The Frontstretch: Thinkin' Out Loud: Kansas-2 Race Recap by Thomas Bowles -- Monday October 22, 2012

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Thinkin' Out Loud: Kansas-2 Race Recap

Thomas Bowles · Monday October 22, 2012

 

Key Moment – Matt Kenseth slapped on two fresh tires, came out the leader with 49 laps left and became the de facto winner in an event where there were exactly two on-track, green-flag passes for the lead over the course of 400 miles – Lap 1 and during a mid-race wreck.

In a Nutshell – Dorothy, Kansas changed since we left. Blown tires. Crash central. Aero crazy. Oh, my.

Dramatic Moment – When the No. 48 hit the wall, self-induced the collective shock from 90% of fans and media who had already anointed him six-time champion was so massive, it could have fended off a lightning strike.

The first few laps after every restart, with driver aggression amped up and the realization Kansas only allowed for 5-10 laps passing on fresh tires was pretty intense.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around The Water Cooler This Week

After a long period of clean racing on intermediate tracks, a record 14 cautions dotted the Kansas Cup race Sunday. This wreck of Kyle Busch, courtesy Ryan Newman’s front bumper had tempers flaring and Busch threatening future retaliation.

Ever hear the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? For the first five races of the Chase, the porridge has been too cold: just 4.6 caution flags per race, most for debris as the cars run in a single-file parade. Sunday was a case of “too hot:” 14 yellow flags, two during cycles of green-flag stops because teams pushed the limits on tires and got burnt. Sure, the racing was better overall at Kansas, variable banking combined with new pavement that means the competition will only improve with time. But when you have only two on-track passes for the lead, under green-flag conditions and even those are a stretch you’ve still got a major aero problem.

I’ve been told the move to shy away from Danica Patrick as the center of GoDaddy’s future advertising campaign has some legs. Publicly, there’s some outright denials but in private there is an acknowledgement that not only is Patrick struggling on-track, the traction she once produced off it is a mere fraction of what it was during her peak years of IndyCar. Of course, intentionally wrecking a competitor, one who is running outside the top 25 no less (Landon Cassill), isn’t exactly the way to button up your image as a potential role model for young women. Sparkle Pony’s magic dust superpowers also appeared to backfire; when she sprinkled the “save” potion on her steering wheel, the car turned dead right and slammed hard into the outside wall. No wonder Greg Zipadelli was making owner Tony Stewart proud with the type of R-Rated language that kept their driver/crew chief marriage functional for a decade!

Anyone find Rick Hendrick’s overenthusiasm, then outright retraction for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s return from injury a little bizarre? Hendrick came out, pom poms at the ready, just before the start of Sunday’s race and indicated on TV that Earnhardt had already been cleared to race at Martinsville next weekend. Truth is, no one knows that answer until he steps inside a race car for a full test at an undisclosed short track facility this week. Rumor has it that if dipping his toe back in doesn’t go well, Earnhardt might even be willing to sit the rest of the season rather than push it, with a focus on healing for February 2013. It was a comeback trail clearly laid out by Dr. Jerry Petty at Charlotte, where the doctor himself admitted sometimes you just won’t know where a driver stands until you get him back up to race pace; it’s a completely different environment than just functioning like a normal person each day. That reality forced Hendrick to apologize for this mistake on air, hours later, as the owner of the program marked a rare moment of sloppiness for someone who’s consistently praised for “being in touch” with his people. When it comes to your biggest source of income, the Most Popular Driver bringing in the most amount of sponsorship his status is simply something you should know…

Turns out fans aren’t the only one tired with the “cookie-cutter,” fuel mileage mentality on these 1.5-mile ovals. Denny Hamlin came out Friday and expressed his frustration with a system that’s seen the best way to pass shift from side-by-side action to what someone is thinking on top of the pit box. “You’re going to make up more positions with your strategy,” he said, “Than you will ever having a fast race car and a good driver.” Ouch. Hamlin also admitted, like others, his No. 11 team contending for the championship spent 120 laps of 334 at Charlotte—more than one-third of the event—running in fuel conservation mode. That’s nearly three green-flag pit stops’ worth of feathering the throttle in a way that’ll make fans… snooze. One hopes that somewhere, a five-alarm bell is going off, preferably in Brian France’s bedroom at odd hours of the night to alert someone of the urgency of the problem.

Denny Hamlin’s weekend at Kansas won’t be one he wants to remember. A rough 13th-place finish, combined with bad luck on fuel strategy and a practice crash that left him dizzy only reinforced his negative feelings about NASCAR’s rough ride on 1.5-mile ovals in 2012.

Sunday was a race in which the wave around removed chaos from an old equation. Twice, during cycles of green-flag stops, major contenders were caught a lap down after the yellow flag flew. It used to be the luck of the draw, meaning you lost that track position and had to earn it back the hard way: by restarting on the tail end of the lead lap and having to race the leader to stay ahead of him. Instead, this rule just giftwrapped free laps for major contenders like Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, minimizing the damage as they simply restarted at the rear of the next double-file restart. Bad luck used to add to Sprint Cup’s unpredictability and on-track aggression; but hey, why face adversity during a race when you can create as many free handouts as possible in the name of parity?

Matt Kenseth did what he had to do, jumping to Joe Gibbs Racing for 2013 to salvage the next five-six years of his career. But after snagging two victories with a team that’s clearly not performing at its best over the final ten races, at times you wonder if Kenseth’s thinking this move cost him a second Cup title. What if the Roush Fenway No. 17 team knew they were sticking together? It’s not often you get a gift of running through the Talladega carnage unscathed, straight to a trophy during NASCAR’s Chase.

In a major crew chief shakeup this week, the biggest news wasn’t Tony Gibson assigned to Danica Patrick for 2013, but Matt Borland coming over to help out Ryan Newman and the No. 39. (Note: the changes are effective beginning at Martinsville this weekend.) Borland, when at Penske Racing, was the head wrench for Newman from 2002-06, during the driver’s most successful seasons (12 wins, 37 poles). I’ve always felt the plug was pulled prematurely there, Borland’s engineering knowledge ushering in a new era of Cup competition behind the scenes while clicking with the type of Hall of Fame chemistry in a driver you see once in a blue moon. Seeing the duo reconnected makes you wonder whether Newman won’t be the third wheel in 2013 at SHR after all…

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Mark Martin had a car that appeared ready to run away and hide until a caution just after a green-flag stop, with 52 laps remaining sealed his fate. Losing a cylinder on the engine over the final 50 miles, shortly after earning that lost lap back (and half the positions dropped) added insult to injury. He finished 24th.

A promising run for Aric Almirola fell apart courtesy of some flat right-front tires at the wrong time.

Aric Almirola had the race of his career, leading 69 laps and at times running away with the race in Richard Petty’s No. 43. But Goodyear’s tires, combined with a risky handling setup, bit the team not once, not twice, but three times as it led to spins and wrecks that took enough of a bite out of the car to send it packing inside the garage. Twenty-ninth place, on a day when victory was possible, is not the finish you need when news items like your current company renewing with Ford don’t mention your name as part of the 2013 program (at least not yet).

AJ Allmendinger had a phenomenal weekend, qualifying 13th and even cracking the top 5 on several occasions with James Finch’s No. 51. But a blown tire left his car totaled and sitting in the garage before even 70 laps were complete; he wound up 35th in the final running order.

A transmission from Landon Cassill‘s radio said it best re: Danica Patrick’s self-destruction of her No. 10. “Rule number one in stock car racing,” someone said. “Is to wreck someone without wrecking yourself.”

”The Seven Come For Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Jimmie Johnson, for all intents and purposes, should have seen his title bid end with a trip into the Turn 2 wall at Kansas. How crew chief Chad Knaus kept his cool, then pieced back together the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet under several caution flag periods without losing a lap, was one of the best orchestrated racing performances I’ve seen. Should this team catch Keselowski, they’ll point to this day, and the battered rear end of their race car (that still finished ninth) as where it all came together.

Kasey Kahne, despite being the pole sitter ran into all sorts of problems. His car would drop like a rock during the first ten laps of every green-flag run; the crew again churned out a series of slow stops; then, a call to save fuel under yellow left the engine shut off too long, the driver losing race pace and an overall drop of about four spots. To go through it all and come out fourth shows you how good they could have been up front under the right circumstances.

Regan Smith had an awful qualifying effort, starting 39th, but had the right amount of time and track position strategy to work himself into the top-10 finishers (see below). During the final 100 miles, despite a strong Kenseth restart Smith was as high as third/fourth and seemingly ready to put together a rare checkers-or-wreckers dash for the win.

Kenseth narrowly avoided disaster midrace when Almirola spun beside him on a restart, pushing the No. 17 Ford up into the wall on the backstretch. It was perhaps the most cosmetic damage you could sustain on a race car without having to pit for extended repairs.

Worth Noting

  • Matt Kenseth (1st) has now matched both his wins and top-5 finish totals from 2011. Tell me why he’s leaving Roush again?
  • Martin Truex, Jr. (2nd) has two runner-up finishes this season – registered at both Kansas races, respectively.
  • Paul Menard (3rd) had his best result (and first top 5) since winning Indianapolis in July 2011.
  • Kasey Kahne (4th) has an average finish of 5.0 on the three intermediate tracks during the Chase.
  • Regan Smith (7th) scored the best result for the No. 88 team since Atlanta Labor Day weekend.
  • Kevin Harvick (11th) has no top-10 results during the Chase. He does, however, have five finishes between 11th and 13th place.
  • Landon Cassill (18th) scored his best finish since Michigan in June. Miss Sparkle
    Pony sure showed him!
  • Timmy Hill (22nd) quietly scored a career-high Cup result as a rookie – and on the lead lap, no less.
  • Your top-10 finishers drove six Chevys, two Toyotas, a Ford and a Dodge. Josh Wise, the lone full-time rookie contender attempting didn’t even qualify, so give your Rookie of The Race to whoever painted that yellow stripe on your friend’s car in a moment of (drunken) passion.

Clint Bowyer, despite closing to within 25 points after Kansas no longer controls his own destiny in the Chase: he’ll need help from others to take the title.

What’s the Points?

Brad Keselowski, after all that mess, sees his lead stay steady at seven points ahead of Jimmie Johnson. Denny Hamlin, still third, is now 20 back and will need a victory at Martinsville to reassert himself back in the throes of title contention. Clint Bowyer, 25 markers back in fourth, and Kasey Kahne, who closed to within 30 after Kansas, remain your longshot picks at best. Should the three drivers ahead of them be in the same short track wreck Sunday, spending significant time in the garage area that’s the only way you can count either one back in the race.

In the “racing for pride” Chase division, Martin Truex, Jr.’s solid performance left him surging to sixth. Tony Stewart sits seventh, Jeff Gordon eighth while Matt Kenseth sits a staggering 55 points behind in ninth. That’s his reward for having more victories in the playoffs (two) than any other Chaser… system flaw? Ya think?

Kevin Harvick, whose Chase highlight has been a trip to the doctor’s office to ensure he still had a pulse (report inconclusive) sits tenth. Greg Biffle, after his wreck is eleventh, a dramatic fall which could make him the first regular season points champ to not even get a formal invitation to the postseason banquet at Las Vegas. Not Roush Fenway Racing’s finest moment…

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., having missed two races now due to post-concussion syndrome sits dead last (12th) in the postseason “tournament.”

Overall Rating (from one to six beers, with one being a total snoozer and a six-pack an A+ effort): Considering at some points during the event, racing consisted of actual side-by-side competition, even some that included a sense of urgency we’ll say this was one of the year’s better intermediate track events. The problem is, with how putrid the 1.5-mile ovals have been, that’s not saying much. Two beers, from the Friday Happy Hour Special menu, where the bar’s just trying to kick the oldest kegs in the back room before they turn skunked.

Next Up: The final short track race of the year, typically one of the most action-packed will be this Sunday at Martinsville, VA. Two words for that stop on the schedule: Thank God.

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janice
10/22/2012 08:32 AM
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and princess sparkle pony wonders why “no one will race with her”….she proved it yesterday at kansas. she’s a rookie. regardless of happens on track, she is not ready to do “pay backs”. i loved it when the reporter asked her what zippy said to her and she paused and said “be honest”. i can almost guarantee that is not what he said to her. wonder how many torn up race cars stewart will tolerate. a princess attitude and his temper might prove volatile .

another spot i enjoyed was hendrick eating crow on national tv. first they tout “jr will be back next week”….oope spoke too early. dr. petty as to do testing and clear him to race. i cannot shake the feeling that regan smith will be in the 88 at martinsville.

Zetona
10/22/2012 09:14 AM
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Two cans seems harsh to me. Yeah, the on-track action was no better than at any other 1.5-miler this season, but for once this year, stuff HAPPENED for the entire length and breadth of a 1.5-miler race. Not a long, dull slog before some late debris caution (of which there was not one on Sunday) breathed a modicum of excitement into the event. Not a hectic start that quickly degenerated into the same single-file green-flag runs like last week. The new, slick surface generated a level of tension and uncertainty unseen for a while at 1.5-mile tracks. I would have very much liked to see more actual racing as well as a surprise winner like Almirola, Martin, or Menard, but after the season we’ve had, I’m willing to give that race four or five cans.

rick denman
10/22/2012 09:51 AM
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I don’t know if NA$CAR has a minimum weight limit on cars post race, but it seems to me, the 48 would have come in under weight.
I watched as the crew tore out several long pieces of bracing and tubing from the rear of the car after the wreck. What I didnt see was anyone putting it back.

john
10/22/2012 10:10 AM
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I thought the racing from second-on-back wasn’t bad. Give Kansas a couple of more races to wear down the asphalt and maybe it’ll be half-decent for once. Variable banking can only help.

I feel for Patrick, she gets wrecked left right and centre in both series, regardless of how good she’s running… She’s had three or four top 5s and possibly one win thrown out the door because someone else doesn’t want to get beaten by a girl.

But she might want to just take it on the chin and put her head down, rather than wrecking back. It doesn’t look good. We need more of the Danica Patrick from Road America (pole, leading laps) and less of the Danica from Kansas.

GinaV24
10/22/2012 10:10 AM
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Watching cars wreck over and over isn’t my idea of a race. There was some side by side racing – at least on the restarts, but that on track passing one is the one that says NASCAR has lost it’s “edge” with me as a fan.

Looking forward to Martinsville – I’d like to see Gordon in VL once more this year but I’m sure that NASCAR will orchestrate another GWC finish to muck it up as they so often do at the short track.

Danica needs to show a little respect if she expects to get it. I don’t see any other female racers – like Johanna Long – stamping their feet and acting out. I’d love to see female racers who are running on a shoestring budget get the opportunities for sponsors that Danica has had.

Glen H.
10/22/2012 10:31 AM
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You just have to love Princess Sparkle Pony’s message to the other drivers at Kansas – “Mess with me and I’ll put myself in the wall.” She sure had the house laughing after she took herself out.

I wonder what she’s going to do for sponsorship once the GoDaddy conract is up (I think at the end of 2013)? Sparkle Pony isn’t as sparkley as she used to be.

Kevin
10/22/2012 11:09 AM
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Tom,

Why are people still writing about the ‘cookie cutter, fuel mileage, lack of passing’ racing & NASCAR needing to do something about it. I believe it is generally accepted that the current version of the car being raced is the reason for the type of racing that we’re seeing. I also think that everyone knows there is a new car being built, and undergoing testing, with an eye on improving the racing.
NASCAR/Brian France know there is a problem. That is why they developed a new car. But just like how it got here, it isn’t going away overnight. It’s a work in progress…

Upstate24fan
10/22/2012 12:36 PM
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Kansas turned into a short track for one weekend. I know we need some cautions, but this went over the top. I know most disagree with this, but I like the wave around rule. It removes the chaos that used to occur with cars who got caught pitting when a yellow came out. I remember the Kansas Chase race in 2007. One of those situations caused a huge wreck that knocked multiple Chasers out. With the waive around you still get penalized, but at least you don’t have a gaggle of lap down in front of the leaders causing a mess.

Carl D.
10/22/2012 01:06 PM
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Kevin…

The new car may be a work in progress as you say, but remember who is responsible for the current car. You say Brian France realizes there is a problem? Well, he ought to since most of the current problems facing Nascar today including lack of sponsors, the chase, and the poor on-track product can all be traced right back to BF and his mismanagement of the sport. Sorry, but with France’s record so far, it’s hard to have any confidence that things will improve.

Michael in SoCal
10/22/2012 01:10 PM
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I agree with Zetona, for a cookie cutter, Sunday’s race deserved at least four cans, but nothing better than cold Bud or Coors (choose your poison). At least there was on-track racing, along with drivers just plain getting over their head. The blown tires kinda sucked, but that’s on Goodyear.

Kevin in SoCal
10/22/2012 01:35 PM
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I’d like to go back to the Frontstretch articles written when the wave-around rule was first announced. I remember people being happy about it because thats how it done in other racing series. Now Frontstretch is calling it a bad thing. I wonder why.

russ
10/22/2012 01:42 PM
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its just become sad. One day someone will write a book about what happened.

Bill B
10/22/2012 02:00 PM
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Hate the wave around rule, never did like it. Same with GWC and Lucky Dog.
Coming from stick and ball sports, one of the hardest things for me to accept when I got into NASCAR back in the 90’s was that the leader could have a 10 (or 20) second lead and a caution would wipe that out. There aren’t any major sports where a seemingly insurmountable lead can be negated with the wave of a flag. I had made peace with that, but all these new rules that have been put in place since BF has taken over just raise the crapshoot factor making it even harder for that guy that had a 10 second lead and put half the field a lap down to have any advantage on the restart. To me that just isn’t fair.

Jim
10/22/2012 02:34 PM
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So…after that “wild-card” race at Kansas….

Not much changed. Hmmmm.

Jacklegged Nascar Expert
10/22/2012 03:28 PM
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What makes the new car a real car?Better decals.

Kevin in SoCal
10/22/2012 03:35 PM
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Bill B, so a race is more exciting to you with 1 or 2 drivers on the lead lap, than it is with 20 drivers on the lead lap? I just have to ask that, because excitement to me is many drivers racing for the win, rather than one guy spanking the field with a 10 second lead.

janice
10/22/2012 04:32 PM
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kevin,

the only “problem” or issue that brian france knows is that isc lost a million for the year. brain fart is the problem! problem started when bill jr was too sick from cancer and turned the “company over” to his “son”. idiot….brain fart just is concerned about $$$ and making sure he’s not nabbed by the substance abuse police.

Bill B
10/22/2012 06:20 PM
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Kevin in SoCal,
My idea of a good sport is one where the best team wins. Is it as exciting for me to watch compared to a close competition? Obviously not, but it’s not about me it’s about the sport. I didn’t like watching my Ravens get slaughtered on Sunday but “it” happens sometimes. Would it have been more exciting for me to watch if the Houston players had to carry a cinder block to slow them down? Yes but that would be a stupid thing to do in a sport.

 

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