Race Weekend Central

No Bull: Random Thoughts on NASCAR Whiners, Plates & Winners Entering 2011

I’m not a physics major, nor an engineer. The last science class I took was in high school, and that had everything to do with the human body and nothing to do with gravity or mass.

Therefore, I’ll admit that I’m not the most qualified person in the world to talk about drafting at Daytona. But I like to think that I have some common sense. So I’m going to ask this question: Would Sunday’s Daytona 500 be safer with a bigger restrictor plate or no restrictor plate altogether?

Yes, high speeds are dangerous, but Michael Waltrip and Kyle Busch went over 206 mph with restrictor plates Saturday night. That was thanks to the ridiculous closing rates that the wakes of these cars create under the current package.

So if the cars can accelerate faster and pull away from each other (i.e. – no plates), the closing rate is mitigated somewhat, right? It’s just a question, and I certainly don’t have any answers. However, I do understand that we will never know what a restrictor plate-less race will be like in the Sprint Cup Series anytime soon.

Some other random notes from Speedweeks…

— Sorry, you’re insane if you thought that the racing was bad in Saturday night’s Budweiser Shootout. Dangerous? Sure, especially because of those aforementioned closing rates and the fact that the second car in a two-car draft really can’t see anything else except a spoiler and a bumper.

But dangerous certainly doesn’t mean bad or unexciting, as the Shootout produced great passes and new strategy. Sure, it’s completely different than what we’ve come to expect from restrictor plate races – don’t we all love 30-car packs and the potential for a big crash? – but change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Which leads to this point…

— Is there a more vocal segment of a fanbase in sports – outside of the loud minority of Nebraska football fans – than the unsilent minority of NASCAR whiners? Good grief, you people will never be happy and you’re ruining the experience for those that just want to enjoy the sport with minimal complaints.

Sure, it’s impossible and incredibly naive to not have a complaint every now and then, but whether it’s the two-car drafts, the car, the racing, the television coverage… it goes on and on. Take a deep breath and relax, if only for the month of February. You can resume your griping when Jimmie Johnson takes the points lead after winning at Bristol in March.

— And speaking of complaining and J.J., is a sixth straight title going to be another blow for NASCAR among the unsilent minority? I don’t say that as an indictment of Johnson, but rather of the competition, which has failed to close the deal when presented with opportunities to dethrone J.J., Knaus and Co.

But at the same time, I have a feeling that if the new “king” is Kyle Busch, people are still going to complain. Who would you rather have win the 2011 championship if it was down to Kyle and J.J.?

(And maybe Amber Heard was NASCAR’s reach out to new demographics. After all, that’s a rather untapped potential fan base)

Bobby Gerhart‘s streak is impressive – as Bryan Davis Keith mentioned Sunday, he just won his seventh career ARCA race at Daytona, his fifth in the last seven years — but there’s one that will trump it should the number continue to climb on Saturday. If Tony Stewart wins the Nationwide race at Daytona, it will be his fourth straight February Daytona win and sixth in seven years. Plus, those six wins will have come with three different car owners. Stewart has won three with Kevin Harvick Inc., one with Joe Gibbs Racing and one with Hendrick Motorsports… not bad for a guy who will have made only 50 Nationwide starts in those seven years come Saturday.

— How competitive is Danica Patrick going to be this year? It says here that she’s going to have to have multiple – and that means more than two – top-10 finishes if she’s going to want to legitimately entertain thoughts of moving to the Sprint Cup Series on even a part-time basis in 2012.

Yes, a handful of Nationwide top-10s shouldn’t make someone a contender for a Cup ride, but she needs something to point to. And besides, Stewart had seven top-10s in 36 Nationwide starts before he moved to the Cup Series full-time. Before you start typing in the comment box below, I am not saying that Patrick is the next Stewart… just that you never know.

— How many wins will it take a driver outside of the top-10 in points to make the Chase? If history in the seven years of the Chase is any indication, the answer is “not many.”

Top-two winners among non-Chase qualifiers:

2004: Greg Biffle 2, Rusty Wallace 1, Joe Nemechek 1
2005: Jeff Gordon 4, Kyle Busch 2
2006: Stewart 5, Biffle 2
2007: Biffle, Casey Mears, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya 1
2008: Kasey Kahne 2, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman 1
2009: Kyle Busch 4, Matt Kenseth 2
2010: McMurray 3, Newman, David Reutimann, Montoya 1
Note: statistics include wins in entire season

‘Till next week…

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