The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Blown Call, Its New Short Track King, And Time To Kahne And Disable by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday October 20, 2010

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Did You Notice? … Brian Scott’s mystery lugnut penalty wasn’t the only scoring call NASCAR blew this weekend? Watch closely this replay of the Marcos Ambrose spin at Charlotte by going to the 3:07 mark of this clip, a crash which caused the caution flag on Lap 204. What you’ll find is that when the No. 47 car went around, he was put one lap down by Jimmie Johnson right before the yellow lights came on, putting him first in line to receive the “Lucky Dog” pass and get back on the lead lap. Of course, under the rules he would be branded ineligible, as the NASCAR rulebook states the driver that causes the caution is not eligible to receive the “Lucky Dog” pass during that yellow. If officiated correctly, that would have left this “free pass” unused and forced all drivers one lap down to use the wave-around rule in an attempt to work their way back onto the lead lap.

The way NASCAR has been officiating these races, who knows? A second straight wreck for Ambrose at Martinsville the Fall could lead to yet another missed call that changes the shape of the Chase.

Sounds pretty cut and dry, right? Except when you get to the part where NASCAR awarded Gordon the Lucky Dog instead, a move that left even ABC’s Allen Bestwick a bit surprised as a Steve Letarte radio transmission kept him from even spitting out the controversy before a decision was made. That left the No. 24 back on the lead lap, able to go down pit road and get fresh tires while the rest of the cars behind him had to stay out and use the wave-around rule to earn the same privilege. It’s a big advantage, one that could have protected him over a long green-flag run if the other wave-around cars were forced to pit for fuel and tires.

Turns out the mistake had little to no bearing on the final results, as Gordon never had the speed in his DuPont Chevrolet and wound up 23rd, one lap off the pace after an additional pit road speeding penalty under green. A Lap 240 caution also ensured that both the Lucky Dog recipient and the wave-around cars were able to earn their lap back before the latter were forced to pit under green, virtually negating any such advantage Gordon could have gained. But considering his teammate pulled one of the best Chase comebacks of all-time, the right adjustments from Letarte in Gordon’s favor could have easily meant a difference of 40, 50, 60 free points in the final results if the fresh rubber paid off. And no matter what, to blow a call like that concerning a Chase driver, however close it may be during the race is a bit surprising.

Did You Notice? … Who the new short track king of NASCAR is? Heading into this weekend’s race at Martinsville, I realized we haven’t really had an answer to that since Rusty Wallace retired in 2005. Certain drivers have had their moments, including the Busch brothers, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and even Carl Edwards but no one driver has laid claim across the board as champion of the bullrings.

So let’s have some fun with numbers and figure it out. For this year, at least, Kyle Busch appears to be king. Here’s a look at the top-10 point scorers through five events at Richmond, Bristol, and Martinsville:

1) Kyle Busch 795 – 2 wins, 3 top 5s, 4 top 10s, 508 laps led.
2) Jeff Gordon 728 – 2 top 5s, 2 top 10s, 238 laps led.
3) Carl Edwards 718 – 1 top 5, 4 top 10s, 97 laps led.
4) Ryan Newman 702 – 1 top 5, 3 top 10s.
5) Jimmie Johnson 695 – 1 win, 2 top 5s, 4 top 10s, 266 laps led.
6) Denny Hamlin 687 – 2 wins, 2 top 5s, 2 top 10s, 423 laps led.
7) Jeff Burton 651 – 1 top 5, 2 top 10s, 162 laps led.
8) Matt Kenseth 643 – 1 top 5, 2 top 10s.
9) Martin Truex, Jr. 642 – 1 top 5, 2 top 10s, 1 lap led.
10) Joey Logano 641 – 2 top 5s, 2 top 10s, 2 laps led.

It’s hard to believe a man who once dominated the short track circuit like Jeff Gordon did hasn’t won on the bullrings since Martinsville in October of 2005.

While Gordon comes in a strong second, the wins are split up between Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin, collecting 10 of this year’s 50 top-10 finishes at those tracks for themselves. Around them, note that Chasers take up seven of the top-10 spots in total, with some conspicuous absences on the list: third-place Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, who began his career with a Bristol victory but has always seemed to struggle on all other short track configurations. RCR’s overall struggles at these places is a mild surprise (Jeff Burton is the only one to crack the top-10 in eighth) as short tracks used to be their bread and butter during their first resurgence into the Chase in 2006-08. So much for Harvick mounting a comeback this weekend, even though he did win the pole and lead 57 laps at Martinsville in the spring before mechanical problems led to an early exit.

So should the recent battle of the bullrings be giftwrapped to the younger Busch? Moving on, let’s take a look at who’s scored the 29 short track victories on the circuit since Rusty Wallace officially retired in November, 2005:

Jimmie Johnson – 9
Kyle Busch – 6
Denny Hamlin – 5
Carl Edwards – 2
Jeff Burton – 1
Clint Bowyer – 1
Kevin Harvick – 1
Matt Kenseth – 1
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 1
Tony Stewart – 1
Kurt Busch – 1

Turns out four straight titles aren’t the only way the No. 48 has dominated the last few years. While Busch and Hamlin have closed the gap, Johnson still maintains a fairly healthy lead in the win column heading into the season finale. It’s an impressive statistic, made even more so by the fact Johnson had never won at Bristol until a shocking, come-from-behind victory in March of this year.

What’s most intriguing, though, is a Hendrick name not on the list. Can you figure it out? That’s right; Jeff Gordon, who’s collected 15 of his 82 career wins on short tracks but none since Martinsville in the Fall of 2005 – five years ago this weekend. How far the former leader has fallen, relinquishing another crown to the newfound head of the Hendrick household who continues to dominate the series in just about every category, even the obscure ones you don’t expect.

So yes, Jimmie Johnson is your new short track king. Now, it’s Hamlin or Busch’s job to try and steal it.

Did You Notice? … Kasey Kahne’s Saturday night sneakaway has been well-documented by fellow writer Bryan Davis Keith this week, his refusal to man the wreckage of the No. 9 car symptomatic of the wreckage that serves as his season. But the part that really gets me about this whole situation is that 12 hours after being “sick to his stomach,” the 30-year-old turned around and had the guts to go out and run a 5k!

It’s a baby marathon the likes of which Kahne didn’t have to run; he could have easily kept the lie going, feigned sickness and used the opportunity to still vent about the RPM team that’s revving up his desire to leave Ford forever – already his least favorite manufacturer after a previous dispute to drive for owner Ray Evernham ended up in court. Instead, the 30-year-old pulled the ugly equivalent of shoving the lie in RPM’s face, going from stomach virus to 3-mile run in the matter of a “good night’s sleep.” Seriously?! Who does he think he’s fooling! That’s like calling in sick on speaker phone, in the middle of a sports bar with your buddies screaming around you on a Sunday afternoon. No wonder why the usually mild-mannered Robbie Loomis, RPM VP, came out and took some potshots right back at his driver through SceneDaily’s Bob Pockrass.

Kasey Kahne’s disappearance from his car and team on Saturday night in Charlotte left Richard Petty Motorsports’ VP Robbie Loomis fired up and ticked off at his exiting star driver.

My big complaint here for Kahne is why he bothered to hide the truth. Why not just say, “I didn’t drive that car because I don’t want to be a part of this team anymore!” Instead, he compounded the lie, disguising some of his criticisms by saying he didn’t feel well, even though another team member came up to him and demanded the driver “do his part.”

“I wasn’t 100 percent,” he said of the run for the Kasey Kahne Foundation. Mmm-hmm. Are we sure he didn’t experience a helmet-to-helmet hit on the NFL sideline Sunday? I just don’t understand why everyone demeans NASCAR fans and garage observers with statements that insinuate we’re all stupid.

In a NASCAR world where lies build up the foundation of failure, I’d have at least kept some of my respect for Kahne if he told the truth. Now, I think he’s doubly in the wrong for being passive-aggressive on the issue and walking away from a team that he’s still employed by and receiving checks between now and November. Certainly, the late-season conditions for either side haven’t been ideal. But you don’t see pending free agents in any sports just stop showing up for the last month of the season — well, at least those that are looked at as team players, anyway.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before I take off…

- I reviewed the Tim Richmond documentary at length over at Athlon Sports, so I’m not going to spout off much more other than one more thing that sticks out in my head after watching it multiple times: the chilling Bill France, Jr. clip taken in his office back in 2006. Even while a frail, aging man battling cancer, the way in which he described Richmond’s failed drug test came with the kind of cunning, sharp-edged explanation that you knew immediately two things:

A) He was skirting the truth
B) This man was a heck of a dictator in his day

Once again, I thought the documentary was excellent, a well-rounded look of a man on the rise whose career took a tragic turn.

- One more thing on Kahne: Here’s what I would do if I were Red Bull Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports. First off, with Reed Sorenson just filling a seat in the No. 83 for the next four weeks it would be great for Kahne to get a head start on 2011. At this point, the vicious verbal sparring that’s gone on can’t be good for anyone involved, and while Budweiser likely won’t be happy if a change is made why should RPM cater to them – they’re leaving in November, too.

Both sides are better off to part ways, with Kahne going to the No. 9 car and – get this one – Trevor Bayne filling his seat for the last four weeks. Roush was already considering throwing him in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford in Texas, and after a stellar Nationwide Series second half the kid deserves a shot to dabble in Cup and see how he does. Who knows, with RPM searching for sponsorship for a third car maybe a couple of surprising, solid runs gives us a company looking to back him, putting a much-needed new face in front of the 2011 Sprint Cup Rookie Class that to this point has been absolutely invisible.

Will it happen? Probably not. But should a change be made at the No. 9 car? Absolutely.

- You’d have to think Kyle Busch will end up fined for his unprovoked “mouse went across the track” comment, re: fake Charlotte debris. After all, teammate Denny Hamlin said something far less controversial and ended up $50,000 in the hole. The bigger issue is how, if, and when we’ll see any of these secret fines pop up as a matter of public record again. Recent meetings over the summer and fall appear to be carrying the same “Rally The Troops, Keep Everyone In Line” message we saw a couple of years ago, where the ever-changing philosophy from NASCAR headquarters is to deny everything, pretend it’s all fine and let the writers be the one to criticize and investigate without acknowledging fault. After all, according to Brian France this weekend, NASCAR racing is “phenomenal” despite the recent TV ratings dip.

- Speaking of the ratings dip, it’s notable that there was only a nine percent drop in Charlotte ratings, from 3.5 to 3.2 in the only race of the Chase that was aired on ABC. Some will point to the switch from ESPN as the reason, but I’m not buying it. Keep in mind the ugly, Monday Night Football game between Jacksonville and Tennessee outrated even the Major League Baseball playoffs last night, the latest sign in how big of a monster the NFL is becoming over anyone else. Pure speculation on my part, but I think a bunch of newly-minted NASCAR-turned-NFL fans were home on a Saturday night, browsed the channels and felt like they’d take in the Chase, see how it was going nearly halfway through without another major sport they loved to distract them.

- When in doubt of what to think for this upcoming election, I think there’s one thing we can all agree on. The Rent Is too Damn High.
Can someone please get this man to put his name on the side of a race car? Just the radio and TV announcers trying to describe it would make it worth every dime that man ever spent.

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Contact Tom Bowles

Wednesday on the Frontstretch:
Mirror Driving: Non-Chase Rewards, France Fantasies, And Faking The Truth
How Jamie McMurray Has Single-Handedly Invalidated the Chase
Beyond The Cockpit: A.J. Allmendinger on Consistency, 2011 Daytona 500, More
Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Top 15 Through Charlotte-2
Top 10 Reasons Kasey Kahne Left the Track Early on Saturday Night
The Frontstretch Foto Funnies – Charlotte, October 2010

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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10/20/2010 02:39 AM

Not a word about RPM putting Kahne in cars that are consistently having brake failures. You didn’t even bother to notice that the RPM cars have had brake failures and issues multiple times during this season. At some point somebody needs to man up and tell the “King” to quit putting cheap-ass parts onto and into his cars. Having no brakes can quickly become a dangerous situation, even deadly. And just because the COT has proven to be a safer chassis, that is no reason for RPM, Robbie Loomis, or anybody else to say, “suck-it up, boy, brian france did his job so we don’t have to.”
Am I confused, or wasn’t it also you, Thom, that last week couldn’t tell the difference between being an assosciate sponsor, and not being on the car at all?
At this rate, your credibility rating will be in the negative numbers. And just to be fair, your failure to report the truth fairly this week and last is just as deceptive as Kahne’s being too sick to drive, and running a 5k the next day. What was that you said about lies?

10/20/2010 02:44 AM

That Brian France quote is wrong. What he really said was…. “My hair is phenomenal.”

10/20/2010 05:56 AM

Kasey may have been sick or not, but I have seen kids sick as a dog the day before the STATE track meet go out and get a personal best even metal,so it is not impossible.

Carl D.
10/20/2010 07:14 AM


If the problem was the brakes on the car, then Thom makes a valid point… Kahne should have said it was the brakes on the car instead of lying about why he refused to do the job he’s paid to do. I also agree that it’s time for Kahne to go; there’s nothing to be gained on either side by Kahne finishing the season in the #9 car.

One last point…

“At some point somebody needs to man up and tell the “King” to quit putting cheap-ass parts onto and into his cars.”
The King isn’t the primary owner of the team anymore and he doesn’t run it either. He’s basically a spokesman and a figurehead. Since you are such a stickler for accuracy, I felt you’d appreciate the correction.

Stephen HOOD
10/20/2010 07:20 AM

Kahne may be lying but he could be telling the truth. Running a few miles the night after throwing up is not uncommon. I’ve had stomach bugs that gave me 4-6 hours of terror, and after they ran their course, I was good to go. I’ve done a full days of work a lot more strenuous than running a 3K-5K after a night of hugging the toilet. I think you are overstating your case.

Ghost of Curtis Turner
10/20/2010 08:24 AM

Ok it’s simple: there is no way on God’s green earth that KK would be in the 9 this Sunday if I were running RPM.
Either that or KK and the 9 car would go out to quailfy with 4 flats and down 2 cylinders.
If he doesn’t like the car, tough do your job and drive the freaking car you over paid prima donna. I wish I was racing so I could make the money these guys make to go out and drive around while reading the NASCAR Script of the week.
What a bunch of horse crap.
Maybe if KK was in the real world and had a real job he would no what it’s like to have to work to get paid.

10/20/2010 09:25 AM

Carl D:
I am aware that Petty is only a figurehead at the company, but he sold his namesake to them. And if Saturday night’s crash had happened differently and Kahne (or someone else) had been seriously injured, or killed, we would be hearing all kinds of crap out of the “figurehead” about the darkest days since 2000.
But you are correct that I could have been more correct about the teams ownership, if only it hadn’t been sold so many times in the past 5 years, I might actually know who is the boss around there.

Certainly, the late season conditions haven’t been ideal for either side. I stand by my statement that that doesn’t do justice to the concept of being put into a car that can potentially kill, or grievously injure the driver, a crew member, and official, or a fan.

I just want Thom to tell the entire story, rather than give the skewed one-sided versions that have been handed out the past couple of weeks. I used to think that he was the most knowledgeable, and fair minded writer at the site, but I am being forced to rethink that attitude.

10/20/2010 09:34 AM

Can we get a key or guide to Jacob’s writing to determine the difference between words written in bold and those written in italics and then the mind-blowing combo of bold and italics. I just want to make sure I hear his enthralling posts in my head correctly. I would hate to misinterpret them.

Joe Mirone
10/20/2010 10:06 AM

You Can Say what you want about Kahne but fact is he has been getting the shaft from RPM. He has been taking back seat to Allmendinger and Menard since he signed his this contract. RPM hasn’t done a damn thing to help this kid but that’s ok. Now he’s giving back. Paybacks a bitch isn’t it? I’m not a Hendricks fan by no means,but at least he will have a GOOD car to drive.

10/20/2010 10:39 AM

Jacob has got a point, no mention in this article of the brake failure which I have seen reported on many other sites. The omission of this fact does give an entirely different slant to the article.

10/20/2010 10:52 AM

I believe that Kahne doesn’t like finishing behind Allmendinger and Menard, so he looked for an easy out. I’m sure the “KING” had to drive cars a time or two with bad brakes and probable won in them.

Carl D.
10/20/2010 10:56 AM

If I had a guy like Allmendinger who signed a contract and committed to be the future face of the team, and a guy like Kahne who has already signed to drive for someone else, I’d give ‘Dinger the good stuff too. Not dangerous stuff, but certainly not pick of the equipment and personnel.

10/20/2010 11:22 AM

All of this verbal diatribe is just COMICAL!
From the beginning of the article to Carl D’s comment.
What a SOPA OPERA… should be on daily!!

Managing Editor
10/20/2010 01:31 PM


You guys make me scratch my head sometimes. I’m surprised so many are coming after me for being “biased” and “refusing to disclose brake failure on the car” when the first thing I said in this article was the following…

Kasey Kahne’s Saturday night sneakaway has been well-documented by fellow writer Bryan Davis Keith this week, his refusal to man the wreckage of the No. 9 car symptomatic of the wreckage that serves as his season.

Included in that sentence is a link to Bryan’s article for those who didn’t already know about those brake issues. Five days after that big a story, I’m just adding my two cents and not re-reporting the initial incident for fans as if you don’t know what happened by now, you’re living under a rock. AND, if for some reason you didn’t know, that’s what the other link is there for :)

Hope that helps clarify things. For me, my point was directed towards the way Kahne handled things afterwards, brake failure or no. He woke up and ran a 5K not even 12 hours after he claimed he was “too sick to continue.” That’s rubbing a lie in somebody’s face, in my opinion, no matter what brakes failed on the car.

Doug in eastern NC
10/20/2010 03:26 PM

Well if KK doesn’t like finishing behind Paul M. and the Dinger, He won’t like finishing behind JJ
or Gordon either. Notice i didn’t mention Junior.

phil h
10/20/2010 04:06 PM

KK should take his boyfriend and head back to Sprint Car Series

10/20/2010 10:49 PM

The king has nothing to do with this operation other than lending his face and name to the operation , if he did have a real stake it would have still been called Petty Enerprises , George Gillette and his Kid are pulling the strings so to blame the King is a joke , also If the King ran the show Kyle would have some kid of job at RPM .

Old farmer
10/21/2010 02:10 AM

Hey, Pete:

I agree w/ what you say, but runners win MEDALS, not metals.

Get it right & your ideas will look much more credible.


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
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