The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Landon's Loss, Testing Tidbits And The Danger Of NASCAR Stability by Thomas Bowles -- Thursday January 17, 2013

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Did You Notice?… Those who impressed at Daytona testing weren’t as surprising as some might think? Yes, some eyebrows were raised when Jeff Burton led Friday morning practice at Daytona. Overall, Richard Childress Racing was strong, flashing the best speed out of the Chevy brigade despite winning all of one race last season. But Burton, with new crew chief Luke Lambert shouldn’t surprise anyone. Daytona was the No. 31 team’s strongest track last year; their two top-5 results of 2012 were registered there. In the 500, especially Burton looked like an upset contender, leading 24 laps before getting shuffled back to fifth down the stretch.

Other strong teams have a very familiar ring to it. Take Joe Gibbs Racing, with the combination of Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Kyle Busch. Hamlin led 57 laps in last year’s 500, the most of any driver while Busch has totaled 180 in that category over the past five seasons. Add in newcomer Kenseth, the defending race champion and it’s easy to predict they’ll be successful.

Greg Biffle hopes to be a darkhorse candidate in this year’s Daytona 500. But it’s hard to take the field by surprise when your organization won the pole last February…

Greg Biffle, of Roush Fenway Racing also looked strong, pacing the field on Daytona testing, Day 3. But that’s the organization that won the pole last year, with Carl Edwards, and whose 94 laps led of 202 was easily the most of any multi-car program in NASCAR’s Super Bowl. Last but not least, you had Michael Waltrip Racing near the top; but again, that’s to be expected. The owner of the program was two turns from winning Talladega last Fall and their three-car operation was 10th, 11th, and 12th in last year’s 500.

So did anyone really raise eyebrows last week? The answer, to me, is no. If anything, I think the more notable drivers were those that remained near the bottom of the charts. Hendrick Motorsports, in particular did not have the best week. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. triggered a 12-car wreck, once he tapped Marcos Ambrose in an ill-timed tandem bump and the best HMS did on any practice chart was fourth – on the final day, when only a fraction of the 35 teams actually tested. Believe it or not, it’s going to be seven years since that organization last won at Daytona, Jimmie Johnson’s lone 500 victory in 2006. With so many of the same teams above them flashing top-level speeds, combined with the HMS focus on winning elsewhere it looks like they still have their work cut out for them.

Did You Notice?… That the entry list for this week’s Charlotte test, crucial in helping fine-tune the handling of the new Gen6 car includes no new car owners or teams? The best we get is the No. 30, owned by David Stremme last season but who acquired investor Brandon Davis in the offseason, changing the organization’s name to “Swan Energy.” In all, there will be 33 cars, including the “upgraded” entry of Danica Patrick (from part-time to full-time with Stewart-Haas Racing) but all of the usual suspects will stay the same.

It’s a crucial component missing, of course in the litany of changes NASCAR has thrown itself into the last two seasons to win back fans. Early reports on the new car have been favorable; at Daytona, drivers were impressed with the way it brought handling back into the equation. No longer will 43 cars be automatically stuck together like glue; yes, it’ll be that way in the beginning, pack racing replacing tandem duos but over the course of a green-flag tire run I’d expect to see at least a bit of spreading out. And as far as intermediates? It’s hard to say, quite yet, but the long list of rule changes, combined with redesigned bodies have NASCAR positioned for the best chance to improve what’s become single-file “aerodynamic necessity” at those racetracks.

“With this car,” Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said last week, “We have a chance to do something great and really make a big impact.”

In a perfect world, that means the pieces are in place for competitive improvements. But as we’ve so often learned the past decade, through the “young gun” era where sponsors pushed out quality drivers – along with changes fans didn’t appreciate – stock car racing survives as a business. And no matter how good the competition is this season, even with photo finishes every race in the ownership ranks the people who can bring more cars to the table have yet to be convinced the “business” side is worth their investment. Sponsors, too, even those that recently pulled out who are still enthusiastic about the sport are hesitant to realign themselves with new programs.

The question then becomes, as we enter 2013 how you entice more competition to the table. In the short-term, there are owner groups, like Turner Scott Motorsports that would be capable of putting an entry on the Sprint Cup level. But over the long-term, that’s not enough; right now, there’s only a handful of Nationwide and Truck owners who would be able to make those dreams become reality. The sport needs more Tony Stewarts, willing to step up to that driver/owner level even if it means the sacrifice, for now of having them be offshoots of the megateams Hendrick, Roush, and Gibbs. New blood provides new opportunities for drivers, sponsors, and new stories to tell. So with the TV deal secure, NASCAR would do good to pony up some cash here and provide the same types of incentives open-wheel did to produce more full-time competition. How about a cash bonus (a set one, paid once no matter how many teams) for an owner that competes in all 36 races? Better yet, the only way they get the money is to finish at least 24 of them, eliminating the start-and-park problem.

It’s a system you don’t have to keep in place every year; make it a short-term option, a way to entice boardroom interest the same way the Winston Million used to have drivers giving that extra 10 percent in certain races. A little money now could secure the future for a generation, because the Penskes, Roushes, and Hendricks won’t be around forever – a point this column has tackled far too many times with no movement on a solution.

Did You Notice?… Some notes from the past week before we take off…

- Breaking news late Wednesday Landon Cassill had left BK Racing, due to no 2013 contract being reached (and 2012 terms unfulfilled) becomes the perfect example to prove my point above. Here’s a talented guy, who at age 23 is coming off a “building block” season with one of the sport’s few new teams willing to compete. But does that “team” even have the money in the bank to pay its bills? The two-car organization, in its first year was virtually invisible on-track, posting one top-10 finish (with Travis Kvapil) and a best result of 18th with Cassill. It’s hard to survive with those kinds of numbers; combine that with sponsor impatience and you’ve got a near-impossible environment for these expansion teams to survive long enough to A) make money or B) grow into a team capable of challenging the Chase-contending programs. The sport has to find a way,

- So the new rule in NASCAR is you’re eligible for Rookie of the Year in any series the first year you choose to earn points. Translation: Danica is eligible now, despite running ten races last year (over NASCAR’s previous limit of seven) because those earned her zero points – she was competing for a title in the Nationwide Series. The rule change was expected, as this season marks the first “real” battle among freshmen drivers since Joey Logano – Scott Speed moved up to Cup in 2009. But over the long-term, you’re going to have to come up with a limit for how many races a guy can run before taking the plunge. Take Trevor Bayne as the perfect example. Right now, he’s competed in over 30 starts in the Sprint Cup Series; by the tail end of 2013, that number should grow over 50. So you’re telling me in 2014, should he move up full-time with Roush Fenway Racing that makes him eligible for Rookie of the Year in Cup? It’s not a “now” problem, but one NASCAR needs to address at some point before an example like that comes into play.

- Brad Keselowski running two Truck teams, instead of one? That’s the rumor, but you wonder how much an expansion of his own program could have an effect on Keselowski the champ. Yes, the drivers that know how to balance everything have the right people in place to manage these things. Last season, a driver replacement midseason (from Parker Kligerman to Ryan Blaney) didn’t change Keselowski’s mindset one bit on the Cup side while charging to a championship. But you never know… in a year filled with changes, where Penske’s moving to Ford, there’s a new teammate in Joey Logano and new cars to learn any off-track distraction would be most unwelcome in 2013.

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Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?
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Michael in SoCal
01/17/2013 11:18 AM
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“Believe it or not, it’s going to be seven years since that organization [Hendrick Motor Sports] last won a plate race, Jimmie Johnson’s lone Daytona 500 victory in 2006.”

Huh?? Jimmie Johnson won at Talladega in 2011 with a push from Junior (who finished 4th while pushing the winning car across the start finish line).

Regarding the bonus for competing in all 36 races / finishing 24 of them, if winnings were pro-rated based on the number of laps completed, then that could be the bonus you’re looking for. Instead of paying someone for showing up & parking, pay racers for the amount of race they actually complete. That discourages starting & parking, and compensates the drivers & owners based on what amount of the race was completed.

babydufus
01/17/2013 12:16 PM
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heh…
“she was competing for a title in the Nationwide Series.” you almost make it sound like she was an actual contender. Interesting point about the amount of races that Trevor will have likely competed in. That said, I think the RotY battle will come down to who wrecks the least amount of equipment. It’s probably safe to say that Stenhouse will generally out perform Danika in the races he finishes.

I agree with your other point that nascar should look to this season as truly trying to build itself back into some form of relevancy and take steps to help create a more feasible business model for the teams. I just hope they stop saying that the racing is the best it’s ever been and that ratings and attendance slippage is due to the economy. Puh-lease.

allisong
01/17/2013 12:29 PM
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Yeah, and not to mention that Jeff Gordon won both Talledega races in 2007. Where do you get your stats from, Tom?

No, Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush may not be around forever, but their teams most certainly have a succession plan in place. You don’t grow a business into 100’s of employees and then just decide to lock the door and turn off the lights when you decide you’d rather be fishing.

Also, you bemoan the lack of new teams, and yet further down criticize Keselowski for starting one.

Andy D
01/17/2013 12:49 PM
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Better yet, the only way they get the money is to finish at least 24 of them, eliminating the start-and-park problem.

Good idea, but then they’d just park it until 10 laps to go. I think Michael’s idea of pro-rating is closer to what we need.

Triple C
01/17/2013 03:27 PM
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It is a bummer for Landon but Reuti will get 100 more points out of the BK ride this year then Cassill did in 2012.

Managing Editor
01/17/2013 11:35 PM
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Hey guys,

Just want to apologize for the plate race stat. It’s been corrected… meant to say the important words “at Daytona” instead which is what the stat refers to. Big whoops.

Re: Brad Keselowski, I’m all for new teams being started. I’m not criticizing the new team aspect — I just wanted to point out the possible distraction for a driver who’s just won the Sprint Cup title. Over the long run, I don’t think we need more driver/owners, either as much as we do new, outside owners who have a passion for the sport and the money/sponsorship connections to back it up.

Steve K
01/18/2013 05:13 AM
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I wonder if the sport would be better suited if they “sold” a limited number (40-45) of franchises and the teams collectively share TV revenue like the NFL does. Franchises could be bought and sold as the market sees fit.

They could also sell part-time and Daytona only rides to teams.

Revenue sharing would give teams a guaranteed income that could be supplemented by sponsorship (a portion of which should be shared amongst the teams).

Of course the France’s pockets would likely be lighter so this would never stand a chance.

NASCAR isn’t the same sport it was 30 years ago. Penske, Hendrick, Childress, Roush, Gibbs, etc. are organizations that will not go away with the death of the patriarch. They will function more like F1’s McLaren and Ferrari, or even the NFL’s Bears and the Giants. They will be around forever. It is time NASCAR recognize this and form a tighter bond with its teams.

Anyone have thoughts on this rough proposal?

oldirtracker
01/18/2013 12:11 PM
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As a 50 year fan of Nascar start and park is my biggest gripe. I understand it is necessary for some new teams but totally unacceptable for it to be a business model for people like Phil Parsons. He has good equipment, a great driver and the bottom line is he is making money starting and parking with no intent to race. it is a disgrace to the Parson name . Second gripe is media personalities owning teams , it is a conflict of interest with the biggest violator being Michael Waltrip, Phil Parsons and know it all Brad Dough boy. My third and final gripe is Boogity Boogity Boogity, everyone hates it and it needs to go.

Overa88ted
01/18/2013 07:14 PM
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I saw that Checkered Flag JJ gave to Dale Jr. at the HMS museum, brought a tear to my eye!

Sabas
01/20/2013 12:59 AM
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The majority of new “competition” will have to come from within the sport. New owners are not coming into the sport because there are so few outlets to supply a competitive engine, so new manufacturers producing engines in house are the only way new competitive blood will flow into the sport.

In the meantime, if JGR, RCR, RFR, MWR, JTG, SHR, and Penske could all add a new car as they’be shown interest in doing, it would be a great influx of competition into the sport

 

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Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

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