Did You Notice? The number of green-white-checkered finishes has been reduced for Talladega? NASCAR announced Tuesday it’s down to one instead of the standard three to help curb the carnage seen since the rule was put in place last decade.
The change has its merit although it’s less likely to be used than you think. The last 10 races at Talladega have produced four “overtime” situations in which more than 188 laps have been run (40%). But of those only one – a mere 10% of the total – would have had its race ended early because of NASCAR’s new rules. Usually, one GWC finish is enough to take care of business at a place like Talladega. Honest, it takes so long for the field to get up to speed and too many cars are eliminated anyway by that point.
When taking that into consideration, you wonder what the big difference is between one and three after all. The same basic safety concerns are there whether it’s lap 9 or lap 189. Also, there’s the nightmare of having to call a race under yellow the second a wreck happens. Where do you freeze the field? A second here or there could mean the difference between a driver making or missing the next round of the Chase. Or do you let it go green until the end if at all possible? There’s a large degree of subjectivity there that won’t change unless you dictate the circumstances of a GWC finish, not the overall number. NASCAR officials could be well served to do a better job of doing that as its next method of “improving” Daytona and Talladega….
Did You Notice? There’s no rhyme or reason to Talladega? Let’s take a look at the 12 Chasers and their last five finishes at the facility.
Joey Logano: 35th, 16th, 32nd, 11th, 33rd
Denny Hamlin: 34th, 38th, 1st, 18th, 9th
Kurt Busch: 30th, 18th, 33rd, 7th, 12th
Carl Edwards: 3rd, 17th, 30th, 21st, 32nd
Kevin Harvick: 40th, 12th, 7th, 9th, 8th
Jeff Gordon: 11th, 14th, 39th, 26th, 31st
Brad Keselowski: 15th, 29th, 28th, 1st, 22nd
Martin Truex Jr.: 7th, 8th, 17th, 27th, 5th
Kyle Busch: 3rd, 37th, 5th, 12th, 40th
Ryan Newman: 32nd, 9th, 18th, 5th, 7th
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 17th, 2nd, 26th, 31st, 1st
Matt Kenseth: 8th, 20th, 37th, 2nd, 25th
What does the jumble of numbers (and truly, that’s what it is) tell us about the sport’s most unpredictable race? Not a single Chaser has had back-to-back top-five finishes at ‘Dega at any time over the last five events. Only three – Harvick, Newman and Truex – have posted back-to-back top 10s. This inability to control your own destiny, leaving your fate similar to which bingo ball gets called out of the spinning machine, is perhaps the biggest argument on paper as to why this race should not be involved in the postseason.
It also leads to frustration for the 11 drivers not named Logano whose fate is ultimately left up to a final restart or simple chance. Even when there isn’t a big wreck, the small nuances of the draft make a big difference. Clint Bowyer, for example was sitting inside the top 10 with eight laps remaining this spring. He wound up 30th. Mr. Gordon? He was sitting 21st and wound up 31st, dropping 10 spots (and points) over the final eight laps. So much can change in a heartbeat, it’s clear no one’s spot in the final eight will be secure until the last few seconds of the final lap. In some cases, that means the final tenth of a second. It’s why this week is a constant heart attack for teams. The big question is, do the fans actually enjoy seeing the next round of the postseason decided this way?
Did You Notice? Franchising picking up steam? Sources tell me at least two teams are on hold for 2016 (I’ll let you figure it out, kids; it’s not rocket science) because owners are waiting patiently to determine what NASCAR’s final structure on the system will be. ESPN reported the word “charter” thrown around but I’ve also been told “medallion” as well. Either way, we’re leaning toward guaranteed spots in the field each week regardless of points or speed in 2016.
The moves are being made, of course to stabilize the Sprint Cup ownership group already in place. Bob Pockrass does a great job of reporting in this case and it’s hard to comment too much at this point without speculating. So many details in the situation are fluid. We could have a field of 38, 40 or 43 cars next year while the number of “charters” handed out could vary based on ownership approval. Remember, Furniture Row Racing is not part of the negotiations per se (they’re not a part of the Race Team Alliance) and even one veto could throw this system straight in the trash can.
But here’s one part no one appears to be considering in the hustle to provide a foundation for owners already in place. Rob Kauffman, as co-chair of the RTA, will be able to sell his two “charters” for 2016 to the highest bidder. Any potential system I’ve heard will still award them to Michael Waltrip Racing as both cars are inside the top 25 in owner points right now. Here’s the question… who wants to buy them? Kauffman said a few months ago, peaking in frustration, he thinks the MWR race shop should be turned into a bunch of condos. If a perspective new owner wanted these teams, the “charters” would have already been sold a few months ago when co-owner Michael Waltrip was trying to avoid pink slips for longtime employees.
So, again, how in the world does any “charter” have value if no one else wants to buy them? My guess is that’s why some of NASCAR’s plans have left newer teams like the fourth car for Joe Gibbs Racing (Edwards) and the fourth car for Stewart-Haas Racing (Kurt Busch) without a “medallion.” That would save face for 2016 as MWR’s “charters” would go to big-money owners who could afford the purchase, almost as a “thank you” to Kauffman for helping negotiate the deal. But the overall point remains; as a new owner, even if I see a “charter” available, will I want to buy it knowing everyone else has, well, four or more? Why spend the money if I’m going to need to spend four times that in order to be competitive?
In the rush to save owners already here, NASCAR needs to recognize that point. You can’t evolve if you’re simply involving the same owners – even if there’s a solid redistribution of cash in the process. The solution is deeper than a piece of paper might have you believe….
Did You Notice? Quick hits before taking off….
- Gordon will be age 44 when he retires. Tony Stewart? Age 45. Have we hit the “new” retirement age for a Sprint Cup driver? It’s interesting because Kenseth will be age 44 next year and has Erik Jones behind him, ready to move up to Cup with JGR support in 2017. Greg Biffle will be age 46 and, while unwilling to put a timetable on his retirement, has sponsors whose deals expire as early as the end of 2016. No one else is close in age but do you really see Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. and other famous drivers pulling a “Mark Martin” and racing until age 55? Or even age 50? I think Gordon and Stewart, legends in their own right, are setting their final “precedent” on the way out the door.
- Speaking of careers ending, are we seeing the swan song for Sam Hornish Jr.? With Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 9 car becoming a pay-to-play ride, Hornish is likely out as has been heavily reported. (Unfortunately, Hornish has done nothing to dissuade the doubters; his last top-10 finish in the car came at Watkins Glen back in August). I know for a fact Hornish has been offered lesser rides back in the day (BK Racing comes to mind) and turned them down out of pride and the want to actually race a competitive car. At age 36, the Indy 500 and IndyCar champion simply has nothing left to prove. His ability to fight back and rise again in stock car racing says a lot about both his dedication and talent. Should Hornish leave the sport, it’s notable the No. 9 is two-for-two in retirements the last two seasons. Marcos Ambrose, of course, is no longer racing full-time after leaving for Australia/Tasmania in 2014.