Race Weekend Central

The Frontstretch 5: Things We Learned From Kentucky

Welcome to the Frontstretch Five! Each week, Amy Henderson takes a look at the racing, the drivers and the storylines that drive NASCAR and produces a list of five people, places, things and ideas that define the current state of our sport. This week, Amy takes a look at some things we learned from the race at Kentucky Speedway last weekend.

1. The new aero package is a step in the right direction.

There was a lot of very good racing on Saturday night. The biggest thing noticeable to the naked eye was that drivers could pass each other without hitting a brick wall of aero push. Throughout the field, there was hard racing, sometimes three-wide, with the occasional and thankfully quickly aborted attempt at four across.

Another aspect that some fans no doubt enjoyed was the difficulty that a couple of big teams had adjusting to the new package. While in the end, it was still one of the predictable big-money teams taking the checkers, it wasn’t one of the two that have been so dominant on the 1.5-milers this season. While I don’t subscribe to the theory that any driver can win too much, or that that’s a detriment to anything, I do think it’s better for the sport as a whole to see a variety of drivers in Victory Lane over the course of a season. All in all, the new package gave race fans and teams something to be optimistic about.

2. But hopefully only the first step

For all the accolades and the great racing on Saturday, there is still work to be done. Clean air still matters at the front of the pack, and the finish wasn’t nearly as exciting as the rest of the race as a result. Some things will come with time; tires designed for the specific package, hopefully ones that will wear out more quickly, will make a difference.

After the race, many drivers expressed their excitement over the package, which definitely make the cars harder to drive and puts some elements of the race in the drivers’ hands. But Brad Keselowski did have some words of warning that once all the teams get a handle on the latest rules, the racing won’t be as good.

To a degree, he’s right because nobody will be able to take advantage of the struggles of others when everyone is more equal. The large number of cautions may also have contributed to the improved racing more than viewers realize, as the racing was kept tight for longer periods. I also worry about the effect of a lot of changes on the smaller teams, all of whom struggled hard in Kentucky. A few of them had been turning it around, and it’s unfortunate that because of a lack of resources, they lost a step or two. Lack of money does not equal lack of talent, but it does make for a lack of speed.

3. Kyle Busch can make the Chase

Busch won for the second time in three weeks and made up a boatload of points on 30th-place Cole Whitt. With eight races remaining before the Chase reset, Busch has to pick up another 87 markers to squeeze in. If Whitt remains in 30th, Busch needs to beat him by just over 10 spots per race… certainly doable barring a bad race. Busch is a talented driver in one of the best-funded cars in the sport. He cannot afford a backmarker finish, though, especially if Whitt has a decent day. That means tempering his checkers or wreckers drive to win with a bit of strategy.

Busch also has the whole of Joe Gibbs Racing behind him. With all three of his teammates safely in the Chase, the organization can focus on him. That doesn’t necessarily mean nefarious team orders. It could be as simple as the engine that tested five horsepower better on the dyno every week, or a new chassis that might otherwise have gone to a teammate. Could there be orders of a position here, a lap back there? Of course, but it’s more of an equipment push than anything.

4. But that doesn’t mean he should

Busch is a heck of a racecar driver and drives an exciting race. But after missing three months of the season, there are other drivers more worthy of a title this year – drivers who have raced every week or maybe missed a race due to injury or illness. One race is just not the same as more than a quarter of the season. Crowing a champion who realistically had no chance were it not for the huge number of points he’s handed via the reset just cheapens the title overall, no matter what the reason for that is. Busch made a valiant comeback from a horrific injury, but the sympathy card does not a champion make.

It’s not even really Busch’s fault; if the sport gave the title to the driver who earned the most points on his or her own each year, it would be a moot point, because Busch would finish somewhere in the lower 20s in points. Not a pretty sight, but a fair one to the drivers who did compete every week. It’s a testament to Busch’s skill if he can get into the top 30, but at the end of the day, if he does, he will be given too many points he didn’t earn on the race track. He won’t be alone, but his is the most glaring example of a flawed system.

5. Just because NASCAR says it’s a penalty doesn’t mean it’s a real one

I touched on this one in Big Six Monday, but two days later, it still doesn’t make sense for NASCAR to give the free pass to a driver who was the first one a lap down after he served a penalty for breaking a rule and not because he’d raced for and held that position. In essence, the wrong driver ends up paying the price.

On Saturday, Justin Allgaier was black-flagged for jumping a restart, and his trip to pit road to serve the penalty cost him a lap but put him back out on track in front of Casey Mears, who had raced his way into the free pass position. When the caution flew a lap or two later, NASCAR gave the free pass to the first car a lap down… which happened to be Allgaier’s. Under current rules, that was the correct call, but it leaves a sour taste. Mears, who had broken no rules, essentially took the penalty instead of Allgaier by being trapped a lap down despite having put himself in position to regain the lead lap. Fortunately for the No. 13 team, the caution flew again quickly and Mears did get his lap back, but had the race had a long green-flag run, he could have easily never had the opportunity, which just doesn’t seem right.

Really, if a team and driver are penalized for breaking the rules, should they be eligible for the free pass at all during the remainder of the race? There are, after all, plenty of teams who didn’t break rules who could benefit most weeks, and even if there are not, it seems silly to essentially erase the effect of a penalty by giving the driver the lap(s) it cost him back later. If he gets the pass and goes on to win, is that really OK? I don’t think it is, and I’d like to see this loophole closed once and for all.

About the author

Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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Let me get my tin foil hat on…o.k. ready. Granted Kyle had the fresher tires, but damn NASCAR has been blowing major wind his way for since Daytona, and now with him winning one race and him having fresher tires at the end of the race, we knew, just knew, the usual “spin caution” for a back marker that nobody ever sees, or the “debris caution” was NOT coming out. So it was a for gone conclusion in our little world that the race end was going to uneventful (meaning no NASCAR interference) for the remainder of the laps and race win two would be in the books for the season so far.

And all of the NASCAR world of media will have another string of “feel good” stories regarding the man/boy for the next week. Call my household and guests cynics, whatever. Unicorns and baby seals are the rage again… :) The attention seeking wife in obscenely big heels in a outfit that screams “pay attention to me” V-Land holding a infant adds to the allure attention seeking behavior and endless writings and twitter pics reposted all over, which is “great” business, or so some think.


kb, the BS flows both ways. There are as many who are cheering against Kyle just because they “don’t like him” as those who are cheering him on as fans of the man or the story. You hate Busch. If he pulled a baby out of a burning building, you would diss him for attention-seeking. Too bad we couldn’t watch the drivers compete anonymously and then see who the fans actually appreciate for performance rather than personality.

And it’s darn clear Amy is one of the most ardent haters, so she should recuse herself from publishing ANY opinion on the subject. She allows that Kyle is “talented.” WOW” Talk about damning with faint praise. How about a reality check here? Kyle is among the top 5 wheelmen in the sport right now, and that is being kind to the other 4. If he accomplishes more in 25 races than his competitors do in 36, more power to him! No other sport penalizes its participants so severely for missing events – even missing them for no reason other than “I need a week off.” Among individual sports, golfers and tennis players are not required or expected to compete every week to earn their sport’s end of season championships.

Prior to the Chase we had a system which rewarded consistent mediocrity as the highest possible achievement. There was NO premium on winning. Everybody knows that is hogwash. (Most fans think Bill Elliott won the 1985 championship, which he did everywhere except in the Almighty Latsford points farce.) The Chase is certainly flawed, but not as badly as what came before.

What will be interesting is that the Rowdy story will blow over as he either makes the Chase or not, his chances of winning a championship are still pretty slim. On the OTHER HAND, championship #7 for Jimmie Johnson will bring a whole different group of haters out of the woods to complain that IN NO WAY is JJ equal to King Richard.

Personally, I would love to see either of them win it, just to watch the fans, including Amy, with their panties in a wad screaming bloody murder about the unfairness of it all! It’s called life, kiddies. Grown-ups get used to it. Sports fans and amateur bloggers never do.


I find the hype of Kyle “as the best wheelman ever” interesting. Nobody said he could not drive ( I certainly did not) but the superlatives granted him, seems to be over doing it greatly. There are many very good “wheelman” running in Cup right now. Two races after some decent but not great years, does not mean anything right now. IMO. Kyle is his own worst enemy often times, over drives the car and takes himself out. He also hasn’t been kind to a few competitors he has taken with him (first and foremost Kasey Kahne anyone?) and he is unrepentant in doing so. Humility is huge to me… Where is his Championship? I don’t see any ring or trophy, he hasn’t even come close. And please don’t be one of those who blames all Kyle’s past ill’s on Dave Rogers, Kyle immaturity and ego did it to him. He has always caved when the “Chase” pressure was on him.

I never said Kyle was attention seeking I said his wife was. It is something to behold, and disturbing. IMO

The media with their “feel good” story has him walking on water, and the praises recently written barely make it to most of the drivers who have been in the same position.

I used to not care about him one way or another (he and his brother), but past few years, he started to annoy me. I am a funny person, I look at the whole package as to who I root for, and the package that is sold to me in my living room is short of a complete six pack. Call me a terrible human being, I will be fine with that..I just cannot sit there and go “yeah Kyle” when I find him to be a repugnant ass. I cannot root for someone I can’t stand. Mother Teresa years ago forgave me for that fault. And I did not say anything about his driving, however I again will say..look at the media, the fawning is awful..as if nobody else can drive, including the ones with the Championship rings. Again, I don’t see him sporting one. The few fanboys see something most of us don’t, yes he can drive a car, but so can a lot of other guys, and fresh tires are a beautiful thing. I really am amazed that the last two races he won, hands down (according to the few fanboys) he did something that nobody else every did or can do, call me crazy but I just did not see the “greatness” or anything special. Yes he won, but Gibbs and Penske traditionally are good at that track, again what was the specialness? And Sonoma with big brother behind him with a wins in “The Chase”, I do feel Kurt could have hunted him down. Again this is like the WWE so nothing should surprise that someone confessed that Kurt did in fact eased up. I would think Toyota is not happy lately.

And I am very grateful for the articles about Davey Allison and I hope more is written about the past superstars, it is a nice balance of current and old, well rounded.


Yay, kb!


Davey Allison is not a “past superstar.” He never achieved superstar status and what he “might have done” is irrelevant. Davey never won a championship in his career, unless you count the IROC championship that was awarded to him posthumously after he didn’t even finish the IROC season. And like Dale Earnhardt, his death was self-induced, so it’s not as if he was taken by a bolt of lightning out of the sky.

As for likes and dislikes, we all have them, but most of us do not admit that our personal dislike colors our appreciation of on-track performance. I frankly hated Dale Earnhardt for his arrogance, his bullying tactics, his dirty driving, his dishonesty, his total lack of repentance for the races and careers he ruined. Yet I will admit he was a great driver. I think he could have been a great driver without his character flaws, but I wonder how great his stats would have been had he shown the bare minimum of sportsmanship on the track. I look at the whole package too, so don’t go acting like you have cornered the market on character evaluation when all you really are doing is acting like a pompous arse. And the package that was Earnhardt, the package that is Harvick and the package that is Keselowski is more disgusting and disturbing to me than the package that is Kyle Busch.

So, you and Amy go ahead and hate Kyle to your evil heart’s content, but I hope somewhere you have a conscience that says “my hatred is denigrating his performance on track for no good reason.”

And Gina has her head so far up the Rainbow Boy’s ass, it’s a wonder she can breathe.

BTW, your use of the Kasey Kahne excuse is laughable. KK’s greatest enemy on the track has always been KK. In his first year full-time in the 9 car, he benefited from being mentored by Ray Evernham and Bill Elliott. He hasn’t done squat since except get in the way. Kyle has certainly done no more harm to KK than kK has done to others and himself, not to mention wasting a potentially great ride in the 5 for someone who actually deserved it.

Tim S.

I don’t disagree with your views of Earnhardt the Elder at all. But really, Davey Allison wasn’t a superstar? That’s just trolling with a few stats thrown in.

And such a comment about GinaV24 is pure, unadulterated trolling. She makes no apologies about her fandom, but she’s not a lock-step zombie. I don’t like Gordon and I can’t stand most anything Hendrick-related, but her views are among the best in the comment section.

You have some good views yourself and make some good points, about Kahne especially. But the venom and grade-school insults are not doing your delivery any favors.


“I frankly hated Dale Earnhardt for his arrogance, his bullying tactics, his dirty driving, his dishonesty, his total lack of repentance for the races and careers he ruined. ”

And that is why you should hate Kyle Busch too.

Arrogance/Bully Tactics – How many races have we heard audio about KB crying about the traffic around him? He wrecks and throws a temper tantrum, and it’s never his fault.

Dirty Driving – How many times has he wrecked Khane, or any other driver who gets in his way?

Total Lack of Repentance For The Races and Careers He’s Ruined – See all of the young talent in the Nationwide/Xfinity and Truck series. With him winning races that is stifling the advancement of drivers and new blood into NASCAR. Sponsors won’t back the driver who finishes second, they want winners and when the winner has a full time ride and full sponsorship then the companies with money will invest it elsewhere.

Also if you want to use Khane as taking up the valuable seat that is the 5 car (which is debatable given the history of the team) then what about the more valuable 54 car? That could/should be used to build driver’s careers, not pad the statistics of an established mediocre veteran.


If the driver injured at Daytona was someone other than a select few there would be no pass for missing all those races.

If he really were a “top wheelman” like you claim, then he should have as many if not more wins in Cup than he does in the lower series. Put him in equipment that is equal to everyone else and suddenly he isn’t as dominating as he is in the lower series.

Performance over Personality: What a stupid comment. Fans connect to drivers through their personalities. If it was all about performance then why would anyone from positions 25-43 even bother to show up? And you know who else only watches when a specific player/team are winning? Fair Weather Fans, aka the millions who have fled the sport over the past decade.

Yup the old points system awarded mediocrity. That’s why Dale Earnhardt won 7, Jeff Gordon is a 4 time champion, and Alan Kulwicki put on a amazing run of races in ’92, because they were be “mediocre”.

I agree with the comment Busch is his own worst enemy. That why he has choked in every Chase he has competed in. NASCAR has already changed the rules for him once (Win And You’re In), so why not change the rules for him again.


Kulwicki put on an amazing run of races in 1992? He won 2, COUNT them again – 2 races. If that is not mediocrity at its worst, I don’t know what is. He won that “championship” with a calculator not the throttle or steering wheel and along with his fellow Cheesehead Matt Kenseth is the reason the old points system was scrapped favor of the Chase, which puts some premium on actually winning races. Kulwicki was an arrogant SOB (who fired Ray Evernham, the best engineer of that era) and is easily the most overrated driver of the last 30 years. Another case of “what might have been,” What he actually accomplished was a career total of 5 race wins and a championship he didn’t deserve.

As for NASCAR changing the rules for Busch, they have already changed the rules for Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Brian Vickers. Where is your crying over that? Kyle’s waiver still leaves him an enormous hill to climb. And if he can accomplish more in 25 races than his competition does in 36, he deserves both the Championship and the kudos that go with a truly remarkable performance.

Bill B

I think Kyle is a great driver even though I don’t like him. But, get real. The numbers and stats do not support your assertion that he is THE BEST driver out there. If you go strictly by stats it has to be Johnson (which pains me to say). So, on what empirical basis are you crowning Kyle king messengerfm? Sounds like you have a crush on him that is blinding you from reality. He might be one of the 5 best drivers but I have seen nothing that elevates him head and shoulders above the top 10 drivers in the sport. The fact that he has not won a championship yet is probably the biggest argument against him being the best.


NASCAR isn’t really a sport any more, at least not in the way it determines its champion for the year. The whole reset the points thing or racing for the big trophy over 10 races, then 4 races, then reset again for one race, well, it is just doesn’t necessarily reward the best driver as the champion. And yes, I’m one of those people who does not think that Johnson’s “chase” championships make him the equal of Cale Yarborough’s three in a row achievement and certainly not of Richard Petty’s seven.

Nothing personal against Kyle Busch. He’s playing by the rules but then again, NASCAR’s rules are written on a dry erase board and change often.


Well said, Amy.


Agreed Amy.


The package seems to be huge improvement & I would like to see (tweaks yes) it continue…That said all the positive comments after a 1.5 miler (& the best race I’ve ever seen at dull-D Kentucky) which has not been the case for along time..brian comes up with “we want to see more pack racing” now maybe some people do ,but I haven’t met any…That said the difference with this package is they could actually close up on the car in front again which can cause a loose condition & slow the front vehicle(without ever touching that car)..So even if you can’t pass then eventually you are wearing out the front cars tires & allow you to be faster..This is another advantage to this package & was seen & done for years..It was also the most crossover attempts in 1 race in years..Let Them Drive the Damn Car it’s Racing..”Lucky Dog & Playoff is evolution & isn’t going any where(just get brian to admit the max downforce was a bad idea first) …Would accept playoffs easier if the last race was top 4 still in & best points(total) at the end instead of 1 stupid race deciding the whole thing(Tweak Tweak)..Amy on “Lucky Dog ” with penalty..Sorry but for me=no issue just my opinion..shrubby(& I am not a fan) Outstanding driver(one O’the Best) if he can get there(NO Additional Allowance) under these rules(& Acceptable Allowance already granted) he earned it Best to All


messengerfm, I breathe just fine, thanks and don’t have my head up anyone’s ass, although based on some of your comments you may have your head up yours.

I haven’t seen any time when the Frontstretch writers have said that we all have to agree with them and I’ve seen more than a few posts that have vehemently disagreed with the point of view of the writers on here.

Disagreeing is one thing, being disagreeable, which seems to be your favorite past time is something else.


Oh…so that’s your excuse for YOUR hateful posts…Got it…SMH.


messenger, comments don’t have to be disagreeable. That’s a choice of tone that people make. Yep, Gordon is my “hero” on the track. I don’t make any efforts to hide it and make no apologies for it either. I have been a Gordon fan a long time and when he started winning so much in the 90’s, if you want to talk about someone who was hated – well, that was a real opportunity to experience hate, up close & personal and it was directed at his fans, too. Some of the things that people said to me at the track were breathtakingly ugly. So to say you are trying to counteract “blatant hatred” by degrading the writer and insulting posters because they don’t share your opinions is an excuse.

You are entitled to your opinions, as are the rest of us. No one says you have to agree with everyone or that all comments have to be “sweetness and light”, but directed malice & derision don’t have to be the only other options. I’m not talking about high moral ground at all — just civil discourse.

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