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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: A Surprisingly Solid Western That Nobody Witnessed

ONE: Is NASCAR sending a message to Prism Motorsports and their fellow S&P brigadiers?

Lee Spencer of FOX Sports reported that as soon as Dave Blaney pulled his No. 66 car into the garage at Fontana – after running 43 laps and leading for five of them – to having a sudden engine failure, NASCAR confiscated his car… and may not return the machine in time for the team to race it at Las Vegas.

Immediately, everyone’s jumping on a potential storyline that maybe, just maybe, NASCAR is finally stepping up and sending a message to these freeloaders carpet-bagging millions out of racing for no other reason than cold, hard business. And maybe they have a point. Fellow Frontstretch writer S.D. Grady was quick to note how, surprisingly, both Joe Nemechek and Boris Said parked their cars early… only to return to the track to run some more before parking for good (and this after Said publicly said his team would start-and-park if the budget made them do it… as well as skipping out on practice sessions at Daytona and at Fontana).

But personally, I think everyone’s reading way too much into this. NASCAR has actively ignored this issue for years, and even encouraged it in their lower-level series. Why all of a sudden would they change their tune, especially considering it’s with a team that influential Phil Parsons continues to have a significant interest in? Let’s not forget this is the same sanctioning body that last March at Atlanta claimed that they had a responsibility to make sure teams were on the up and up, only to watch Mike Bliss and the same Blaney take spots in the field away from fully-sponsored entries of Jeremy Mayfield and Scott Riggs, and to say nothing when these respective cars came in early to their pits well short of the tires and equipment needed to actually run 500 miles.

If anything, what’s happening here is that NASCAR is checking their cars, not their intent as a race team. As Frontstretch reported last fall, Prism Motorsports’ previous partners on the Nationwide Series circuit, MSRP Motorsports, had built their cars so far into a qualifying setup that it would not be possible for their entries to last a full race distance, even if a sponsor came calling.

Chances are that’s the issue here. Blaney scoring a top-five qualifying run in an unsponsored car turned heads in the broadcast booth on Friday, and likely in the garage. NASCAR’s going to check the car, find that while it can’t run a race distance that it is legal, and will soon return it to Prism with a request that maybe they try to run 50 laps a race instead of the 20 they’ve made a habit of. If you want to learn about the present, look to the past… and the past says that Prism Motorsports is still going to do their start-and-park thing all year long, make a fortune doing it, and face no repercussions from NASCAR.

TWO: Did Goodyear finally put a good tire on the track?

While Greg Engle and others may disagree with me, I found the racing at Auto Club Speedway in both the Cup and Nationwide races to be markedly improved from what fans have become accustomed to seeing (until they fell asleep anyway) at one of the circuit’s cookie-cutter racetracks. Maybe that was the result of better TV coverage, I can’t say for sure. But I feel pretty confident saying that softer tires had something to do with it.

Seriously, when was the last time that Goodyear managed to balance having tires that actually went away as a run progressed with a tire that didn’t blow out near the end of a tank of gas? The tires obviously didn’t pose a problem for the drivers, as a mid-race battle between Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick or a later duel between Harvick and Jeff Burton produced continual side-by-side racing later in a run that was both uncharacteristic of ACS… and of the rock-hard tires that Goodyear has been putting on the track of late.

Goodyear got one right, and the product on track improved as a result. This isn’t rocket science, Goodyear. Keep it up.

THREE: Maybe Furniture Row Racing wasn’t so crazy about going full-time racing again…

Regan Smith and his No. 78 team nearly pulled out a top-five finish thanks to rain strategy, but watched with the rest of the teams and the 20 people in the grandstands as the big precipitation just missed the speedway. Smith then restarted in the top 10… and actually stayed there for a while. Though Smith eventually got shuffled back into the middle of the lead-lap pack, he eventually posted a 19th-place finish. The result was the first lead-lap finish for the No. 78 team since Daytona last July.

What’s more, it served as early notice that the team’s decision to return to full-time Cup racing may not have been such a reach after all. While Smith ran well in a number of races during the team’s limited 2009 campaign, the season before that saw the Colorado-based race team completely overwhelmed by season’s end, despite having veteran Nemechek behind the wheel and Hendrick horses under the hood. Obviously, it’s too early to tell whether a full 36-race slate will do the same thing to this organization again, but Smith ran very well on Sunday. And with Smith behind the wheel, the chances go up that the team’s limited equipment will not fall victim to the rash of wrecks it endured with Nemechek behind the wheel.

It’s only been two races. But after a strong Speedweeks at Daytona before an early wreck and a legitimate top 20 at Fontana, this just might work out for the No. 78 team yet.

FOUR: Improved racing or not, a poor crowd at Fontana is a good thing

Despite a race weekend far better than last year’s absolute debacle that saw maybe 15,000 show up for the Truck and Nationwide series races combined, only to be followed by a crowd that was maybe two thirds full on Sunday, this year’s Cup race drew what has been estimated as a generous 55,000. Martinsville draws more fans than that. The last Nationwide race run in Mexico City drew a comparable crowd.

Kansas Speedway and its similar brand of cookie-cutter racing is going to be getting a second Cup race in the near future. And the priceless, ageless relic that is the Martinsville Speedway for a while seemed to be the track in the crosshairs to lose a date in the ISC stable. Fortunately, the fans (or lack thereof) that showed up this past Sunday less than en masse to ACS may have done the sport a huge service… they may well have put Auto Club in the target to lose a date.

This is good for two reasons. First of all, as much as the racing we saw was improved on Sunday, it still couldn’t hold a candle to 500 laps on the circuit’s shortest bullring. Second, it provided NASCAR with a golden opportunity to follow through on its commitment to bringing the sport back to its roots. What better way to do this than to finally strip a race date away from the track that has been a symbol for fans to rage against over the loss of the Southern 500? Fortunately, thanks to Sunday, some of the pressure to strip a date from Martinsville disappeared.

And it’s not like Fontana would lose under that scenario. Just look at what happened to Darlington when they went to one race date… they’ve been selling out ever since.

FIVE: The Drive for Five is alive and kicking…

See that guy in victory lane? Yeah, that Lowe’s dude that has hoisted the Sprint Cup the last four seasons? He won again on Sunday. It only took the No. 48 team two tries to win in 2010. Anyone else out there still think their luck just has to run out this season?

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34 thoughts on “5 Points to Ponder: A Surprisingly Solid Western That Nobody Witnessed”

  1. Bryan –
    Our Champion has requested that we not use the slogan “drive for five” citing his mentors run (over the past decade) that was already labeled “drive for five”. He has challenged his fans to come up with a new slogan and until we find one that fits the greatest champion we’ve ever had in our sport – let’s borrow a slogan from the early 90’s Chicago Bulls (Jordan era, take 2):

    Minimum 8-peat!

    This slogan foreshadows what history will fulfill as Johnson ultimately takes his place in everyone’s mind as the greatest driver in NASCAR history.

  2. California Attendance, Kansas Attendance, Martinsville Attendance have no impact on the future of the NASCAR schedule.

    AS much sense as that seems to make, the powers that be at NASCAR are looking at it from a strictly financial standpoint.

    With the economy down, track attendance, souviner sales, concesscions, everything is down. NASCAR believes that when the economy recovers everything else will recover proportionaly.

    If a proportional increase occurs, larger tracks with more seating – California, Kansas, Pocono will produce more revenue.

    Martinsville dropped the ball by not adding more seats to increase it’s potential revenue. Until it takes that risk – it will not be rewarded by NASCAR.

  3. DansMom, saying what you said, now I hope they push the “Dive for 5” all season! That way, I hope it does happen that Jimmie and Team Sleeze will fall flat on their faces and we’ll finally get what we have been deprived of for the last four seasons, a worthy Champion and not one that will have asterisk after asterisk after his cheating laced and questionable gifts from NASCAR to gain four truly undeserved championships! The Daytona, 2006 cheating scandle, the Sonoma, 2007 cheating scandle, the 2009 Brickyard bogus call scandle, the secret post-race inspection from last fall where his car was out of spec (ie: it failed post race inspection, but NASCAR still turned a blind eye) scandle, etc., etc., etc.

  4. Ken…

    And the don’t forget the Charlotte “Keep red flagging the race until Jimmie gets the lead, then call it too late to continue racing” gift from Nascar a few years back. That one really boils my blood because I was there.

  5. I apologize for my terrible spelling too! I should have checked that it is scandal, not scandle. Sorry! Too much snow shoveling before I came to work this morning!

  6. i have personally seen Dans Mom, and she is one sexy woman. I guess some people can’t handle the truth. All hail “King Johnson”

  7. Ken-

    I have yet to see an asterisk next to any of Jimmie’s Championships. Where would they be – so I can look that up?

    “The Daytona 2006 cheating scandle, the Sonoma, 2007 cheating scandle, the 2009 Brickyard bogus call scandle” – non of which were in the Chase and he wasn’t docked any points.

    “The secret post-race inspection from last fall where his car was out of spec (ie: it failed post race inspection, but NASCAR still turned a blind eye)” – SHHHHHH!!?!?!?! It’s sooooo secret no one knows about it!!!! And even NASCAR stated that the 48 and 5 were well within the legal limits.

    While we’re at it, lets talk about the Dover Race where the 48 team manufactured shocks to give them an advantage that when found by NASCAR they said “nice job – but now we have to make it illegal”

    Finding a competative edge isn’t cheating, it’s how you win. I suppose you also think that driving faster than everyone and winning more races in the Chase makes you a cheat as well?

  8. _“The Daytona 2006 cheating scandle, the Sonoma, 2007 cheating scandle, the 2009 Brickyard bogus call scandle” – non of which were in the Chase and *he wasn’t docked any points._*

    I think *_that_* was the point.

  9. Again, where are the asterisks next to his championships? In your mind? That doesn’t count.

    Like everyone who says “In my mind, the chase isn’t a legit way of determining the champion.” Well, the rest of us have no idea what’s going on in there. We watch racing on tracks.

    Please don’t use instances of pushing the envelope for the betterment of the sport and engineering as a whole to diminish Jimmie Johnson’s accomplishments. Nascar has thrived through the years on crew chiefs pushing the envelope, and cars across the globe have benifited from advances made in racing – from a safety and engineering standpoint.

    As for the Charlotte and Indy debacle – sometimes NASCAR makes mistakes, and Jimmie was just lucky enough to benefit from them. As Harvick said “Golden Horseshoe.”

    – Or Does Harvick’s opinion no longer matter after he lost to Danica Patrick on Saturday?

  10. DansMom,
    The asterisks will only come if/when NASCAR finally decides to get rid of the chase and go back to traditional points system. Which is what most traditional fans would like.

  11. DansMom, I don’t feel like getting into any further discussion about your precious Jimmie and Team Sleeze. But two points for you to ponder, then I will leave this message board. One, as for the Dover Shock-Gate, Johnson’s car, as well as the car of Kyle Busch, who, at the time was Johnson’s teammate, both failed post race inspection. But wait, this is Jimmie and Cheating Chad! They let the car sit, for how long, an hour, until the car reached normal height. Did they give the same consideration to Martin Truex and Carl Edwards when their cars were deemed too high? No! They just hit the teams with points and monetary penalties. But not Jimmie, NASCAR’s favorite son! As for the inspection done behind the closed doors of NASCAR’s research centre last fall, even Richard Childress said that he was disappointed that NASCAR said that Johnson’s car, AND Mark Martin’s car, were “slightly” out of tolerance, but there were no penalties. The cars failed!! And if Childress called NASCAR out, there must have been some legitanacy to the accusations of cheating!

    Don’t worry DansMom, Jimmie is well protected, and always will be! Felon Rick has Brian France and Mike Helton in his pocket! Jimmie has his fifth championship, but it will still have an asterisk beside his name!

  12. I think Jimmies middle name is Asterisk. I’m sorry but you cannot compare the original and Chase systems when talking about the greatest. Used to be you had to be great the whole year, and now you just have to be good at the ten tracks that Jimmie is good at. The Chase is a joke, history will one day show this to be true, and the record books will point out the asterisk years.

  13. Re: point 2-

    It’s fantastic when tires wear out over a run. Tip o’ the hat to Goodyear for making it happen this weekend.

  14. Johnson is Lucky, He is also a good racer, and team 48 has learned how to play the “Chase” game. With that being said. Johnson is NOT the greatest driver in Nascar history and never will be.

  15. Isn’t Jimmy’s wife pregnant? I wonder if his kid will win as many championships as Jimmy, or just coast by on the surname like current NASCAR drivers.

  16. 10 good races doesn’t make you a King. Being the fastest of 2 cars capable of winning a race makes you the King.

    Ruling the sport when attrition determined winners makes you the King.

    And as for an asterisk by the Chase Championships. What is Jimmie supposed to do? Not win because fans don’t like the chase?

    Not to mention most of the championships he would have won under the old system as well.

    That’s like saying Richard Petty isn’t that good because he never won a Chase. Jimmie CAN’T win an old format championship – because there isn’t one.

  17. I didn’t think winning 4 chases in a row is being “lucky”. It takes alot of skill and a dedicated crew chief to pull off 4 championships. As BoxerShortsOnFri said Jimmie has earned everythign unlike Dale “i suck at racing” Jr.

  18. The “Jimmie will/will never be the greatest driver in NASCAR” argument is far too premature.

    He has accomplished a great deal over the past 8 years in the sport. But only after he amasses a 15-20 year career can we begin to compare him with the other notables. Even at that point it won’t be an easy task. Comparing drivers across era’s is nearly impossible.

  19. Nice job picking a picture of the grandstands at the end of the track, instead one in the middle showing the fullness. And how much do you want to bet we’ll see empty seats at Las Vegas and Atlanta, too?
    However, I fully support taking a date from ACS if it means keeping two dates at Martinsville. ACS sold out every year when they had only one date, and I would bet they would go back to selling out again if they have only one date in 2011 or 2012.
    I much prefer Bristol and Richmond in terms of short tracks that provide for actual racing instead of follow the leader and bump him out of the way racing. But a short track is a short track and there are precious few on the Cup schedule now. We cannot lose them for any reason.

  20. Okay DansMom here you go…

    Championship number 1 * only ten races long
    Championship number 2 * only ten races long
    Championship number 3 * only ten races long
    Championship number 4 * only ten races long

  21. The chase format isn’t going anywhere, so the other drivers either have to get better in the last 10 races or settle for second place.

  22. Kevin in SoCal,
    I have ticket to the Vegas race this weekend and sit somewhat close to the end of the front stretch stands. Although I doubt it will be anywhere as empty as ACS, I’ll give you honest feedback Monday.

    But I don’t think Vegas will be close to as empty as ACS looked. Right before the start of the race at ACS there was a good shot of the whole grand stand and it was pretty bad. Granted I’m sure it tuff to tell from tv(attendance) and it was before the race started, but it looked pretty barren?

  23. Jimmie didn’t invent the chase nor the COT. It is just like Natural Selection, the driver who is best adapted to their environment is the most FIT, and will be the most successful!

  24. “Jimmie is well protected, and always will be! Felon Rick has Brian France and Mike Helton in his pocket! Jimmie has his fifth championship, but it will still have an asterisk beside his name!”, Ken.
    Can you imagine F1 with a Chase? Nope. They would become a laughing stock. If Chad & JJ are so good they can win with or without the Chase. If Nascar keeps the Chase & JJ wins again there will be louder murmurs of credibilitiy & WWE…& nothing will stave off the exodus from Nascar.

  25. So let me get the logic of this thread correct… Jimmy Johnson is less of a driver because he wins championships according to the rules that his sport sets out? That makes less sense than cooking bratwurst in a beer hottub.

    Most major sports have a playoff system. I dont hear any of you claiming that the giants recent football championship shouldnt count because the patriots won more during the regular season.

  26. Regarding the start and parkers, why do people care so much about this?All I hear is they show up and collect a paycheck. Are you really that narrow minded. These guys make enough each race to allow them to get to the next one. They have to transport 2 cars and pay for tires, lodging and expenses for the race weekend, not to mention the cost to build the machines. Hardly laughing all the way to the bank. These guys are racers and have been in the sport for a long time. They want to stay in the sport and this is how they stay afloat until they can get sponsorships.

    The 36 car last year was a start and park. Now it looks like they are full time. Looks like it paid off for them.

    If you want to blame anyone, how bout blaming Nascar for taking sponsorships away from these teams by making them “the official ____ of nascar”.

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