The Frontstretch: Fact Or Fiction: The Most Vulnerable Title Contender, A Lady's Brilliance, More by Thomas Bowles -- Tuesday May 3, 2011

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Hard to believe, but NASCAR’s regular season is already one-third complete. The secret of who’s an early season contender has been revealed, and for those off to a slow start? They’re quickly reaching a “now or never” point of no return. For everyone, perfection is next on the agenda; the Lady In Black, Darlington Raceway has no time for mistakes or those who are a little off their game.

Bad news, indeed, for today’s first Fact or Fiction candidate…

FACT: Kurt Busch Has Become The Most Vulnerable Chaser

On the stat sheet, Darlington serves as the cure for what ails Kurt Busch. Third in the race last Spring, that served as a catalyst to his outstanding May; by Memorial Day, he’d won the All-Star Race and the Coke 600, had a Chase spot all but secured and was looking like Jimmie Johnson’s most fearsome foe.

But now, those who fear Busch the most are the ones that wear his same uniform. While younger brother Kyle has matured, it’s Kurt who’s regressed to the type of Snooki-style, temper tantrum antics that must have crew chief Steve Addington and company at their wits’ end behind the scenes. And now, a season that got off to such a strong start stands on the brink this trip down to South Carolina; while sixth in the standings, Busch hasn’t had a top-5 finish since his season debut at Daytona, has run no better than 10th the last five races and sits just 26 points in front of A.J. Allmendinger in 11th.

It’s not helping that Busch’s teammate, Brad Keselowski has a list of more cars he’s made contact with lately than laps led. With no other Dodge superteam out there to compare notes with, Penske Racing is left to dig out of their deepening hole alone… with a leader behind the wheel whose hobbies include burning bridges with the crew on race day. That means the No. 22 team is behind the eight ball, a fire starting that could derail their season… someone better bring the water to snuff it out, and fast.

FICTION: David Ragan Is Definitely Out At Roush Fenway

For months, heck the better part of a year Roush Fenway’s youngest Cup driver has had to deal with the whispers. He’s too inconsistent… peaked as a second-year driver in 2008 … Trevor Bayne is younger, hipper, has more potential. Many, including yours truly had Bayne pigeon-holed for the No. 6 ride in 2012 mere days after the Daytona 500 was a study in contrasts: Ragan shot himself in the foot by jumping the restart while Bayne displayed pinpoint accuracy in using the two-car draft to take the checkered flag first.

But just like those trumpeting Obama’s automatic reelection… not so fast. Rides change hands in November, not February and the last three months has seen a decided tilt back in Ragan’s direction at Roush Fenway (where he’s technically signed through 2014 as it is). A fourth-place run at Richmond was his best of the season, leaving him 19th in points, armed with a faint pulse of Chase contention and pulling enough improvement this season to give the wandering eyes of that little brown packaging company who backs him some pause. Add in Bayne’s recent health trauma – for all we know, a Brian Vickers situation could be developing there – and the door has definitely cracked open for Ragan to keep himself in place.

The key is probably getting UPS to bite, not an easy task considering their near-decade of frustration with drivers that didn’t pan out. But in this dicey NASCAR world, Ragan’s at least given himself a shot to stay in place for the long-term.

FACT: Darlington’s Mother’s Day Race Works

Yes, I know the Darlington Labor Day Tradition gone away is a wrong that needs to be righted. Until the Southern 500 returns to its rightful place in history, there are a small section of NASCAR fans that won’t even turn on the television.

But should the sport come to its senses, may I make one suggestion? Go ahead and give Darlington two dates again instead of one. The attendance hasn’t suffered there as much compared to other tracks, and I think that’s because there’s something magical about this Mother’s Day event that has struck the right cord with many. Whether it’s the drivers’ moms introduced before the event, the beauty of racing under the lights or the perfect Spring weather, NASCAR has hit on a combination that’s working for them. Hopefully, as other tracks wither into irrelevancy Darlington’s ability to promote itself effectively will be rewarded.

FICTION: Cup Races Are Exactly The Right Length

I bring this last point up as the age-old argument rages: should we be shortening races? I still think there’s some value to long distances, but one bullet in my old arsenal about why has lost its effectiveness: cars aren’t being tested mechanically anymore.

Looking through the 400-lapper at Richmond (and yes, I know it was only 300 miles) there were only five DNFs: four for start-and-parkers and one for a wreck. Engines, brakes, most major parts are near-automatics to last for the major teams, meaning the nervous anticipation of whether a runaway leader will finish that way is gone. Sure, Joe Gibbs Racing has had an engine hiccup or two, but for the most part these modern-day, multi-car shops have their I’s dotted and their t’s crossed. It’s up to the driver and crew chief to perform because the car? It’s finishing the race… and that’s why I’m now beginning to wonder, especially if engineering is restricted whether the racing should take longer than two hours each week.

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:
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…


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

Carl D.
05/03/2011 08:31 AM

I’m with you on keeping the Mother’s Day weekend race at Darlington. And yes, the track deserves it’s Labor Day race back as well. Question is, will the fans fill the stands twice a year? They didn’t before. Speaking only for myself, I’d much rather spend an early May evening in Darlington than a brutal Labor Day afternoon.

Ed Allen
05/03/2011 09:49 AM

Tom, I am not sure where you are coming from. “But just like those trumpeting Obama’s automatic reelection… not so fast.” I don’t think a whole lotta people in this country including his supporters see this as an “automatic reelection”

The President took over a country in shambles brought on by, that’s right you guessed it Republicans. George Bush’s two wars and his insiders’ trampling of the constitution (can you say Valerie Plame?), plus lax leadership of the SEC and other financial institutions (uh, can you say the greedy corporate guys ran the show?) put this country in the worst shape it’s been since the Civil War. And so a black guy wins the Office (much to the chagrin of many-a-bigot) and they say he wasn’t born in the USA and they accuse him of not doing enough to create jobs (while Republicans stick it to the very people that vote for them…uh, can you say unemployment benefits?) and they say he palls around with “tear o ists” and they say dis and dat and they do a special version of the Golden Rule: “Do as I Say Not as I Do.” And then you throw out there a Glen Beck (can you say irresponsible) and a Sarah Palin (can you say can she spell Constitution let alone know what’s in it) and a Michelle Bachman (oh this is going to be good, she doesn’t even know who Paul Revere is or where he did his magic or what state fired the first shot. uh, is she Sarah Palin’s caddy?) And these people are willing to say and do anything to bring this country down and to boost class warfare and to get vulnerable and gullible people to believe anything…and they do.

So with that backdrop I don’t know 10 people that think Obama is a lock—even if you do support him. And I do. He is our President. So you want Trump (oh, how much financial dirt is on this guy), Palin (sure! she is ethical) or Bachman (where do I begin)? Or how about lil Baptist Huckabee? Or how about Mitt (Rs have so much heartburn over his Mass health care deal that they would rather puke than vote for him).

Wow Bowles you are living on another planet if you think people see Obama as a lock. R’s will steel this one. After the feel good wears off in about 5 more days I fully expect Beck and Palin to blame Obama for not getting bin Laden sooner…Hey so goes the race for the presidency…There are people that will say anything…Without hesitation I can say I ain’t christian, I ani’t Republican, and I don’t like country music…But I loves dis racin thing! My bet would be a Davey Allison Tim Richmond and Sr. Wouldn’t dat be fun.

05/03/2011 12:51 PM

A good reason Cup races are necessarily long is that testing isn’t allowed anymore. A short race means that only the teams with the best pre-race preparation will compete (see: Nationwide Series). Longer races allow teams to make changes to their cars as the race continues (although perhaps to the chagrin of many fans, as this has led to the best crew chief and driver combination winning the last five Chase titles).

To fix these problems would be simple: allow testing. The ban has only hurt the smaller teams anyway. Second, get rid of the gear rule. Ten years ago, drivers shifted at Pocono and did 10,000 RPMs at the end of straightaways. Finally, more short track races would put the balance of power back in the drivers’ hands, away from aero and whatnot. Teams like Tommy Baldwin’s can compete at a short track with a talented driver… and if we aren’t watching this sport to see what a driver can do with a fast car, what are we watching for?

05/03/2011 03:40 PM

Tom, you should know better than to bring politics, apparently even a few lines of it, into a Nascar article. People will just take it and run with it.

Back to Nascar, my thoughts have equaled yours regarding length of races. The machines hold up now for 500 miles. No need to run 5 hour races anymore. People aren’t going to watch and its a fact that Nascar needs to come to grips with. Until they improve the racing, its not worth most peoples time on a Sunday afternoon/Saturday night.

So best thing to do is shorten the races, eliminate the “riding around” factor that plagues the middle portions of these races and get these guys up on the wheel the entire race. Its how its supposed to work and it works. Watch the truck series if your not sure what I mean.

If the racing was good throughout in a shortened event, I would still pay the same amount for the ticket.

Ed Allen
05/03/2011 03:58 PM

Yea Steve you are correct. He really shouldn’t have. But he did. I did think I felt sorry for him gettin fired and all. But now I wonder if he deserved it. I mean you can’t flaunt yo stuff and stick it in their face as a true journalist yet he did. Hmm a lot lot like Beck.

05/03/2011 04:26 PM

ed is obviously an idiotic moronic asinine fool!!! Wish he’d leave the country…would be a better place without him! NO ONE would miss the fool!!!!!!

Keeping it REAL
05/04/2011 12:25 AM

Tom (reader, not author) – cool, I didn’t know you personally knew Ed and also knew every person who knew him well enough to know they wouldn’t miss him. Perhaps you shouldn’t say things about somebody you don’t know. Perhaps the author shouldn’t have made political commentary in a racing article. And, perhaps you should find better ways to articulate your arguments if you want somebody to actually listen. Do you feel it is mature to start calling names to somebody you disagree with just because of the disagreement? This makes you better, wiser, and more American how??

I am a true independent. Both sides have their share of issues right now, which is always the case. They will both disagree with each other until the end of time and find fault in the every action of “the other side”. Me, I prefer to sit in the middle and call the BS when I see it and partake in the wise decisions and actions when I see them. After all, this is still America and there are still a lot of talented and incredibly wise people .. on BOTH sides of the isle.

In short – don’t be so quick to blow up at somebody who you happen to disagree with. That attitude doesn’t look good on you or anybody.

05/04/2011 10:16 AM

Go Ed and take your views on politics with you. If you want to talk racing, that’s fine. Otherwise find some other place to talk politics!


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