NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Five Points to Ponder: On Self-Destruction, Old Faces and Favors

*ONE: Kurt Busch Should Not Have Been Suspended*

Yes, Kurt Busch acted like a complete ass when “he went off on Bob Pockrass Saturday afternoon at Dover,”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6H1vLdIZWmM essentially remarking that he’d beat up the veteran reporter if he hadn’t already been on probation. But really, a thinly veiled insult is now grounds for being suspended from competition? For crying out loud, the worst thing Busch did on the track the whole weekend was to make minimal contact with Justin Allgaier early in Saturday’s race. Sunday’s Cup event saw the usually volatile Busch docile on the radio, even as the No. 51 dropped through the field like a rock from the drop of the green.

The damage from the incident is already done. Phoenix Racing owner James Finch has made it clear that Busch may well not be returning to the car even immediately after serving his suspension at Pocono, if ever. Finch wasted no time listing potential replacement candidates “in speaking to ESPN,”:http://espn.go.com/racing/nascar/cup/story/_/id/8008870/nascar-suspends-kurt-busch-pocono-weekend stating “If he’s going to kill himself, I’m not going to be in the airplane with him.” The longtime NASCAR owner has no short history of removing/replacing drivers with next to no notice; just ask Jason Keller and Johnny Benson.

But the real question getting lost in all of Kurt’s idiocy and a career he’s attempted to self-destruct by every available means is this one… why the hell was this insult worth a suspension? Yes, Kurt acted like a jerk and took a well-respected reporter to task for asking a completely legitimate question. How does that justify being suspended from competition? Conduct like Busch’s is already costing him credibility within the media that cover this sport and is keeping what few prospective sponsors are left ten feet away behind a barbed wire fence from the No. 51 team. The damage is done.

NASCAR’s decision to suspend Busch was about the worst move they could have made. Busch has berated countless reporters in the garage prior to this weekend and never been suspended. For crying out loud, he raced the day after he went off on Pockrass! Now, instead of allowing fans and media alike to revel in a career unraveling before their very eyes, NASCAR has come in a day late with a heavy hand and made themselves the story. What’s their excuse going to be when a Tony Stewart or a Kevin Harvick snaps at a reporter later this year and they’re forced to park a Chase driver?

Sometimes an idiot is best left alone. Saturday was definitely one of those times.

*TWO: That Being Said, Who Takes the No. 51?*

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Michael McDowell has spent years start-and-parking a number of cars in the Cup Series. James Finch may well want to consider an outside hire out of left field should replacing Kurt Busch prove necessary for his No. 51 car.

There’s no real getting around it, the No. 51 car is officially in play. Silly Season 2012 has begun, and the candidates for the ride are numerous. Owner Finch listed both Brian Vickers and David Reutimann as top available choices (Reutimann has a full slate already signed in 2012, but Vickers is available after performing admirably in a limited stint with Michael Waltrip Racing). There’s plenty of other options out there, from the veteran (Dave Blaney) to the young gun (Michael McDowell).

The right answer honestly depends on just what Finch and Phoenix Racing are looking for in a wheelman (besides someone that can stick their foot in their mouth after a controversial race). If it’s strictly a measure of talent and performance for the team (as it was with Kurt), it’s hard to argue against momentum. And right now, momentum is with Brian Vickers. Ever since doing his best impression of a wrecking ball last fall at Martinsville, Vickers has been the quintessential professional in his limited role with MWR’s No. 55, leading a ton of laps at Bristol and performing well on both of the short tracks he tackled in the spring.

But if the team is serious about finding a sponsor for the first time in years, the answer may well be in the polar opposite of Busch…one Michael McDowell. There isn’t a straighter arrow in the garage (McDowell’s not going to pose a behavioral problem off-track, that’s for sure), and there’s something to be said about giving a driver who’s dutifully played the start-and-park role for Phil Parsons the last three years a shot at racing. Between Brad Keselowski and Busch, Phoenix Racing has been playing with the big boys in terms of their wheelman the last few years. Going the other way might be worth a shot for a team that’s getting an unexpected new lease on life midway through 2012.

*THREE: Why Was Stephen Leicht On Track So Long At Dover?*

The massive crash that marred Lap 10 of Sunday’s Cup race took out contenders (Tony Stewart) and start-and-parkers alike. And of all the cars involved, there were none worse off than the No. 33 of Stephen Leicht, which was missing both ends of his machine after getting piled into during the crash. Yet, after 50-some laps, what was left of the No. 33 was back on the racetrack, noticeably limping around the high banks.

There’s nothing new or surprising about watching teams piece together wrecked machines to make a few more laps and score a few more points. What was different about this case was the No. 33 team had start-and-parked three consecutive events, came into Dover without sponsorship on the hood, and was clearly set to start-and-park again… they had only one set of scuffed tires in their pits prior to the start of the race. That begs the question: why was it so important to make laps in a severely damaged machine?

The eventual 35th-place finish the team did score moved them up to 36th in owner points, past the No. 21 team (which was not on-track this weekend) but still well over 50 markers behind 35th and a “locked-in” spot in the Cup field. Even if Tommy Baldwin Racing’s No. 36 team has to keep start-and-parking races themselves, with sponsorship lacking, there’s no way the No. 33 can catch them start-and-parking as well.

Pure speculation here, but does the No. 33 know something those outside the garage haven’t picked up on yet? Is there a team (or two, even) in the top 35 that’s nearing fiscal trouble? Either way, the No. 33 team was not acting like a start-and-park operation after the crash on Sunday… and that was a deviation from the plan.

*FOUR: Carter-2 Motorsports Back with More Name Power*

The same small-time ARCA operation that has attempted to make a splash, first by draping their race cars in Ron Paul for President decals dating back to Toledo last fall and then by publicly stating they’d consider putting former ARCA Rookie of the Year Jeremy Mayfield in one of their cars has done it again with their entry for Pocono this weekend. One Bobby Hamilton, Jr., former Nationwide Series regular and a driver that was part of the thrilling 2003 battle for the then-Busch Series crown, is slated to drive the team’s No. 40 car according to ARCA’s posted entry list, making what will be his first ARCA start since Michigan back in the spring of 1999.

As was the case when Mayfield’s name came up, it’s important to note that even with a name driver in the car, the No. 40 team has not shown the speed needed to bring a old face back to Victory Lane. But that being said, unlike Mayfield, Hamilton Jr. is not a driver that brings baggage; instead, he comes with some old-school character that racing has been lacking of late. This hire is one that Carter-2 Motorsports should be proud of making, turning Saturday’s ARCA event into a “must see.”

*FIVE: HendrickCars.com…on the FAS Lane Racing No. 32?*

Yes, HendrickCars.com has everything from Audis to Suzukis for sale on it, but there’s no getting around the incongruity of having the namesake used car site of Hendrick Motorsports sign on to sponsor a lower-tier Ford operation; the site will sponsor Boris Said in the Cup Series’ two road course races this summer. Even more noteworthy, the press release announcing the deal said nothing about the FAS Lane team switching to Chevrolets, even for those two events.

Look closer, though, and the connections that helped made this deal happen really stick out. Boris Said is a partner in a BMW dealership under the Hendrick Automotive umbrella, and has past history in Hendrick-affiliated equipment (he ran a number of races with the MB2 Motorsports team when it still existed, nearly winning the Watkins Glen Cup race in 2005.) The deal with HendrickCars also specified a limited number of associate sponsorships in events where Ken Schrader will be behind the wheel… another Hendrick Motorsports alumnus.

On the one side, it’s good to see FAS Lane get any type of sponsorship they can… the team has been stretching a dollar for well over a year now to race competitively at the Cup level, and is a tribute to Frank Stoddard’s leadership atop the box. On the other, though, isn’t it just a little troubling that even the independent little guy not driving Chevrolets is getting help from Rick Hendrick? It’s getting easier to list the teams that don’t have Hendrick support instead of the ones that do.

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

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