Well, I guess introductions are in order. My name is Matt Taliaferro, and I’ll be one of your guides through a predictably unpredictable Nextel Cup season here on Frontstretch. I’m a “newbie” around here, a term the rest of the Frontstretch staff seems to love, as they’ve taken great joy in throwing the word around like Rusty with a water bottle at Bristol. Ask fellow new writer Vito Pugliese; he’ll agree. As I was trying to say, as Scanner Static‘s new “Static-stitian” I’ll be available throughout the week with any questions you may have concerning all things NASCAR. Whether you want a serious answer to a serious question, to slam me for something I said the week prior or you simply want to vent, this is an ideal forum in which to do so. I look forward to reading what you have to say.
Now that we’ve disposed of the formalities, I have a problem: No one asked a question during the transition from Jess to me this week. Yeah, I know it’s the offseason and I’m a “newbie,” so I understand the stagnation. Therefore, in the absence of a legitimate, honest and heartfelt correspondence with you, our loyal readers, I held a conversation with myself. Enjoy.
Q: Concerning NASCAR’s tweaking of the Chase, does it really expect us, the tried-and-true, red-blooded, die-hard fans to tolerate yet another change to an already manufactured points system?
A: Well, yes, of course it does. You see, Benny Parsons, God rest his soul, explained it best to me just over a year ago. “I think they got us,” he explained. “I think we’ve watched long enough and we’re hooked. We’re going to watch (regardless).”
And he’s absolutely right. Admit it, you may think the Chase is some trumped up system to ensure racing’s best and most profitable make the playoffs, and it is. But you, the true fan, love the sport and will watch no matter what cockamamie 10-race reset they dole out come September.
Q: But Matt, you ask, when will it end? What’s to keep NASCAR from altering something like the owner’s points in the middle of the season?
A: That’s a good one. Honestly, I look for a rules change concerning the Top 35 pretty early in the season. You know, there are going to be some big-name sponsors that don’t make even one of the season’s first few races.
So what happens if an “Official Such-and-Such of NASCAR” misses that little season opener in Daytona? Worse, while we the fans may not be much on that parade they stage in Southern California, that event right outside of the nation’s No. 2 media market is gold to sponsors who pony up millions to be represented. You think a corporation fresh off missing the 500 is going to play along two races in a row? Doubt it.
Let’s also not forget that Las Vegas is the third stop; one of the fastest-growing, most profitable cities in the country, NASCAR is always looking to wine and dine there. Big guns missing the field won’t play well no matter what Vegas casino you’re in.
Q: Hey, Vegas! So what do you make of the changes in the banking? Will we see better racing at another one of NASCAR’s cookie cutters?
A: I was at that Vegas race last year, and believe me, those last couple laps were stock car racing at its best. Of course, a late yellow bunched ’em up, enabling Jimmie Johnson to pass an otherwise dominant Matt Kenseth coming off turn 4 to nab a win. Yeah, it’s amazing what a NASCAR-mandated green-white-checker will do in terms of memorability.
Anyway, Vegas is bad fast now that it has 20 degrees of banking. Almost too fast, according to one Tony Stewart. While faster speeds at aero-dependent tracks usually damper the side-by-side racing aspect of the show, this track may be a little different. Jeff Gordon says the Humpy Bump going into turn 1 may encourage drivers to find a second or even third groove. Let’s hope so. I love a track that has some character, and if Vegas is now as rough as the drivers say it is, it should at least be, Humpy Bump and all, a better show than the aforementioned California race.
Q: So if the track comes in, are we bracing ourselves for a second Vegas date?
A: Bruton Smith sure wants it. Pocono, New Hampshire, Martinsville, consider yourselves on high alert, as Bruton has a way of getting what he wants. Calling Francis Ferko,
Q: All right Matt, this is all well and good, but anyone who scans through the racing news of the day can formulate opinions on the topics you’ve touched on. Got anything random that’ll keep me reading?
A: Sure. For my next trick, I’ll rate the NASCAR organizations for ya. (And yes, this is scientific. Sort of.)
1. Hendrick Motorsports: When Gordon is your No. 2, you’re golden.
2. Richard Childress Racing: The renaissance continues. It’s not a stretch that all three cars make the Chase this year.
3. Roush Racing: Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle will go Chasin.’
4. Joe Gibbs Racing: Stewart’s my pick to win it all.
5. Evernham Motorsports: This one could bust up my rankings. Kasey Kahne will notch some wins. If the Nos. 10 and 19 do as well, they could be a top three organization.
6. Dale Earnhardt Inc.: Yes, Junior will sign. He’ll win more than one race this year, too.
7. Penske Racing South: If the new noses are the cure, Kurt Busch could prosper. Ryan Newman is another story.
8. Petty Enterprises: Bobby Labonte could win at a short track, and Robbie Loomis has them pointed in the right direction.
9. Ginn Motorsports: This is the team to watch. An influx of capital and new drivers galore!
10. Bill Davis Racing: Jeremy Mayfield is a great hire. Dave Blaney is in the Top 35 and will stay there.
11. Chip Ganassi Racing: Juan Pablo Montoya and Reed Sorenson will be good in 2008. (David Stremme will not).
12. Robert Yates Racing: Ricky Rudd will re-enter in grand style: on the pole for the Daytona 500.
13. Michael Waltrip Racing: Well, at least Dale Jarrett will make all 36 events.
14. Haas CNC Racing: Jeff Green + Harold Holly = A 2000 Busch Series championship. Oh, wait, it’s 2007 and we’re talking Nextel Cup. Nevermind.
15. Team Red Bull: Where to begin? How about AJ Allmendinger: No points, no experience, no clue.
Q: Hmmm. Well, while we’re at it, which driver is on the hottest of hot seats?
A: Gotta be Jamie McMurray. I mean, after all the hubbub we were forced to endure over getting out of his Ganassi contract in 2005, he at least owed the rest of us media a Chase run last year, let alone the team he ran to. Instead, he laid an egg, and Jack Roush was none too pleased.
Despite the disappointing season, McMurray’s still been given the opportunity to hand pick a crew chief and the team has been rebuilt from the ground up for ’07. If he doesn’t do something with those Roush machines this year, it’ll be McMurray that’s forced out of a contract.
So, by the time we talk again The Bud Shootout will be in the books and we’ll finally have some real racing to talk about! Yeah, this offseason hearsay is getting to me, too. So let’s see those questions, folks. I can’t keep talking to myself all season!