NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: The Lights are Off Atop the Pace Car… Let’s Go!

Didn’t we talk just, like, two Thursdays ago? Is the Christmas season really over a month gone in our rearview mirror? Has the “merging” of race teams on the NASCAR circuit finally jumped the shark with the Front Row Motorsports/Yates Racing deal?

These are questions I ask you. Now, it’s time for us – this grateful writer and you, the NASCAR fan – to rehash our annual talk.

Fanning the Flames was created to provide you an outlet to ask questions, voice concerns, and blow off a little steam. In short, this is your column as much as it is mine – I just format it on Wednesday nights. Without your interactive involvement, this column no longer exists. Therefore, I need your input to keep it up and running.

So, let me know what you’re thinking. Let’s talk for a fourth year. You don’t have to ask questions necessarily – I just ask for your participation. Let’s have a free flow of ideas – your thoughts and mine – and we’ll call it conversation, not Q&A, because I’ve got to be honest, I get more inspiration from your questions and points of view than I do just sitting here thinking. And besides, who wants to hear me pontificate, anyway?

So, what of Brian France and the brass letting the “boys be boys” this year? Have we, the fans, made enough noise that NASCAR can no longer afford to not listen? Was this Super Bowl commercial really worthy of being banned (yes, Danica Patrick is in it)? What of the wings-back-to-spoilers development? What is it that endears us so to Kyle Busch?

There’s so much going on in this ever-evolving sport, and this is your chance to put yourself and your opinion out there for all to see. Ever sent an email or letter to Daytona Beach? Well, have you ever received a reply? Fanning the Flames presents you the opportunity to sound off… and you will be heard.

Q: Hope I get in the first edition of Fanning the Flames! This year is the same as last because with the buying and selling and stealing of owner points, I can’t keep a clear picture of who is in and who is out [of the Top 35]. Can you help us out?

Very excited for a new season from NASCAR and the Frontstretch! Saturday night! Let’s go racing boys! – Addie H., Murfreesboro, Tenn.

A: Hope springs eternal for the NASCAR set; Drivers are, but fans never blest: The throttle, uneasy and confin’d from home, Rests and waits for a 500 to come.

My apologies to Alexander Pope, but my in-state girl Addie here is dropping an enthusiastic green flag on the column this year.

OK (cracking knuckles), the Top 35. As of Wednesday evening, Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 inherits Richard Childress Racing’s No. 07 points by virtue of its “alliance” with Childress. The No. 78 enters 2010 21st in the owner points rankings.

Bill Jenkins’s new Latitude 43 Motorsports is in thanks to a loophole wherein NASCAR allowed Jack Roush to sell all assets of his No. 26 team (including owner points) to Jenkins without buying an ownership stake in the new outfit. This is said to be a one-time-only circumstance because Roush was forced to cut one team to get in under NASCAR’s four-team cap. A “comprehensive services agreement” – whatever the hell that is – exists between the companies, with Boris Said doing the driving. The No. 26 is ranked 22nd in owner points.

Travis Kvapil and Robert Richardson III, who will be replaced by Kevin Conway and David Gilliland after Daytona (Kvapil is moving to the No. 34), are in for the Front Row Motorsports bunch (Nos. 37 and 38) by virtue of Doug Yates becoming a minority owner in FRM and bringing his points from the Nos. 96 and 98 cars. The No. 98, still driven by Paul Menard, inherits the No. 44’s 2009 points at RPM.

Among those full-timers still on the outside looking in: Scott Speed (82), Bobby Labonte (71) and Aric Almirola (09), who failed to move up with all 35 of 2009’s owner slots now secured by an active team for 2010.

Q: Rookie of the Year battle. What a letdown. Conway vs. [Terry] Cook? It’s bad to see no real future stars coming in the sport this year. It has to be the weakest field ever. Do you think Conway wins this (or do you care)? And what is the best Rookie of the Year field in your estimation? Thanks. Looking forward to the Bud Shootout! – Glenn B., Bellbrook, Ohio

A: Yeah, letdown is a good word. Conway will win it, I suppose, based on his standing with sponsorship – despite the fact he won’t run Daytona. Also, Cook will most likely start ‘n’ park.

Best ROTY field? That’s a good question. Of course this is totally open to debate, but the 1993 class of Jeff Gordon, Labonte, Kenny Wallace, PJ Jones and Todd Bodine have a combined seven NASCAR titles spread over the three touring series. There really isn’t a NASCAR version of the NFL’s Quarterback Class of ’83, so your thoughts on this are welcome below.

Q: How can Elliott Sadler run a Ford in the Cup field and a Chevy in the Truck Series? I thought the manufacturers were picky about that. Can you shed some insight? – Corby773

A: It is a unique deal, but so long as Ford and Richard Petty Motorsports clear it and Chevy and Kevin Harvick Inc. do the same, it’s a non-issue.

I’m not basing this on anything I’ve been told, but it makes you wonder if Ford and RPM don’t care because they’ll not be needing his services after 2010 anyway.

Q: Is Denny Hamlin’s ACL injury something that will hold him back in the car? A lot was made about it, but I don’t know how just hitting the clutch is going to be that taxing on his knee. I think the media has sensationalized the story because it was the offseason and there wasn’t anything else to focus on. – Laura Downs, New Jersey

A: Most overblown story this side of John Wall’s “frustration” with Coach Calipari of late. Denny will be more uncomfortable outside the car than in it. Non-issue in my book.

Q: I’ll get the Danica questions started, Matt! Is she not announcing about the Nationwide race just to build hype? Why even run the ARCA race if she is not building for the NNS race? Having a Daytona race under her belt serves no purpose otherwise.

Thanks, and looking forward to the new year! – Terri Black, Missouri

A: GoDaddy’s M.O. is hype-building. I’d be amazed if she didn’t run in the Nationwide event at Daytona. Truly amazed. They’ve got us talking, though, and that’s the goal.

Random Find of the Week: Despite what Brian France, Mike Helton, et al, tell us, this still ain’t our daddy’s NASCAR. And here’s the proof.

One final bit of info for our fantasy racing buffs out there before I let you go: We held our annual interoffice NASCAR draft this week (along with the esteemed Managing Editor here at Frontstretch). We picked eight owners with four drivers each that are kept throughout the season (trades and add/drops are allowed), using a serpentine draft method. The results:

Round 1: 1. Johnson; 2. Martin; 3. Edwards; 4. Hamlin; 5: Kyle Busch; 6. Smoke; 7. JPM; 8. Jeff Gordon (steal of the draft)

Round 2: 9. Kurt Busch; 10. Junior; 11. Biffle; 12. Kenseth; 13. Bowyer; 14. Burton; 15. Newman; 16. Kahne

Round 3: 17. Logano; 18. Ambrose; 19. Keselowski; 20. Reutimann; 21. Truex; 22. Vickers; 23. Harvick (Wow!) 24. ‘Dinger.

Round 4: 25. Ragan; 26. Sadler; 27. Hornish; 28. JMac; 29. Speed; 30. Regan Smith; 31. Waltrip (for Daytona); 32: Bobby Labonte.

Use it as a mock draft. Or ignore it. Hope it helps someone, though.

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