NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? Montoya’s Nightmare, Logano Losing Steam & Disbelieving a Championship Dream?

Did You Notice? Juan Pablo Montoya’s sophomore season has officially become a nightmare? Of drivers who’ve started all 34 races in 2008, Montoya has the most DNFs with nine. Eight of those have been caused by crashes, including four in the last five races that have wrecked – literally – any supposed on-track improvements for the No. 42.

Any guesses as to who’s second on the DNFs list? Surprise, surprise… it’s David Gilliland, with eight of them – including seven wrecks – in 34 starts. So I guess it should come as no surprise that the two ran into each other in Texas, huh? Both drivers are also struggling to get full-time sponsorship for 2009; but with credentials like that to sell, it’s no wonder they’re having trouble with people signing on the bottom line.

By the way, it’s nice NASCAR kept its precedent by parking Gilliland for intentionally causing the wreck between the two of them. In case you forgot, the move comes six months after they doled out the same punishment for the Michael Waltrip/Casey Mears incident at Richmond, in which Waltrip rammed the No. 5 car in retaliation for some short-track contact. While both acts were dangerous, the speeds at Texas make it even more imperative that on-track retaliation to that degree just can’t be tolerated.

The only issue I have with the whole thing is why the heck it took them so long. Replays clearly showed that Gilliland came down and slammed into the quarterpanel of Montoya’s car. But not only was the No. 38 car allowed to circulate for several laps, NASCAR initially imposed a five-lap penalty before deciding to park the car. All it would have taken for me is one set of replays and that car would have been in the garage – no questions asked.

Did You Notice? How pessimistic most fans are about this year’s title Chase? Even though Carl Edwards chopped 77 points off Jimmie Johnson’s lead after Texas – a completely unexpected turn of events – the reaction from most fans is that the championship is still wrapped up. Of course, that’s far from being the case. Now 106 behind with two races remaining, Edwards is one more 15th-place finish from making this a real title Chase heading to Homestead. However, there’s been so much written about Johnson in perfect position to seal his third straight title that most have already tuned this race out.

Of course, it doesn’t help that as we pointed out “last week,” the two would be a razor-thin 21 points apart under the old system. It just goes to show that, like it or not, this playoff system is failing to resonate with the fan base five years after its creation.

Did You Notice? Joey Logano was the worst on-track performer at Texas this past weekend? Since practicing in the top 10 at Richmond before rain washed out qualifying, Logano has now proceeded to finish 32nd, 39th and 40th in three Cup starts. When the 18-year-old struggled in two races in the No. 96 Hall of Fame Toyota, we were supposed to believe the equipment wasn’t good enough. But now, Logano came home the equivalent of dead last with an organization that put all three of its full-time cars in this year’s Chase.

And not only has Logano struggled in Cup, but his Nationwide Series effort has slowed down a bit. After three top-two finishes in his first five races, Logano hasn’t finished higher than fourth since July, leading only 40 laps in the last 12 Nationwide Series races.

Clearly, Home Depot execs have to be getting a little nervous in private about whether they might be rushing this kid a little too soon. In the meantime, my spies in the garage have told me about two big-name drivers with loopholes in their contracts, proven veterans that might still be available to slide into the No. 20 car at this stage of the game. Would Gibbs be willing to go for either one of them as a one-year fix? The next two weeks will tell the tale.

Did You Notice? Dodge has just two top-five finishes in the eight playoff races? Even the new engine isn’t helping their cause, as Kurt Busch showed en route to a trip to the garage on Sunday. Even though none of their teams made the Chase, the manufacturer had hopes to steal a win through Busch, Kasey Kahne or Ryan Newman. Instead, Kahne’s getting battered in his race for 13th in points with David Ragan, Busch seems to want out of his seat at Penske and Newman’s already got one foot out the door on his way to Stewart-Haas Racing.

With rumors flying about a possible GM-Dodge merger, it’s questionable whether the Charger will even be raced on the Sprint Cup Tour in 2010. But at this point, how relevant are the Dodge teams now anyways?

Did You Notice? That other than DEI’s valiant effort at Talladega, none of the teams struggling for sponsorship in 2009 have made much of a serious on-track impact. Bill Davis Racing’s No. 22 car hasn’t had a top-20 finish in six races. Petty Enterprises failed to qualify the No. 45 car this weekend. Chip Ganassi Racing hasn’t had a top-10 finish in the Chase. And so on, and so on…

What that leads to is a deadly cycle – no good finishes leads to no exposure – that keeps sponsors from signing on the dotted line. After all, what company would want to align itself with a team it never sees on television?

Until next week…

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