Did You Notice? That lost within the weeklong penalty furor surrounding the No. 99 was the quiet and successful substitution of Bob Osborne with Robbie Reiser atop Carl Edwards‘s pit box? Reiser’s the man for the next six weeks while Osborne is on suspension, and it clearly looked like he hadn’t skipped a beat since transitioning into a General Manager’s role at Roush Fenway Racing last November, finally leaving Matt Kenseth‘s side as head wrench at the No. 17 after nearly a decade together. Ending that long relationship was tough, and Sunday showed how the past still sits in Reiser’s mind, he called Carl “Matt” just as much as his real name. But even though Edwards’s day ended with engine failure, he was a top-two contender and had a shot at the win as Reiser’s pit strategy led to Edwards having fresher tires than Busch when it counted. During those critical moments, all you needed was to hear Reiser’s voice and you could tell he was enjoying this most recent stint on top of the pit box.
It’s that excitement which is leading to speculation about the man’s future. Once again at Atlanta, Roush stated publicly that if Reiser were to tire of the GM role and ask for a crew chief job permanently, there would be no room within his organization for him. OK, Jack; well if you feel that way, why in the world would you let a guy you know hasn’t gotten over that addiction back on the pit box so soon – especially when all your drivers are crediting Reiser’s new role for the company’s recent success? Feeding a fire is dangerous business; Roush may be betting Reiser may want to spend time with his family, but what good is spending time with those you love if you’re miserable when you get home from work? More than ever, I’m convinced Reiser’s passion (or lack thereof in certain areas) will be a story to watch in the coming months, it’s not inconceivable to me that Roush’s approval to feed the crew chief urge could lead to Reiser having an uncontrollable desire to come back to the track – causing a big-time internal controversy.
Did You Notice? That in this age of larger-than-life NASCAR personalities – where egos can often impede the ability to achieve true friendships in the garage – there continues to be a refreshing closeness between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr.? In a pre-race interview Sunday, Truex began talking about how excited he was to be driving Earnhardt’s No. 5 Nationwide Series car this weekend at Bristol, a reunion of sorts for the two since they parted ways as teammates following the 2007 season. When asked how the deal came about, Truex calmly explained it was when the two were hanging out over a beer; when Earnhardt brought up the fact he felt he was running too many Nationwide races in 2008, Truex offered to fill in, and a deal was struck from there. As he described the opportunity to work with the same organization that once launched his big-time stock car career (Truex drove the No. 81 of Chance 2 Motorsports for Junior in 2003), the smile across his face couldn’t have been wider.
But what struck me during the whole conversation is the genuine admiration Truex continues to showcase for Earnhardt since his departure. The rough ending for Junior at DEI could have led to rough feelings for either side, but instead, it appears the two are closer than ever. 40 years from now, no one would be surprised to walk into a local watering hole and see those two having a beer and laughing over old times; in the fast-paced, political world the sport can sometimes become, that’s really refreshing to see.
Did You Notice? That in the “we’re never going to be friends” department, Juan Pablo Montoya continues to join forces with Ryan Newman on the racetrack whenever he can. For those who don’t know, this undercover rivalry has been going on since Montoya “accidentally” made contact with Newman during his Cup debut at Homestead back in 2006. After the two came together, the No. 12 came apart and was a heap of junk the rest of the race. However, that didn’t stop Newman from getting his revenge; a handful of laps later, it was Montoya exiting a fiery vehicle after he ran all over the back of Montoya and the Texaco/Havoline Dodge.
After Atlanta, Newman had some choice words for Montoya as he always does, but with both drivers finishing well outside the top 10, their rivalry was buried to the back pages. Can’t Chip Ganassi Racing get their cars running better so this rivalry could get the front page headlines it deserves? Frankly, it’s always more interesting when the Colombian’s take-no-prisoners driving style makes an appearance towards the front; in fact, Newman wasn’t the only one angry at him after Atlanta. Jeff Gordon was also a little miffed at Montoya when the No. 42 started playing around in front of him late in the race, one year after the two became involved in a tiff at the same track.
Did You Notice? That Tony Stewart‘s tire tantrum could have been handled more diplomatically? Well, duh. A NASCAR source explained it to me this way: “If you listened to Earnhardt Jr. and Stewart after the race, both of them had the same message: the tires sucked. But the way it was handled by the two men couldn’t have been more different. And that’s why Tony is… well… Tony, and the one facing the spotlight this week.”
Couldn’t agree more.
Did You Notice? Five oil-tank cover violations in the Nationwide Series that were appealed to the NSCRC, which led to five different results? I don’t get it; I just don’t get it. If NASCAR is consistent, the appeals board is inconsistent, and vice versa. Can’t we all get on the same page?
Did You Notice? That although I’d hardly consider the Hendrick Motorsports situation a slump, they are in pretty uncharted territory. Right now, the highest-placed of the four Hendrick cars is Earnhardt Jr. in sixth; that leaves no HMS driver in the top five in points this late in the season for the first time since 2002. How did the Hendrick cars do that year? Other than Jimmie Johnson, none really challenged for the title, so perhaps we should take note of this slow start a little more seriously.
Did You Notice? That along those same lines, five of last year’s Chase drivers are on the outside looking in right now? Denny Hamlin, Johnson, Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Edwards all have work to do, and while you think there’s plenty of time, the stats don’t necessarily tell us that. After the fifth race of the season, history has shown us that an average of 75% of the drivers listed in the top 12 will eventually make the Chase; so that means of the five drivers I just listed, at least two of them will be sitting out this year.
Which ones do I think they’ll be? Still early, but Hamlin and Bowyer don’t look Chase-worthy at the moment.