Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Chasing an Ideal NASCAR Chase

Kurt Busch and Furniture Row Racing announced this week that Busch will be replacing Regan Smith in their flat-black No. 78 Chevrolets for 2013. While the move is a step up for Busch from James Finch’s largely unsponsored entries that they’ve campaigned for this season, it seems like it may be a springboard to an even bright future for Busch in 2014. FRR has a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing, despite Denver, Colo. being a bit removed from Welcome, N.C. where RCR is centered.

This week Childress himself expressed support for Busch saying that he hates to see great talent wasted. With Kevin Harvick being in a contract year for 2013, and rumors that Jeff Burton’s lackluster two seasons at RCR may have him up for evaluation, it is a plausible scenario. Even with Burton’s performance woes, I feel he would be a viable candidate to remain in the No. 31, a car he has driven for nearly eight seasons after joining RCR midway through 2004.

Busch and Burton were once teammates at then-Roush Racing, and it was with Burton’s urging that Busch was given the Jimmy Fennig team of then-driver Mark Martin, who eventually went on to win the inaugural Nextel Cup in 2004. Paul Menard is signed through 2013 as well but likely wouldn’t go anyway with the funding and sponsorship that he brings. There has been a rumored fourth RCR entry in the works, but perhaps that will depend on how Kurt’s “audition” goes in the No. 78 next season. If there’s one owner who can get through to Busch, it just might be Childress. After all, look how he got through to his brother.

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The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Schedule was released this week to great fanfare. Well, not really. Not at all, actually. Same races, same dates for the most part and same scheduling. Talladega goes back to October 20, the Chase starts at Chicago for reasons unknown to anybody looking to instill some sort of excitement into what is supposed to be a nailbiter of a title fight every year. Again, no road courses in the final 10 races, no change of scenery.

And they wonder why interest and excitement continues to dwindle and wane.

The bottom line is this: NASCAR needs to do something about the schedule, and quickly. Time to face the fact – you aren’t going to out-NFL the NFL, even if they do have scab refs who just make up the rules as they go along. Heck, you could argue that they’re taking a page from NASCAR’s book what with the way some of these calls have gone the first few weeks of the season.

The first two races of the Chase should not be at the most mind-numbing tracks on the circuit. Next year, make it three of the first four with a repaved Kansas joining the party. What, Fontana doesn’t want any of this either? You know what, screw it, ditch Talladega and give Bruton his Las Vegas date he’s been pining forever too while you’re at it. Just finish the job, get it over with, and make it as sanitary, sterile and predictable as possible.

Yeah, Texas is sweet too. I loved that 14-second interval between the top-three cars there in April, that was radical. Want to make a decent Chase and make it interesting for the viewer? Here’s your ultimate Chase lineup:

1. Charlotte – Best to kick it off in the hub of the sport, where people actually care about what’s going on and will cover it appropriately. Why not use the NFL season opener to help promote the Chase instead of trying to compete with America’s new national pasttime?

2. Talladega – BAM – see how I did that? Smallest action track to the largest action track. If you blow it and get sucked into the tornado of sheetmetal here, you still have eight weeks to overcome it.

3. Michigan – Notre Dame isn’t coming to Ann Arbor after next year and State usually plays a scrub team that weekend anyway. It’s still low-70s here this time of year too folks.

4. Dover – Big Bristol. People seem to show up for this. And it’s more entertaining than New Hampshire.

5. Phoenix – Bang. Short Track No. 2. Sad that this is what constitutes a short track now, but whatever, at least it’ll be sunny out.

6. Watkins Glen – changing seasons, fall foliage, deer running across the track. Perfect.

7. Darlington – Yup. Night race too. If you’re not going to run it on Labor Day, don’t run it on Mother’s Day and call it the Southern 500. That doesn’t make any damned sense.

8. Texas – Yeah, might as well have a mile-and-a-halfer in here somewhere.

9. Homestead – Nobody ever really tries that hard here. Not since Kurt Busch almost impaled his car into pit wall after the wheel fell off in 2004.

10. Atlanta – Yeah, that’s right. Call it the Atlanta Journal 500 again as well. Can still run all three series here as well. It worked for 20 years this way, it can work again.

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Get the feeling that Kyle Busch has suddenly become the odd-man out at Joe Gibbs Racing? Joey Logano was not quite living up to (lofty) expectations after replacing Tony Stewart, and is now off to greener (well, yellower…) pastures at Penske Racing. Denny Hamlin is calling his shots, winning races, seeing shrinks and at least maintaining some semblance of positivity. KB? Bailing out of the car after missing the Chase, blowing off the owner, snipping at the crew as the engine’s going south and just being generally pissy, constantly.

Now word comes that Elliott Sadler will be in a Gibbs Nationwide car full-time next season, with a potential Sprint Cup entry on a part-time basis if sponsorship is available. Sadler has said that his goal is to be a full-time driver again and to make it back to the Chase in the Sprint Cup Series. Kyle’s contract is up at the end of 2013 and Sadler did drive the M&M’s car a few years ago.

With 2003 champion Matt Kenseth coming aboard next season with his pair of Daytona 500 wins coupled with Hamlin’s leadership and demeanor, might Kyle be the odd-man out at JGR? Time, his attitude, and how the 2013 season starts off – will tell the story.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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