NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Ganassi’s Woes, Gibbs’s Rookie & Gordon’s Typical Loudon Stunts

For those of you that did not catch last week’s Fanning the Flames, I have to share one of the funnier post-article comments I’ve seen in a year and a half of writing for Frontstretch. In response to a question and subsequent answer by yours truly concerning the Tony Stewart Rolling Stone article, a poster known simply as “Michael” had this to say:

Y’know, if there’s a way to get the casual fan to question the legitimacy of racing’s athletes and the ability it takes, it’s probably showing them a picture of a fat racecar driver in his undies eating ravioli and then saying, “This guy is one of the best ones.”

Talk about your observational comedy… did you mug Jerry Seinfeld on the way to the keyboard, Mike? Bravo, my man. Bravo. And so damn true.

OK, now that we’ve dispersed with the sharing portion of the column, let’s hit the questions. As always, you guys stepped up this week after a one-off dud.

Q: Richmond was one of the few races this year that actually lived up to the hype. It’s what we should have seen at Bristol and didn’t. So, is the crapshoot [of short-track racing] the CoT, or is the “new” track at Bristol more to blame for the lack of intensity and excitement? – SallyB

A: I’ll take “None of the Above” for 100, Sally. You know, I still really like Bristol – I don’t mind seeing the boys run on two separate, safe and well-defined grooves – but that’s not the question. Your question is, in essence, what’s changed? I believe the reason you don’t see the heart-stopping, non-stop, edge-of-the-seat drama (read: rubbin’, bumpin’, & bangin’… which, don’t get me wrong, are all beautiful pieces that make up the quantum of short-track racin’) is The Bristol Night Race’s location on the schedule since the introduction of the Chase.

Think about it; the season’s second Bristol date has been in August every season since 1976. Of those pre-Chase seasons, only twice in those 28 races has the championship battle involved more than three drivers with a realistic shot at winning the Cup. Since the advent of Brian’s Chase, however, there are upwards of five or six drivers just trying not to fall out of the top 12 – never mind the ones with a prayer of getting in that are trying not to fall any further back and just trying to get out of Bristol intact.

That, and we all remember Bristol for the Earnhardt vs. Labonte and Rusty vs. Gordon finishes. Lest we forget that Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch ran away with a few… and don’t even get me started on DW’s run in the ‘80s. My point: Yes, Bristol may be different with a CoT, new banking and a new surface, but good racing still abounds. Just ask Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton, Stewart and Kevin Harvick: all the participants in thrilling Bristol finishes since the ’07 spring race.

Q: Matt, back to Juan Pablo Montoya and Ganassi… what is going on there? He has no teammates and only half a sponsor. Will he still be in Cup next year? Or should I just throw this year and next out and hope for better in 2010? I read on Yahoo that JPM is happy with Ganassi and that he believes it will turn around, but I don’t see it. Do you know of anything happening behind closed doors that may shed some light on this? – Ben Pierce

A: I don’t see it either, Ben, and I’ve been told there are not many owners or drivers that want to deal with Chip Ganassi. I believe the quote I was given went something like, “Personality-wise, he is 12 laps down.”

Montoya is saying the right things in the media and sticking up for a man that’s been loyal to him. Fine – you can’t fault “John Paul” for that. But, as you’ve stated, the future doesn’t look bright at the moment. Wrigley is only on for a partial primary, and Target re-upped for ’09. Montoya is on board, but past that things appear pretty murky. From the info I’ve gathered, Ganassi is looking for a merger, but whether that happens with Michael Waltrip Racing (as has been speculated) is still very much up in the air.

My advice, Ben: Buckle up the safety harness and hope that Chip Ganassi Racing even makes it to 2010.

Q: Why did Gibbs put Joey Logano in the No. 96 Hall of Fame car? I know HoF is a satellite team [to Joe Gibbs Racing] but haven’t enough drivers over the last few years proven that car is junk? They should have kept him in the JGR car and hoped for the best. What a confidence hit! – Paul

A: Weather, Paul. It was widely known that rain was in the forecast for Loudon on Friday, and JGR wanted seat time in a Cup race for Logano. He wouldn’t get it in the No. 02, which isn’t even a blip on the Top-35 radar when – not if – qualifying was rained out. And don’t kid yourself, that was a JGR Toyota. It was just one with a skeleton crew and a driver thrown into a car and an event that was a little more daunting than he could handle.

He’ll get better, but I told you guys last week that this is a whole new stratosphere he’s blazing into here.

Q: Who blocked [Jeff] Gordon in his stall at NHMS? – Gilbert Daniel

A: Well, they were at New Hampshire, the car in question was a lap down, and getting in the way of those running on the lead lap. Sounds like Robby Gordon to me… twice.

And on a personal note before I leave, let me use my pixilated megaphone to say congratulations to my sister and brother-in-law, Kara and Chris, on the birth of their beautiful new baby girl, Molly Beth. Like most newborns, she looks kind of like a raisin right now… but she’ll be pretty in no time!

I gotta run to the ER, now – the girlfriend just mistook her finger for a sirloin with a steak knife. It’s gonna be a long night…

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