NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Busting Brackets, Splitters, & NASCAR Comeback Dreams

What a perfect time for an off-week. Let’s be honest; who among us is not thinking NCAA Tournament? In fact, the presence of March Madness actually brings me to my annual mid-March rant as to how to improve the Chase without actually eliminating it.

In short, cut the Chase races to five so it truly becomes much-watch TV… and award bids to teams. Those within the top 10 in points get at-large bids, while any full-time team that has won a race gets an automatic bid; the number of participants will vary from year to year.

Now, that’s can’t miss TV with a field that we can all agree is a deserving lot. NASCAR wants drama? There you go. Now, how hard was that?

OK, on to this week’s questions… another nice batch that are much appreciated.

Q: Is the front splitter made of the same carbon fiber that the rear wing is made of? My friend says it is made of wood, but I thought that was changed before the car made its competition debut. Thanks, Matt! – Jake L. Wright

A: You’re correct in that NASCAR used a wood splitter in early test versions of the Car of Tomorrow, Jake. But the splitter is now made of a material called Tegris, which is a blend of thermoplastic polymers also known as polypropylenes. (Duh!) Basically, this synthetic material is formed as a film, woven into a fabric and pressed together… we’re talking major pressure here… then cut to form the splitter. The cool thing about this material is that it does not splinter upon impact, is nearly as strong as carbon fiber, and is cheap to manufacture.

The best place to read about this from an actual scientist who can explain the minutia in much better detail than I is in an article written by Dr. Diandra Leslie-Pelecky at StockCarScience.com. It’s very cool.

Q: Hi, Matt! I’m writing to you about the possibility of multiple teams swapping owner points within their organizations. When Penske Racing did this during the offseason (Kurt Busch‘s No. 2 went to the No. 77 driven by Sam Hornish Jr.), it was a smart move on their part. Taking advantage of a loophole, right? But now it looks like a trend that could further tarnish NASCAR’s stupid Top 35 rule.

Are we looking at a situation now where teams will just switch points out of convenience to keep their cars in the field? And where does this lead? At what point are all cars within a multi-car team guaranteed a spot because of this? – Terri Schartung

A: It’s a great question that honestly demands a column unto itself, Terri. The only way to keep a rash of owner point swaps from taking place is for NASCAR to nip it in the bud. Luckily, Petty Enterprises and Roush Fenway Racing spared the sanctioning body the trouble this time, as both organizations announced they would not request a swap. Yet.

However, as you mentioned, NASCAR has already set a precedent by allowing Penske to pull the ol’ switcheroo in the offseason. And with virtually every car, save four or five, in any given field being housed within a multi-car stable, this is a scenario that could continue to play out throughout the season.

STAFF SIDE-BY-SIDE: ARE MIDSEASON OWNER POINT SWAPS FAIR?

My question is from a larger scope. Has NASCAR’s Top-35 system unintentionally brought about a prelude to franchising? While that concept obviously runs deeper than what we’re addressing here, from the surface, it certainly has some similarities.

The other scenario I fear is substitute drivers… think Terry Labonte in Kyle Petty‘s car… will start qualifying, only to hand over the reins to the regular pilot. These men aren’t in it to win a championship; they’re just keeping the car in the Top 35 to collect sponsor dollars. Farfetched? Maybe; but the way I see it, we’re entering uncharted waters anyway.

Q: Denny Hamlin gets burned by fuel pickup issues again! How does Hamlin keep getting bit by the same problem? If it is a problem with the cable-driven style fuel pumps, why hasn’t NASCAR gone to electric pumps? Are electric pumps that much of a no-no in NASCAR? – Marc Pyne

A: You just answered your own question, Marc. Electric pumps are forbidden. It’s all cable-driven all the time, baby! As to why it seems to bite Hamlin more than others, I don’t believe it does, necessarily. Wrong place, wrong time for him; remember, the same problem nailed Tony Stewart in last year’s Bristol race, and I believe that filtered down to Kevin Harvick a week later. When you’re leading, it is more apparent… but the problem does happen.

Q: Matt, with Martinsville coming up, I wanted to ask if there was any chance Darrell Waltrip gets back in a truck for one last spin? – Dave Millay

A: Let’s hope not. That 13th DW recorded at Martinsville in ’05 is about as good as he could’ve hoped for. Besides, from the reaction we get on the comments addendum on these articles, you all love the man where he’s at now, In the booth!

Actually, the upset you’re looking for, Dave, is Baylor over Purdue in a weak West Region. I’m off to watch it happen… see you next week!

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