Did You Notice? That in between all the controversy and opinions surrounding Kyle Busch and his guitar smashing, the No. 18 Cup team is in very real danger of not even making the Chase? Before we get to his antics (and don’t worry, I’m not going to comment too much as 1,500 people have already) let’s examine his dropoff in performance. Through 14 races this season, Busch has 353 points less than at this point in 2008, easily the worst dropoff of any full-time driver in this category. He’s currently ninth in the Chase standings, a whopping 312 behind Tony Stewart and just 53 ahead of Mark Martin in 13th place.
Those stats beg the question: What’s going on? More than ever this season, it’s been feast or famine for Busch at the Cup level. He has more finishes outside the top 20 (six) than he has inside the top 10 (five). Only teammate Denny Hamlin has fewer top 10s and is currently qualified to make the Chase. And while Busch leads the circuit in wins (three) and laps led (789), he’s struggled mightily in the other five races where he’s led laps but did not end up in victory lane. In those events, he’s run sixth, 18th, 25th, 34th and 41st.
Of course, those numbers don’t fully answer the question as to what’s happening with the No. 18. It can’t be Toyota; heck, even Michael Waltrip Racing is now competitive with their Camrys. It can’t be the engines; Joe Gibbs is churning out more horsepower than ever before. And it’s not crew chief Steve Addington, who’s done a masterful job of managing what’s become an increasingly tempestuous personality.
To me, the problem with Busch’s Cup ride revolves around two things. Number one, I think we’re seeing with Stewart’s success on the ownership side that he was more of a leader at JGR than we ever thought. And while Stewart’s charisma is making him the surprise story of the year, his disappearance from the JGR roster has left a gaping hole in terms of leadership in the Gibbs camp. Seniority now falls to… gulp… Hamlin, who’s badly in need of a confidence boost and some sports psychology himself – let alone trying to set an example for his other two teammates. Of course, rookie Joey Logano isn’t going to bring the organization together at 19, either… leaving the role to fall towards JGR’s most successful remaining driver.
But as Spiderman was once told, with great power comes great responsibility… and Busch proved Saturday night he’s far from being responsible. Not only did he take a beautiful trophy after the race and smash it, but he then had the audacity to lie to the national media and say he’d asked permission to do so. Regardless of whether you thought the smashing was cool, you can hardly say a big white lie makes you a leader of men.
And just the mention of that trophy brings me to my second point… Busch’s relentless pursuit of victories in the Nationwide and Truck series. As I said with Kevin Harvick earlier this season, it’s one thing to dabble elsewhere when your Cup program is in good working order. But explain this one to me again: Busch is one bad race from being knocked from the top 12, yet he’s going to spread himself thin by running races in three series in a 48-hour stretch this weekend? It just makes no sense to run for a championship in a series equivalent to AAA baseball when your success in the majors is clearly on the line.
Heading into this summer stretch, it’s a critical juncture for JGR. Hamlin has slid to 12th in the standings and could easily miss the Chase, while Joey Logano is still getting himself up to speed at the sport’s top level. The team could really use a unified voice, someone capable of bringing the team together and righting the ship before it’s too late.
Instead, I’m beginning to fear this could be a year Kyle learns a lesson and accidentally sinks it.
Did You Notice? Jeremy Mayfield’s “abusive” substance has finally been revealed? The fact it was methamphetamine may be news to the fan base, but for those in the media I can tell you it’s been a well-known fact for weeks. As soon as the Monday following the positive test, I can tell you that at least four sources had contacted Frontstretch and already led us in that direction. So, why aren’t you hearing about this stuff before now? Simple: you need to dot your i’s and cross your t’s when you’re dealing with something as serious as meth. When it is someone’s personal and professional life you’re playing with, you just absolutely, positively cannot be wrong… so we waited. And waited. And waited… eventually, the truth came out and we were right. But I’m happy we didn’t take that chance earlier.
Anyways, with that said the revelation of methamphetamine makes a career comeback by Mayfield all but impossible at this point. Even if he’s cleared of all wrongdoing, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to convince a sponsor to spend millions on a man who was at the very least accused of a false positive on such a dangerous drug. And to make matters worse, several sources have confirmed to me that Mayfield Motorsports, Inc., is in some serious financial trouble. So, whether the No. 41 is sold as the full package or simply auctioned off as a last resort, Mayfield’s court battle now gains greater importance – as it’ll likely be his only racing income for the foreseeable future. That means this war has no choice but to be firing bullets back and forth for months to come… long after we’ll have grown tired and weary of seeing both sides fight in the first place.
Did You Notice? Speaking of Busch, he and Carl Edwards were the only Cup drivers trying to double dip in Nationwide this weekend? It was a positive sign for a series that is quietly reestablishing itself (even though Busch and Edwards finished first and third, respectively). Here’s a stat that may surprise you: out of the Cup, Nationwide and Truck series last weekend, Nationwide tied for the least number of start and parkers (five) – and that was at a standalone race. That’s ‘cause the series is the perfect situation for a new prospective owner, as it only takes five million or less to start a team as opposed to the $20 or $25 million to sponsor a top-level Cup operation.
With that in mind, you wonder what some of these underdog Cup owners must be feeling after watching their dreams of competitiveness slip away. Right now, of the teams outside the Top 35, Scott Speed’s Team Red Bull is the only one guaranteed not to start and park each weekend. Prism Motorsports, Phoenix Racing, TRG Motorsports, Gunselman Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin, NEMCO… the list goes on and on of men with big dreams whose hopes were dashed by the widening gap between rich and poor. In the past, they might be able to turn around their inventory and move to a lower series where they might not just be able to qualify… but actually race. But sadly, the Car of Tomorrow makes changing to the Nationwide Series an impossibility… and falling outside the Top 35 leaves their program with little protection or value as it all falls apart. Not exactly the best of scenarios to convince new ownership to join in….
Did You Notice? Some fun with numbers? Here’s some interesting Silly Season comparisons through 14 races… as you can see, there’s been very few moves where both sides have wound up better off:
- David Reutimann has as many wins with new sponsor Aaron’s as David Ragan has top-10 finishes with old sponsor UPS (one).
- Stewart has more top-10 finishes (10) for Stewart-Haas Racing than his two former teammates combined at Joe Gibbs (Busch and Hamlin have a total of nine). And as for a Stewart-Logano comparison… let’s not go there. It’s like comparing a little league pitcher who’s supposed to be as good as Johan Santana to Johan Santana himself.
- Ryan Newman has more top-five finishes (five) with the No. 39 of Stewart-Haas Racing than David Stremme has finishes on the lead lap (three).
- Mark Martin has as many wins with the No. 5 of Hendrick Motorsports as Casey Mears has top-10 finishes (two) with the No. 07 at Richard Childress Racing.
- AJ Allmendinger has 291 points more with Richard Petty Motorsports than Speed has with Team Red Bull – and one less DNQ.
- Paul Menard is one of two drivers to run every race without a top-10 finish in the No. 98 Ford of Yates Racing. At this time last year, Travis Kvapil was well inside the top 20 in points with two top-10 finishes.
I think that’s good for now. It just goes to show that every Silly Season, teams and drivers will roll the dice and gamble – but most of the time, there’s only one winner.
Did You Notice? Richard Petty Motorsports is partnering with a Toyota operation for its Nationwide Series program? Suuuure, Dodge is going to be a part of NASCAR in 2010. Keep telling yourselves that.