NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Rusty’s Advantage, Townley’s Future & Gordon’s Irrelevance?

Everyone here at Frontstretch would like to send our well wishes to Matt Taliaferro, who lives by the Nashville floods. He’s doing well, but our thoughts and prayers are most certainly with everyone in the area during this difficult time. While our favorite Tennessean helps with cleanup, here’s a way you can help out along with him: texting “RedCross” to 90999 using your cell phone will donate $10 towards the flood relief needed in most of central and western Tennessee.

Everyone’s favorite Fan Q&A man will be back next Thursday. In the meantime, I’ll be filling in for Matt this week! It was a first for me, and everyone definitely had some good questions!

Here goes nothing….

Q: Just wondering: How is it possible for team owner and father of a driver, Rusty Wallace, to be in the broadcast booth? Does he not have the advantage of seeing and hearing things that could be helpful to his team? Somehow, it just doesn’t seem right. Thank you! – Reba Inboden, Proud Aunt, U.S. Air Force

A: Reba, let’s address the “father” part of your question first.

I’m going to assume you’ve heard the famous “He’s gonna make it! Dale Jarrett’s gonna win the Daytona 500!” from 1993. These words came from the mouth of Dale’s father, Ned, while he was in the television booth. He called Dale’s first career win as well, two years earlier in August, 1991 on ESPN. Darrell Waltrip was in the television booth for both of brother Michael Waltrip’s Daytona 500 victories, and even Kyle Petty has called races in which Richard Petty Motorsports is running.

Family in the booth has been going on in NASCAR for decades. While it does raise concerns about objectivity, you can’t deny the historical moments in racing that it has created at times. The sheer emotion and passion you hear from the family member’s voice as they watch their brother, son, etc., cross the finish line first is unlike any reaction you’d get from a play-by-play announcer. It’s always special.

The family members that are in the booth are usually retired drivers who had their time in the spotlight. However, NASCAR has proven time and again to be a family sport. Sons (and even daughters) will follow in their father’s (or brother’s) footsteps and get behind the wheel of a race car.

It’s likely, then, that if you put a retired driver in the TV booth, there’s likely to be a family member of the driver in the current race. It happens now, and will continue to happen for years to come.

As far as team owners go, the biggest offender of that issue is ESPN. Aside from Wallace, Brad Daugherty also is partial owner of JTG Daugherty Racing, and Ray Evernham was a part of the broadcast team even as partial owner of Gillett Evernham Motorsports.

I can’t imagine that it’s possible for these guys to be 100% objective. Family is one thing, but team ownership in and of itself is completely different.

As far as gaining insight into what other teams do, giving them an advantage, I don’t believe that would be as big of an issue as one might originally think. Drivers and teams are normally all too aware of the broadcast team, as well as the fact that others might be listening in. If you listen to the team scanners, the crew chiefs and drivers are very careful about what they say. I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be that much more careful of what they say to TV people before the race. Sure, Rusty and Brad would be able to see adjustments the teams make during a pit stop, during practice, etc. But their knowledge of what teams do and say is limited to what those crews allow them to hear and see.

As far as the question of whether or not they should be in the booth, it depends on their agenda. While the focus of TV should be to draw the audience into the action, sometimes the perspective of a team owner can be helpful to explain certain situations. That’s fine and all, but it seems to work better when they put them in the infield studio rather than in the actual broadcast booth. That way, you can ask them after a wreck, battle for position, etc. what they thought, but they aren’t sitting there openly pulling for a driver or fuming about a wreck while it’s happening live.

Q: All joking about John Wes Townley aside (Mirror Driving specializes in it), what is his status in Childress’s Nationwide car? He brought the sponsorship, so how is his daddy standing by and allowing [Clint] Bowyer to race the car? And is this permanent, or is Townley doing some racing in Camping World East series or anything? Thanks! – Jeannette, Clearwater, Florida

A: Bowyer said after Talladega that he hoped to race in at least seven more races in the No. 21 car. Casey Mears is driving in another two events (Nashville and Kentucky in June) while the rest of Townley’s schedule was still being determined.

He was originally expected to be back in at Phoenix, but I’ve heard that the 20-year-old just doesn’t want to race anymore.

I know that people seem to pick on Townley a lot, but can you really blame them? He spins out at least once almost every race, and I can’t imagine that’s the kind of exposure Zaxby’s is looking for. Even if it is a family business.

I’m not aware as to whether or not Townley would race in lesser-known or developmental series. My guess is no. With Zaxby’s behind him, he could basically race anywhere he wanted to. I don’t really know that he’d want to move down the ladder when he could easily stay where he is if he truly wanted to.

It’s hard to know, as quiet as everyone has been about it. All we’re really left to do is speculate. But right now, it’s not looking good for “Chicken Man.” (What?! I had to get at least one in!)

Q: I caught Showtime’s Inside NASCAR last week when Brad Daugherty referred to Jeff Gordon as almost irrelevant. Excuse me? A four-time champ with 82 wins that is sixth in points right now is irrelevant? I’d be interested to know if Gordon has been asked about this or has commented on it. Did you happen to catch this episode? How can a broadcaster make such an ill-informed comment and be taken seriously. As for Daugherty, he can find irrelevant by simply looking in the mirror. – Jay Stewart

A: I don’t get Showtime, but I heard about the comment. Here was Gordon’s response on the Friday before the Richmond race:

“I would say me and 41 other guys out there, absolutely. When somebody dominates the sport like that, [Jimmie Johnson]’s taken a majority of the guys out of the picture. That is what is amazing to me that he doesn’t have the media exposure and some of the fan following and some of those things more than he does because I feel like, he’s done everything he possibly could do. I would agree with that, and we haven’t had the package to compete with him. That’s what I’m excited about this year is I feel like I do.”

So I guess, to a point, Gordon agrees.

I kind of wondered what Brad meant by irrelevant. In terms of what? Is he irrelevant as a champion because of what Johnson has accomplished? Is he irrelevant as a competitor?

I say no to both, but I kind of understand what Brad may have been trying to say. (when do you really know with him?)

If he’s saying Gordon is irrelevant as a four-time champion, I wholeheartedly disagree. Yes, Johnson has accomplished almost everything Gordon has in a shorter amount of time. No, Gordon hasn’t won a championship since Johnson entered the picture.

But did Richard Petty become irrelevant when Dale Earnhardt Sr. won his seventh championship?

Is Dale Sr. now irrelevant since Gordon surpassed him in career victories?

Certainly not!

Success is success. Just because someone succeeds to a higher level than you does not make you irrelevant.

Gordon isn’t irrelevant as a competitor, either. Maybe in certain seasons, he has been. But even at his worst, Gordon is still better than most drivers. Especially this season, despite the winless streak he’s bounced back (his 599 laps led is tops among Cup drivers) and has thus far proven to be Johnson’s toughest competitor.

Basically, I understand what Brad was trying to say, I just disagree with him. Jimmie is good, but you can’t erase the success of someone else because of it. Gordon is not only relevant, he’s a darn good driver. No matter how many championships and race wins Johnson accumulates, Gordon’s talent behind the wheel will still hold true.

Q: A question about the All-Star race. I read the format will change, but there is no change to how drivers qualify, right? I love the All-Star race, but don’t like how they have opened up the field to include anybody with a high-paying sponsor. Thanks in advance! – Caroline Urbanek

A: Caroline, I’ve confirmed through Charlotte Motor Speedway’s schedule of events the format will stay the same in terms of qualifying. For those automatically in the All-Star Showdown, there will be three laps (instead of two), with a mandatory pit stop after one of the first two laps. Penalties will be assessed for things such as excessive speeding or loose lugnuts.

For those who haven’t transferred into the big race, there will be a standard, two-lap qualifying session for each other entrant to set the field for the All-Star Showdown. From that race, the top-two cars as well as a driver voted on by the fans will transfer into the main event.

Remember, automatic entries into the All-Star Race consist of drivers (NOT teams) who have won a race between the start of the 2009 season and Dover next week, along with previous Cup Series champions within the last 10 years. Former All-Star Race champs within 10 years are also invited.

Hope this helps!

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