The Frontstretch: Troubling Trends For NASCAR In Texas... Johnson Rout Notwithstanding by Thomas Bowles -- Monday November 4, 2013

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What is that phrase? Everything’s bigger in Texas? Well, if that’s the case you’ll find a whole lot of fans refreshed at the airport this Monday morning. What a wonderful story they’ll tell, of a place down in Fort Worth where they fought through traffic to pay for the best “durn” nap of their lives. Even Jimmie Johnson’s two-gun salute, from Victory Lane moments after the checkered flag fell at Texas couldn’t wake them up. Posing for pictures, at the intermediate track he finished shooting into the stands a race trait scaring race fans straight towards the exits…


Jimmie Johnson came out, guns blazing and blew by the competition with ease en route to his first victory this season on a 1.5-mile track.

All right, so let’s call a spade a spade; the No. 48 threw up a stinker on Sunday. No amount of mystery debris, lapped traffic, weird restarts or pit road penalties could keep the Lowe’s Chevrolet from stomping the field. They even tried to stub their toe, in the form of a 17-second pit stop only to slice through traffic as if there was a booster jet attached. Brad Keselowski called it “embarrassing;” in reality, it’s simply part of it. Johnson, as a five-time champion will do from time to time cobbled together one of those magical performances that will land him in the Hall of Fame someday. “Stealing” another victory from second-place Dale Earnhardt, Jr. the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut was on top of their game, leading 255 laps on a day it seemed like all 334 could have been a distinct possibility.

But Johnson’s performance, up front doesn’t change the stale competition from second on down. During one green-flag stretch, in the middle of this race the top-10 runners didn’t change positions for 30+ laps. That’s right; you could have gone to Subway, eaten your lunch, come back and seen everyone in the same running position. Sunday also marked the fourth Texas race in a row where three drivers combined to lead over 310 of the scheduled 334 laps. In each of those events, it’s become a bit of a runaway at times, those up front building leads of up to ten seconds outside the top two or three cars before a debris caution or timely wreck scrunches up the field.

Not what NASCAR intended? Certainly not with the new Gen-6 chassis, designed to fix this type of snooze-inducing performance on intermediates. There have been glimpses of hope, like at Fontana in March but sadly most of the 1.5-to-2 milers have produced dominating days like this one. The speed of the cars keeps the tires on edge, passing difficult and drivers running in place. Whomever’s up front, already with a handling edge gets that much more of a cushion due to simple aerodynamics. Hope for close competition extends to two areas, then: green-flag restarts and pit crew speed. But a lack of cautions kills the first option; fans (and drivers) need to wait nearly 20 minutes between stops for the second. That amount of down time, for 15 seconds of tire changes just isn’t captivating enough for most without that super smarty pants engineering degree.

Circumstances didn’t help this one, either, Sunday never having the type of game-changing wreck, caution flag sequence or even fuel mileage gambles to muck up the field at Texas. Early on, it appeared tires would be a concern, Jeff Gordon’s wall hit combined with a handful of other drivers complaining their wear went down to the cords. But that wreck, on Lap 79 was pretty much the last time we saw any driver come close to crunching sheet metal. The final 255 circuits were run incident free, with just a debris caution, from Juan Pablo Montoya’s tire and an engine problem for Carl Edwards dotting the resume.

It’s a far cry from what Texas once was. The first few years here, Survivor: Alamo was a race car reality show as spectacular wrecks, mechanical miscues and a narrow line caused Demolition Derbies — it was too much in the other direction. To its credit, the speedway’s pavement has aged, gracefully enough to provide multiple grooves on-track for drivers to race. The goal is for them to be like Atlanta, where those differing lines combine with exorbitant tire wear to create a number of comers and goers through the field. On paper, it all appears headed in the right direction.

It’s just not getting there fast enough. Quick; other than last Fall’s late-race slugfest, between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski what’s the most memorable Texas race you’ve seen as of late? Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s maiden victory in the Cup Series? That one was all the way back in 2000. In reality, there have been some barnburners; Carl Edwards’ Fall ’05 victory, combined with Jeff Burton’s in ’07 come to mind. But there just haven’t been enough of them, fuel mileage dial-backs and cars running far too fast minimizing the quality of competition. No wonder why the crowd, unreported on Sunday is nowhere close to a sellout.

That’s a shame, because Texas is one of the most important markets for NASCAR to succeed in. The track has a Humpy Wheeler, Jr. of a promoter in Eddie Gossage, always finding a way to keep the track front and center. The facilities are some of the nicest the national tour has to offer. There’s a large population base, many of them hardcore fans that make this market easy.

It’s the racing that’s been difficult to come by at Texas. And, as we saw on Sunday for fans outside of Jimmie Johnson lovers that makes enjoying the day, for all three-plus hours close to impossible. Not the impression you want to leave, as a two-date racetrack with a prestigious place in the Chase, right? Big market – and big money – aside, someone in the sport should spend the offseason fixing this Fort Worth facility before the crowd flops any further.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
NASCAR Mailbox: A ‘Normal’ Saturday And A Valuable Lesson
Beyond the Cockpit: Tony ‘The Sarge’ Schumacher
Open Wheel Wednesday: Controversial Moves, Long Beach Crowds, and Being a Fuddy Duddy
The Frontstretch Five: Pleasant Surprises of 2014 So Far
IndyCar Driver Profile: Takuma Sato
Beyond the Cockpit: Tommy Baldwin on Owning His Team, Hall of Fame and the Number Seven


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Robert Eastman
11/04/2013 05:54 AM

Don’t you just miss the “the good ole days” when the winner shared the lead lap with one or two other cars or was the only car on the lead lap, maybe even 2 or 3 laps ahead of second place?

11/04/2013 07:23 AM

Seldom is the rest of the story remembered after a race, it is only the bottom line. There may have been (rarely) only a few cars on the lead lap, but all day they had to miss the lapped cars, etc. It may have been a badge of honor to finish on the lead lap. Richard pop pop Childress only finished on the lead lap one time when he was driving. New ideas only receive scorn, it is just a shame, NASCAR is stuck in a rut lower than a snakes belly in a wagon rut.

11/04/2013 07:57 AM

Who says a driver can’t pass in the Gen-6 car? That 48 car can pass any car at any time. Amazing.

Too bad the 48 car seems to be the ONLY car that can do that.

I really would like to go to a Texas race next year but this race makes me think twice about spending that money.

11/04/2013 08:39 AM

Tom Bowles, your disrespectful and unnecessary tweet after the wreck that ended Jeff Gordon’s race at Texas has made me reconsider the kind of writer you are. Until that tweet, I considered you one of the best and unbiased that I read on the internet, but no longer.

Texas? Well, I can tell you that I would never waste my $ and vacation time to go to Texas or many of the 1.5 ovals that are in the chase. Yeah, the 48 seems able to pass at will and everyone else is simply standing still marching in place. Guess my brother will be getting 6% off of his purchases at Lowe’s soon.

Managing Editor
11/04/2013 08:55 AM

Hey Gina,

As a commenter who’s gone back and forth with me for years, I am so confused what got you so angry about that Tweet. I understand and respect that you are a lifetime Jeff Gordon fan. Everyone has their strong allegiances, part of what makes this sport so wonderful to cover.

I believe the Tweet you are referring to is “Jeff Gordon in the wall! Caution out — 24 headed to garage. Title bid, possible asterisk… it’s all over.” You can only say so much in 140 characters. All I’m saying there is his title bid is over, and NASCAR officials are breathing easy because the risk of a possible “asterisk championship” is gone. That’s all; it’s no different than anything that’s been said the last two months by me.

No question, had Gordon won the title he would have earned it through some amazing performances in the ten-race playoff. But the title would have always come with that asterisk, by some as he wasn’t even IN the Chase until the Friday before. Adding a 13th driver, at that late date was like throwing a 7th wild card team in the NFL playoffs. It’s unprecedented and, fair or no would cause the title by some to be viewed differently. In my opinion, that’s totally fair.

How you’ve turned that into an insult on Jeff is beyond me. Jeff didn’t do anything wrong… he was as innocent a victim as Truex. But circumstances, and the way this situation unfolded through NASCAR officiating (and the actions of Michael Waltrip Racing) will always make his 2013 Chase unique. Gordon made the most of the opportunity… but there are some who will always believe he should have never had it in the first place.

11/04/2013 10:17 AM

For the record, not all of us engineers find this exciting either.

11/04/2013 10:23 AM

I guess I was fortunate that my daughter and her family came for a visit at about lap 20 and left when there were 2 laps to go. I saw the beginning and the end and apparently I didn’t miss a thing. I used to hate it when people came to visit during a race. I now look forward to it.

Md racer
11/04/2013 10:39 AM

You are 100% correct about Gordon and France’s decision to put him in the chase.
Without the tv money I think that yesterday’s race would have lost money. That crowd was anemic just like Charlotte.
Brian France is destroying all of the work his father did to grow the sport. You can blame the economy only so much then you have to look in the mirror.

Carl D.
11/04/2013 10:54 AM

Nice pic. I haven’t seen a cowboy that happy since the Village People sang “Macho Man” back in the 70’s.

11/04/2013 11:08 AM

Tom, thanks for that explanation. I apologize if I misunderstood but as you say, I am a long time fan of Jeff’s and having this opportunity end in the wall was a real sore spot just then. When I read your tweet, it sounded dismissive of the efforts the 24 team had made BEFORE Richmond and since the start of the chase. Yes, BZF did add him into the chase and surely they thought about the possibility that he could win it all. More than Gordon winning it, for NASCAR, the worst thing that could happen would be Bowyer winning it, although I’m sure Bowyer’s fans would disagree.

Of course as far as I’m concerned ALL of the Chase trophies come with an asterisk as none of them are full season championships. Do I want Gordon to have one anyway? You bet and having a tire failure screw this good opportunity up had me really ticked off.

Sorry that I took it out on you and thank you again for the explanation.

11/04/2013 12:51 PM

So glad I missed this race. Thinking about taking a break from Nascar until Jimmie retires.

11/04/2013 12:53 PM

Texas is the poster child for glutting the Cup schedule with 1.5 cookie cutters. SMI bought and closed North Wilksboro to give it its first date. Then they sued NASCAR and ISC to get its second date. The settling of that suit led to Darlington losing the Southern 500 on Labor Day and Rockingham being sacrificed to give Texas its Fall date. I’m not saying NASCAR wasn’t happy to do it at the time or that North Wilksboro and Rockingham didn’t have their issues, but Texas Motor Speedway began the trend in the 1990s of building 1.5 mile cookie-cutters in new markets where seating capacity became more important than providing good racing.

11/04/2013 01:20 PM

Jeff Gordon should not be in “The Chase” and that race was boring as hell, sadly.

11/04/2013 02:09 PM

Sully, if Gordon doesn’t belong, neither does Bowyer.

Jim R
11/04/2013 02:18 PM

You folks don’t want stock car racing, you want theater. You want to see a play not a race. On Sunday, you saw what perfection on the race track looked like. Instead of marveling at seeing a 300 game in bowling or a pitcher throwing a perfect game in baseball, you idiots sit around complaining how boring everything was. You call your selves “fans”, nothing could be further from the truth. You want excitement, go to a WWE event, they have everything planned out for your enjoyment. PS, I’m a Kenseth fan and I was on the edge of my seat the whole race.

11/04/2013 02:21 PM

Gina, you are delusional if you think Brian France added him to the Chase because he thought he could win. France could care less about that. Gordon in the Chase was far more lucrative for him than Jeff out, and he found a way to get him in.

Just look at all of the decisions France has made since he’s had the reigns. All based on money, which is why Nascar is in the poor shape it is right now.

By the way Tom, its not the tracks that are the problem, its the car. Texas is not the only place that has single file borefests disguised as a Cup race. The trucks put on a decent show every track they go for the most part, so its not the track.

11/04/2013 02:25 PM

The chase is just a hokey publicity stunt. It should be called “Chase for the big pot of money”. The point system has the same problem the Latford system had. It is a welfare system to make everyone close. There is almost no advantage to win. You can lose a ton of points but you can only make them back one at a time. Asterisk, big deal.

11/04/2013 04:31 PM

Gina, you make it personal, its your favorite driver(extremely obvious with your bias glasses always glaring in your posts, thats o.k.). I have never been a fan of Gordon, but that’s my cross to bear. With that said however, you do not change rules in the middle of the game no matter who it is, no matter what happened. It weakens the integrity of the sport. What sport does that? That action solidifies the opinion of many that BZF and Nascar has a special relationship with HMS, to the exclusion of other teams. And this is one example. I don’t care about Bowyer or Newman or my mailman in this instance, it was wrong period and the sport looses credability all around.

11/04/2013 04:48 PM

Steve, no, I’m not delusional, I know that BZF didn’t add him out of the goodness of his heart or “fairness”. He added him because of the $ that Gordon in would bring in from all of his “bias glassed” fans. Yeah, Sully, I hear you and I’m aware of it, but I’ve taken a lot of heat for my choice of favorite over the years and I am not going to give it up now.

Once upon a time, having a favorite driver and caring a lot each week was what MADE NASCAR interesting, along with the racing.

Jim, no I don’t want theatre, I want to see an actual race – with passing – not a follow the leader event or one where there is only 1 great car – which is what NASCAR Cup races have become. The rivalries on the track made it interesting – now the drivers are all “team mates” or buddies. Yuck.

Fed UP
11/04/2013 05:24 PM

I watched the “race” during NFL commercials. It was all about the chase not the race. They only focused on a few cars and left most of the field uncovered. It amazing that 2/3 of the field can maintain sponosors. ESPN has also started showing the in car shot of the driver which gets boring in about three seconds. Why not show a second shot of someone further back?
Get rid of the chase!

Tom Dalfonzo
11/04/2013 06:16 PM

After what happened yesterday, the Circuit of the Americas should be a shoo-in for a NASCAR Cup Series race.

11/04/2013 07:06 PM

“only to slice through traffic as if there was a booster jet attached”

It’s been like that for years. But it is “Brian legal.”

11/04/2013 07:23 PM

FedUp, I agree with you. Heck they even started earlier this year, they started talking Chase at the 500 in February, then they talk talk talk about it. It’s just the HMS drivers in The Chase that they talk about mostly. Heck Logano knocked off a few top 5’s and two times they did not interview him and he got a small nod yesterday, and the nod was that they were not talking about him and they said it, he ran up front all day. Matt gets a mention because he is Jimmies “rival” Silly stuff.

Brian and Rick made sure all of the HMS drivers were in the Chase and that’s who they concentrate on. It’s not good for the economic health of the sport.

11/05/2013 07:19 AM

@Jim R…GREAT post!

Jim R
11/05/2013 02:07 PM

Thank you, HankZ!!

Gina, There was lots of passing going on. Johnson passed a lot of the field several times. Now I will concede that if the field starting a race was 30 cars instead of 43 cars, there would be a lot less passing. I think the rules packages currently in effect makes the cars pretty much equal. It is what the teams and their driver do with those packages that can make the difference. I agree with you that multi-car teams create certain “situations” that detract from the real purpose of the sport and I would prefer seeing a maximum of two cars from the same owner but that will never happen as long as sponsors contribute the money.


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
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

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