediately overblown. I’m happy for the guy, sure, but I’m not going to write he’s a title contender. I think even Reutimann himself, more of a Steve Urkel type (his nickname is “Beak”), will tell you he’s far from being NASCAR’s future star. On the marketing front, Jimmie Johnson would run circles around the guy, and that’s saying something. If the No. 00 went out now and won three or four races in a row, you can’t sit here and tell me he’ll ignite a media frenzy – especially with the sport’s biggest sponsor shill as his puppeteer.

While all eyes seemed to be on David Reutimann’s surprise win at Chicago, Austin Dillon’s dominant performance at Iowa may prove to have deeper repercussions for the sport.

For me, the bigger victory was one seemingly swept under the rug. In just his 12th Camping World Truck Series start, Austin Dillon destroyed the field at Iowa, leading 187 of 205 laps to score the win as a rookie. Driving that No. 3 carries with it heightened expectations, along with an automatic fan base forever connected through the ghost of the Intimidator. After telling me this week he’s choosing to stick around the series another year in 2011, running full-time with the goal of winning a title, we suddenly might have a case of driver development done the right way.

Unfortunately, that means he’s probably two, maybe three years from making an impact in Sprint Cup. Does that mean Reutimann has the greater upward potential here? I still don’t think so. Instead, I’d put my eggs inside the basket of the guy who’s backed by a legendary car owner and what the girls say are Kasey Kahne-style looks.

Wouldn’t you?

Did You Notice?… Speaking of Dillon, the next wave of potential success stories in NASCAR have a familiar “legacy” ring to it? Dillon, of course, is Richard Childress’ grandson, and his brother, Ty, won the pole and ran second in his ARCA debut. Ryan Truex, Jr., reigning K&N East Series champion, is making his first Nationwide start this weekend but also doubles as Martin’s brother. Just yesterday, Dale Sr.’s grandson Jeffrey announced a partnership with Rick Ware Racing for Gateway, slipping behind the wheel of the No. 6 Chevrolet for Friday night’s Truck race.

Dillon was asked on Monday whether he thinks he’d have the same favorable circumstances without the famous Childress connection, one of those “duh” questions he deftly turned into a politically correct response.

“I think there’s always a shot of making it to the top,” he said. “I have a good opportunity, and I’ve tried to take as much advantage of it as I can.”

I beg to differ, although you certainly can’t blame Dillon for the current state of the sport. Sponsorship-wise, legacies are easy sells because of the connections already in place, and honestly they’re nothing new. From the Flocks to the Bodines, families have always tried to tackle this sport together; and with a win under Dillon’s belt, it’s not like he’s taking that seat away from somebody who’s more deserving.

It’s just now, the environment is so tough that the famous last name seemingly provides one of only three ways for talented drivers to achieve upward mobility. The others: have a rich dad (Brian Scott, John Wes Townley, Justin Lofton, or James Buescher – in this case, father-in-law) or be a marketing genius (Kevin Conway, Jennifer Jo Cobb). Pure talent alone doesn’t get you anywhere, even if you’re finishing inside the top 10. Only Justin Allgaier survives as an exception to that rule … and that’s after years of running ARCA with a family-owned operation.

NASCAR has tried to buck the trend; in a way, their Drive For Diversity program, whose selections are talent-based, is a good start. But the second those drivers achieve success, they’re looking for money to keep them going to the next level. And right now, that money is reserved for those who already have it – or know how to partner with it. There’s no room for others.

Did You Notice?… That during one of the slowest sports months on the calendar, NASCAR takes a step back with a week off? Considering NFL training camps are just weeks away from taking center stage, it’s a crucial time for them to steal some thunder. Instead, they go on vacation, then travel to Indy – in recent years more sizzle than steak, followed by Pocono and Watkins Glen before the NFL preseason starts up on August 8th. Of course, this all comes after NASCAR played their “ace card” during another slow sports weekend last Saturday with … Chicagoland?

Considering the radical realignment of the schedule I think is coming soon, now would be a good time to address those concerns. If you admit NASCAR is entering a rebuilding mode, one way in which you showcase your product is waving the white flag, acknowledging you’re behind the NFL, NBA, etc. and putting your best foot forward during times where fans won’t be distracted by something else. You know what I’d do? Take the Bristol night race and have it swap dates with Chicagoland, giving the sport a guaranteed chance to shine in July without a single conflict. While we’re at it, why not do a whole “short track summer” swing by putting Bristol, Martinsville, and Richmond all in a row?

I’d also give tracks with the best competition some love. Gone would be second dates at sleep-inducing ovals like Phoenix and Fontana, replaced with a second Darlington and a race out at Iowa. I’m realistic in that Rockingham and North Wilkesboro will never return, but let’s work with what we have to create the best product possible while working on these cars so it’s easier to pass, beating and banging in the process without cutting down a tire or losing ten miles an hour down the straightaway.

It’s easier said than done, a “back to basics” routine that could also include dropping the Chase and going back to the point system that wasn’t perfect, but worked pretty darn good. I find it very intriguing Darlington doesn’t have its schedule renewal forms yet. Could NASCAR maybe, just maybe, be thinking of putting the 500-mile race on Labor Day weekend again next year? Hope springs eternal.

Did You Notice? … Some quick hits before I take off…

- So Dario Franchitti says Danica Patrick is making a mistake by trying to drive in both IndyCar and Cup. Really? I hadn’t noticed anything wrong.

- I’ve never seen more of a television commotion over nothing. Rusty Wallace calls Kyle Busch a dumbass? Isn’t that what 80 percent of the fan base says just about every week in the stands? It’s not like Rusty mouthed off after Kyle said, “I like kittens, bunnies, and little baby seals.” The guy was publicly calling out fans for booing him! Rusty should have kept his mouth shut, sure, but he’s apologized now, leaving the whole thing wildly overblown. Call me when a reporter smokes pot or something … oh wait …

- Last year, I looked at what Bill Elliott was doing with the Wood Brothers and felt great about the direction everyone was headed. Now? I just feel sad. Funny how quickly things can change.

- Joe Nemechek and Michael McDowell have 30 Cup starts this season, and 30 DNFs. Sickening.

- So IndyCar’s announcing a new chassis today, one that has innovation and creativity as its central focus. I’m hoping someone from NASCAR’s there taking notes.

- A few years from now, Mark Martin may look back on this season and say he lost a shot at a championship because of two people: his Most Popular Teammate who needed a little extra help, and his More Marketable Replacement whose hiring has caused more distractions then when he retired the first or second time. But when he and Benny Ertel cry reporting foul, as much as I feel for them, I’m also reminded of how many times he’s changed his mind in public. How many times did Martin do an about face with his future a few years back? I’m just sayin’.

- 17 years ago yesterday, we lost one of the sport’s rising stars in Davey Allison. Just 12 years old then, I remember crying like a baby through an ESPN tribute, then weeping again during the Garth Brooks one after the CBS race at Talladega two weeks later. No question, if he was still here Dale Earnhardt would not have seven championships, and Allison would probably have two or three. Matt McLaughlin’s column still gives me chills whenever I read it, a beautiful summary of a man whose life met a tragic end far too soon.

Contact Tom Bowles

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
NASCAR Mailbox: A ‘Normal’ Saturday And A Valuable Lesson
Beyond the Cockpit: Tony ‘The Sarge’ Schumacher
Open Wheel Wednesday: Controversial Moves, Long Beach Crowds, and Being a Fuddy Duddy
The Frontstretch Five: Pleasant Surprises of 2014 So Far
IndyCar Driver Profile: Takuma Sato
Beyond the Cockpit: Tommy Baldwin on Owning His Team, Hall of Fame and the Number Seven


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Keeping it REAL
07/14/2010 02:29 AM

We can speculate all we want, but I for one am very doubtful Davey could have taken any of Dales, or subsequently Jeffs, titles from them. Let’s face facts. Dale was winning championships handily while racing Davey. Dale had an off year in 1992, then came back and won two more with amazing consistency (something Davey never showed). Then Jeff took over with a combination of consistency and big numbers in the win column. I loved Davey, and still deeply admire the man. However, from a talent and team perspective, he was not on the same level as Dale or Jeff. Sorry, but Davey came at the wrong time and his best shot was 1992 when Swervin took his title away. 93 and 94 were Dale’s no matter what, and 95 on was Jeff and Hendrick (with Terry in there at 96 with sickening consistency).

Further (and I know this will get Matt’s blood boiling), but same goes w/ Tim Richmond. Tim was the mid/late 80s version of Kyle Busch. Immensely talented, but too roughshod to put it together over a WHOLE season and win a title. Tim, had he stayed healthy, would have retired title-less but with a lot of wins.

Now, if Davey or Tim were in a Chase system, the whole field is screwed. They could go on some blistering hot streaks and buried the field. But over a 36 (or 29-31 like back then) race schedule, they were not title guys, they were race winners, and there is no shame in that either.

07/14/2010 08:56 AM

Tom——that statement about Waltrip being a shilling-puppeteer is so true. I guess you must be remembering those terrible ads done for Aaron’s Rent-To-Own a couple of years ago. It was always either JAWS or POS running their mouths, while “Beak” just set their bobbing his head with some goofy look on his face.

You nailed it, perfectly.

south jersey girl
07/14/2010 10:08 AM

not to defend Rusty, but who among us hasn’t called Kyle a dumbass, or worse ;)

07/14/2010 11:15 AM

It might help your sagging credibility if you could at least manage to spell peoples’ names correctly . It’s Benny Ertel .

07/14/2010 01:49 PM

I was happy for the 00 and David but feel he was lucky in some respects. He had a fast car, was leading and deserved that also, but lucky in the fact that there was no usual late race caution that most certainly would have cost him the win. I am tiring of those late debris cautions and Fri. nite I wasn’t rooting for Logano, but I had his same reaction when the caution flag fell. Imagine That, a late race caution that almost always screws the leader. So with that I say the 00 was lucky enough not to get one. I don’t know about you, but I was expecting one as the laps wore down.I also think a sponsor schilling puppeteer is right on the money, I was so happy he wasn’t there Sat to hog the cameras away from the driver and the team.

07/14/2010 02:30 PM

I will always believe there was no late “debris” caution because Johnson couldn’t use it. But I was still waiting for it as a way to mess up Edwards.

07/14/2010 03:37 PM

Ditto on your thoughts about Bill and the WB. They need to figure this new spoiler out (of course, that could be said of ALL the Ford teams).

Thanks for mentioning Davey, too, and how he definitely would’ve had a championship under his belt. I don’t guess younger people realize how talented he was. It’s too bad Robert Yates Racing, as it existed back then, is gone, too.

Doug In Washington (State)
07/14/2010 04:00 PM

Anyone who wins that isn’t a member of Hendrick, Gibbs, Penske, or Childress’s camps is going to get significant airtime. It doesn’t happen often.

As for Austin Dillon, sure, nice to see him get his first win, but if he can’t win with Cup-caliber equipment in the CWTS, there would be something wrong with him.

07/14/2010 10:46 PM

Tom, as usual, I disagree with just about everything you wrote. David Reutimann’s victory was great because he is an underdog. That’s why the NCAA fans look for a Cinderella team every year in basketball. Reut’s vitory was not over-hyped and does not indicate NASCAR is in decline, although you certainly want it to be.

Second, I disagree about the championships Davey Allison would supposedly have taken from DE Sr. The “death factor” rears its ugly head again, making people remember dead race drivers, pop singers, and presidents as better than they were. You have NO IDEA if Davey would ever have won a championship. Ditto Tim Richmond. Ditto on a second championship for Alan Kulwicki.

Finally, Rusty Wallace is supposed to be a professional broadcaster (in the sense that he is paid, not in the sense that he is qualified.) He had no business calling Kyle a dumbass, especially since Rusty was a dumbass himself his entire career and received plenty of well-deserved boos from the crowd many times himself.

Why don’t you review a sport you actually have an interest in? This site seems to be dedicated to whiners only.

Chris in TX
07/14/2010 11:41 PM

Susan, not to seem argumentative, but wouldn’t Rusty being a dumbass his entire career make him extremely qualified to judge Kyle’s dumbassery? Rusty is definitely a subject matter expert.

I think that one of the issues that Nascar (and most pro sports) have to deal with is the whitewashing/PC-ification of everything. I want the broadcasters to call it like they see it. One of the things I dislike the most about the coverage is the canned, neutral, soft responses to everything.

I love that Kurt Busch is incapable of sounding polished and professional in an interview. And that Montoya will call his teammate incompetent when he’s angry, that Jimmie is making Jeff “pissed off”, and that Rusty thinks kyle’s being a dumbass…bring it on.

07/15/2010 11:29 AM

Chris, I believe there is a world of difference between what the competitors say in the heat of the moment and what the “professional” broadcasters say. I am not going to get into a hissy fit over a driver who calls another driver a dumbass – or even says he is gonna kill him, because being emotional is part of what makes them competitors.

However, the announcers know very well that there is a line they cannot cross in criticizing a driver. An NFL announcer may say “the QB made a bad decision to throw that interception.” He may NOT say, “Joe QB is a dumbass.”

If NASCAR wants to be recognized as a legitimate sport, then its hand-picked announcers need to stick to criticzing behavior and not get into the dirt with personal insults.

You may call it “PC;” I call it simple respect and professional conduct.

As far as Rusty being a dumbass himself, he might well have commented, “I have been booed by the fans myself, I know what Kyle is going through, but many of the fans will only embrace him when he shows more maturity and good sportsmanship. And even then, there will be those who don’t like him. He should learn to deal with it better.”

07/16/2010 11:29 AM

I guess you all didn’t notice that the comment was supposed to be off the air but they hadn’t turned his mike off.


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

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