NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Five Points to Ponder: Of Drugs, Developing Drivers, Drafting and Daytona

*ONE: The Irrelevance of the Firecracker 400*

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The plates, tandems, and inevitable multi-car disasters make us wonder why we race at Daytona at all.

Tony Stewart emerged unscathed from a vicious finish at Daytona to score his third win of the 2012 season and his fourth at the World’s Center of Racing. One never would have known just about any of those things listening to Stewart in Victory Lane, sans the fact that victory lane is where he was standing. The same guy who made highlight reels for years courtesy of his fence climbing after winning the same 400-mile summer race in 2005 was remarkably subdued, distracted in talking about Daytona being special, rattling off sponsors as effectively as Michael Waltrip.

Part of that is definitely Smoke’s well-documented hatred of plate racing. Part of that is the fact that for a driver who was won everything NASCAR has to offer short of the Daytona 500, there’s something a bit cruel about winning a fourth lesser race at the same facility. But both of those point to a larger trend…just how irrelevant NASCAR’s 4th of July event has truly become.

The entire backstretch grandstand was closed off, and yet the frontstretch still wasn’t even full for a Cup race on a holiday weekend. And a plate race at that. The victor didn’t seem to care. The racing is still suffering from the recent Daytona repave; while a drastic improvement over the two-car tandems of 2011, the handling element that long made Daytona one of the most entertaining venues on the circuit is still non-existent. And the trend of plate races these days to feature hundreds of miles of follow the leader followed by a wild melee at the finish effectively shreds any chance of taking something away from what the race means in the grand scheme of the season. Brad Keselowski had his right rear smashed in and spun himself out from damage late, yet came home in the top 10, while Kevin Harvick’s capable car ended up a pulverized wreck.

That late-race melee wiping out a good day is nothing new for plate racing, but let’s face it…Saturday’s event may as well have been an exhibition, sans the points that were attached to the finishing order.

Tony Stewart didn’t seem to care much that he won Saturday. Truth be told, there was little reason for fans to care as well.

*TWO: NASCAR’s Flawed Drug Testing Policy*

It doesn’t matter if AJ Allmendinger’s B sample ends up exonerating the driver from the positive drug test that saw him suspended from Cup competition six hours from the green flag at Daytona. With Sam Hornish Jr. back in the No. 22 car at Loudon this coming weekend and comparisons to the Jeremy Mayfield saga of 2009 flowing like wine, the Dinger is effectively branded an offender. Regardless of the B sample, it’s going to take years for AJ to restore his image, if ever.

Which begs a potentially scary question, raised by one of my readers in response to my column yesterday: What if that B sample does in fact exonerate Allmendinger from any substance violations? The amount of damage that has already been done to his name, Penske Racing and both entities’ relationship with sponsor Shell/Pennzoil is not something that can be quantified, but is undeniably present. Yet, the process for testing apparently failed to recognize how damaging a first announcement can be. There’s a B sample taken, yet the A sample gets announced no matter what the findings are.

Why not have each sample tested simultaneously by independent labs? Why is it necessary that a potential problem has to be announced and penalized only to require the accused to request a retest?

The way things are, it’s ripe for manipulation and wrongful accusation. It’s a dark day that sees AJ Allmendinger’s career end over something as stupid as drug use. It’s a darker day that sees his career end over the mere insinuation of it.

*THREE: Gresham’s Split from JDM Shows Flaws in Driver Development*

Joe Dinette Motorsports and its namesake owner are a tremendous success story, one of a long-time race fan hitting the lottery big and making a home for himself on the Truck Series circuit. They’re not a powerhouse, but they’re no slouch as an organization either.

Yet, defending K&N Pro Series East champion Max Gresham lasted only eight races in the team’s No. 24 Truck before reaching a mutual decision with the team to part ways prior to this weekend’s event at Iowa. It’s certainly plausible that a lack of chemistry between youngster Gresham and a team that’s got experience working with veteran drivers (Jason White, Ron Hornaday) led to the split. But, it also is just as plausible that the move from the overwhelmingly strong Joe Gibbs Racing team in the East Series to a mid-tier Truck ride proved too much of an adjustment.

Take a look at the resume. Gresham’s development rides leading up to a Truck ride were a Joe Gibbs Racing entry in East Series competition, and a Venturini Motorsports entry in a limited ARCA schedule. Both rides are the strongest available in their respective series. The same can’t be said for the Truck Gresham has been wheeling in 2012.

There’s something to be said about learning to drive in equipment that’s not capable of running away and hiding from the field.

*FOUR: Stenhouse’s Ugly Drafting Display Raises Questions for Cup Promotion*

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got exactly what he needed out of the race weekend at Daytona, finishing in the runner-up position and making up ground on RCR teammates Austin Dillon and Elliott Sadler. The weekend wasn’t without incident though, as Stenhouse bump drafted not one, but two entries out of Friday’s race. Both Brad Sweet and Jeffrey Earnhardt fell victim to Stenhouse’s bumper, not out of malice but of over-aggressive bump drafting that seemed to suggest the defending champ had a real issue figuring out how the Nationwide cars and their bumpers lined up.

At the Nationwide level, Stenhouse ended up getting away with it, as the two victims were in low-profile rides. But having said that, such acts, unintentional or not, are bad news the next level up. Roush Fenway Racing’s cars are strong at the Cup level, but they’re nowhere near as intimidating as they are in Nationwide racing. Having said that, the Cup regulars are much more likely to hold each other accountable than at the AAA level, where the likes of Rick Ware Racing and development drivers are not of the means nor capability to wage war against the big name drivers they’re racing against.

Stenhouse has still got a sterling resume and is well-primed for a bump up stock car racing’s ladder. But anyone expecting the 2011 Nationwide champ to take over the No. 17 ride as a turnkey deal next year had better start looking closer at the remainder of the 2012 Nationwide slate…there’s unresolved issues in the Roush camp.

*FIVE: Anyone Notice…?*

That since the announcement that Matt Kenseth would be leaving Roush Fenway Racing after this season, Kenseth has a better average finish than Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, has been the highest finishing RFR driver in each event, is the only one of the three to score top 10s in both races, has led more laps than the other two combined…

Oh, the harsh reality of a Kensethless Roush.

*Connect with Bryan!*
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