The Frontstretch: Fact Or Fiction: History Not On Junior's Side?, Biffle's Chase Future And Indy Switches by Thomas Bowles -- Tuesday July 5, 2011

Go to site navigation Go to article

Was Daytona not enough to whet your NASCAR appetite? Never fear; we’re here with a little Fact or Fiction prognostication to lighten up your Tuesday. Remember, these are predictions based on major storylines happening in and around the Cup Series this week…

With a poor run of finishes the last three weeks, does Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have reason to be concerned about making the Chase?

FACT: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Needs To Be Worried About The Chase

Three weeks ago, all anyone could talk about was how Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was on the verge of winning at Michigan. But after a ho-hum, 21st-place finish there runs of 41st and 19th have followed, easily the worst stretch of the No. 88’s season to date. Even though those endings are attached to mechanical and wreck-related failures beyond Junior’s control, they have suddenly made this team vulnerable to missing the Chase.

Such a disaster seems unthinkable at first glance, especially since Earnhardt stood third in Sprint Cup points 14 races into this season. But this type of late-season Chase collapse has happened before. After Pocono in 2005, Elliott Sadler was sitting third in the standings, comfortably in contention to not only make the postseason but contend for the title. In fact, Sadler stood third as late as Sonoma the end of June, boosted by two straight top-10 finishes to pad his comfort zone.

But at Daytona the following week, Sadler was a mediocre 21st. the start of a disastrous run for his Robert Yates Racing team. During the final ten weeks of the regular season, he never finished higher than 12th and by Richmond had made a remarkable fall outside the Chase cutoff. The ending was so emotionally traumatic, in fact, that within the next year both Sadler and RYR would part ways.

Now, I’m not on the bandwagon for total Junior collapse just yet… I think he and Steve Letarte have had a remarkable, overachieving season. But keep in mind that Junior had a horrid last ten regular season races last year; once solidly in the Chase, a run of five consecutive finishes outside the top 15 doomed him, from Chicago in July to Michigan in early August. Considering the quality of drivers outside the Chase this season, even a 39-point cushion isn’t enough to hold off the likes of Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, and others poised to make a late charge. Clearly, Kentucky (a total wild card for the No. 88) and Loudon, typically one of Junior’s better tracks need to right the ship to erase all postseason doubts… because this driver is one that must have confidence high to keep succeeding.

FICTION: Daytona’s Two-Car Drafting Tandem Will Change

Can I get a little cheese with that whine? NASCAR’s pairs dancing draft format, while initially fostering praise this February seems to have rotted away by Daytona in July. Saturday night under the lights resembled a demolition derby at the finish, nearly two-thirds of the field caught up in accidents while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. scared NASCAR execs everywhere by referring to the race as “foolish.” I’m not sure I’d agree with that, but it’s clear large sections of the 400 miles were more like “nap-inducing;” when you have two-car packs intentionally dropping back, losing the draft to wait for the final 20 laps of the race then that’s not exactly compelling sports and entertainment for three hours.

Personally, I’ve had an up-and-down affair with the whole situation; I hated the tandems to start, fell in love with them by the end of the 500 and now am completely out of love with them again. But isn’t that how it always goes with this plate racing? NASCAR throws out a bone every few years, making an adjustment so the cars end up handling differently in the draft. That first race, we’re all awed by the change, forgetting for a split second the whole system of “forced equality” makes the winner little more than a lucky survivor of Russian Roulette. By the third or fourth race, the jig is up and enough people are complaining about the rules so that NASCAR makes a change. Can you say “Shower, Rinse, Repeat…?”

So with all the complaints reaching a crescendo, why do I think NASCAR will stick with this package? Two reasons: attendance and ratings. The at-track audience, listed at 115,000 didn’t experience a precipitous drop year-to-year while the television viewership, while not confirmed yet is expected to rise. So if you’ve got more fans watching overall, despite the frustration over the changes why be compelled to fix it?
My prediction is Talladega attendance will decrease, then we’ll get to the 2012 Daytona 500, there will be so much negative buzz over this system and at the most inconvenient time (like maybe after qualifying?) the sport will make some tweaks. But come Talladega in the Fall, get ready for teammate Chasing because this two-car tango system isn’t going anywhere.

FACT: Greg Biffle Must Win To Make The Chase

Here’s a weird stat for you: name the lone Roush Fenway Racing driver not to win a race this season. It’s not Ragan (obviously), Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards or even Trevor Bayne with the Wood Brothers… instead, Greg Biffle gets the nod. How ironic considering he and sponsor 3M are the only secure Roush Fenway team for 2012, right?

A season of struggles, from faulty fueling to poor on-track performance has left Biffle in a difficult predicament with nine races left. Fighting to get inside the top 10 in points, that Chase hill’s fairly difficult to climb as he sits 13th, 25 points behind Ryan Newman and with Stewart (he of the sizzling summer) and Hamlin (Chase tune-up time!) dead ahead. So, chances are unless a miracle occurs getting in the old-fashioned way, by top-10 consistency just isn’t going to happen for the No. 16 team this year.

Which is why Biffle should learn a lesson from what teammate Ragan did Saturday night… go for the jugular, Victory Lane a few times the next nine weeks instead of scoring points. The No. 6 team scored a win at their team’s biggest strength, plate racing and Biffle has a similar list of tracks coming up for him. Defending champ of the August Pocono race, that monthly stretch also includes Michigan… easily tracks where The Biff can go 2-for-2. Execute, and we have a Wild Card steal that puts pressure on guys like Hamlin, on the Chase bubble and leaves a guy like Junior the odd man out. Otherwise… Roush is guaranteed to have one of his four teams sitting at home.

FICTION: Moving Race From Lucas Oil To Indianapolis Motor Speedway Will Increase Attendance

The announcement expected tomorrow, moving the Nationwide Series date from Lucas Oil Speedway to Indianapolis has been made based on one simple concern: money. Not only has IMS been looking to make more cash, its Cup attendance deflating faster than those Goodyear tires in 2008 there’s a limit to how much the sport can earn at Lucas Oil. The purse there was slightly over $789,000 last year, the worst paying of the 35 series events and with a limited seating capacity (30,000), those numbers can only increase so much.

But the problem the sport will find, especially in this age of Kentucky creeping in on the market is there’s just not going to be enough people willing to switch with the series. With the Sprint Cup tickets expensive enough at IMS, are fans really going to spend extra money for the minor league stars to run mostly single-file on the 2.5-mile oval that’s proven bulky for Cup competition… especially when they’ve been pampered with exceptional short track finishes? The overall money might increase, as the big track will have a better handle with marketing and sponsorship deals but don’t expect attendance to make this giant jump. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Saturday before the Brickyard brings just 25,000 into the stands before the big day, a sad postscript to fleecing that date from a short track who’s been part of the Nationwide Series schedule every year since 1982.

Just goes to show you some traditions, NASCAR, just shouldn’t be messed with in the name of the almighty dollar.

Contact Tom Bowles
Follow Tom On Twitter

NASCAR NEWS, RIGHT TO YOUR INBOXAND IT’S FREE.
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:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum
FREE NEWSLETTER! CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP

 

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

Wingcars6970
07/05/2011 05:58 PM
permalink

Oh Good! Another action-packed track gets dumped for a snoozer.

Overra88ted
07/05/2011 06:15 PM
permalink

Dale Jr. is the driver who should be sweating about not getting a win! 10 points out of first place 3 races ago and now dropping like a rock, only 30 points and change from 11th place, and NO WINS. Jr.will be out of the top 10 after Watkins Glen. Will not make the chase while in 11th or 12 place with NO WINS, and some driver in 16th or 17th with 1 win will make the chase. Jr. Nation will be on fire with yet another round of worthless “poor Jr.” excuses.

Glen H.
07/05/2011 06:32 PM
permalink

Maybe moving the NNW race from Lucas Oil to IMS will increase attendance – once they start the heavy discounting and ticket give aways like they do for the Cup that is.

IF, and that is a BIG IF, NA$CAR was smart, they’d move the Cup race from IMS to Lucas Oil. Build another 50,000 seats and have some great racing at Indy.

RamblinWreck
07/05/2011 08:35 PM
permalink

^

Cup racing at IRP instead of the Brickyard?

I’d love to see that.

DoninAjax
07/05/2011 11:10 PM
permalink

It’s not nap-inducing. It’s nap dancing.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

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
Did You Notice? ... Keep On Asking, And You Will Receive A Qualifying Sigh Of Relief

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.

Want even more Tom Bowles? Check out Tom's archive at SI.com.