Race Weekend Central

Fact or Fiction: On Pick-A-Series, Silly Season & Earnhardt/Letarte

FACT: Jimmie Johnson will kick butt and win the title this season… again

Jimmie Johnson has had many things thrown at him over the years: Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, just to name a few. A new points system will prove to be no big deal as Mr. Five Time begins the “Drive for Six” in Daytona on February 20th. Sure, NASCAR will try to play this move as an attempt to give fans a more exciting points finish and possibly a new champion — but it won’t happen, so quit holding your breath and enjoy watching history being made by one of NASCAR’s finest drivers.

With a revamped, better-performing pit crew and offseason changes made within the Hendrick Motorsports support system, there’s little to stop the No. 48 team from surging towards title number six.

FICTION: After a Quiet 2010, Silly Season Will Be Fun in 2011

While many drivers are reportedly beginning the final season in their current contracts, most of them won’t be moving far from their current seats, making the so-called “Silly Season” not so “silly.” Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Edwards, Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya and Brian Vickers are all up for contract renewals after Homestead at this time. But while some are in slumps or have missed the Chase for the last year or two, they all find themselves in the best position they can be in right now.

The only interesting drivers to watch are Mark Martin, who is out of his ride for sure after this season but says he is looking for a part-time deal for 2012, and Trevor Bayne, who will be racing part-time for the Wood Brothers this year and could possibly look for a full-time ride next season (Editor’s Note: Bayne could be groomed to replace David Ragan in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6). Other than that, well… we better hope the racing is as exciting as it was last year.

FACT: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Will Be (A Little) Better With Letarte Alongside

I’m almost stating the obvious on this one, because really, can his performance get much worse? The new crew chief in Steve Letarte won’t make much of a difference, but his cars will be built right next to Johnson’s. Even if it provides just a small bump in technical support, that’s something; and surely at some point, a little luck will rub off of one of Johnson’s Chevys to get Junior Nation back up on their feet this year.

Thanks to the new “win-and-you’re-in” wildcard added to fill positions 11 and 12 in the Chase field, Earnhardt will likely make a Chase appearance this season; all he may need is two victories, maybe even just one. However, consistency will still be a problem at the beginning of the year and would likely haunt him for any type of playoff appearance. I’d love to see him win the Daytona 500, but it will take a little while for crew chief and driver to fuse together in order for him to have any sort of chance at victory lane. A July triumph at the same track, six months into the partnership seems far more likely to me.

FICTION: “Pick a Series” Will Solve Nationwide, Truck Series Problems

On paper, the new rule requiring drivers to elect one series to earn driver points in looks good; but in reality, it doesn’t solve much. Yes, new restrictions guarantee a driver that double-dips (or triple-dips, in the case of Kyle Busch) won’t win a Nationwide or Camping World Truck series championship. But this process still won’t stop the Cup regulars from racing in the series, as there’s no limit to the amount of races any driver can run.

The Nationwide teams, like it or not, need the Cup veterans to sell sponsorship on their cars to keep them on the track, to the point the title sponsor fought tooth and nail to keep Edwards and Brad Keselowski involved in the championship battle until the final hours this January. Essentially, since both drivers still remain active participants (along with several other Cup drivers) the Nationwide champion will be a winless guy, one who put together a few top fives and some top 10s to string together that trophy come Homestead. Is that what people really want?

I understand the argument of making the series a second rung in a ladder that leads to the Sprint Cup Series, but – like it or not – money does need to be made to keep the series alive. One can try to block out that single fact as much as they want, spell NA$CAR with a dollar sign or call the racing body NASCASH. But this isn’t amateur sports: each of the series needs to make money. And as a business, for each series to stay alive they have to remain profitable and that equation isn’t hard to figure out. Big name drivers equals money, money equals profitability, profitability equals stability, stability equals success, success equals staying in business.

Unfortunately, a series with first-year rookies doesn’t produce that type of pattern; a Nationwide or Truck level comprised of them won’t be profitable on a national scale. The sooner fans and other members of the media understand this, the sooner they will realize the song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” isn’t far from the truth.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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