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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Talkin’ Safety, Driver Shuffles & Engine Troubles

Six down, four to go and I’m still not sold on this being but a two-man race to the title. Although Clint Bowyer continues to put up a valiant effort, seemingly running in quicksand at times, it seems this week’s Atlanta race will determine his fate. If trouble finds Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and Bowyer can notch a solid finish, he’s alive and well. Another strong run by the Hendrick duo, however, and the No. 07 is deep-sevened. Just not enough time to make up ground once we leave Georgia.

Onto the questions.

Q: Hi Matt. I seem to remember that some drivers were hesitant to the idea of NASCAR mandating that they wear a HANS device in the wake of Dale Earnhardt‘s death. Since then, the drivers seem to have become more accepting of it, as I can’t remember the last time I heard a complaint (via the media of course). Has the HANS device simply become an accepted part of the safety innovations of the last few years to the point that the drivers view it as just “part of the uniform?” And can you tell me exactly how it works? Thanks.Patty Bouvier

A: First off, few were adamantly opposed to the device after the loss of Earnhardt. Yes, some complained, but quickly got over it once NASCAR dropped the hammer and said, “Wear it or else.” And you won’t hear anyone complaining after watching Gordon walk away from a nasty spill in turn 1 at Pocono last season, or Brad Keselowski‘s Busch Series crash at California this September. In fact, the HANS device has become a standard piece of safety equipment in most forms of motorsports throughout the world.

A little more info on exactly what it does: The Head And Neck Support Device works to keep the head from whiplashing forward in the event of an accident. Harnesses or tethers attached to the helmet run to the carbon fiber neck collar that has two arms that extend from the back of the driver’s neck over the pectoral muscles; the arms are then secured under the six-point safety harness (seat belts to us layfolk), ensuring that when a rapid decelaration (or sudden stop) due to a crash occurs, the driver’s head is limited in how far it can travel in relation to the torso.

Q: Junior blows another engine this weekend. How many does that make? Seven? It’s obvious that he is getting the R&D stuff at this point. My prediction: He wins Daytona with the Hendrick goods next year.Cody Aldridge

A: Technically, the engine didn’t blow at Martinsville, but he fell from fourth to 23rd with under 10 laps to go, so I guess we can say another one failed.

Yes Cody, it is safe to say that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is getting some frisky setups, but that only makes good business sense. Truex had to be the company’s primary focus heading into the Chase, so they most likely dialed the DEI/RCR combos back a bit for him, knowing that a reliable powerplant is better than a radical one that could kill every mosquito in a five-mile radius just past halfway. I do agree that Earnhardt Jr. in Hendrick equipment will make an awfully attractive fantasy pick for Daytona next year, though.

Q: I’m no Haas CNC Racing fan, but how do you give the boot to two drivers who took second-tier equipment and put it in the Top 35 of the owner standings? Do they really think Jeremy Mayfield and Scott Riggs are going to outperform Jeff Green and Johnny Sauter?TDawg

A: It’s a “what have you done for me lately?” sport we love these days, Dawg. Green delivered five top-10 finishes to Haas CNC Racing in nearly two seasons; Sauter had one top five and two top 10s in 32 races. Can Mayfield and Riggs better that? My opinion is that they can. Haas and Custer’s got a seven-post shaker rig, a wind tunnel and ace Director of Competition Matt Borland at their disposal. Most importantly, they’re locked into the field each week; these are both signs and assurances that this company is intent on being competitive.

NEFF: MAYFIELD’S LAST CHANCE COULD BE GREEN’S LAST HURRAH

Of course, arguing over who is the better driver is an exercise in futility, but Mayfield’s two Chase appearances speak volumes; they tell me that when in competitive equipment, he can succeed. Make no mistake: this isn’t Gillett Evernham Motorsports, and any team that is a satellite operation of a bigger entity (Hendrick Motorsports) will never battle for a championship. Still, I look for the two newbies to duplicate the outgoing drivers’ points position, and they could very well sneak in a handful of top-10 runs.

And finally, I figured this one was coming and sure enough, here it is:

Q: Matt, is there any truth to the rumor that won’t go away about Brian France being replaced by Jim France as the CEO of NASCAR? It continues to pop up, but no one wants to take this bull by the horns and report on how much truth there is to it. What’s your scoop?LW Head

A: Hmmm, commenting on rumors, especially ones of this magnitude, can be dangerous because I don’t want to feed the fire. Since you asked, though, I’ll be happy to tell you what I know!

My first thought when I heard the France rumor was to consider the source; I’ll leave it at that. However, I have been told since that there could be something to a switch at the top of the NASCAR hierarchy. Honestly, that’s about all I can say at the moment, and for that I apologize. Hang tight, man; this will be a story worth following, and we’ll have plenty of coverage here on Frontstretch once the truth does come out.

Enjoy the best racing we’ll see on a mile-and-a-halfer all season long at Atlanta this week, and I’ll see you right here next Thursday…

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