Did You Notice? … The way in which road course ringers can’t make up for bad equipment in Sprint Cup? It was a tale of two weekends for Boris Said, one of the sport’s road course experts and a veteran who’s taught literally a dozen modern Cup drivers the ropes at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Said, hopping in the No. 54 Toyota of Joe Gibbs Racing in the XFINITY Series had an excellent Saturday at the Glen, finishing fourth in equipment typically driven by veteran Kyle Busch. That drive alone showed the 52-year-old hasn’t lost a step; with the right opportunity, he still can contend for victory at tracks where he has well over a decade’s worth of NASCAR experience.
So why was Said so awful the following day? His No. 32 Ford, sponsored by Genesee Beer and prepared by small-time GO FAS Racing was never up to speed from the start. Using a provisional spot to make the field, Said struggled to crack the top 30, suffered damage in a lap 50 chain-reaction wreck and wound up spinning out on the final lap. Winding up 32nd, one lap behind it was the worst finish for the Californian at the track in five years.
A closer look at the numbers, though sees Said on a mediocre run despite the consistency of the same team, crew, and manufacturer. Here’s a look at how his road course average finish stacks up since aligning with the No. 32 program….
Unfortunately, while NASCAR makes rules designed to bring further parity to the sport Said and his one-car team have fallen further behind. It’s become more difficult, not less for a one-time “ringer” to jump in these Sprint Cup cars and compete at the level they could for top-5 and top-10 finishes just a decade ago. And if driver skill is taking more of a back seat, equipment the major factor in where you finish why would a team go out and hire these ringers? The difference in performance is just not enough to justify the cost.
That’s especially true when you look at the sport’s confusing purse structure. For finishing 20th, Michael McDowell made just $871 more than last-place finisher Tony Stewart. It’s a pittance, not even enough to pay for an extra set of tires. Those reasons and more add up to Said becoming the last of a dying breed, experts who can no longer overcome the obstacles. While I expect ringers to continue in the XFINITY Series, a place where skill can still make somewhat of a small impact when placed in bad equipment the days of ringers climbing up to Cup are over. Multi-million dollar operations (which even the small teams are) don’t have time, patience, or the need anymore to head in a different direction for just one week.
Did You Notice? … Kasey Kahne has been a step behind his Hendrick Motorsports counterparts? He’s currently the only one on the four-car team outside the Chase grid but it’s been a struggle for him at HMS for awhile now. Even as Jeff Gordon has shown some inconsistency in recent seasons it’s Kahne who’s always had the largest hills to climb. Check the chart below….
Finishes Outside The Top 30 – Hendrick Motorsports Since 2012
Kasey Kahne – 25
Jimmie Johnson – 19
Jeff Gordon – 19
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 11
In a 43-42…2-1 point system where bad finishes are punished more than ever, Kahne always piles up the most extreme. If he wrecks, say like at Pocono last weekend it’s a 43rd-place result instead of fighting back to 20th. If an engine loses a cylinder, it blows for the No. 5 car instead of Kahne being able to limp it around in 25th. Those are precious points that add up over the course of a season, leaving Kahne a step behind even though at times he flashes the speed of the other HMS cars.
Problem is, avoiding these “disaster type” finishes has always been a problem for Kahne since rising to the Cup level. It’s why he’s never been a serious Chase contender even during a 2006 season when he won a career-high six races. The crew chief has changed this year (from Kenny Francis to Keith Rodden) but the same nagging flaw remains. It’s a combination of luck, knowing when to tow the line on aggression and perhaps the consequence of being fourth on the HMS totem pole behind Johnson, Earnhardt, and Gordon.
So what now? In past years, Kahne has been able to save himself through victories to get in the Chase but I have my doubts they’ll get over the hump this year. 37th at Bristol in the spring, Kahne tested well there and that’s the only track out of the last four we go to this regular season he’s won at since 2007. Michigan, Darlington, Richmond… they’re all longshots with the way the team is running right now. It leaves that Bristol night race as the only hope and I just wonder if Kahne, hesitant to be aggressive will use the chrome horn there when it counts.
It’s interesting to me that for the second straight year, HMS as a whole started off like gangbusters but come summer, they not only appear to be falling behind but they once again have Kahne on the verge of missing the Chase. Keeping up with changes during the season used to be what this organization does best….
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off…
– Yes, the ratings at Watkins Glen were down this week. But note that NBCSN still came through with a 2.5, the fourth straight race they’ve had at least a 2.4 final rating. So while the audience isn’t what it was last season, there’s consistency in the numbers and signs the fans that actually are watching continue to stick around. Much has been said about the quality of these broadcasts, but will the network now be able to build on their foundation and get more fans interested come Chase time? The year-to-year increase (or decrease) there is what’s especially important because that’s what this network bought the NASCAR package for.
– It was nice to see the diversity of tributes for Buddy Baker over the last few days. SIRIUS XM did a great job with their coverage and when you hear three different generations singing his praises (from Bobby Allison to Greg Sacks to Clint Bowyer) you know how much of an impact the man had on the sport.
– Michael Waltrip Racing‘s Clint Bowyer has three straight top-10 finishes and was 10th at Michigan in June. If you’re looking for a possible breakthrough by a winless driver this weekend, I think he might be your man despite the craziness surrounding the organization right now. Remember, Bowyer is set for 2016 no matter what and making the Chase could net his current/future employers a few extra million dollars.