The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Fixing The Points... Already, Daytona Means No Chase, And Stewart's Shocking Defeat by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday February 23, 2011

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Did You Notice? … That in the midst of simplifying the point system, NASCAR’s three championship leaders in the three major series didn’t win the first race of the year? Let’s review:

Cup points leader – Carl Edwards, 42 (second place in the Daytona 500)
Nationwide – Landon Cassill, 41 (third place in the Drive4COPD 300)
Trucks – Clay Rogers, 42 (third place in the NextEra Energy Resources 250)

Here’s the best part of all that; both Edwards and Cassill reached the top of the charts without leading a single lap of the race. And this system is supposed to promote winning? Huh?

Of course, the simple (or maybe not so simple) explanation to all this mess is that the winners from each series – Trevor Bayne, Tony Stewart and Michael Waltrip, respectively – were ineligible to receive points in the division where they won the race. OK, go ahead and read that twice. You got it? Good. Now tell me if the “44 – x” equation to figure out how many points your driver scored plus this whole newfangled madness is something you can explain to a casual fan in five minutes.

But I digress; we’re stuck with what we have, which means it’s time to think up solutions so this type of situation doesn’t happen again. And, while we’re at it, let’s remember the way to fix this problem is not as simple as letting someone like Trevor Bayne score an unlimited number of points in both series.

Here’s a history lesson for you: an unexpected rookie getting a full-time Cup opportunity, just like what we could be dealing with now is how the mess of Cup drivers dominating the Nationwide Series championship came about in the first place. When Kevin Harvick was tabbed to replace the late Dale Earnhardt in 2001, owner Richard Childress decided it would be best for the youngster to keep his full-time Nationwide (then Busch) Series schedule on the side to gain more experience. Well, Harvick wound up ninth in Cup points – despite missing a race – won the Nationwide/Busch title going away and a decade of double-dipping dominance was born.

It’s all enough to make your head spin, a difficult position for NASCAR to be in with the points just one month after trying to reform the system. But honestly? After thinking about it, the answer isn’t hard to come by. What if you still have drivers check a box on their NASCAR license for what series they want to score points in full-time, while imposing a 20-race limit on all other divisions where they’d like to compete?

Here’s an example: If Trevor Bayne selects the “Nationwide” Series as his points-scoring division, that’s great, and he competes for the full-time championship over there. But if he wants to compete in Cup and Trucks, he can still be scored the same as any other driver as long as he competes in no more than 20 races. Compete in race 21? Sounds good to me, just expect a “zero” in the points column because you made your choice. Hopefully, you’re competing for the title elsewhere…

This solution would fix most problems and confusion in the Bayne situation. If he wanted to keep a limited schedule with the Woods, they could increase it to 20 races, still score points and be eligible for Rookie of the Year (which becomes a joke award, at this point if it gets presented to Andy Lally or Brian Keselowski instead in 2011). At the same time, he gets the additional experience needed in the minors, then contends for the title over there so he won’t be looked at as taking seat time away from development drivers. Bayne becomes more like a AAA baseball player who’s rotating between the major and minor leagues – as he should be.

Under that system, the move also allows part-timers to take the points lead in their series after winning the first race of the year, which eliminates the need for causal fans to scratch their head. But we should make one thing clear under the new rules, once they’re tweaked: no switches. Sprint Cup fans have a hard enough time keeping up with the changes we already have; any type of in-season “swap series at will” precedent set by this Trevor Bayne situation could create some ugly scenarios for down the road.

Ugh. We’re one point into this column and I have a headache. Kudos to NASCAR for “simplifying” things…

Did You Notice? … How most of last year’s Chasers struggled at Daytona? Just three – Carl Edwards (second), Kurt Busch (fifth), and Kyle Busch (eighth) ran inside the top 10 while four left the track with a DNF (Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick). Does that mean there’s about to be a gargantuan power shift in the sport’s top division?

Hardly. Taking a look at Daytona’s top-5 finishers every year since the Chase was created, they’re more likely to miss the Chase than make it.

Judging by the statistics, don’t expect the top-5 finishers from Sunday’s Daytona 500 to be contending for the championship come Chase time.

Here’s a quick rundown:
Daytona 500 Top-5 Finishers Who Made The Chase
2004 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (race winner), Tony Stewart (second), Jimmie Johnson (fifth)
2005 – Kurt Busch (second), Jimmie Johnson (fifth)
2006 – Jimmie Johnson^ (race winner)
2007 – Kevin Harvick (winner), Jeff Burton (third)
2008 – Tony Stewart (third), Kyle Busch (fourth)
2009 – No one made the Chase
2010 – Greg Biffle (third), Clint Bowyer (fourth)
Total: 12 of 35 (34.2%)
^ – won championship

The numbers, as you can see, are startling: only one of the last seven 500 winners has won the championship (Johnson) while only three of seven have made the Chase. And considering Bayne is likely to not even running a full-time schedule, it appears that number will grow to three of eight.

Looking down the rest of this year’s top-5, realistically only Edwards and Busch have a real chance, considering Gilliland and Labonte have combined for exactly zero top-5 finishes in their last two Sprint Cup seasons. So what does this pattern tell us? That Daytona is its own beast, one of four races a year the plates put the underdogs on par with the rich kids. And, as it turns out when they’re on equal footing some of the ‘dogs can do pretty well.

It’s too bad Phoenix will leave them crashing down to earth. Here’s a quick check of the top 10 from last November: Three Roush-Fenway Fords (Carl Edwards won), two Hendrick Chevys, one Richard Childress Chevy, one Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevy, one Stewart-Haas Chevy, one Penske Dodge and one Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Oh, there was parity all right … amongst the teams you always see fighting at the top. At least this time, after one race of seeing them disappear maybe it won’t seem like the “same old, same old” up front.

I hope.

Did You Notice? … The man making all the wrong moves down the stretch at Daytona was Tony Stewart? He’s not quite at Dale Earnhardt, Sr. status, his 0-for-13 Daytona 500 record six off the Intimidator’s notable drought. But with sixteen career victories at this track, second only to Earnhardt, that goose egg is getting harder and harder to explain.

What’s worse, the 2011 finish of this race became the most notable hit-or-miss for him yet. With Mark Martin behind him for the final restart (who’s 0-for-27 himself, by the way), beginning the final two laps in the front row alongside the unproven Bayne you’d have thought this one was Stewart’s race to lose. Looking back at the final two laps today, I noticed Martin just didn’t get going and push Stewart very well, with his No. 5 car damaged from the early incident and not exactly in the best position to push. So circumstances played a role, but still… you’d expect better from him.

While Tony Stewart has won the last four season-opening Nationwide races at Daytona, he is now 0-13 in Sunday’s main event.

I think Stewart’s 500 killing moment actually came a few laps earlier, an ill-timed bump draft of Kurt Busch causing the Regan Smith hit and resulting spinout that set up the first of two green-white-checkered finishes. If it weren’t for that moment, Stewart and Junior were working well together and could have been a force to settle the race amongst them. Instead, they got separated; Junior wrecked on the ensuing restart, and that was that.

Neither Stewart nor Martin spoke after the race, the results left to speak for themselves. So you’re left to simply imagine the frustration, as you wonder how many more chances they’ll both have at this race where luck and circumstance plays such a role.

Did You Notice? … Some quick hits before taking off:

- How must Bill Elliott be feeling this week? Son Chase is aligned with Hendrick Motorsports, so I think he made out pretty good over the long-term. But it had to be hard to see that No. 21 cross the line after leaving the Woods just three months earlier. Was he hoping Ford could have stuck their necks out for him a little further to keep that seat? Or was this win justification that parting with a 55-year-old – albeit a former champion – was the right move, someone whose driving skills had deteriorated to the point the Woods were getting held back?

- I don’t read too much into Daytona, but Toyotas in particular were God awful. Eleven drivers led a total of 12 laps during the 500, only Bobby Labonte cracked the top 5 and shill Michael Waltrip spent his NAPA See My Butt 2011 tour using it to wreck half the field. Team Red Bull failed to lead any laps, both cars got caught up in crashes and Kasey Kahne also endured an engine failure in the Bud Shootout. If anyone needs a bounceback at Phoenix, it’s them.

- Whenever I think of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. these days, all I can think of is Danny Peters’ column from last week. I’m not saying that to self-promote, I swear; I just think he nailed it on the head. Daytona Speedweeks told us nothing about the No. 88, absolutely nothing in my opinion; there were too many emotions and outside factors involved. Phoenix, then Las Vegas will start telling the real story, if only because for the first time all year Junior will come to the racetrack and not have to answer questions about his father.

- For two people that were housed in the same shop last year, wasn’t it a little weird Mark Martin never wanted to work with Junior at Daytona? You’re talking one of the more respected restrictor plate specialists of his era, you’re still on the same team with him and yet all Martin could do all race was pursue A.J. Allmendinger on the radio for a two-car draft? Things that make you go “Hmm…”

Also of note: Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon never really worked together all that much in Speedweeks, although to be fair both were wrecked by the end of the first 30 laps of the race. At Talladega, those two were attached at the hip… in comparison, Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Childress Racing and even Joe Gibbs Racing had their drivers working together for much of the 500.

- The Nationwide Series has Danica, new cars and a whole lot of Cup driver infusion. They have a short field in Phoenix this week, will start-and-park at least a half-dozen cars and endure the embarrassment of their point leader not showing up because of lack of funds. In comparison, the Truck Series has a handful of Cup drivers running limited schedules, competing against a bunch of well-known, full-time veteran names mixed in with an outstanding rookie class. Oh, and did I mention it’s half the cost to run the full schedule? The answer means their list is a robust 41, qualifying 36 and there’s a risk of one max start-and-park.

What’s the difference between the two? Simple: the second series never had Cup drivers or multi-car Trucks take over for a decade (although they’re dealing with two giants now in Kevin Harvick, Inc. and Germain Racing).

Lessons learned.

Connect with Tom!

Contact Tom Bowles

Wednesday on the Frontstretch:
Throwback or Throw Up? Plate Racing Realities Going Forward
Mirror Driving: Tire Talk, Daytona’s Feel-Good Stories And Nati-sui-cide
Beyond the Cockpit: Truck Veteran Mike Skinner Lends a Hand to Owner Eddie Sharp
Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Top 15 Post-Daytona 500
Top Ten Ways Trevor Bayne’s Life Will Change This Week
The Frontstretch Foto Funnies! Daytona, February 2011
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Bad Wolf
02/23/2011 07:12 AM
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Did you notice?

Trevor Bayne wins Daytona in only his second cup start at 20 years old, yet Whanica Patrick was a backmarker in the Busch race Saturday and we were force fed Whanica updates all day.

Bill B
02/23/2011 07:30 AM
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Excellent use of statistics to point out the folly that is restrictor plate racing. Pointing out those that finished in the top ten and made the chase really drives home the fact that RP races are crapshoots. It really puts things in perspective.

Carl D.
02/23/2011 07:42 AM
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If my name was Earl, I’d explain Mark Martin leaving the Hendrick drivers (including Stewart) out to dry as “kharma”.

I knew that the new “pick-a-series” rule wasn’t going to solve the problem of double dipping by Sprint cup drivers, but the fact that none of the first three points races at Daytona were won by drivers competing for that series’ championship is head-spinning even by Linda Blair standards (if under 40, google “The Exorcist”). I’m for limiting cup drivers to 7 races total in the AAA series and awarding all points won. I’m also for Brian France running off to Libya with Rosie O’Donald and leaving Nascar to be run by someone competent, but that’s not going to happen either.

Craig
02/23/2011 10:45 AM
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I agree that the changes to the Nationwide didn’t go far enough to stop Cup drivers totally dominating, but “check the box” was the best we were going to get. Apparently, the Cup owners were even opposing that to some extent. I’m going to wait to make judgment on the points system changes. With the exception of the standings after the 500, its usually a non-series regular leading the standings anyway in truck and Nationwide. Bayne threw a wrench into things, but after Phoenix and Vegas the standings will look normal again. Daytona breeds more crossover drivers than any other weekend. I can’t even remember the last time a Nationwide regular won the Daytona race. Tom don’t rush to judgment after one race weekend that is a creature in and of itself.

B Knotts
02/23/2011 10:48 AM
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While restrictor plate racing does have an “equalizing” factor, this year was a bit different. You did not see as much of the shuffling from the back to the front; it was more between mid-pack and the front, while the truly slow guys got lapped.

Think about it: when was the last time you saw less than 30 cars on the lead lap at Daytona? At times, there were less than 20 in Sunday’s race.

So, while some of the guys who finished poorly due to wrecks will be back to their normal level of performance this week, I would not discount some of the teams who ran well in the 500 quite as much as you seem to.

jerseygirl
02/23/2011 10:54 AM
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Tom, I’m still laughing over the “simplified” points system. I am not even going to bother trying to explain it to anyone — I’ll just have to look at whatever points page NASCAR uses — I understood the prior system. If they wanted to fix something, a supply of duct tape sent to Fox for DW would be useful.

Randy, sure most races requires a certain amount of “luck” to go along with the skill and good car factors needed to do well, but the RP tracks/racing are far more “luck of the draw” results, so I think crapshoot is a pretty good analogy.

RamblinWreck
02/23/2011 10:54 AM
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Here’s a points fix.

Run all the races you like, any series you choose. Only your highest points finish counts for championship standings and prize money. For example, by virtue of finishing 2nd in Nationwide points in ’10, Edwards would forfeit his 4th place Cup finish and all the honors and millions in prize money that go with it. Keselowski forfeits his 25th place Cup championship standings and prize money. Harvick gives back his 27th place Trucks money. Etc.

If these guys really run for the love of the race, they’ll still run the lower series races for no paycheck, right?

Doug (wis)
02/23/2011 12:11 PM
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Randyealy, that race at Charlotte was one coincidental crapshoot, as Daytona has offered many crapshoots over the years for drivers finishing top five and not making the chase. You can’t make the chase in one race either

Bill B
02/23/2011 12:24 PM
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Randy,
Actually the Charlotte race was a fuel milage race. Had it not came down to fuel milage that finishing order would have been much different. You are trying to make a point using an exception. Try again.

Brian
02/23/2011 01:48 PM
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You have a better chance at making the Chase than finishing top 5 in a race. 11% chance of a top 5 (5/43) 11% and 34%(your number) of making the chase. Seems like an invalid argument. Also you are speaking of the Top 10 race results from last year’s Chase members and then only do Top 5’s. Be consistent with your data (Facts) as the argument loses credibility when not comparing the same data. Also, check the first few races and see if there is a trend at the beginning of the season. It is likely that 20-25% of the top ten, after 1st 5 races are not there at Chase time consistently.

Michael in SoCal
02/23/2011 01:52 PM
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Tom – I think your points fix is right on, as is your Did You notice about Tony Stewart & Mark Martin. I thought the 500 was theirs to win with two laps to go. But it was not to be.

Tyler
02/23/2011 02:18 PM
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Elliott and the Woods were fast last year, especially in qualifying. Bill would run close to where he qualified until the first pit stop. After that, he would drop like a stone. I heard that Roush replaced all but one crew member from the 21 for this year.

Bill B
02/23/2011 02:24 PM
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Randy,
Fuel milage races count in the win column and stats column.
But your original statement was “Tom you can make the same “finishing order” argument about most racetracks” and then you used an exception (the 2007 600) as the example to prove your point.
The fact that fuel milage races are exceptions means that you can’t make that statement about MOST races (or racetracks). However restrictor plates are used at all races held at Daytona and Talladega, so it is not an exception, it is the norm at those two tracks and therefore they are by nature crapshoot races.

Other tracks are only crapshoot races when rain is in the forecast, circumstances align for a fuel mileage race, NASCAR calls a BS late caution to bunch up the field, oh wait….
NASCAR calls BS cautions at the end of the race all the time now turn an event from a race to a crapshoot to manufacture an exciting ending. Maybe you are right. All the tracks are crapshoots now, thanks to NASCAR. Sorry, thanks for setting me straight. Well, I was right before BF took over.

CincyLady
02/23/2011 04:24 PM
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While you would expect more from Stewart, if you watched the aerial shot of that fateful restart, Tony went back like a stone as MM never came up to his bumper to push. The fact that you needed an adequate pusher to win this race was apparent the whole race and never more so than that last restart. Without a great push by Bobby Labonte in the 47, Bayne might very well not have been the euphoric winner. Mark Martin does not like rp racing and never has, and while his car was likely damaged, rendering it not the best of pushers, from what I understand Stewart and Martin had agreed to cooperate during that last caution. Tony was understandably upset when he exited the car from what was a total disappearance of the 5 car on that last restart.
I for one am heartily tired, however of everyone feeling that the Stewart-Dale Jr duo is the only way for Stewart to have a chance at this race. Haven’t seen Jr win a Daytona race since 2004, and who pushed him?
Enough said.

 

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.

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