NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Closing the Inbox on the 2009 Season

So we’ve come to the conclusion of another long season, and our time together in this space is quickly reaching the finish line. Yes, this will be the final Fanning the Flames column of the 2009 season, but if I get enough mail over the offseason I’ll file a couple more here and there.

I asked you at the beginning of the season to talk to me. This didn’t have to be a Q&A column… I wanted a free-flow of ideas and participation. “It is your column after all, I just format it on Wednesday nights,” was the quote. Well, I’m glad to say I got to talk to you all and you got to talk to me for 42 weeks by my count. It felt like a conversation to me… I hope it did to you as well.

Q: Hey Matt! Finally, we have some entertainment! The Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin feud is the best one since Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace. I think it will last longer and make more fireworks, too! Thanks guys, there is not a season so bad that a good rivalry won’t fix. – Jack Johnson, San Antonio, Texas

A: I thought Hamlin had the quote of the year when he said last weekend that, “There’s a lot of guys who owe him (Keselowski), there’s a lot of guys that have chips to cash in – I’m just going to be the first to the pay window.”

However, he one-upped himself 30 seconds later when he said in response to Dave Burns’s question of, “Do you think NASCAR needs to get involved with Brad at this point?” with a, “Nah, nah, I’ll take care of him. It’s no biggie… I got it.”

It’s called calling your shot, folks. Enjoy Saturday’s race.

Q: After reading in the Frontstretch Newsletter that [Kurt] Busch‘s win by 25-plus seconds [at Texas] was the most since electronic scoring in 1993, I was wondering when the last time a race was won by a full lap, where only the winner was on the lead lap? Thank you. – Kevin Lorentzen

A: Thanks for writing in, Kevin – and for being one of “our participants” throughout the season. My first thought was Jeff Burton at Loudon in 2000. You know, the infamous restrictor-plate fiasco when JB led all 300 laps. However, that’s not the case as, surprisingly, 10 other cars finished on the lead lap in that event.

You have to go back to 1994, to the Tyson Holly Farms 400 in North Wilkesboro to see a driver win by a full lap, and that driver was Geoffrey Bodine (or maybe he was known as Geoff then … and maybe he’s changed it back to that since, I can’t keep track). Regardless, he led 334 of 400 laps in his self-owned Exide Batteries Thunderbird and lapped the field on pure horsepower, not by some fluke of an advantageously-timed caution or fuel-mileage strategy.

Bodine had a strong machine all season in ’94. He was one of the drivers running Hoosier tires – in fact, that Wilkesboro win was the final one for Hoosier in the sport. Most will remember his most successful season coming in 1990 while driving for Junior Johnson; he finished third in the standings that year and racked up three wins along the way. However, ’94 was special because he ran his own operation. The problem therein was that, while the engines were stout, they were also unreliable.

He won three races that season, but DNF’d in nine of the 31 events due to engine and parts failures. He also crashed out of six additional events (the most memorable being at the inaugural Brickyard 400 while leading, courtesy of brother Brett). That means he finished 16 races, but was eliminated in 15 for one reason or another. And of those 16, he finished in the top 10 on 10 occasions.

Bodine ran full schedules for the next five seasons – earning one win and 27 top 10s – but never equaled the success he enjoyed between 1984–1994, when he won 17 Cup trophies.

And, by the way, with the Lucky Dog rule in place, I don’t know that we’ll ever see a driver win by a one-lap margin again.

Q: Will Jack let me back with Matt [Kenseth] in 2010 so I can bring the No. 17 team back to championship form? – Robby Reiser

A: With the way your five cars ran this year, I’d say you’ve got bigger things to take care of than just the No. 17 over the offseason. Besides, wasn’t it you that wanted to take a break from the road?

And jeez, people, for the second week in a row you’ve inserted a “Y” where an “IE” should go. If you’re gonna make the joke, don’t screw up the punch line… that’s all I ask.

Q: So what’s the latest, Matt? Will she? Won’t she? Did ESPN call their shot too early? Is it JRM? Come on, “Enquiring” minds want to know! – FLW, Roanoke, Va.

A: You’re a funny guy. Or gal. And I’m assuming you’re talking about Danica Patrick and not whether Sarah Palin’s recent media blitz is a ramp-up to a run of some sorts in 2012.

Guess I’ll go with the Danica thing here, and I’m going to be honest with you, I haven’t a clue what’s going on there. Palin said on Tuesday that a presidential bid is “not on my radar.” Conversely, Danica is not on mine.

Those who started reporting this whole thing stick steadfastly by their initial claims. Others… not so much. It wouldn’t surprise me to see her in a JR Motorsports Chevy for 12-15 races next season. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Honda threw a fit and told her and Michael Andretti that she needs to choose a side and a ride. I’m not privy to the contract negotiations (and those that are aren’t talking – please bear that in mind), but we’ve seen Tony Stewart’s manufacturer loyalties divided in the past, so that may not be the biggest hurdle.

Speaking of contracts, her new one that has been reportedly inked with Andretti Green Racing hasn’t even been announced yet, and most likely will not be until early December due to team ownership changes. Therefore, I wouldn’t expect an announcement on any NASCAR plans until maybe the banquet, but that could stretch into at least mid-December. Of course, that’s just me connecting dots and theorizing.

In the meantime, we’re getting the same ol’ “no room at the inn” type talk from Rick Hendrick, so go ahead and try to surmise what’s going on behind the scenes with him and his bunch. I’d imagine he’s blowing smoke, though, and things may be closer than he’s letting on.

Until then, Roanoke, I’ll answer your question this way: The latest is that there is no letter of intent; she will make a decision but she won’t tell us yet; and yes, ESPN probably got a little trigger happy on this one.

And so a Danica question closes out the lot. I have a feeling it may be a Danica question that gets us going again next February. Like Junior, I think we all need to take a step back, decompress, and come back fresh. Until then, please enjoy the food, the family, and the fellowship the next month and a half brings.

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