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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Silence! NASCAR's Unspoken Cry To Opinionated Drivers Needs To Stop

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It’s a mantra that was repeated on the school playground, a lesson taught to us by our parents, and a phrase we have to repeat inwardly to ourselves when the boss is in an especially critical mood on a Monday morning. It is, however, a foreign concept to NASCAR—a lesson that Denny Hamlin learned the hard way. After making what NASCAR called a disparaging—or, what most of it would call it, honest—statement about the Gen 6 racecar, it was announced that Hamlin had been fined $25,000. Though Hamlin stated on Twitter that he would appeal, NASCAR never balked at the prospect of shutting up the drivers when they say something negative. It wasn’t but a couple of weeks ago that Keselowski was called to the NASCAR hauler for comments that, too, were made with an honest assessment of NASCAR’s product, though this was about their business model rather than the product of the on-track racing. Still, for some reason, NASCAR is bearing their teeth to any driver who dares gives negative feedback. The worst part, however, is that it seems to be working. Not only were drivers cordial in expressing their opinions about the new car following the checkered flag yesterday in Las Vegas. From the way it sounded, they were simply delighted in the way it drove! It’s never been better! In their mandatory post-race press conferences for the top three drivers, Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski were about two seconds from doing rock-paper-scissors to determine who had to answer the question “How did the car drive today?” Now, to be fair, the race really wasn’t _that_ bad. I felt like it was a decent race considering the kind of “show” intermediate tracks usually put up. While there wasn’t a ton of passing, it looked like the faster cars generally _could_ pass and tire wear played more of a roll than they had in a while. Still, though, clean air and track position was the most important aspect of the race, which has been a complaint with the car for a long time. Why can’t the drivers talk about that? Why shouldn’t they? Here’s what I’m concerned about. Right now, NASCAR has a little bit of breathing room because drivers and their crews are still learning the ins and outs of the new car. That can be the excuse for a good while. They can silence the drivers for a good while and fans will probably believe that to be that problem. But what happens afterwards? This car has its problems. I’m sure anyone could have guessed that it wouldn’t be perfect and that there would be an adjustment period. But after a while, people are going to get sick of waiting around for some of the little quirks and mannerisms to fix itself. Who better, then, to give the feedback on areas of improvement than the ones who are behind the wheel every weekend? I know NASCAR’s preference would be that the drivers deliver this feedback behind closed doors and not to the media. That’s not realistic, though, either. First of all, NASCAR wouldn’t have its reach, appeal, or popularity without the media. Also, who is right there in the drivers’ face first thing after they exit their racecar on pit road? Who do the fans turn to when they want to hear their drivers’ thoughts after a hard wreck? You can’t shut the drivers up about everything except for the rainbows and lollipops of the sport. First of all, fans are smarter than that. The drivers can get out of a single-file race at Daytona, say “What a great race!” and the fans will cry foul. Secondly, it’s completely unfair. If NASCAR is working on a solution to alleviate the issues that the sport is facing, I think the fans deserve to know about it. Simply put, this whole “don’t talk about our sport unless it’s positive” needs to stop. Like I said, fans are smart enough to see right through it and you can’t be in damage control over damage control. In other words, you can’t try and protect the image of the sport by not letting the drivers say what they feel. They are human beings and many are very opinionated. Let them do so! After all, negative feedback is only negative if you don’t listen. *Connect with Summer!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/summerbedgood\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"https://www.facebook.com/summerdreyer\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6501.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Summer Bedgood\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/28526/

Let's Be Realistic: Putting Gen-6 Expectations In Perspective

The complaints are raining down fast and heavy about NASCAR's new Gen-6 race cars—they can't pass, they don't draft well. Even the drivers have been in on the discussion; Denny Hamlin got a fine from NASCAR for his complaints about the car after the race at Phoenix last week. Everyone seems ready to jump on the \"Gen Sux\" bandwagon after two races this year. Now hold on a minute. Wasn't this the car that was supposed to save NASCAR and make all the races full of on-track action? Well, yes. But there are two things going on here that are fueling the complaints. One, perhaps the expectation that a redesigned car could fix everything was a little unrealistic. Two, it's still several months too early to make an accurate assessment of what this car can and cannot do. Let's take a look at the Gen-6, why it's simply impossible to give it a final grade of any kind, and what fans can—and can't—expect from it, along with some of the more realistic ways to turn things around in the sport. *Why it's too early to pass judgment* I've said all along that everyone, from drivers to media to fans, needs to wait until the second race at tracks to even begin to say with any kind of understanding whether or not the new cars are up to snuff. The reason is simple: you have to remember that the teams have had limited track time with these cars, and they don't have a folder full of notes from previous races to compare them to. Plus, every track has some individual quirks and is raced under different conditions, so even applying, say, notes from Fontana to Michigan, will not give an accurate picture the first time or two. Because teams are still trying to figure out how to make the cars handle, it's not really fair to accuse them of not trying on track, either. Car inventory is not where it was for most teams with the old car yet, and they're not going to risk a month's setback racing for fifth on lap 100. It's entertainment to fans, but to race teams, it's their livelihood, and they're going to do what's best for them long term. That can be applied to racing in general. To fans in March, it's frustrating that teams concentrate on the Chase, but the reality is, that's where the money is, and that's where they focus (along with the biggest reason that the Chase is bad for the sport, but I digress…). Once teams are better adjusted to the car, then it will be time for NASCAR to take an objective look at the racing (and I sincerely hope they will do so), and make tweaks as necessary. Expect them to take a look at things like spoiler height and angle and other things that affect handling and downforce. Hand it to NASCAR, they have already made one change to help reduce the huge benefit of clean air by eliminating the camera pods on the car's roof once it was discovered that they gave the leader a significant advantage (80-90 pounds of downforce, which translates into quite a bit of speed) but not the cars behind him. If they can continue to do that without worrying about what the manufacturers and teams say, the cars can and will improve. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/14618.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"183\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">It's too early to pass judgment on the new Gen-6 cars, but everyone has to be realistic about just how much of what ails NASCAR one car can fix.</p></div> All of that means that it's just way too early to call the Gen-6 car a success or a failure. Everyone needs to take a deep breath, be patient, and remember that good things come to those who wait for them. Once the teams and NASCAR learn more, it's likely that fans will see the benefits of making changes the _right_ way—based on knowledge and forward thinking, not a knee-jerk reaction to what happened during one or two weeks. *What fans should be able to expect from the Gen-6 down the road* While a lot of people talked about the Gen-6 car as if it would be the one savior that racing has been looking for, that's simply not true. Fans can and should expect some things from this car, but perhaps not on the grand scale that they had hoped for. First, the car goes back to one thing fans have been clamoring for since the Car of Tomorrow made its debut and probably even before that: brand identity. The SS looks like an SS, the Fusion looks like a Fusion, and the Camry looks like a Camry. Hopefully that will bring back a bit of the \"win on Sunday, sell on Monday\" attitude that was a part of the sport for so long before the COT and the later incarnations of its predecessor. That's good for the sport because it's good for the industry. Simply put, if Chevy, Ford, and Toyota are making more money because people like what they see in the cars, they can put more money back into improving their racing programs, which produces a better product on the racetrack. While it may seem like a small thing, in the larger picture of the sport, what the cars look like is very important. The Gen-6 design changes also mean that teams shouldn't be able to skew them to the right the way that they did with the fourth-generation cars and even, to a smaller extent, to the COT. While that may have helped handling, it looked grotesque and prompted cries of foul among teams. This car can't be as easily manipulated, so teams won't gain an advantage by altering the geometry. Plus, the more the cars got skewed in the past, the worse they looked to the observer. While people thought the COT was ugly, the car before that, the fourth-generation, was even worse by the end of its era; if you looked at one from the front, it was apparent just how out-of-shape they really were. Fans can also, hopefully, expect to see the racing put more in the drivers' hands and less in the hands of the engineers. While that might bring complaints from some drivers, it does showcase some of the talent that may have been overlooked with the older car. If you look at the results from Phoenix, for example, there were teams in the top 15 that you might not expect—because they figured it out first. That's good for the sport (or at least it would be if those teams got the broadcast time they deserved) because it forces drivers to drive, and it puts the emphasis on what the fans see every week, the drivers behind the wheel, rather than on what happens behind closed doors back at the shop. Hopefully, if the car is difficult to drive, this will remain even after the teams with more resources get better at working with it. *What nobody should expect* Simply put, anyone who expects this race car to magically create 500 miles of non-stop action every week is going to be sorely disappointed. That's just totally unrealistic at most tracks for many reasons. First and foremost, in the 65-year history of the sport, it has never been nonstop passing and vying for the lead on every lap of every race, or even most of them. When part of what the sport is testing is the endurance and flexibility of both driver and equipment as it is at the Cup level, racing every lap like it's the last just isn't part of any smart race team's strategy. Any driver worth his salt will tell you that to finish first, you must first _finish_, and sometimes that means not taking every available risk. Winning is still what teams want most every week, and they will do what they can to make sure that the driver and car are capable of making the moves when it counts…and that's just not every lap, and never has been in the longer Cup races. The emphasis that's put on the championship, however, has changed teams' focus, especially in more recent years, and even more especially since the addition of the Chase. There is a ton of money at stake in the year-end point fund, and the top teams know that. They race for points when they can't race for the win, and some teams do revert to a kind of test mode once they're comfortable with their Chase status because they know that those ten races are more important in the scheme of things than a win at Pocono in August. That mentality is far more destructive to the on-track product than any race car ever has been or will be. Simply put, if NASCAR wants teams to race for the win, the emphasis needs to be on winning races throughout the season rather than the championship. Perhaps they should put that year-end point money into the winners' purses for the 36-race season and give a nice trophy and a trip to the banquet for the champion and that's all. It would still be an honor to win the title, but it would put the actual races higher on the priority list. Most local short-track teams race for the win every week first and their title second because the title just isn't that big a deal—and they all race every week like it's a title battle. Perhaps NASCAR should be taking notes on that. Also, if people want the race cars to look like the street cars, it's time to accept that aerodynamic dependence isn't something NASCAR can get rid of. They can tweak with downforce with spoilers, etc., but the reality is that if people want the cars to look like the street version, they're going to be aero-dependent because the _street version_ is aero dependent. As drivers, we want cars with better fuel mileage and that are fun and easy to drive. A more aerodynamic car gets better mileage and is, generally, easier and more fun to drive (If you disagree, try driving a box truck instead of your car for a couple of weeks and see if that's really your definition of fun.). There is a reason that the cars of the 1970's and 1980's became obsolete-consumers wanted better gas mileage and more streamlined cars. And so, if a race car is to look like a street car as the word \"stock\" in stock car racing implies, it's going to have superior aerodynamics to its predecessors…and be more dependent on that aspect for handling. *So, is there a fix?* There are a few fixes, actually, but making drastic changes to the Gen-6 have little to nothing to do with them. The cars are beautiful, but they aren't the real answer. If NASCAR really wants to combat aerodynamic dependence and make it easier for cars to pass, the solution is there, but it's a little radical to most fans: slow the cars down. Somehow, we’ve been conditioned to think that faster is always better, but that's not always true. Look at tracks like Martinsville—it's the slowest track on the circuit in terms of miles per hour, but it consistently produces action. The fastest tracks, the mile-and-a-half and two-mile ovals, have much faster speeds but often far less passing than the shorter, slower tracks do. In a nutshell, racing at 200 miles per hour isn't necessarily better than racing at 165 miles per hour. Slower speeds (which could probably be easily achieved by reducing horsepower through EFI programming), in general, mean less turbulent air, or at least less effect of turbulent air on the cars. It's air turbulence that makes a race car \"aero tight,\" or \"aero loose,\" terms we’ve heard drivers use in describing their cars' handling in close-quarters racing. If turbulence, or its effects, can be reduced by reducing speeds, it should follow that cars would be less likely to be influenced by the air around them, and in turn, it would be easier to pass. It flies in the face of what most people think about racing, but it's the truth. And while NASCAR doesn't want to look into that type of solution because it might be confusing to fans, the reality is that if fans saw a better product, they wouldn't care if the physics behind it were confusing. Another way to slow the cars down, of course, would be to race at more shorter tracks. You simply can't go as fast at say, Dover, as you can at Atlanta. Second of all, as I said above, the emphasis needs to be redirected from winning the championship to winning races. Whether that comes from eliminating the huge point bonuses drivers get for finishing near the top of the standings and making every race worth a huge amount for the win, or by changing the points system or how championships are won, it could have a big impact on what fans see every week. Heck, there used to be bonus money for leading at halfway—that money would still be valuable to many teams, and it might even encourage the mid-tier teams to step up their game to earn it over the big teams each week. But the bottom line is, NASCAR and its sponsors have put too much emphasis on the season-long title and not enough on the individual races, and that has changed how teams approach each weekend. Racing is their business, and they have to do what they can to make money and please sponsors. If the emphasis was on the weekly product, they would race accordingly. The third solution, though, has to come from race fans, especially those who have come to the sport more recently, because they seem to be the most vocal. Long-time fans remember races where it wasn't uncommon to have one car finish on the lead lap because they were just that much better than the competition, and because of this, I think, aren't as critical of the on-track product, for the most part (or their complaints stem from the championship structure and the resulting shift of focus rather than on the cars). And getting fans to change their expectations isn't an easy thing. When NASCAR was the popular thing to be into in the 2000's, I think a lot of fans were attracted by the highlight reels that showed nonstop action—crashes, battles, and fender-to-fender battles for the win. And perhaps that's what they expected from every race, every lap. That isn't how it is, nor has it ever been for the most part. At the Sprint Cup level, it's always been about speed and driver talent, but it's also been about endurance and equipment. That means that teams have to strategize how to be in position to make a bid for the win after 400 or 500 miles. And that also means that they conserve their stuff, which, in turn, means they don't take risks early on. This level of NASCAR isn't like the local short track, where the feature race is 35 laps and you have to make every one count. It's a different beast altogether, but that doesn't make it less exciting. Perhaps fans need to adjust their ideas a little to really enjoy Cup racing. Instead of looking for a pass a minute, maybe fans should look at teams' long term strategies—pit stops, fuel mileage, tires—and follow those to see which teams emerge victorious. Watching the different strategies play out as a race unfolds is exciting, but in a different way than expecting the type of non-stop video-game action and a new twist at every turn like in a cartoon or movie. It's unfair of fans to expect something that has never really been what the sport _is_ at this level. Is it too early to judge the Gen-6 racecar? Yes, much too early. But nobody should be expecting the race car and the race car alone to be the one thing that magically fixes everything in the sport. Rather, the focus should be on changing expectations—that more speed always means better racing, that a car that's meant to look like an aerodynamically dependent street car should not be aerodynamically dependent, that a NASCAR race is going to be 500 miles of nothing but passing for the lead among several drivers and lots of beating and banging behind them every last lap. And to do that, everyone, form NASCAR, to race teams, media, and fans, need to look at the sport through a different window than perhaps they have been. One car can't do it all. But it can be done. *Connect with Amy!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/Writer_Amy\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Amy Henderson\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14352/

Four Burning Questions In Las Vegas: Fines, Tires, and \"Quality\" Concerns

Viva Las Vegas, baby. Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the site of this week’s Sprint Cup Series race, and as we enter the third week of the grueling Sprint Cup Series season, the field is beginning to take shape, with the haves rising to the top and the have nots slowly beginning their descent to the bottom of the series standings. However, for the third week in a row, the performance and raceability of the Gen-6 car will undoubtedly be the hot topic amongst media types and fans alike, and less than stellar races in Daytona and Phoenix have suddenly given pause to the seemingly boundless optimism that surrounded the new car. Are we in for another parade at Las Vegas? There’s little doubt that's the main question on everyone’s minds as we gear up for the Kobalt Tools 400. *1. Will the Gen-6 finally come alive in the Sin City?* NASCAR was not bashful at the start of this season when touting the raceability of it’s prized Gen-6 race cars. Seemingly every day over the course of the offseason there was a new quote from some NASCAR higher-up singing the new car's praises and raising expectations for the 2013 season to a fever pitch. Well, here we are in Week 3, and so far the cars have failed to deliver as promised. Daytona was a 3.5 hour parade, and Phoenix was only marginally better. Is this the week that we finally get to see the Gen-6 perform like it was supposed to? I’m an optimist so I never rule anything out, but I wouldn’t count on it. Not yet at least. Phoenix painted a very telling picture as to what the drivers and teams are dealing with in the new Gen-6 machines. Many drivers, most notably Denny Hamlin (who angered NASCAR officials with his remarks, more on this later), were quick to point out how hard it was to pass at Phoenix, mostly due to aero sensitivity issues. Brad Keselowski’s comment was perhaps the most telling of them all, as he went on to say that the new car is the “hardest car I’ve ever had to drive in traffic.” Its possible that this was a Phoenix specific issue (it has long been hailed as one of the most difficult tracks to pass on), and that the car may in fact drive differently on the 1.5 mile tracks that the cars were designed for. Indeed, there is one saving grace that could play into NASCAR’s favor here, and that is the draft. That absolutely massive spoiler you see on the back of the new cars is the biggest one NASCAR has used in a very long time, and in addition to all of the extra downforce it creates, it also creates a very sizeable draft effect. Phoenix is too small for that draft to come into a play, but the 1.5 mile high-banked Vegas track may just be big enough for it to work. If the draft effect is sizeable enough, it could theoretically negate whatever aero grip is lost in the corners and allow drivers to race closer than they have in years past (note that this wouldn’t yield pack racing, as the drivers will obviously still be lifting quite a bit in the corners). The draft may be NASCAR’s only hope for good racing at 1.5 milers, and we will find out soon enough if it’s viable enough to finally be the spark the Gen-6 cars need. <div style=\"float:right; width:250px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/14928.jpg\" width=\"250\" height=\"367\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Denny Hamlin incurred the wrath of NASCAR for criticizing the raceablity of the new Gen-6 cars but says he won't pay the $25,000 fine he's been issued.</p></div> *2. Will Denny Hamlin’s penalty affect driver-media relations going forward?* Ridiculous is the only word apt enough to describe this mess. In case you missed it yesterday, NASCAR announced that they were fining Denny Hamlin $25,000 for “disparaging remarks about on-track racing at Phoenix”. The specific remark Hamlin uttered that angered NASCAR is supposedly as follows “It (the Gen 6 car) did not race as good as our Generation 5 cars did here.” Hamlin, who is irate over the fine, has vowed not to pay it, and said that NASCAR could suspend him if they wanted to. Yikes. NASCAR is once again going down a dangerous road. They boast about wanting the drivers to show their personalities and speak their minds, yet they fine a driver when he makes even the (admittedly quite accurate) slightest of negative comments about the new car. The simple fact is that nothing Hamlin said was worthy of a fine. He correctly pointed out that it was hard to pass in Phoenix, and that the cars needed more work to become racier. NASCAR’s ultimate message is clearly that they don’t want anyone to say anything negative at all about their new cars. The sad irony of this whole ordeal is that the fine will likely have the opposite effect of the intended one. If anything, the fine just draws more attention to the growing pains of the Gen-6 cars. So where does this leave driver-media relations going forward? Well, frankly, it completely sours them. What driver will want to speak his mind to us media types now that he/she knows NASCAR will drop the hammer on just about any comment that paints the sport in a negative light? With the Hamlin fining now set as a precedent, you can expect even more political correctness and vanilla faux optimism about the new cars than we had before. And trust me, more political correctness is the last thing this sport needs. *3. Will JGR and TRD get their engine woes straightened out?* For those keeping track at home, Toyota Racing Development, who supplies engines for powerhouse teams Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing, has already had issues with four of their engines in the first two weeks of the season. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth both had their Daytona 500 hopes dashed by late race engine woes, and last week both Busch and Denny Hamlin were forced to start from the rear at Phoenix because of another rash of engine issues. This is nothing new to anyone who follows the Toyota teams, especially JGR. JGR struggled mightily with mechanical issues all throughout 2012, and engine issues plagued the team even before they switched engine suppliers to TRD. Interestingly enough, Toyota sister team Michael Waltrip Racing has not suffered near as many issues as JGR has with engines, suggesting that this may be a JGR-specific problem in which their engineers are perhaps overtuning the engines past their limit. Whatever the problems are, both JGR and TRD need to get them figured out before this weekend’s race in Las Vegas. The engines will be turning some of their highest RPMs of the season at the fast and unrestricted Vegas track, meaning that engine strain will be heavy. Mechanical issues derailed JGR in 2012, and they can’t afford to have that same fate to befall them once again in 2013. They need to either figure out their problems now, or face another season of wondering what could have been. *4. Will the tires hold up in Vegas?* Last week in Phoenix, for the first time in quite a while in the Sprint Cup Series, tire blowouts were a very real concern. Many teams dealt with tire issues, but none more so than Stewart-Haas Racing as Ryan Newman suffered two right front tire failures while Danica Patrick suffered one that resulted in an accident so vicious that it was covered Monday night on the FOX News show “The Five”. Drivers blamed overtly hard left side tires as the main culprit, as they created a “balance issue” (as termed by Denny Hamlin; he’s been popular this week hasn’t he?) in which the right side tires were forced to do too much of the work, especially the right front. However, for as much as drivers complained last week about tires, don’t expect to hear quite as many this weekend. Goodyear is reportedly bringing a softer tire this week, and the slightly aged surface of the Vegas track ought give teams more leeway in building their setups in such a manner that blowouts have less of a chance of happening. Drivers may still complain that there isn’t enough falloff, which is a legitimate grievance, but I wouldn’t expect any outright blowouts. We have to remember that the Phoenix track was repaved only a year and a half ago, and brand new surfaces always cause problems for Goodyear. Thus, last week’s tire problems were something of an anomaly, and it probably won’t be something teams have to worry about for this weekend at least. *Connect with Matt!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/MStall41\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Matt Stallknecht\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/38642/

Justin Allgaier Diary: All Around The World … And Then On Top Of NASCAR's

Since last season ended, Ashley and I have had a very busy offseason. We started out spending Thanksgiving in Illinois with our families which was quite a gathering, especially with Ashley's family. It was a nice opportunity to relax for a little while. With the racing schedule as busy as it is, we only get to go home a couple of times a year so getting to spend time with our family during the offseason is extra special. <div style=\"float:left; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/13273.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"413\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Justin Allgaier's smiling these days about much more than leading the Nationwide Series points. He and wife Ashley are expecting their first child sometime this summer.</p></div> We then jumped on a plane and went on a mission trip to Monterrey, Mexico. We got to go to some orphanages and give to some children who don't have near the blessings that we have here in the United States. It was with a group from Back2Back ministries which includes Gil and Ford Martin and Jeff Green. We didn't get to spend as much time down there as we normally have, but it was still a great time for the couple of days that we were down there with all of the kids at the different orphanages that we visited. It was especially enjoyable getting to see Magali, a young girl that Ashley and I sponsor down there. We came back to the states and headed back to Illinois to spend Christmas with our families. It was the best Christmas ever because we were able to tell our parents that we are expecting our first baby. I know we waited until last week to break the news to everyone else but we wanted to make sure that we were past the first tri-mester before we announced it to the world. We don't know what we're going to have yet but we will find out in a couple of weeks so we'll be sure and include that in the next edition of the diary. It was very hard to not tell anyone over the last couple of months, especially for someone who likes to talk as much as I do. After Christmas, we headed to Tulsa to run the Chili Bowl. It was the first time that I had run at the Chili Bowl in six years. It was the first time I'd been in an open-wheel car, besides a modified, since I'd been in the Chili Bowl last time. We ran pretty well. We finished eighth in our preliminary night with only three cylinders. We ran the B-main and started near the front but unfortunately the night ended early, along with our chance to make the A-main. What a great accomplishment though to run with the best midget drivers in the world and be up front in the B-main before crashing out. It was still a great run and I hope we'll get a chance to run a couple more races this season to be ready when the 2014 Chili Bowl comes around. After the Chili Bowl, we did a bunch of traveling. We made a couple of show appearances with Brandt at San Diego and Orlando. They are such a great sponsor and I love getting the chance to do things with them, for both their customers and their employees. Ashley and I also went on a K-Love Christian Radio Cruise to Cozumel. We got to spend a little time in Cozumel at an orphanage. It always touches my heart to be able to bring a little happiness to the children down in some of the less fortunate areas of the world. It is really neat to see how something as simple as some silly bands can bring so much joy to a kid. Once we wrapped up getting most of the rest of our preseason work done, we headed to Daytona. We not only ran at the big track, but we raced the Modified every night at Volusia. We ended up third in points in the DIRTCar Nationals, which was pretty impressive considering we crashed the first night there during hot laps and moved the front clip two inches to the left. I can only imagine how good we'd have done if we'd had the car straight. Then we raced the Nationwide race and had a good run. I was pushing Brian Scott to the line at the end when they told me they were wrecking in front of us. Unfortunately, on the last lap, you have to push for all you can so I stayed in the gas and we drove into it. My hood popped up almost immediately after my spotter told me they were wrecking so I didn't really see anything. I'm just really glad to know that all of the fans that were injured are doing better. We ended up seventh so, all things considered, we can't complain. We headed on to Phoenix and had a great run with the Brandt Chevrolet, coming home in third place. As a result, we're tied for first in the points. I hope we can stay there all season. I think I've got a great team and we're ready to make a run at the championship. We are getting ready for Vegas having a bunch of fun with a lot of the employees of Brandt. We had a party Thursday night and we'll do another one on Friday night. This is the biggest thing we do outside of Chicago for the Brandt employees every year. \"RUTHERFORD: WHY 2013 COULD BE ALLGAIER'S YEAR\":http://www.frontstretch.com/krutherford/42526/ I'm also running a go-kart for fun up at the Mooresville Motorplex, along with my good friend Michael McDowell, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and a lot of other drivers. I'm hoping to get a kart together this year to run at Millbridge Speedway too. We have a ton of fun running there on Wednesday nights. That's about all I have for now. I look forward to seeing the fans at the track and catching up with you next month in my next addition of the diary. *Connect with Mike!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/mneffshorttrack\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Mike Neff\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14354/

Voices From The Cheap Seats: NASCAR Told To Kiss Hamlin’s Posterior

Yeah, yeah, I know he didn’t quite put it in those words but he might as well have! In case you have no idea what I am talking about, and unfortunately there are some out there who fall into that category, the big story this week, besides the not unsurprising whining by Jimmie Johnson over a restart, is that NASCAR is fining Denny Hamlin 25 grand for providing firsthand feedback on Brian France’s latest toy, the “Gen-6” car. Hamlin has said that he refuses to pay the fine. It’s hard to know for sure just what it is that pissed NASCAR off because they are acting exactly like your wife… I mean, significant other… when you ask her, I mean them, what is wrong and she… dang! … I mean, they won’t tell you! Anyway, as far as _we_ can tell, Hamlin’s offending comment on NASCAR's new chassis read as follows… \"We learned a lot. I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning. The teams hadn't figured out how to get the aero balance right. Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th with 30 to go, I would have stayed there – I wouldn't have moved up. It's just one of those things where track position is everything.” <div style=\"float:right; width:250px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/14673.jpg\" width=\"250\" height=\"361\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Jeff Meyer is willing to pitch in if Denny Hamlin is eventually forced to pay his fine, but he completely agrees with Hamlin that the whole thing is ridiculous.</p></div> Personally, I think someone was walking by his motorcoach, heard him tell his significant other that the reason he didn’t win is because “the new car is a piece of s*#t and it sucks out loud!” then promptly reported him to the nearest NASCAR Nazi, who in turn ran straight to Adolf France, who in turn ran sobbing to Robin Pemberton and ordered him to have Hamlin immediately arrested, interrogated (painfully) and then shot. No, no, I mean arrested, interrogated (painfully), fined, and then shot. NASCAR, of course, is not admitting to the arrest, interrogation and execution part. But here's what they did say. _“Following the Sprint Cup Series event last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, Denny Hamlin made some disparaging remarks about the on-track racing that had taken place that afternoon. While NASCAR gives its competitors ample leeway in voicing their opinions when it comes to a wide range of aspects about the sport, the sanctioning body will not tolerate publicly made comments by its drivers that denigrate the racing product.\"_ In defense of NASCAR, they have already made clear this year that free speech is not to be tolerated when they indefinitely suspended Nationwide Series driver, Jeremy Clements, for supposedly using the dreaded “N” word during an off the record conversation with a supposed media member. _(Side bar and passing thought) Is it racist of me to use a capital \"N\" when referring to it or is it a sign of respect? I would think it would be offensive to use a lower case \"n,\" seeing as how it is about the most heinous thing a white person could possibly utter, so it seems these days. Just something to think about. (End of side bar!)_ It is amazing to me how stupid the leadership of NASCAR is and/or can be. Just when you think things might be getting better and we are finally getting back to the \"roots\" of this sport, what with the new “look like the street version car” and all, plus the \"winning the core fan back\" initiative, they go and make a decision like this one. When it comes to the Gen Six car, which as I predicted and Denny seems to agree is more aptly the \"Gen Sux\" car, NASCAR has said all along that it is a work in progress. So what better feedback can you get then from the men who race it? They sure aren’t going to listen to the fans. NASCAR should take the time to listen to Denny and others who actually _drive_ the machine they have created. You can bet your (insert body part of your choice here) France, Helton or Pemberton aren’t going to risk their (again, the body part bit here) trying it out! I know that I have been hard on Hamlin in the past for seeing a \"sports psychologist\" about his inability to win enough. But in this case, I firmly stand behind him and his decision to not pay this stupid fine. \"Ultimately, I'm not OK with it,\" Hamlin said of the penalty. \"This is the most upset and angry I've been about anything in a really, really long time, anything that relates to NASCAR … the truth is what the truth is and I don't believe in this, I'm never going to believe in it. As far as I'm concerned, I'm not going to pay the fine. If they suspend me, they suspend me. I don't care at this point.\" Hamlin followed up those comments with a Thursday evening series of \"Tweets\":http://www.twitter.com/dennyhamlin/ which said the following… <div style=\"float:right; width:200px; margin:20px; padding-left:20px;\"> <object classid=\"clsid:d27cdb6e-ae6d-11cf-96b8-444553540000\" codebase=\"http://fpdownload.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=7,0,0,0\" width=\"160\" height=\"350\" align=\"middle\"> <param name=\"allowScriptAccess\" value=\"sameDomain\" /> <param name=\"movie\" value=\"/poll/poll.swf?pollid=2133&owner=phpjabbers.com&phpurl=/poll/\" /> <param name=\"quality\" value=\"high\" /> <param name=\"bgcolor\" value=\"#ffffff\" /> <embed src=\"/poll/poll.swf?pollid=2133&owner=phpjabbers.com&phpurl=/poll/\" quality=\"high\" bgcolor=\"#ffffff\" width=\"160\" height=\"350\" align=\"middle\" allowScriptAccess=\"sameDomain\" type=\"application/x-shockwave-flash\" pluginspage=\"http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer\" /> </object> </div> _The short of the long of it is I believe I was severely disrespected by NASCAR by getting fined. I believe that the simple fact of us not even having a conversation about this issue before I was hit with a fine has something to say about our relationship. What I said was 1 sentence taken completely out of context. Most drivers will tell you that we constantly have our AND NASCAR's best interest in mind when speaking. On the other hand, I am a person that worked very hard from the BOTTOM to get where I am today and someone telling me that I can['t] give my 100 percent honest opinion really bothers me. Since being fined in 2010, I have been a lot more careful about what I say to media and I felt this past weekend felt completely in my rights to give an assessment of the question asked. I feel as if today, NASCAR lost one of its biggest supporters vocally of where our sport is headed. So in the end, there are no winners. I said today I would not pay the fine. I stand by that and will go through the process of appealing. Trust me, this is not about the money.. It's much deeper. I will now shift my focus on giving FedEx and my team what they deserve this weekend, a win._ In the end, if Denny is forced to pay the fine, I, for one, would be glad to pitch in to defray the cost, as long as I get to tell NASCAR exactly where they can stick it… in their end! Stay off the wall (but maybe peek over it to see if anyone is eavesdropping on you!), Jeff Meyer P.S. - On a side note, just to get it off my chest and let my readers know exactly where I stand on the brewing storm of the NRA sponsoring the upcoming Texas race and then say no more about it. I own guns, I reload my own ammo and I 99% of the time support the NRA! If you don’t like it, that’s your choice. I don’t care if you do or not. At least I’m honest. \"Contact Jeff Meyer\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14350/

Nuts for Nationwide: 2013 Could Be Allgaier's Year

You can't make 2013 without a three and a one. Of course, a three and a one make a 31, the number of Justin Allgaier's car in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. I know this is cheesy, but bear with me. Though an established competitor in the series since 2009, the man formerly (maybe still?) known as Little Gator has rarely been in the conversation for weekly victories, let alone a championship. That all may change this season. Two races in, Allgaier is tied for the points lead with Sam Hornish Jr., having scored a seventh-place finish in the season-opening DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona and following it up with a third at Phoenix last weekend. Of course, he was rarely in contention for the victory – but who really was aside from Kyle Busch at Phoenix, and Daytona is a bit of a crapshoot anyway. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/14541.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"184\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">31 is 13 backward so is 2013 the year Justin Allgaier has a breakout season?</p></div> This year, I think, could be Little Gator's year. Entering his third season with Turner Scott Motorsports, Allgaier has actually become the senior presence at an organization that includes series rookies Kyle Larson and Nelson Piquet Jr. running full-time. That's not to say he'll beat Larson and Piquet each week, but one has to wonder if the majority of the team's eggs will be put in the No. 31's basket this season – that is, until Larson inevitably starts winning soundly and becomes a constant threat the whole season. Turner Scott has always been a strong organization, able to contend for wins most weeks. It's tough to say just yet what the added investment of Harry Scott will entail in terms of performance, but it may pay great dividends for Allgaier's team especially. Plus, like Allgaier himself, the team has had a few seasons in the series to grow and to simply get better. Seeing them as championship contenders at this point just seems like a no-brainer. It's Allgaier's fifth full season, too. With the exception of the new tracks the circuit visits in 2013, he's been to all speedways, some more than others. Barring major issues with the cars themselves, weekly top-10 finishes seem within grasp. That also gives him an edge over Larson at his own team; the rookie hasn't seen quite a few of the tracks and simply doesn't have the veteran status Allgaier has at this point. That's right – it's weird to say, but Justin Allgaier is basically a Nationwide veteran at this point. But mainly, I see consistency. Throughout his career, Allgaier has been a fairly surefire bet for the top 10. That's a great skill to have, because even if he might lose to Kyle Busch or whatever other Cup driver decides to mingle with the lower series that week, he's still likely to finish near the front. All he has to do is push himself even harder. Though the consistency's been great, we need to see just a little bit more. While his average finish generally hovers around 11, Elliott Sadler produced an average finish of 7.6 in 2012. That's about where Allgaier needs to be – a four-position increase. Can he do it? Absolutely. But a few things need to happen, too. First: as mentioned, that consistency. He needs to be closer to the top five more often while maintaining his lack of poor finishes from crashes, equipment failure and the like. Second: BEAT JOE GIBBS RACING. That's a tall order, so let's just take Kyle Busch out of the equation and focus on Brian Vickers and Elliott Sadler. So far, he's doing good on that; Sadler has a best finish of fifth, and Vickers hasn't even cracked the top 15, though that's due in part to bad luck. Still, he has to keep beating them, and that will be no small feat. Third: quite simply, win some more races. Capitalize on the events sans Cup guys. Show you belong at the top of the points standings. I'm convinced he can do it. He's off to a great start, and given his new position as his team's main guy, as well as the experience gleaned from a handful of years in the series, this could be Justin Allgaier's year. *Connect with Kevin!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/surfwax83\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"http://facebook.com/surfwaxamerica\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6501.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Kevin Rutherford\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/37802/

Mirror Driving: What Will Label Sin City A Gen-6 Success Story

Welcome to \"Mirror Driving.\" Every Wednesday, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news, rumors, and controversy. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we've said! *This Week's Participants*: <span style=\"color:dodgerblue; font-weight:bold\">Amy Henderson</span> \"(Mondays / The Big Six & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Co-Managing Editor)\":http://www.frontstretch.com/staffinfo/351/ <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff Wolfe</span> (Frontstretch Fantasy Insider) <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">Phil Allaway</span> \"(Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)\":http://www.frontstretch.com/staffinfo/18439/ <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer Bedgood</span> \"(Frontstretch NASCAR Senior Writer)\":http://www.frontstretch.com/staffinfo/32577/ *The Gen-6 car has received mixed reviews so far in 2013, but we’re only two races into the season. The “real test†is going to be this weekend in Las Vegas, one of the many intermediate racetracks that are currently on the Sprint Cup Series schedule. What would a successful race be for you and do you think expectations are too high?* <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff:</span>: I would like to at least six or eight passes for the lead. But really, when it comes down to the end, it would be nice to say any one of four or five drivers could win. <span style=\"color:dodgerblue; font-weight:bold\">Amy:</span> Like I said a couple of weeks ago, teams are still learning this car, as is NASCAR. Any time before the second race at tracks is too soon to know what it's really capable of. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: I do think expectations are too high because of all the hype. Still, though, a successful race would be a variety of passing throughout. <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff:</span>: Yes, even a lot of passing in the top 10 would be good, too. <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">Phil:</span> Agreed. A successful race at Las Vegas would be one where drivers don’t just pass… they can race each other _hard_ for position. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: I don't think that will happen simply because it's a long race and drivers won't race too hard regardless. But I'd like to get through one weekend without hearing the drivers say, \"You just can't pass in traffic.\" Phoenix wasn't a terrible race, but drivers were _still_ saying that. I understand that some of that is the tires and track configuration, but the car plays a role too. <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">Phil:</span> At this point, I'm confident that almost any type of car at Phoenix would create a similar race to what we saw on Sunday. <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff:</span>: I thought Phoenix was a decent race. There was a respectable amount of passing late in the event. <span style=\"color:dodgerblue; font-weight:bold\">Amy:</span> I think expectations are too high from fans. And one thing hasn’t changed…there are passes for position, under green, all race long…but you never see most of them because the cameras are only showing a few select cars. When FOX used the stationary cams during the Crank It Up segments at Phoenix, you could see several cars racing side-by-side. The rest of the time, not so much. I was listening to team audio, so I know there was passing going on. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: Like I said, it wasn't a terrible race, but I still heard drivers talking about how the car reacted in traffic. It sounded the same as the old car. <span style=\"color:dodgerblue; font-weight:bold\">Amy:</span> It will be interesting to see what the cars do at Vegas. Based on what I saw during the tests at Charlotte over the winter, there was passing when they raced in small groups. However, they never raced in groups bigger than about four or five. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: Yeah, but we don't see \"big packs\" at intermediates anyway. Four or five _is_ a big pack at those tracks. <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">Phil:</span> Let's be honest. There were crew chiefs that talked to us and stated that they didn't really believe the Gen-6 car would race all that differently from the CoT. Seems like they might have been right. <span style=\"color:dodgerblue; font-weight:bold\">Amy:</span> Here's the other problem. Yes, the cars look like the street version. But manufacturers have worked so hard to make new cars more aerodynamic for better fuel mileage that if the race cars look like them, they're going to be aero dependent. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: Which basically means that we have to pick our poison. <span style=\"color:dodgerblue; font-weight:bold\">Amy:</span> Right. Do you want a car that looks as close to stock as possible, or one that is race-specific but looks even less like the street version than the CoT? <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">Phil:</span> Basically, that means either have aero dependent cars or don't exist, considering the manufacturers would pull out. Not that tough a decision, to be honest. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: I'm sure this race, like some others coming up will be a learning process. And I don't want to judge too heavily until we're at least halfway through the season. But it's hard to keep everyone happy in terms of seeing stock cars or good racing. I'm not convinced that’s at all possible. I know, I know… everyone saying, \"But racing used to be _soooo_ good back in the day.\" That's right. There's nothing I long for more than seeing cars win by laps over other drivers. <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff:</span>: I think they will get better as time goes on. That's always been the case, no matter what kind of cars they have. <span style=\"color:dodgerblue; font-weight:bold\">Amy:</span> Even if they raced stock cars off the showroom floor, they'd be aero dependent. What NASCAR needs to do is slow them down significantly… that's what would get rid of the aero dependency to some degree. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: It would also make things less dangerous. I would be totally fine with decreasing the horsepower on these cars. In a sense, wouldn't that also help some of the smaller teams? <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">Phil:</span> How do they do that? New, smaller engines? <span style=\"color:dodgerblue; font-weight:bold\">Amy:</span> EFI. They could control speed through fuel mixture. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: Or just put restrictor plates on any car at any track over a mile. <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff:</span>: You know, I think new fans see two minutes of highlights, then expect whole races to be like that. That’ll never happen. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: I'm trying to manage by expectations for this weekend. Honestly, though, I just want to see a good race regardless of the car. <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">Phil:</span> I think we'll see an interesting race, maybe a little faster than normal. *Jimmie Johnson made a fuss about Carl Edwards’ late race restart that eventually helped Edwards win the race. Did he have a case to make and, if so, did NASCAR need to react?* <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff:</span>: No and No. The leader always gets the jump on the restart, that's part of his reward. It's been that way for years at all different levels and types of racing. Jimmie would've and has done the same thing. <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">Phil:</span> Personally, I don't think Jimmie's got a point here. Carl led them down slow. Keselowski might have jumped the start, if anything. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: Jimmie's a whiner. Carl Edwards didn't do anything wrong. I agree with Jeff. He was the leader, he gets the advantage. I think Johnson got bamboozled and he didn't like it. <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff:</span>: Exactly. The leader always sets the pace on restarts. I've seen a lot worse than what Carl did. <span style=\"color:dodgerblue; font-weight:bold\">Amy:</span> Edwards didn't do anything wrong. He had a huge shove from Keselowski from behind. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: And as far as if NASCAR should have done anything, absolutely not. The more NASCAR can let these guys just freaking race, the better. It wasn't obvious enough for them to react. <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">Phil:</span> I have no problem with what happened here. In fact, it wasn't even really noticeable to me. <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff:</span>: Me neither during the race. <span style=\"color:dodgerblue; font-weight:bold\">Amy:</span> The green flag was out when Edwards went. If anyone jumped, it was Keselowski, but since he didn't pass anyone, it's all good. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: Edwards said he thought Johnson was trying to out-do _him,_ which - if you watch the restart - he was. <span style=\"color:dodgerblue; font-weight:bold\">Amy:</span> As he should have, Summer. As they _both_ should have. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: That's what they should do. It's nothing but completely irritating when a driver bitches about another driver trying to beat him. What the hell do you think you're there for??? <span style=\"color:dodgerblue; font-weight:bold\">Amy:</span> That's why it's called racing. <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff:</span>: Edwards is experienced enough to see that and not get taken advantage of. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: It might have worked on a rookie driver, yes, but you're right. It's not like Edwards is new at this. If Edwards had crowded Johnson out of his lane or something like that, he'd have a reason to be upset. Otherwise, Jimmie needs to shut up and race. <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">Phil:</span> \"Quit your whining and have at it,\" is what I'd say to Johnson here. It was going to be tough for him anyway because he was on the outside. <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff:</span>: Edwards wasn't about to let a desperately needed win slip away. I think it was just a little politicking by Jimmie. Not really a big deal. The Hendrick drivers are perceived to get enough breaks as it is. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span>: Mind games. That makes sense. At the same time, does it really intimidate drivers when he whines? …

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NASCAR Fantasy Insider: Are You Ready To Roll The Dice In Las Vegas?

The Sprint Cup Series makes its only in-season trip to Las Vegas this week and now that we’re into Week 3 of the 36-race season, the decisions on who to pick for your NASCAR fantasy team can start to get a bit tricky, especially if you’re in a league with pick limits. So if you’re off to a good start in your league, you may want to save some key guys for the 10-race Chase. If you’re not off to a good start, it’s not time to panic yet, but for sure, you want to have a good week. So, hopefully we can find some drivers who can offer you success, but not burn up a week of eligibility that you will regret later. *Looking For Some Aces* This is getting old already, but of the top drivers this week it’s just impossible to ignore *Jimmie Johnson*. Yes, you may have to pick and choose just exactly what weeks to play him, and for sure, you want to save four or five races in the Chase for him – but the fact remains, his numbers in Las Vegas are pretty much off the charts. He has an average finish of 9.82 in 11 races with four wins and two other top 10 finishes. Johnson is again my pick to win this week. Yes, I know I said it last week, too, so go ahead, put out a news bulletin if you wish. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15453.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"200\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Apparently, this guy is good at driving or something. Guaranteed top-2 finisher every week if the current trend is to be continued.</p></div> Another top driver with a pretty good record at Las Vegas is *Matt Kenseth*. In 13 races there, he has two wins, and four more top 10 finishes. He also has led 471 laps led, second most in the series. Which brings us to . . . *Tony Stewart* is the defending champion of this race and has the most laps led at the track with 482. Stewart also has five other top five finishes and three more top 10 finishes in his 14 races at Las Vegas. He had the 2011 event won as well, before a botched late pit stop saw him hand the win to Carl Edwards. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15374.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"183\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Who could say no to a face like that? Smoke won at Las Vegas last year, and should have won in 2011. Go ahead and pick him now – no need to wait until later in the season.</p></div> And take this for what it’s worth, too. One premium driver to avoid this week may well be *Brad Keselowski*. In four career starts at Vegas, he has an average finish of 30.50. He’s of course capable of turning that around, and he has back to back fourth place finishes to start the year, but BK looks like a pretty risky pick here compared to these others that are available. *Middle of The Roadsters* Last week I gave you *Carl Edwards* as one of the possibilities in this spot, and he came through with the win. Edwards can be a bit streaky in his career, both on the good side and bad, so if you’re really thinking his team has things figured out now, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to pick him this week as well. He does have two wins in eight races at Las Vegas and an average finish of 10.25. If you’re a believer that *Jeff Burton* is having, or can have, a rebound season after last year’s disaster, Las Vegas isn’t a bad place to spot him. Burton has two wins in 15 career starts and an average finish of 10.93. He also has six other top 10 finishes there. If it's a sleeper pick you're questioning, a guy who will be a must pick on only the road courses, look no farther than Richard Petty Motorsports driver *Marcos Ambrose*. He was 18th at Phoenix last week and has an average finish of 12.75 in four races at Las Vegas, including one top five finish. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/14120.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"183\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Why is this man smiling? Jeff Burton's three-year long spiral into obscurity may be over with the advent of the Gen-6 car.</p></div> And lest we forget, there is *Dale Earnhardt, Jr.* in this group, too. He very easily could have won the first two races, with just a little better luck in the draft at Daytona and on exiting pit road at Phoenix. Junior does have six top 10 finishes in 13 races, including two top fives, for an average finish of 16.31. *The Dark Horses* Just because these drivers aren’t respected by fantasy leagues, doesn’t mean they aren’t important. In fact, you can make a case they are more important because if you score a top 10 with one of these picks, then you’re likely in for a good week. The two obvious ones in each week in this group are rookies *Danica Patrick* and *Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.* But if you are on a nine race limit, that means there are 18 races where you have to pick at least two other drivers. You can probably choose a road-course specialist for the Sonoma and Watkins Glen races as well, so that leaves you with 16 open spots. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/13768.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"183\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Wondering why you haven't picked Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. yet? So is he. A 12th and a 16th to start the year is rather respectable for a rookie – even if he has won two Nationwide titles back-to-back.</p></div> The other option when he runs is *Trevor Bayne*, who is running a limited schedule again for the Wood Brothers. That being said, here’s some good news: Bayne is entered to drive in the No. 21 car in the Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas this week. The problem here is that Bayne, Patrick and Stenhouse have not driven a Sprint Cup car at Vegas. That’s also the case with former Truck Series champion *Austin Dillon*, who is entered to be the third driver in three weeks for the No. 51 car owned by James Finch. Driving that car has been a good thing for the first two races, where it finished 11th at Phoenix with *A.J. Allmendinger* behind the wheel and seventh at Daytona with *Regan Smith* driving. So, knowing that Patrick and Stenhouse will be available to pick all year, this may well be the week to look at Dillon or Bayne. *The Rear-View Mirror* The top scorer in the two Frontstretch Fantasy leagues last week was the team Hurtubise, most likely named after late Indycar great Jim Hurtubise, with 359 points. That team had race winner *Carl Edwards*, then a third place from *Denny Hamlin*, a fifth by *Dale Earnhardt, Jr.* and an 11th by *A.J. Allmendinger*. That’s tough to beat in this format. So good picking there and obviously there wasn’t a case of beer in the engine compartment when these picks were made (that’s an inside joke for us old IndyCar fans. Go look it up. It’s a great story). Since the Frontstretch leagues have the lucky dog scoring provision, throwing out the worst score, the season total reflects the best score between the two races this season. So if you have a bad week and see that your score didn’t change, just remember it’s already been thrown out. *Connect with Jeff!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/jeffwolfe206\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Jeff Wolfe\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/37938/

Guns, Retirees Up Front And Faulty Restarts: What's Wrong With This Picture?

So Jimmie Johnson is still miffed two days after getting smoked on a restart by Carl Edwards. I think JJ’s reaction reeks of sour grapes, considering that the No. 48 has had its share of questionable calls in the inspection area during the past 11 seasons and five championships. That being said, I’ve never really understood the restart rules anyway. Lines on wall, cones jammed in a fence, a restart area, a start/finish line, can’t pass a guy unless it’s on the right before the start/finish line, leader has to get to the line first, but what if he’s slow or spins his tires….enough already. You have a guy with a green flag, standing in a thing called THE STARTER’S STAND. Have him wave the flag and the race starts. If that doesn’t work, use the caution lights. When they go out, it’s go time – just like in Formula One. Last I checked, they don’t seem to have an issue at their races with knowing when to accelerate. — Much was made in NASCAR circles of Mark Martin winning the pole at 54 years of age at Phoenix last weekend. <div style=\"float:right; width:320px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15507.jpg\" width=\"320\" height=\"200\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Chances at some point Martin's holding that Coors Light Award and it says 2020? Umm… would you bet against it at this point?</p></div> Typically, something like that would be front page news and something that captures the public’s attention to rally around. However, considering the fact that Martin has been doing it with regularity, ever since breaking decade number five, it’s become kind of expected. Check back in six years or so after he wins the Coca-Cola 600 at 60; by then, he should become a national phenomenon. Also, just throwing it out here – don’t be shocked if he wins the pole or the race at Las Vegas. In fact, I’d put money on one or the other. Or both. — Perhaps the first casualties of the re-branding of SPEED to FOX Sports 1, will be the loss of Sunday night staples Wind Tunnel and SPEED Center. As much as we are a NASCAR-centric site, nation, and fans, I have always looked forward and enjoyed the comprehensive motorsports coverage afforded by both of these programs. Yes, I am one of those degenerates who get up at 5:00am on a Sunday to watch Formula One – or stays up until 3:00am to watch the races from Asia and Australia. You won’t see World Superbike highlights on Sports Center, and good luck getting any in-depth post-race analysis on IndyCar or NHRA in a timely fashion. Whatever the outcome, please, for the love of God and all that is holy: No more Unique Whips. No more Pinks. No more Pass Time. Enough. — Social media was all atwitter Tuesday, when it was revealed that the National Rifle Association will be the title sponsor of the Sprint Cup race there on April, 13th. How could NASCAR do this?! I mean, the controversy of such a group, whose membership helps to promote firearms education, safety, and uh, protect the amendment that was deemed important enough to be ranked No. 2 when the country was founded, and…hmm…I guess that’s it. Again, it was a pretty transparent attempt by certain media outlets and their members to make a stink over something that is essentially a non-issue. Call it a slow news day, deflection attention from the sequester, or trying to gin up support for something that the majority of Americans oppose, it’s a question nobody asked, and even fewer truly care about. The argument against it is silly to begin with. I mean, it’s at Texas Motor Speedway, where you get a shotgun for winning the pole, and a pair of single-action .45 Long Colt revolvers to fire blanks into the air. Petitions were gaining momentum a couple of months back to secede, and Texas typically does the opposite of what the rest of the country does – and is probably why it’s one of the few financially stable states in the union. On the flip side of the coin, would these same critics be up in arms of Planned Parenthood was sponsoring a race? Or GLAD? FBI statistics show there were nearly 20 million background checks in 2012 – that’s a rather large audience of potential new members, many of whom may not be very familiar with the safe handling of firearms. The NRA has seen record spikes in membership – up over 300,000 since the first of the year. If they have the ability to sponsor a race and help promote the sport (those purses don’t come out of thin air – or Federal funding), as well as their cause, so be it. Besides, let’s be honest: the few who threaten to not attend or not watch weren’t going to anyway. <div style=\"float:right; width:360px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15508.jpg\" width=\"320\" height=\"236\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">What do you mean the NRA is sponsoring a NASCAR race?! How could we ever break such a redneck southern stereotype?!!</p></div> Some think it does nothing but reinforce the stereotype of NASCAR fans as a bunch of rednecks, with gun racks and pickup trucks. This has been the same battle we’ve been fighting since Donnie, Cale, and Bobby were mud wrestling at Daytona in 1979 in front of the entire snowbound East Coast. As much as NASCAR has tried to lure the casual fan in with doing whatever it can to disguise it to look like the NFL with headers the last decade, there is a core group that has kept things afloat, and the reason why it’s still relevant. The same ones who stand for the National Anthem, salute the military and law enforcement, go nuts for the fly-by, and represent the core of American values. As far as I can tell, it’s about as perfect of a sponsor as we’re ever going to have in the sport. Except of course maybe Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors, and RJ Reynolds, and Winston. Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; who would’ve imagined such diverse items would ever be so irrevocably linked in our time… *Connect with Vito!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/VitoPugliese\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Vito Pugliese\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14359/

NASCAR Mailbox: New Viewership, Start-And-Park, and Public Perceptions

Well, we’re headed to Las Vegas, and it’s the first time in a while that I can remember anyone placing a special importance on this race. However, with the new Gen-6 car and Las Vegas Motor Speedway being one of the many mile-and-a-half racetracks on the schedule, this weekend may finally give us a true assessment of what to expect from the Gen 6 car for the rest of the season. However, with an underwhelming performance at Daytona and a so-so grade at Phoenix, expectations are cautiously optimistic heading into Sin City. However, I can’t help but think that no matter what, it will be impossible for the race to receive “good” reviews. After all, regardless of how well the car races, this race is still 400 miles. I don’t care if passing is flawless and perfectly executed. You just won’t see passing and three-wide racing from green flag to checkered flag because most of the drivers know the value of the phrase, “to finish first, you must first finish.” Do I really think anyone reading this feels like it will be a thriller of the race all the way through? No, but I do think there are some who will find any reason to be critical. Let’s let this car run its course before we give it a failing grade. Now, on to your questions… — *So is SPEED Channel just going to be a separate entity or die?? FOX Sports 1 will carry the races and what else is intended here for this new channel??* _Arthur_ To put it simply, Fox Sports 1 is going to be the new name of SPEED. It will look much different than what most of us have come to know of SPEED throughout the years. Honestly, I think the new name makes it pretty obvious that it’s going to be a broad-based sports network rather than focused specifically on motorsports and other car related programming. In other words, it’s an alternative to ESPN. The various sporting events it is scheduled to cover are NCAA College Football and Basketball, UEFA Soccer, UFC, and of course, NASCAR. <div style=\"float:right; width:240px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15506.jpg\" width=\"240\" height=\"139\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">FOX Sports 1 will replace SPEED as the channel that will carry what was the staple of NASCAR programing, as well as UEFA Soccer and UFC. If there is any justice in this world, though it will not carry Unique Whips or Pass Time…</p></div> NASCAR fans won’t really be missing much though when it comes to NASCAR coverage. FOX Sports 1 will still carry the Camping World Truck Series races, the All-Star Race, SpeedWeeks, Daytona 500 qualifying, the Budweiser Duels, as well aspractice, and qualifying sessions. Additionally, shows like _Race Hub_, _RaceDay_, and _NASCAR Victory Lane_ are also going to stay with this network though Race Hub will be moved from evening to midday. In fact, the only area that I see where fans will lose coverage is in regards to other motorsports. The announcement really only mentions NASCAR, which means that shows like _SPEED Center_ and _Wind Tunnel_ are likely, and sadly, going to go by the wayside. Though there will be 24/7 sports coverage on the network, as well as original programming like talk shows and special documentaries, I think the coverage of other motorsports is where SPEED Channel has proven itself to be unique to viewers who are looking for just that. I’m afraid other racing series will get buried if they are washed out of the programming lineup on SPEED. That could be an overreaction, though. After all, series like ARCA and the Rolex Series have renewed their contracts with SPEED and that should still carry through with the rebranding. However, I hope FOX Sports 1 still offers SPEED viewers what they’ve always known the network to be about: racing. — *“Why doesn’t NASCAR do something about these start-and-park teams? It’s making the sport a joke! I think they need to go back to the old days of starting 36 on short tracks and the fastest 40 on a mile and over. My suggestion to stop the stat-and-parkers is to cut the race money if they don’t make a legitimate attempt to race and if they do retire give them an inspection of the car. If there is no issue, they lose half of their money.”* _Jamie_ Jamie, that’s hardly fair. After all, most of the drivers and the teams as a whole don’t genuinely _want_ to start and park. If they want to race at all, that’s the only way they can afford to. Should they simply just decide to give up their dream because they don’t have the deep pockets or multi-million dollar sponsorships that the other teams have? Again, that’s not fair. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/14913.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"183\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Some fans want to stop the start and parkers from entering the field since they aren't \"really trying.\" Contractual obligations and a free market economy dictate that they will remain.</p></div> If start and park teams really bother you that much, there isn’t much NASCAR can do beyond controlling the money the other teams can spend which I’m totally against. Money drives this sport more so than any other, and any “dreamers” wanting to get in the sport can’t just go to a scouting location and prove their worth. Basically, the start and park teams are doing the best they can with what they have and hoping beyond all hope that someone will give them an opportunity to shine. Honestly, though, what are they really hurting? Almost no one notices them, and the only people who do are the ones looking for something to complain about. If those teams weren’t there, the field would be much shorter and NASCAR would be cursed out for that too. Simply put, unless you’re funding that team, leave them alone. They’re just doing what they can. — *Why is NASCAR trying to profit off of negative press? At least that seems like what they are doing, to attempt to reel in fans, not the right way to do it.* _Matt_ Matt, the negative press I think you are referring to are the stories that came from the Nationwide Series crash at Daytona and the NRA sponsorship of Texas Motor Speedway. One was negative because of sympathy, the other because of (ugh) politics. The rest of my answer will depend on this assumption, though I can’t think of any other topics that would be described as “negative” by mainstream consumers. First off, I’m not sure I understand your use of the word “profit”. It’s not like they’re selling merchandise that say “get well, fans” for Daytona or guns emblazoned with the NASCAR logo. Are they trying to use this new-found mainstream attention to get more butts both on the couch and in the grandstands? Um … yeah. Why shouldn’t they? Listen, for the first time in years, NASCAR has been in the mainstream media for weeks. They’ve been discussed on talk shows, newsroom panels, and stirred up debates amongst people who would otherwise never pay attention. That’s better publicity than another public relations firm could ever muster up. In other words, it’s relevant. Honestly, the only story that has received mainstream coverage that I would describe as “negative” was the Daytona crash. But what was NASCAR to do? Say, “Don’t watch our sport, because bad things happen.” No, they should say, “Yes this was scary and we wish it had never happened. What you missed was the racing before it, which was great! You should tune in!” <div style=\"float:right; width:250px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15440.jpg\" width=\"250\" height=\"302\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Profiting off the misery of others? NASCAR has been in the news for two straight weeks not by their own design, but more so the morbid fascination of the media at large.</p></div> I wouldn’t call the NRA story “negative” just because it’s controversial. The only place it’s being portrayed as negative are left-leaning “news” websites which skews stories to fit its own agenda anyway. Even if the name “NRA 500” furthers a stereotype, the people who are laughing about that are never _ever_ going to watch anyway. If NASCAR is “profiting” from it, it’s from people who are already watching or just don’t care. NASCAR is doing the right thing by trying to generate more viewers for the sport that was brought on by all the attention. They’d be stupid not to, and I hope it works. *Connect with Summer!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/summerbedgood\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"https://www.facebook.com/summerdreyer\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6501.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Summer Bedgood\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/28526/

Side By Side: Should NASCAR Award Bonus Points Throughout Each Race?

_Welcome back to Side By Side. There are always two sides to every story, and we're going to bring them both, right here, every week. Two of our staff writers will face off on an important racing question … feel free to tell us what you think in the weekly poll and also in the comments section below!_ *This Week's Question: NASCAR is looking at all sorts of ways to make the racing early in events more competitive. To do so, should they begin awarding point \"bonuses\" for segments of events (first 100 laps, second 100 laps, etc.) so drivers will be encouraged to race harder?* <span style=\"color:gray; font-weight:bold\">Mike Neff, Senior Writer: Segmented Bonus Points Are a Must</span> We’ve heard the same ol’ song and dance for years and it has never been more prevalent since the advent of the Chase. Drivers ride around for most of the race and then drive hard at the end because that is when they pay the money and the points. There is no incentive to go hard during the middle of the event unless you’re trying to lead the most laps, and with the current point system, where you only get one point for leading the most, the danger of losing twenty or thirty points due to a crash is far more daunting than trying to get the one bonus point. As a result, fans are turning away from the sport more and more because the only parts of the race worth watching are the beginning and the end. The time has come for NASCAR to give the drivers a reason to push hard throughout the event. The tracks on the NASCAR circuit, as well as the events themselves, come in a variety of different lengths, so it would not work to pay points at a specific numbered lap. Instead, what NASCAR must do is decide what percentage of the race will result in the awarding of in-race points. The most logical, and easiest for the fans to understand (which is a priority apparently for the folks in Daytona) is to pay points at the quarter marks of the race. However many laps are to be contested, divide that number by four and pay the points after each segment of the race that contains that many laps. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15500.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"172\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Would awarding points in designated segments throughout each race create close racing…</p></div> In simple terms, the Daytona 500 is 200 laps long. Divide the total number of laps by four and you get 50-lap segments. When the first 50 laps of the race is completed, points are awarded. Then, you do it again at the halfway point and finally at the three-quarter mark before the ultimate points are awarded for the finishing order. You will have the same formula at every track; there will just be different numbers of laps in the segments. The drivers will know before the race starts what the lap numbers are so that they can focus on being in the best position at those points in the race. You wouldn't want NASCAR to award full race points at each of these segments, but rewarding the top 5 or even the top 10 would make things much more interesting. If they paid 10 points for leading at each quarter point of the race, a driver could actually score more points than the winner by leading at the three-quarter mark but coming home second in the race. Some fans might object to that, though, and NASCAR could obviously tweak the points so that the winner is guaranteed the most points on a race weekend. But the point is that it will give drivers an incentive to go hard for the whole race and someone can actually make up some ground in the standings, something that is extremely hard to do these days. Paying points for more than the quarters might give too much to the drivers leading or near the front of the pack for most of the race but not at the finish. However, it will encourage the drivers to go hard early and often during the race to keep themselves in contention for the bonus points throughout the event. Race strategies will develop around these point milestones. Some teams might stay out under a caution to garner the points while other teams pit. When the points are earned the teams who stayed out will then pit and the cars at the back of the pack will now be up front. It will open a myriad of possibilities which will all add excitement to the event. Would this idea be harder to follow than the current point system? A little bit. However, the thing that most fans want to know is where does their driver sit at the end of the day? They really don’t care about the points that are earned throughout the race or where their driver runs. As a result, the drivers will know when they want to be up front and getting there will add excitement to the events. It will also open up sponsorship opportunities for race promoters because each segment could have a sponsor paying a purse to the leader. It would hearken back to the old halfway bonus. For those who don’t remember, there used to be a halfway bonus of $10,000 for the driver leading at the crossed flags. It cost Dale Jarrett the Brickyard 400 one year because he tried to stretch his fuel to the halfway point and ran out. Racing should be about trying to lead the most laps and beating the competition. Unfortunately, it has come down to a points management game now. The only way to get the competitive excitement back into the sport, while still allowing the bean counters the chance to keep track of points is to offer them more often throughout the events. In the end, it will make for a much better show. <span style=\"color:orange; font-weight:bold\">S.D. Grady, Senior Editor: There's no need for more bonus points</span> And welcome to the New Hampshire 100, three times the charm, trophy awarded to all comers, presented by NASCAR and your local T-ball team. No, it is not worth your while as a top-notch professional stock car team to go balls to the wall all 500 laps, proving to the world that your machine is the most durable, that you've hired a pilot with both endurance and wits, and that you've the wherewithal to garner enough sponsors to pay your bills. No, it's quite all right. We've got you covered. <div style=\"float:left; width:250px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15495.jpg\" width=\"250\" height=\"375\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">…or would it simply mean everyone gets a ribbon while the winner's accomplishment is diminished?</p></div> Instead of pushing every limit on man and machine, we've got a brand new way of doing business for the Sprint Cup Series. We're going to fully embrace the title sponsor's name and turn Sunday's marathon into a Saturday Night Special. Every 50 laps we'll award a ribbon to the boy or girl who slips past the start/finish line first–there's a new flag designed for the moment – it features a cartoon character. We're just waiting for the fan poll to come through so we can name it. We've also decided to print a certificate for the best fuel mileage, snazziest pit crew uniforms and most dramatic performance by a crew chief. If that's not enough, there's the 75-lap, 50/50 raffle to keep the fans interested. During the lap 150 scheduled break, the track mascot will scamper up and down the stands awarding the brightest fan (that's brightest…as in t-shirt color) free tickets to come back again. On lap 225, there will be a Twitter poll with random participants earning points toward a meet n' greet with the lap 275 leader. Victory Lane? That has been abbreviated into a photo op with the State Troopers in the parking lot while the team tries to escape the traffic jam. No, you cannot improve the racing of the Sprint Cup Series by chopping up the event into shorter, lucrative segments. By doing so, you will have devalued all that the teams have worked so hard to achieve in reaching the upper echelon of stock car racing in America. There are no 500-lap features at your local Friday night track. The cars won't last. The drivers aren't as good. The ruts in the surface would probably crumble. By reaching the Sprint Cup Series, you have proven that you've got the goods to go the distance. When you take the trophy, you've done what many others have only dreamed of accomplishing: beat the competition by being the brightest, fastest, strongest, most adaptive, focused, intelligent and on the occasion just plain lucky. And yes, by driving smart for the first 499 laps. The fat lady only sings once a race. That's what we hand out the big checks for and that's the way it should remain. Otherwise, we should close every major racing venue and excuse ourselves to the splintered benches of Thompson, Irwindale, and Eldora. *Connect with Sonya!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/laregna\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact S.D. Grady\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14360/ *Connect with Mike!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/mneffshorttrack\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Mike Neff\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14354/

Tech Talk: Comparing Loop Data To Analyze The Gen-6

_Author's Note: An unexpected scheduling conflict caused our crew chief to be unavailable this week, so we're going to take a look at the loop data statistics from last year's Phoenix race vs. this year's to see what the performance of the Gen-6 vs. COT looks like from a purely data-driven perspective._ NASCAR compiles a mountain of statistics each week that allow digit heads across the land, and in the garage area, to make unbiased comparisons on many different levels. Since Sunday's race was the first unrestricted event for the latest version of the Cup Series car, it just might be interesting to see what the numbers reveal. The first numbers we'll look at are quality passes. A quality pass is one that occurs on a car running in the top 15 under green flag conditions. In last year's race, Jimmie Johnson finished fourth but had the most quality passes during the race with 63. Interestingly, in 2013, Brad Keselowski finished fourth and also had the most quality passes; however, the defending champion only notched 35 of them. In looking at the quality passes, the top 11 passers in 2012's Spring Phoenix race made more than the top passer in 2013. That's sign that to pass someone, last Sunday it was far more difficult than during the race a year before. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15503.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"102\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Much has been said of the Gen-6 cars leading into the 2013 season, but are they really that much better than the COT was?</p></div> Next up is the speed in traffic stat. It gives you the average speed of the driver when he has another car within one car length of them during green flag laps. This year's top runner at Phoenix was Matt Kenseth with a speed of 129.807 mph. Last year's best in traffic was Jimmie Johnson who clocked 130.260 mph. When it was all said and done, the speed of the top runners was nearly identical from one year to the next. Third up is the statistic that backs up the argument that you always hear from the people who attend the race in person. They always maintain that there is so much more action back in the pack than what you see on TV. Green flag passes will most definitely let you know which race had the most excitement from front to back of the pack. In 2012, Jimmie Johnson once again led the category with no less than 90 passes during green flag competition. That was nearly 50% more than this year's king of the overtake, AJ Allmendinger, who put the move on 61 cars throughout the length of the race. The top 12 drivers in the 2012 green flag pass statistics made more green flag passes than the top passer in 2013. Laps led is another category that indicates the competitive nature of a race. More drivers leading laps means more drivers were at the front. Certainly some laps led occur when drivers stay out during cautions, but in the long run, more drivers leading laps indicates more competitive races. 2013 saw nine drivers lead laps, with five of them leading double digit laps and Carl Edwards leading the most at 122 circuits. In comparison, 2012 saw 15 drivers lead the field across the line, but only five of them led double digit laps. The mandate that came down from above as the manufacturers and NASCAR's R&D center started working on the latest edition of the Cup series car was to have more side-by-side racing and more passes for the lead. While there is a long way to go and many things to be learned about this new car, for now it is looking like the older car was a bit more competitive. However, the older car had been around for six years, and there had been a lot of tricks and techniques learned to make it better. For now, the jury is still out on the new car. But, looking at the numbers that were accumulated last Sunday, the older car was faster, had more passing and more leaders. We'll see what it looks like when the series rolls back into Phoenix in November. *Connect with Mike!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/mneffshorttrack\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Mike Neff\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14354/

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