NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Five Points to Ponder: Uncertain Futures for Logano, Cassill, UPS

*ONE: Matt Kenseth Might Have Saved His Future As Well as Ragan’s 2011*

If one certainty emerged out of David Ragan’s first career win at Daytona, it’s that he’ll remain in the No. 6 car for the remainder of the 2011 season. With Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. running for the Nationwide championship and Trevor Bayne’s momentum in the sport having cooled a bit, especially with his extended absence, Ragan put the period on his ride. That’s thanks, of course to Matt Kenseth’s loyal pushing in the final laps, unwilling to pass his teammate as the two sped to victory with Daytona’s tandem drafting technique.

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With their tandem sprint to the finish line, both David Ragan and Matt Kenseth may have long-term benefits from their 1-2 performance in primetime, under the lights at Daytona Saturday night.

But Kenseth, it turns out, might end up grateful he did that for more reasons than simply getting the fourth Roushketeer into the win column. With a victory at Daytona on the resume, the case for UPS to drop its Roush Fenway Racing affiliation after this season just got that much harder. The suspenseful part is… with which team do they stay? Because just as Ragan finally broke through, there’s also the matter of Kenseth, the 2003 champion and a multiple-race winner this year, suddenly being down a sponsor for 2012 with Crown Royal departing.

So does UPS stay with Roush and migrate to the No. 17? It’s an intriguing proposition. While Kenseth isn’t that big a step in personality from Ragan, he brings veteran savvy and a track record of consistent performance, making the Chase in all but one of the seven seasons of its existence. That’s no small credential to have, especially for UPS, whose rival sponsor FedEx is enjoying the near-championship success of Denny Hamlin on the racetrack.

And while Jack Roush might have been adamant about keeping UPS on the No. 6 car in post-race press conference remarks, the fact remains that between Ragan and Kenseth, it’s ultimately Kenseth who’s more important to keep around, regardless of age. Right now, no one can forget, Roush’s big gun in Carl Edwards remains unsigned for next year, meaning the owner needs to have the house he’s selling around him in tip-top shape to lure his top-tier driver back in. And a fully sponsored Matt Kenseth, no doubt, is worth more as a teammate than a restrictor-plate ace in David Ragan.

So for Ragan, here’s a word to the wise: winning at Daytona is a big deal, but it does not a meaningful career make (just ask Greg Sacks). So to say that Ragan’s reached the upper echelon, as Roush did Saturday night, because he reached Victory Lane is a stretch. Viewed as a whole, his tenure with UPS has still been a glaring underachievement, one that still could cause his unfortunate demise following the season if he tanks in the second half. Fortunately for the Roush camp, following this victory they’ve got both race-winning cars and multiple drivers to sell to keep brown and their money in the fold.

*TWO: What’s Going to Happen to Landon Cassill?*

Don’t look now, but between a 12th-place result at Michigan and running as a legitimate top-15 car at Daytona before being caught in the big wreck, Landon Cassill is starting to go places with James Finch’s No. 51 team. As sponsor money now allows the team to race with decent tire allotments every weekend, Cassill is getting consistent seat time for the first time in his NASCAR career, and the results are finally coming through.

So, with Brian Vickers possibly in need of a job next year, Mark Martin needing a new ride and the development ranks in the Nationwide Series full with Aric Almirola, Josh Wise and the almighty Danica Patrick, where does Cassill fit into the future plans of the organization? There’s suddenly just too many drivers in the Hendrick umbrella to keep them all in Cup cars, or even sponsored Nationwide entries. And here’s the sad thing: Cassill may just be the odd man out unless funding can be found to keep Red Bull Racing afloat, and in doing so giving Vickers and likely Martin a home for 2012. Otherwise, Cassill, dutiful soldier though he may be, is going to be the young guy in a Phoenix Racing camp that has become a de facto Hendrick operation. Will loyalty to the R&D driver trump what Hendrick has for the venerable Mark Martin? Or Brian Vickers, should he become available?

It doesn’t look so good. After all, this is the same owner that made the No. 5 car his pet project for 2009, just to try and get his new guy in Martin his first championship – the other three drivers be damned. Meanwhile, Cassill fell victim to the “sponsorship” shortage even after winning the 2008 NNS Rookie of the Year award, for an organization in HMS that could sign itself a primary sponsor blindfolded.

Want to predict the future? Look to the past.

*THREE: A Literal Career Weekend Is Up for Joey Logano*

What began as quiet rumors about discontent in the Home Depot camp regarding the performance of Joey Logano has become one of the lead stories of Silly Season. And right on cue, just as talk heats up, Logano starts delivering results; a pole and top-10 run at Sonoma, followed by a Nationwide Series victory and top-5 finish on the Cup side at Daytona in just the last two weeks. That success has the No. 20 driver talking momentum and even possibly Chase heading into Kentucky, a track where this youngster very well may be able to claim being the most experienced driver in the field.

Logano’s first Nationwide Series victory came at this very oval in 2008, and he’s been a force to be reckoned with in every race he’s ever run there. That being said, expectations could not be any higher for him entering this weekend. Top 10s on road courses and plate tracks are nice, but 1.5-mile ovals are the bread and butter of the Cup schedule. It’s on those tracks that a driver must be able to deliver consistently. And given the experience level, there’s no reason that Logano should not deliver in a big way on Saturday night.

He falters at Kentucky, two top-10 finishes on specialty race tracks won’t really look that meaningful anymore. But another strong run this weekend, and Logano’s going to start making life for his doubters and those seeking to replace him a lot more difficult. The past two weeks, he’s driven like a man trying to keep his job. Whether that run’s good enough will come to light in Sparta.

*FOUR: The Value of Running Subpar Equipment*

The 2011 season may only be halfway over, but the Comeback Driver of the Year award might as well be given to Kenny Wallace already. He’s already scored more top-10 finishes this year than in the past three full seasons combined, and is solidly in the top 10 in points; the last time he posted a top-10 spot in the standings was way back in 2005.

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With a successful stint driving for RAB Racing this season, Kenny Wallace has become a strong candidate for Comeback Driver of the Year.

It’s not like this type of performance was completely unexpected: Wallace did take a major step forward in terms of equipment this year when he moved from Jay Robinson Racing to RAB. But what Wallace’s step demonstrates is twofold. First, a good driver isn’t going to get worse from having driven subpar equipment, even if for seasons at a time. And second, there’s something to be gained for driving said equipment. Wallace certainly didn’t have the chance to compete the way he has in 2011 driving the No. 28 car the past three seasons… the funding and resources just weren’t there. But what Wallace was able to do in driving those cars was to keep his butt in the seat and stay up to date with racing in the series.

That experience has not only proven invaluable to the RAB camp, which has endured seasons of either driver by committee or having John Wes Townley behind the wheel, it has spoken to the larger value of a driver getting said experience. That’s critical to know looking at a Silly Season that has people such as David Ragan and Joey Logano on the cutting board, those that have been in stellar cars since they arrived on the NASCAR scene who may soon need new work. For if a seat at another JGR or Roush Fenway doesn’t open up, they’re suddenly going to find themselves doing what an old-school driver such as Wallace had to; drive lower-tier equipment and earning themselves a new ride. But it can be done. Wallace did it to start his career, way back in the late 1980s and he proved able to do it to restart his career as well.

If Kenny’s proven anything, that’s experience worth having.

*FIVE: There’s a Truck Series Race this Week*

Huh-freaking-ray. And I mean that with the utmost certainty. To have a national touring series on a nearly month-long hiatus in the middle of the summer is a scheduling travesty, especially when the racing is as good as the Trucks put on.

Enjoy the Thursday night show, folks. It’ll likely be the best race of the weekend.

“Contact Bryan Keith”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/18454/

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