TweetDid You Notice? ... NASCAR's Blown Call, Its New Short Track King, And Time To Kahne And Disable
Thomas Bowles · Wednesday October 20, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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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