Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? … Landon’s Loss, Testing Tidbits And The Danger Of NASCAR Stability

*Did You Notice?…* Those who impressed at Daytona testing weren’t as surprising as some might think? Yes, some eyebrows were raised when Jeff Burton led Friday morning practice at Daytona. Overall, Richard Childress Racing was strong, flashing the best speed out of the Chevy brigade despite winning all of one race last season. But Burton, with new crew chief Luke Lambert shouldn’t surprise anyone. Daytona was the No. 31 team’s strongest track last year; their two top-5 results of 2012 were registered there. In the 500, especially Burton looked like an upset contender, leading 24 laps before getting shuffled back to fifth down the stretch.

Other strong teams have a very familiar ring to it. Take Joe Gibbs Racing, with the combination of Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Kyle Busch. Hamlin led 57 laps in last year’s 500, the most of any driver while Busch has totaled 180 in that category over the past five seasons. Add in newcomer Kenseth, the defending race champion and it’s easy to predict they’ll be successful.

Did You Notice? … We Need To Shake NASCAR’s Offseason Awake?

*Did You Notice?…* The snoozer of a NASCAR offseason to start off 2013? Of course, last year’s circuslike atmosphere (Kurt Busch’s firing, the resulting musical chairs, Kasey Kahne’s breastfeeding “boo boo,” Greg Zipadelli joining old buddy Tony Stewart) comes around oh, about once a decade. But this time around, even with the new Gen6 car there’s been more excitement surrounding “the girlfriend”:http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/8825207/aj-mccarron-girlfriend-katherine-webb-spotlight-bcs-title-game of a college football quarterback in the sporting world than stock car racing. You can bet number two on the list of New Year’s Resolutions for Brian France (behind “find some way, _any_ way to keep my divorce records sealed) is for some giant piece of news to pop out of the sky between now and Daytona Speedweeks.

Did You Notice? … The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Of NASCAR 2012

*Did You Notice?…* As the dust begins to settle on the 2012 Sprint Cup season, a look inside the numbers tells you the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on the state of the sport. Let’s get right to it:

*The Good:* A total of fifteen different drivers won a race this season, roughly one-third of what would compose a 43-car grid in a total that’s roughly in line with previous years. Also, for the second straight season parity took center stage as no driver got more than five wins apiece. Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, drivers from three different organizations _and_ manufacturers shared the honor. It’s hard to get competition any closer than that; NASCAR hasn’t had league-leading victory totals this low in back-to-back years since 1991-92.

Did You Notice? … A Quality Champion, Resistance To Change And Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?…* Brad Keselowski’s Chase is one of the more impressive in the history of the playoff format? Lost in the shuffle of Jimmie Johnson’s wreck, the Gordon-Bowyer brawl and “cell phone gate” is just how well the No. 2 team has performed, putting them in position to cakewalk to the title Sunday at Homestead. Barring a major mishap, like some sort of engine failure or blown tire Keselowski should ease to a top-15 finish, all he needs to secure the hardware for the first time in his Sprint Cup career.

So how has Keselowski done it? A three-pronged combination of consistency, wins, and heart. Let’s tackle them one at a time. Here’s how the driver’s Chase average finish to date compares with other champions since 2004:

Did You Notice? … Too Much Time, Vickers Breaking Ground And Chasing Stats

*Did You Notice?…* A focus on everything but the drivers at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing? As we spoke about “in Mirror Driving today,”:https://frontstretch.com/md/42022/ EGR is switching to Hendrick engines next season, moving away from an internal program combined with Childress in an effort to improve on-track performance. That follows a total housecleaning, at the end of 2011 where just about everyone important _behind the scenes_ got a Pink Slip lump of coal from Target Santa. Among those who got the axe: Competition Director Steve Hmiel, Team Manager Tony Glover and Lead Engineer Ed Nathman. Considering Hmiel and Glover were at the top of the charts in the ‘90s, with Mark Martin and Sterling Marlin, respectively; they had dozens of Cup Series victories, Daytona 500 triumphs and pole positions earned in a combined six-plus decades of NASCAR service.

Did You Notice? … How To Reconstruct A NASCAR Marriage, Money Mismanagement And Ageless Wonders

*Did You Notice?…* The most predictable driver / crew chief failure has finally reached its miserable conclusion? Jeff Burton and Drew Blickensderfer, one of those couples destined for divorce the minute you knew they were walking down the aisle together, have finally parted ways. In Blick’s place comes the man Burton’s needed most all along, Luke Lambert, who will clearly define the future success of a 2013 program that, in Burton’s eyes at least, has become “make or break.”

The Lambert-Burton marriage, reconciled after a year apart, was one of the silliest breakups in NASCAR Sprint Cup history. OK, Jordan and Pippen they weren’t – not yet – but these two were clearly on the path towards long-term success.

Did You Notice?… Earnhardt’s Financial Flaw, NASCAR Tire Testing For Two And Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?…* Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is coming back with no real incentive to do so? Yes, you can tell me all you want about how Earnhardt loves to race, there’s still four chances to win and an outside shot to sneak back inside the top 10 in points, an improvement that would give the driver a little extra TV time at the Las Vegas Championship banquet. At heart, these men are racers, the passion for their craft pushing them to get back in the driver’s seat as quickly as possible. But outside of Martinsville, the No. 88 hasn’t exactly had the history as of late to suggest wins will come at Texas, Phoenix, or Homestead. Momentum for 2013 is a moot point, both in setup notes and at-track finishes as a new car will wipe the slate clean come Daytona. And while Earnhardt could assist teammate Jimmie Johnson with setup information, their relationship being better than Johnson and Regan Smith’s, it’s arguable that Smith was producing better results, driving quickly into the top 10 at Charlotte before blowing the engine and slotting in seventh at Kansas, the team’s best all-around performance since Michigan in August.

Did You Notice?…Common Sense Behind Junior’s Big-Time Concussion

*Did You Notice?…* Today’s concussion diagnosis isn’t the first or even second since Junior’s last bout with this type of injury in 2002? Here’s a quick reminder of what Earnhardt told us in his press conference Thursday morning, a two-week “leave of absence” that might eclipse any piece of news collected this season – even the upcoming champion to be crowned come Homestead. (In case you’ve been living on an outpost, right now Earnhardt confirmed he’ll step out of the No. 88 due to a head injury initially suffered during a Kansas tire test, the end of August and then re-aggravated during Sunday’s last-lap wreck at Talladega.)

Did You Notice? … Inconsistency Rules — The Message And The Track — Plus Who’s Got That Cookie-Cutter Edge?

*Did You Notice?…* The “new” style of plate racing, pack or tandem isn’t catching on with fans at Talladega? Television ratings, out Tuesday, suffered a 5 percent year-to-year decline, down to 3.7 Nielsen number in a Chase that’s seen the lowest viewership in the history of the nine-year playoff format. Overall, a total of 5.113 million people tuned into the Talladega Demolition Derby (err, Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500) from their living rooms. That’s the lowest number _this century_ for the racetrack, spring or fall, when the race has been run on its scheduled date.

Did You Notice? … FOX Finds The NASCAR Diamond And The “Hidden” Chaser

*Did You Notice?…* The difference between FOX, TNT, and ESPN when negotiating their NASCAR TV deals? FOX, according to multiple reports, is almost finished on an extension that will keep them broadcasting most of the Sprint Cup season’s first half for years to come. As a part of that, sources are claiming the cost of doing business will go up after 2014 — a likely, albeit surprising rights fee increase that’s eyebrow-raising when you consider the recent drop in NASCAR popularity, both on and off the racetrack. Just this week, Dover registered a 2.2 Nielsen rating, with just 3.581 million viewers that keeps the Chase on track for its lowest audience since the format’s 2004 debut.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com