The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... A "Race" Driver's Impact, NASCAR Silly Season Updates And Punching Back by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday October 30, 2013

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Did You Notice?… The blessing and the curse surrounding Darrell Wallace, Jr.’s Truck Series triumph? In case you’ve been living under a rock, Wallace became the second African-American since 1963 with a race win in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions. Wendell Scott, who won in the Cup Series at Jacksonville is the only other such driver to make a breakthrough.

For those who think this victory meant nothing, insignificant in this world where we’re 50 years removed from the Civil Rights Movement think again. Wallace’s win was decades in the making, men from Willy T. Ribbs, to Bill Lester, to young Marc Davis and his late father blazing a trail in a world that was once a perilous place for African-Americans. We’re talking about a France family that, as late as 1976 was pushing the late segregationist George Wallace for President, twelve years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We’re talking about a sport that, as late as 2008 was making an out-of-court settlement with African-American female official Mauricia Grant over threats that included the Ku Klux Klan coming to kidnap her. It’s a dark past, one that makes the argument of “should we be having this type of excitement surrounding racial achievement, in America in 2013?” virtually irrelevant. Of course you have that type of celebration when you’re talking about an environment that, as little as five years ago was stained with the perception of past prejudice. It may be the actions of a few, but all it takes is one bad news story, one rough first impression in this Twitter/Facebook age to make the rounds.

Darrell Wallace, Jr.‘s victory at Martinsville Speedway last weekend has stolen headlines because of his skin color, but that’s exactly why the sport is so far behind the times.

That’s why Wallace’s victory has brought attention, from a new group of potential fans along with hope. It’s the type of achievement that brings positive national crossover; think about Tiger Woods and golf, for example. Sometimes, you don’t believe you can do something unless you have someone you can directly relate to that’s succeeding at it. Woods made five-year-old African-American kids, across the country believe that they, too could one day be number one at golf. Right now, there’s a whole lot of African-Americans, an up-and-coming generation looking at Wallace and saying, “Wow. That’s pretty cool. I want to be like him.” It’s a connection that might not be made, in the same way with a Kyle Busch or Brad Keselowski or even Kyle Larson. That’s not reverse racism… just reality. One of the most identifiable physical features we have, as humans is the color of our skin and we respond to people we feel are most like us.

So yes, whether it should be the truth or not the blessing of this win, and Wallace’s potential rise to stardom is it will create more interest from a minority group that has not been proportionally represented in this sport. In an era where new faces are sorely needed, it’s a victory that carries more impact, over the long-term than even this year’s championship Chase. It’s the same way with Danica Patrick, in which potential success from a woman in the sport has created a whole new legion of eyes that pay attention. Whether the Drive 4 Diversity program should be around – where Wallace came from – is a topic for another day. But there’s no arguing that the introduction of diversity in general, within a world that’s increasingly multicultural delivers results.

Now, here’s the curse. The celebration of this type of victory, to me based on skin color in 2013 also stings of NASCAR being woefully behind. There’s an aspect here of “Look at us! We’re not racist anymore!” connected to its crossover appeal that doesn’t seem all warm and fuzzy. I do think people are right in the sense this shouldn’t be a story, that 2013 should put us so much further ahead so the color of one’s skin doesn’t matter. But NASCAR doesn’t have that history. The sport hasn’t had that breakthrough… until maybe now.

Shame on them for that. But there’s a chance this victory is the first step to making it all a non-issue, where eventually the level of diversity will reach a point we won’t even need to talk about it. I can’t tell you when that will be. But I can say two wins, by an African-American driver in 50 years of a sport is a big story. It just is, whether you believe in the process of Affirmative Action or not. There’s too much history, both positive and negative to ignore that fact in this arena.

Did You Notice?… NASCAR’s Silly Season has started to settle down? With the year wrapping up, let’s get a quick recap of where we stand for 2014. As you can see, there’s only a handful of open seats remaining…

2014 Full-Time Teams
Hendrick Motorsports (4): No. 5 – Kasey Kahne, No. 24 – Jeff Gordon, No. 48 – Jimmie Johnson, No. 88 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Stewart-Haas Racing (4): No. 4 – Kevin Harvick, No. 10 – Danica Patrick, No. 14 – Tony Stewart, No. 41 – Kurt Busch
Joe Gibbs Racing (3): No. 11 – Denny Hamlin, No. 18 – Kyle Busch, No. 20 – Matt Kenseth
Roush Fenway Racing (3): No. 16 – Greg Biffle, No. 17 – Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., No. 99 – Carl Edwards
Richard Childress Racing (3): No. 27 – Paul Menard, No. 3/29? – Austin Dillon, No. 31 – Ryan Newman
Penske Racing (2): No. 2 – Brad Keselowski, No. 22 – Joey Logano
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (2): No. 1 – Jamie McMurray, No. 42 – Kyle Larson
Richard Petty Motorsports (2): No. 9 – Marcos Ambrose, No. 43 – Aric Almirola
Front Row Motorsports (2): No. 34 – David Ragan, No. 38 – David Gilliland
Michael Waltrip Racing (2): No. 15 – Clint Bowyer, No. 55 – Brian Vickers
Germain Racing (1): No. 13 – Casey Mears
Leavine Family Racing (1): No. 95 – Michael McDowell
JTG-Daugherty Racing (1): No. 47 – AJ Allmendinger

2014 Part-Time Teams
Wood Brothers (1): No. 21 – Trevor Bayne
Confirmed Rides: 31

Seems like we’re all set for next year, right? Not quite. There’s still at least a dozen seats in play, although most aren’t the “juicy” top-tier opportunities people are looking for. Here’s a look at those open seats…

Furniture Row Racing (1): Easily the highest-profile ride still available. Right now, it’s a standoff between owner Barney Visser and company against potential driver Martin Truex, Jr. The team wants a long-term commitment; Truex, coming from the Michael Waltrip Racing mess wants a one-year deal. But a highly-placed source told us, this week, “this contract will work out. Both sides aren’t talking to anyone else… it will get done.”

Justin Allgaier may be smiling soon enough, in front of a microphone if his 2014 plans involve a full-time ride in Harry Scott, Jr.‘s No. 51.

Phoenix Racing (1): What Harry Scott, Jr. will do with his newly-purchased team is still a mystery. Common sense would tell you he’d promote from within at Turner Scott Motorsports; driver Justin Allgaier has been promising in a handful of Cup starts. My bet is on Allgaier getting the ride, full-time next season.

BK Racing (2): A mid-tier ride where there’s a possible opening with Travis Kvapil facing domestic violence charges. A guilty verdict likely leads to his release, though a series of DNFs might make that happen anyway. David Reutimann is on a one-year deal and seems vulnerable, too; he hasn’t run top 20 since February’s Daytona 500. Bobby Labonte is a viable option if the team wants to bring in another veteran. Remember, too there were payment issues with former driver Landon Cassill; all indications are they’ll be back but we always seem to see one of the programs in this category dissolve every offseason.

Tommy Baldwin Racing (2): Plans for the two-car team will be announced in early November. Jeff Burton, among others has been rumored here; it’s the best remaining fit of the rides available. If so, who’s out? It’s been a disappointing season overall for longtime driver Dave Blaney and new, full-time teammate J.J. Yeley. Blaney’s average finish (28.5) is his best with the team but he hasn’t run top 20 since Talladega in April. Yeley has been largely a non-factor since a 10th in this year’s Daytona 500.

Circle Sport / Hillman Racing (2): All indications are Landon Cassill, with several promising runs will continue to fill the main seat in 2014. The second one, currently held by Tony Raines is a bit more uncertain as it’s a bare bones effort.

Swan Racing (1): The only thing we know for sure is the seat will go towards a young driver. David Stremme is out and no longer a part of the program post-Richmond. Cole Whitt, Kevin Swindell, and Parker Kligerman have appeared among those on the audition list. The first two have had rollercoaster runs, so Kligerman has a chance to shore up the deal at Texas with his future at Kyle Busch Motorsports (Nationwide Series) uncertain for 2014.

FAS Lane Racing (1): Ken Schrader, along with his sponsorship from Federated Auto Parts trots off into retirement after Homestead. Terry Labonte, who runs no more than the plate races for the team will likely join him. That makes young Timmy Hill, the quiet third member of this year’s Rookie of the Year race a central focus for his sophomore season.

Front Row Motorsports (1): There’s some question as to whether Josh Wise will return to the program, running a third R&D team that occasionally start-and-parks. He’s struggled as of late, but there’s nothing out there to indicate he’s getting released.

NEMCOJRR (1): With Joe Nemechek an owner/driver, keeping the seat warm for son John Hunter there’s no question he’ll remain in this ride. But expect sponsorship for a 50-year-old, running the oldest equipment on the circuit hard to come by.

Phil Parsons Racing (1): Still expected to be around next season, in some shape or form despite the departure of start-and-park stalwart Michael McDowell. Whatever the selection here, the intentions remain the same: going the distance only when funding allows, unless in extraordinary circumstances like Daytona or Talladega where a win through plate racing is possible.

Did You Notice?… Quick hits before we take off…

- My, how times have changed. Richard Petty was so averse to alcohol sponsorship, his No. 43 used to be ruled ineligible for the old Busch Clash (today’s version of the Bud Shootout) because of his refusal to carry the company’s sticker on his car. But in came investors, in 2010 and suddenly the King was a mere pauper compared to the opinions of his multi-million dollar saviors. First, there was Budweiser, paired with Kasey Kahne as Richard Petty’s operations merged with George Gillett’s cars that already had sponsorship deals in place. That, to me was understandable; nixing an eight-figure partnership, based on personal opinion just wasn’t feasible with NASCAR’s sponsor opportunities drying up like the Sahara Desert.

Tuesday’s announcement, though, involving driver Marcos Ambrose and Twisted Tea is a whole lot harder to understand. This one was pursued, hook line and sinker by a Marketing Department clearly giving the go ahead on putting alcohol on the hood. It’s a small contract by comparison to, say FedEx and Joe Gibbs Racing. The brand will only sponsor one race, Dover next September, as the primary while remaining an associate on all remaining events. But then again, we’re talking about a man who wouldn’t allow a sticker the size of my hand, a NASCAR supporter on the side of his race car out of principle. Has Petty, at age 76 mellowed that much over time? Or has the old saying, “money talks” left NASCAR’s top legend with no choice but to “shut up?”

Note: CEO Brett Moffitt, of RPM says Petty continues to refuse alcohol sponsorships on his No. 43 car only based on a personal promise he once made to his parents.

- Yes, Matt Kenseth. I was wrong. I will never doubt you the rest of the season. Outpointing Jimmie Johnson, as I’ve said several times was the race of the Chase for the No. 20 team. Heading to Texas, they’ve stolen momentum away from the No. 48. On paper, I’d say you suddenly have to give the edge back to Joe Gibbs Racing.

So why is the ball still in Jimmie Johnson’s court? Because it’s time to see if Five-Time can respond to getting punched back. The last two seasons, in 2011 and ’12 the once unflappable combination of Johnson and Knaus buckled under the pressure of quality competition. In ’11, it was a combination of factors; in ’12, the one-on-one showdown with Keselowski eventually wore them out. They’re in a similar type of battle again, this time with Kenseth. Have lessons been learned to put them back in position to win? Where is the mental fortitude that caused them to outlast Denny Hamlin, back in ’10? That’s what I’m looking for. That’s what we need to see this weekend for the No. 48 operation to regain the upper hand in this Chase.

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10/30/2013 07:50 AM

I’m a radio sports talk junkie. This win by Wallace didn’t even move the needle. I didn’t hear it mentioned at all on any radio station.

That’s not a reflection on Wallace but on Nascar, which is becoming more and more irrelevant.

The once super-exciting truck series is damn near dead. Thanks Nascar.

Glen H.
10/30/2013 09:43 AM

DarrellWallace Jr.‘s win was a big deal – to NASCAR. No one else paid any attention.

Like JP said, NASCAR is becoming more and more irrelevant.

Mark Frankelman
10/30/2013 12:09 PM

Making Wallace’s win a big deal b/c he is not white is racism as well. Why do we have to point out that he’s a black driver, isn’t he a driver like everyone else? It’s wrong to point out the color of his skin when insulting him, why is it okay to point it out when complimenting him? Nascars incessant screaming of “we’re not racist rednecks” is probably doing more harm than good.

Tim S.
10/30/2013 12:39 PM

The powers that be need to have more concern for the die-hard fans of any color who are walking away than they do for bringing in people solely based on ethnicity.

10/30/2013 03:28 PM

The majority of people don’t give a hoot in regards to his skin color, I sure as hell don’t. But the media still has to report his win as something significant based on his skin color, why? How can we move forward as a society if this type of nonsense in this day and age is still brought up? You are infact insulting him, imo.

10/30/2013 03:30 PM

Self serving article.
It’s a very fine line not to cross and you did.

10/31/2013 07:56 AM

I can’t add much to what the folk above have posted. They’re all spot on. It’s the P.C. media and race-baiters that have won on this issue, not the fans nor the successful drivers.


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