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Friday Faceoff: Acceptable Moves, Head Wrench Woes, and Championship Acceptance

Welcome to Friday Faceoff! What do you get when you take some hot-button NASCAR topics and hand them over to our dedicated and… er, opinionated staff? A little disagreement and a whole lot of thought-provoking insight! Check out this week’s edition to see what everyone is arguing… um, we mean, discussing this week!

1. A last-lap move at Phoenix by Ryan Newman but him in the Chase, knocked Jeff Gordon out and knocked Kyle Larson right into the wall. Was Newman’s move acceptable considering the circumstances?

Huston Ladner, Assistant Editor: Acceptable?  Sure seems to be the case as he wasn’t penalized.  Isn’t that what NASCAR wanted?

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: Given the tenor of the Chase thus far, and given Harvick’s domination at Phoenix, I’d say Newman’s bump-and-run on Larson was Brian France’s money shot for the weekend. No real harm, no real foul.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Was Ryan Newman’s move at the end of Sunday’s race dirty?(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Joseph Wolkin, Contributing Writer: Ryan Newman’s move was 100 percent acceptable. It was bold, yet he had to do it in order to make it to the final round of the Chase. When you haven’t had the best of seasons and have a possibility at winning the championship, why not go for it? It might have been questionable and Kyle Larson might not have liked it, but if Jeff Gordon were in that position – he likely would have done the same thing.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: I guess. My biggest issue is, I don’t see how having one Top 5 in 26 races screams “Champion.” Running around the Top 10 all season long had him 8th in points at the time The Chase started; take a look back through history and see who was running 8th in points – with no wins – over the last 30 years, and how out to lunch they were compared to the actual champion that season.

Mike Neff, Short Track Coordinator: For the second week in a row people are talking about whether hard racing is acceptable or not when a championship is on the line. What is the sport coming to? We don’t want to see people being body slammed for 15th place every week but when the opportunity to win a race or a championship is on the line, anything goes. The body slam on Larson might have been a bit forceful but he didn’t turn him into the wall or spin him, he just used eight tires to corner better than four. Fans have complained for years that drivers settle for points and don’t put it on the line for wins. Now that they have drivers actually racing aggressively they’re whining. Be careful what you ask for.

Amy Henderson, Managing Editor: Was it completely unacceptable? Well, no. But it was a dirty move. There are two big differences between what Newman did at Phoenix and Brad Keselowski’s Texas move. First and foremost, Keslelowski was racing for a win, while Newman was points racing and dumped Larson for eleventh place. It would still be less than clean if it had been for the win, but that Newman was points racing, it seems a little over the top. Second, Newman intentionally hit Larson and put him in the wall. Keselowski made incidental contact with Jeff Gordon that unfortunately cut Gordon’s tire. A bump and run for a win is one thing, but Newman crossed that line both in wrecking Larson and in dumping him for points and not a win. He might get a slight bye because of the Chase, but overall, his move was pretty dirty.

2. Also in the news in the last week was Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kurt Busch, who was accused of domestic violence by his ex-girlfriend. NASCAR and SHR have taken a wait and see approach, as Busch has a hearing scheduled for December 2. Was that the right call, or should Busch have been suspended in light of recent domestic incidents in other sports and the way they were handled?

Huston: If one reads everything about this situation, like the parts that include a custodial battle with Driscoll’s previous ex, and that there seems to have been strange circumstances involving lawyers, then yes, the wait-and-see approach is just fine.  Good for SHR.  Now, if the incident had happened, and the police were summoned and Busch were taking from the track in cuffs, then it’s a different story.

Joseph: NASCAR and the team have been taking the perfect approach in this ordeal. In the cases for the athletes in other sports, they were found guilty of domestic abuse. There is no reason why NASCAR or SHR should suspend Busch until they find out the facts. Patricia Driscoll, who is in the midst of a custody battle with her ex-husband, waited over a month to report these allegations. If NASCAR were to suspend him without him going for his hearing and it turns out he’s innocent, they would get a lot of scrutiny for the way they deal with these situations.

Credit: CIA Stock Photography
What is to be made of the domestic violence allegations made against Kurt Busch? Credit: CIA Stock Photography

Phil Allaway, Senior Editor: NASCAR should know that every move they make in regards to Kurt Busch over the next couple of months will be watched very closely.  Their actions so far are consistent with what they did with Tony Stewart in regards to the tragedy at Canandaigua in August.  If Busch is ultimately charged, they should suspend him indefinitely

Vito: This is not like more publicized incidents of domestic abuse that have dominated headlines as of late; Ray Rice punching his wife unconscious and caught on video, or Adrian Peterson who injured his 4-year old son, with photographic evidence and having been examined by a physician. In all honesty, it looks like a crazy ex-girl friend who is simply trying to shame her former boyfriend through the media using the topic-d’jour to do so. If you follow her Twitter feed, you’ll see she was posting pictures of him and supporting him in the weeks leading up to her filing a report. If he truly had done this, NASCAR would have been made well aware of it, and they would have taken appropriate action given Busch’s history and nature of the accusation.

Mike: The premise of guilty until proven innocent seems to be taking a harder and harder hit as Social Media world continues to judge people. Every story has three sides and only one of them is available right now. Barring a video that shows the incident, Busch deserves to have his day in court before he is prevented from earning a living. Patricia has a reason for not coming forward for seven weeks with the information. Now it is in the hands of the authorities and will be heard in a court of law. Whether Busch actually goes to court or settles out of court is yet to be seen but until the case plays out he has every right to the presumption of innocence.

3. There has been talk in the garage of a possible crew chief change for Kasey Kahne, who has driven with head wrench Kenny Francis at the helm since 2007. Will a change be enough to revitalize Kahne, whose contract with Hendrick Motorsports is up after the 2015 season?

Phil: Next year is a very important season for Kahne.  It’s a contract year, but he’s essentially a lame duck already.  The guy could win 12 races and the championship next season and still get fired.  His goal is to look good for other owners.  Unfortunately, whatever ride he gets to replace the No. 5 will likely be a downgrade.  In regards to a crew chief change, perhaps the chemistry went bad between Kahne and Francis after nine years.  It’s a shame.  It’s hard to say whether anyone available could do better, though.

2014 Texas II CUP Kasey Kahne CIA
Could Kasey Kahne’s days at Hendrick Motorsports be numbered?

Vito: Kasey Kahne is the odd man out at Hendrick Motorsports. You have the three faces of the sport, and Kahne, who just might be the most over-rated driver in the series. The numbers don’t lie; he has yet to measure up to the performance of the driver he replaced, and always seems to be on the cusp of contending for a championship — but 10 years later it has yet to happen. With Chase Elliott winning a Nationwide championship in a team thrown together at the 11th hour in his rookie season, Kahne needs a change of scenery and a new team sooner rather than later.

Mike: No one ever knows what chemistry will develop between a driver and a crew chief. Kahne has felt confident with Francis on the box for nine years and was reported to have had Francis as a stipulation in his move to Hendrick. A change on the other end of the radio could push Kahne to the next level or it could cause him to take a downturn to mediocrity. One race win in equipment that his three teammates won four races apiece with is not a strong resume filler.

Amy: A little Hendrick Motorsports math lesson: HMS currently has three drivers looking for Cup seats in 2016. Two of them have contracts which expire at the end of 2015. One of those is Jimmie Johnson, so you have to assume that, as a six-time champion, he’s probably safe as long as he wants to stick around. That leaves Kahne and young gun Chase Elliott eyeballing the same seat…and right now, the view is looking pretty good for Elliott, the Nationwide Series Champion. So yes, something needs to change if Kahne wants to show owner Rick Hendrick that he might have a reason to keep Kahne around, and usually in similar situations, that means a change in crew chief. Whether it’s Keith Rodden or someone else, Kahne has one year to prove that the performance issues with the No. 5 weren’t coming from the driver’s seat.

4. The season has come down to one race to decide the championship among Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, and Kevin Harvick. Who will hoist the Sprint Cup…and how will the champ be received by race fans?

Huston: The second part of the question is the key.  Fans of any one of these drivers will be happy.  But the overall sentiment already seems not to favor a strong/favorable reception.  Of the four, Logano and Harvick can at least be seen as ‘legitimate’ but the other two don’t quite elicit the same reaction.

Mark: While it seems obvious that Harvick is the odds-on favorite to win the championship, given his ability to lead laps and post some overwhelming wins in 2014, it’d make me absolutely giddy to see Ryan Newman hoist the big trophy after Homestead. With all of NASCAR’s bluster about putting the emphasis on winning this year, it’d be great — in my opinion — to have a winless driver take the title. Winning races comes from being consistent week-in-and-week-out, but winning championships comes from knowing how to play the system (for more on this, check with Jimmie Johnson.)

Joseph: Kevin Harvick is going to capture this title. He has been amazing at the 1.5-mile tracks this year, and the only thing that would prevent him from winning the championship is a mishap on pit road or a mechanical failure, which has plagued this team plenty in 2015. I think fans will be pleased if Harvick or Joey Logano wins the title since a lot of people had predicted them to be the champion before the Chase began. However, if Newman or Hamlin wins it all, fans might not be too happy. All I have to say is – it’s like wild card teams in football, basketball or baseball. They made the playoffs and might not have been the best, but they were clutch and did what they had to do in order to make it to the championship event.

Phil: If you’re going solely on average finish, it’s Harvick’s to lose.  He has the best average finish at Homestead by three full positions over Hamlin, but Hamlin has won before at Homestead while Harvick has not.  However, Harvick has the momentum of Sunday’s finely executed butt kicking in Phoenix.  I don’t think winning will be required.  As far as reception goes, Harvick is the best performing driver for the full season that’s eligible.  He would be warmly received.  The others, not so much.  You have a driver who missed a race early on and got docked 50 points for cheating, and two guys that could make a mockery of the format.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Is it fair to say this is Kevin Harvick’s championship to lose? (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Mike: Kevin Harvick has had the car to beat for the vast majority of races this season. His team has beaten themselves far more than they’ve been beaten. With that said, Joey Logano has done the beating in more of those races than anyone else left. The smart money is on Harvick to win the title although Hamlin has shown that he can get around Homestead, winning the most recent race at Homestead and two in his career. Add in the rumors that Darian Grubb is about to lose his job as the crew chief of the No. 11 and he could be the first crew chief in history to guide two drivers to the title and lose his job both times. When you weigh all of the evidence it is obvious: Ryan Newman is going to win the title.

Amy: Looking at past history, Kevin Harvick is the best at Homestead in terms of average finish, though he’s winless there. In terms of a driver who’s been hot just about everywhere, though, Joey Logano could have an edge. Denny Hamlin’s got a win at the track but has been weak overall this year, while Ryan Newman has to beat them all, something he hasn’t done consistently, if at all. As to whether the fans will see the winner as legit…if it’s Logano, they might. He’d still be in it under a full-season points tally (the other three would be mathematically eliminated), and under the previous Chase rules, he’d be leading handily. The others could be a stretch for fans to accept simply because of the reality of the entire season: Harvick’s 2014 was a big roller coaster where he was fast but inconsistent; Newman’s lack of a win isn’t as disturbing as his tally of just four top-5 finishes and lack of a top 2 since July of last year; and Hamlin would be 14th in points if NASCAR hadn’t reset them so many times. Even Logano will be a difficult sell because he won’t have to go through Jeff Gordon to get there. For many fans, they simply are not championship caliber this year, and will never be viewed on the same level as previous champions.

One more time…picks for Homestead?

Huston: Ruffled at Texas
Solid second at Phoenix
Jeff: “F you Homestead”
Mark: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Since this is Steve Letarte’s last race, and Junior seems to be all about posting significant wins at meaningful events, file Homestead under “out with a bang”
Joseph: Kyle Larson gets his first victory in the Sprint Cup Series this weekend.
Phil: Brad Keselowski.  Just because the Chase will be the focus doesn’t mean that everyone else isn’t going to give it significant amounts of heck on Sunday.
Vito: Dale Jr. gives Steve Letarte one heck of a going away present and bookends the season with a win.
Mike: Give me Jeff Gordon for the win to perpetuate the debate that he should have won number five this season.
Amy: Jeff Gordon clinched me the title last week, but we’ll see his teammate on top this week. Entering Homestead without championship pressure for the first time in more than a decade, Jimmie Johnson marks it off his bucket list.

Frontstretch Staff Predictions 2014

Welcome to our seventh year of staff predictions! Each week, our experts take the end of this column to tell us who the winner of each Cup race will be. But as we all know, predicting the future is difficult if not completely impossible… so how do you know which writer you can trust when you put your own reputation (or money) on the line?

That’s why we came up with our Predictions Chart. The scoring for this year is simple:

 Prediction Scoring
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd

Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500          

Writer Pick Finishing Position Points
Amy Henderson Jeff Gordon 32nd 3
Phil Allaway Paul Menard 23rd -1
Vito Pugliese Kevin Harvick 1st 5
Justin Tucker Kevin Harvick 1st 5
Mark Howell Kasey Kahne 21st -1
Huston Ladner Kyle Busch 34th -2
Ashley McCubbin Kevin Harvick 1st 5

Standings

 Writer Points Behind Starts Wins Top 5 Top 10
Amy Henderson 38 35 3 11 17
Mike Neff   29 -9 23 1 11 13
Phil Allaway 27 -11 30 4 9 14
Vito Pugliese 16 -22 11 1 5 6
Justin Tucker 10 -28 7 1 3 4
Tom Bowles 9 -29 6 2 2 4
Matt Stallknecht 9 -29 3 0 3 3
Huston Ladner 7 -31 8 1 3 3
Summer Bedgood 7 -31 3 1 1 2
Ashley McCubbin 5 -33 1 1 1 1
Aaron Creed 5 -33 8 0 2 5
Jeff Wolfe 5 -33 5 0 2 2
Mark Howell 4 -34 8 0 2 3
Kevin Rutherford 4 -34 2 0 1 1
Greg Davis 3 -35 1 0 1 1
Beth Lunkenheimer 3 -35 2 0 1 1
Jeff Meyer 3 -35 1 0 1 1
S.D. Grady 1 -37 2 0 1 1
Brad Morgan 0 -38 3 1 1 2
Joseph Wolkin -4 -42 6 0 1 1

 

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kb

Oh how sad….”playoff” is now the norm in Nascar speak. Please tell me besides the stupidity of a playoff scenario in motorsports, what other sport allows non playoff teams in the “playoffs” that have A HUGE CONTRIBUTION to the outcome of a “playoff”??????????????????????????????????????

Russ

“Playoff” is just another example of Nascar using stick and ball sport terms to try and be more relevant to non Nascar fans. And like most of those terms its just as irrelevant to those sports.
But in another couple of days this will be over and we can wait for what “improvements are in store for next year. And come Monday we can start talking about the 2015 chase!

kb

..so true…

kb

Phil, your bias is showing..Harvick Harvick..”warmly received” no mention of Logano. While Logano has the edge over Harvick in everything but laps lead, you kinda threw him to the curb. as Harvick is the only worthy one..unless your editor accidently omitted a paragrah.. He also is not exactly riding a crest of popularity based on his typical stupid statements I.e. media day, and his “Instigator”, “Arsonist” moves recently…and he does have a list that can fill a tractor trailer.

Tim S.

Johnson did not go into Homestead in 2011 with “playoff pressure” either.

Tim S.

Or “championship pressure.” Read first, then post, Tim.

Oldsmo-Bill

While not a Jeff Gordon fan, I must correct Mike: I will ever perpetuate the debate that he would be going for his SEVENTH championship this season. On another note, to simply perpetuate the argument against the “chase” in general and this year’s cluster in particular: There is no question as to how or if certain drivers excel at certain tracks and not others. This fact alone makes the entire idea of a making certain tracks significantly more important than others in determining a so-called “champion” a highly questionable, if not downright stupid, idea. But then, what else could be expected from the person presently making those decisions.

John C.

I’ve heard and seen several comments about Newman’s “bump and run”. I don’t consider, driving at full throttle 30′ down onto the apron so that when I let off the gas the car will plow up into the side of Larsen’s car to stop me, a “bump and run” !!! That took ZERO talent to pull off. It takes talent to drive into a corner and, at the right moment, tap the bumper ahead of you to get him loose to make the pass. Yes, Gordon has done it several times over his career, but you don’t see him ending that guy’s race. That guy will only lose a spot or two. That is what you call having respect for other drivers and their equipment. Newman waited for the last corner on the last lap to pull off that BS move because he knew that if he did it any sooner he couldn’t make it around another lap because of a probable cut tire.

Dan

I hear what you’re saying about Newman’s move on Larson and agree 100%. It sure wasn’t a finesse move like Gordon would make back in the days. I remember Jeremy Mayfield making the same type of Gordon move on Earnhardt SR. at Pocono for the win. Thing is even though Larson was shoved into the wall he only lost 2 spots. Guess we can give credit to his driving ability for that.

Bill B

1. Yes it was a bit dirty but hard to penalize or police.
2. Kurt is a head case for sure. No video like in the Ray Rice case, so much more easy to ignore or excuse away.
3. There are a lot of possibilities for the HMS 2016 driver roster. Never no what will happen between then and now. We’ve seen Hendrick make deals to keep a driver before (with Kahne in fact). Gordon will retire eventually.
4. No way Hamlin or Newman deserve a title. Logano or Havrick had great seasons and justifiable stats to be contenders in any season in any system. Still….F the chase, especially this version.

Carl D.

My pick this wekend…Logano for the win and the Championship.

If Hamlin wins the championship I will probably puke.

JD

Phil: “It’s a contract year, but he’s essentially a lame duck already.”
JD: Really #1? What about the 3 year contract extension officially announced today, locking Kahne in at Hendrick until 2018 (4 YEARS)? I guess Mr. H must really like duck.

Vito: “Kasey Kahne is the odd man out at Hendrick Motorsports.”
JD: Really #2? Please see above comment. Drugs are bad. You should stop doing them.

Mike: “One race win in equipment that his three teammates won four races apiece with is not a strong resume filler”
JD: Really #3? Kasey has 5 wins and a Chase berth every year since joining this organization. Dale JR’s 88 team eked out 1 win in the 3 years prior to 2014. I suppose that kind of thing doesn’t compare on your planet.

Amy: “something needs to change if Kahne wants to show owner Rick Hendrick that he might have a reason to keep Kahne around”
JD: Really #4? Since Mr. H has renewed Kasey’s contract for not 1, and not, 2, but 3 years BEYOND 2015 – I’m pretty sure her wants “keep Kahne around”. I will however agree with you that something needs to change. The management of Frontstretch.com need to get all out you new offices. You know the kind with the padded walls and the that have those nice jackets that tye in the back.

Terrible, terrible, terrible. Terrible.

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