Blogs > Nascar: Beyond the Track

Find out what's really going on in NASCAR. Look here to find out why your driver really lost his ride, or the real reason those two drivers can't stand each other. Learn about the hidden motives and reasons for the things that happen in NASCAR, from the drivers to the team owners.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

If Menard did bring out caution to help teammate, it wouldn't be the first time

An interesting discussion was launched last week after a Paul Menard caution in part allowed teammate Kevin Harvick to win the race.

Jeff Gordon hinted something sounded fishy, and NASCAR is looking into the matter (though I doubt anything will come of it). Still, it raises an interesting point: Do teams sometimes fudge the rules to help their fellow drivers?
The answer, of course, is yes. Sometimes it is very public – as it was in the Formula 1 series a few years back when Nelson Piquet Jr. (now a NASCAR truck series driver, incidentally) was told by his team to wreck so his teammate could have a better shot at winning. In that case, a hefty punishment was handed down, but in the NASCAR ranks I’m pretty sure it’s not an uncommon occurrence.

If I would go back in time and research it, I’m guessing there’s quite a few times that a teammate has brought out a caution that has benefitted someone up front.
The rub, of course, is that you can’t really prove why someone spun, which is why the Menard incident is mostly all hype and nothing will happen to the RCR team as a result. Unless you hear the team say it, they can’t be punished.

Even Gordon was a bit cautious with his criticism a week later, but still had doubts about the incident.
“I’m not saying anything happened, I’m just saying that I was asked questions about what happened and when I heard about the radio communication, it sounded odd to me. Obviously, it did to others as well because they are looking into it. It’s just something that NASCAR can deal with and we are ready to come here and focus on this race and do everything we can to win this championship.”

Gordon said teammates should be able to help each other, but usually that’s done off the track via information gathering, not during the race – though he did admit that the line isn’t exact.
“Most of the time when we think about that, it’s trying to gather information for setups to make the car go faster. We don’t think of that as what can we do on the race track to benefit where it alters the finish of a race,” Gordon said. “Who knows what measure you’ll take. We want to win.”

Other drivers had takes on the topic, including Ryan Newman – who did not approve of such team strategy on the track that could alter race results.
“That’s putting me on the spot. But one time I had a tire that went down and the smart thing to do was to spin it out and that benefitted me at the same time but it was the safest thing to do,” Newman said. “I think everybody has always contemplated it at different times. NASCAR, at places like Richmond, you’ve seen them penalize guys for stopping on the race track; causing the caution, even if they don’t spin out. There’s times when guys spin out and just wait for the caution. So, I know the situation you’re talking about and there’s a lot of question about it. But I will definitely say that when you’re having a bad day and the way this sport works with teammates, there are times when you think about it and it’s never the right thing to do.”

So am I offended by what Menard possibly did to help his teammate? Maybe a little, but
I am also not naïve, and I can say with certainty that if he did go to some secret channel and get secret orders to bring out the caution, it wasn’t the first time such team actions have altered a race – and it won’t be the win.

Like Gordon said, you want to win.

Vegas odds
Vegas odds are out for the Chase. There’s not much respect for Denny Hamlin, who is a 25-1 longshot. That’s even worse that Dale Jr., who is 20-1. Brad Keselowski is a surprisingly impressive 7-1, and Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson are favorites at 3-1.

When asked if he’s curious about how the Kurt Busch/Jimmie Johnson battle plays out if it continues, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said:
“I have no curiosity to see how that plays out. It bores the s***t out of me to be honest. It’s probably exciting to you guys; but, I’m concerned about my championship run and what I can do to be as good as I need to be. I’ve got my own damn problems to worry about. Not very interesting. Sorry.”

You tell em, Jr.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

CHASE PREDICTION: Kyle Busch will nip Jimmie Johnson to snag 2011 Cup title

The Chase has arrived, and now I must do my annual swami act and tell you all how things will go. Who's hot, who's not, and who's going to just hang around the middle? Read on to find out.

Kyle Busch will end his run of bad run in the Chase and topple Jimmie Johnson for the crown. The rumors are true; he is a more mature driver, despite an occasional return to Old Kyle Busch form, and the undeniable fact is that Kyle is just damn fast. he's a true talent, and barring mechanical issues he should be able to take his Gibbs car to the head table at the banquet, and win a few Chase races along the way.

2. Jimmie Johnson
It won't be easy for Kyle. Jimmie Johnson will do his best to win a sixth straight title -- a feat that would be absolutely nuts if it did happen. I predict Jimmie leads going into Homestead, but Kyle beats him out in an awesome duel for the ages. Or at least I hope that's what happens for the fans' sake. It is a distinct possibility, due to the unpredictable nature of this season in NASCAR, and he should take at least 2 wins in the Chase.

3. Carl Edwards
At one point, he may have been the favorite to win the title; but Carl has lost some of the buzz he had earlier this season. Still, he's steady and strong, and the leader of the Roush brigade and their best shot to win the title. Look for him to take a couple Chase checkered flags.

4. Jeff Gordon
If you're talking about momentum, this guy's got it by the boatload. Gordon has found the fountain of youth, and has the goods to battle up front each week and almost claim a fifth title -- but he'll fall shy a few spots back.

5. Kevin Harvick
With so much swirling around him and the ending of his KHI team in the lower series (not to mention rumors of a divorce, which he and Delana adamantly deny), Harvick just wants to get to racing and put all the drama behind him. Fresh off a win, he'll have to be very consistent to compete for the title in the Chase, and I don't know if he is quite at the level where he will do that.

6. Denny Hamlin
His year hasn't been great, but he should come alive in the Chase ... just not alive enough to be a major factor up top.

7. Matt Kenseth
He's traditionally been Mr. Consistent; but the lack of contending for wins on a regular basis will hurt him in the Chase. He won't be a Chase backmarker, but keeping up with Kyle and Jimmie and the other top drivers will be a chore that Kenseth may not be able to accomplish.

8. Brad Keselowski
I really like Brad as a driver, and he's on a tear lately racking up wins and top 10s, but a hot streak like that has to come to an end at some point, and I don't see him contending this year for a title (but I hope I'm wrong, as he would be a great surprise champ.)

9. Tony Stewart
Hasn't had a great year. Barely made the Chase ... Don't expect much from Smoke.

10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Good news is that Jr. made the Chase for the first time in a few years. Bad news is that unless he can start running better than 16th each week (a highly unlikely thing), there is almost no shot he competes for a title.

11. Kurt Busch
I was going to write a whole blog about what an ass Kurt has been lately, with his antics against reporters and genuinely annoying whining on the radio during races, but I figured it wasn't worth my time. Instead, I'll just say here that his attitude is toxic, he's likely jealous of his teammate's success this past month, and Kurt's mindset is so fragmented right now that there is no way he will be a front-runner during the Chase, especially if he continues his silly head games with Jimmie (FYI Kurt, that doesn't work on 5-time; look what happened to Denny after he and Ford talked smack to Jimmie before Homestead last year.)

12. Ryan Newman
He's not consistent enough to do anything of note. Call him an also-ran.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

ESPN's 'nonstop' commercial format should improve race-watching experience, limit commercial overload

If there’s one complaint I hear more than any other about NASCAR coverage on television, it has to be: “There’s too many commercials” … and usually I agree with the complainer, and have raised the issue several times right here.
There’s nothing worse than watching a race, getting to an exciting point, and then seeing the Old Spice guy on your screen. We’re watching to see racing, not a bunch of annoying ads.

To draw a comparison, I understand that my newspaper and the paper’s website need to run ads or I wouldn’t have a job, but when they become extreme and obtrusive it still annoys the hell out of me, and probably the readers.
So getting back to the NASCAR issue, the question becomes: What can the TV networks broadcasting NASCAR do to ease this ad overload and get more of the race onto your TV screen?

While at MIS last month, I spent some time behind the scenes with ESPN producer James Shiftan, who has spent 16 years as a motorsports producer, and got some insight into the process of putting together a race broadcast, as well as a look at the upcoming “nonstop” commercials ESPN will broadcast during the Chase – a feature which should help curb some complaints about commercial overload.

Read all about it here.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Excuses, excuses: Drivers who turned down White House invite were disrespectful

Much back-and-forth was heard this week in the wake of the decision by several NASCAR drivers who made the Chase last year not to accept the invite of President Obama to the White House this upcoming Wednesday.

I don’t think politics played a role, as some had suggested, but I am in the crowd not happy that so many drivers would just say, “No thanks” when the president invites them to D.C. to celebrate NASCAR.

To be honest, I just think it’s plain rude.

Still, the no-goers were unapologetic. Kevin Harvick said: “This time of year there is just a lot going on. Most everything we do is scheduled months in advance. I have been to the White House before and it is an honor just to go to the White House and be in the oval office and on the premises at the White House. I understand the honor, just with everything we have going on right now there is no way possible to reschedule the things that we have going next week.”

When pushed for more detail about what he had to do that was more important, he replied: “I don’t think that is anyone’s business. It is just one of those things where we have so many things going on that particular week leading up to the chase. It is just a bad week for us to be committed to more than one thing to go up the day before we have to be in Richmond.”

That’s weak, Kevin. The lack of a concrete answer, in my mind, means he probably could have made it, but didn’t want to deal with the travel hassle. That’s the definition of disrespectful in my mind.

Tony Stewart was similarly inclined, not giving specifics. But at least he sounded a little more sincere about understanding the honor of being invited.

“We had an obligation that we have to fulfill. I’ve enjoyed every trip that I’ve been invited and very honored to be invited every time we’ve had that opportunity and I’m very sorry I’m going to miss the chance to go again because there’s a lot of people in this nation that would love to have that opportunity to spend time with the President and just have a couple of minutes of his time. I’m very regretful that I’m not going to be able to make it but it’s a tough schedule that we have and if I could have rescheduled and got the scheduling to work out I would have been there in a heartbeat because I’ve not missed one yet.”

Greg Biffle acted all offended, and said he had committed to a retreat event put on my his sponsor 3M (something, I believe, isn’t nearly as important, or at least is something he could have skipped out on for a few hours to go to D.C.). In fact, Biffle was downright angry at people expressing the view I am espousing right here:

“First of all, I’ll start by saying that I’m disgusted by the comments I see, that people say we rejected or I can’t believe that Biffle rejected. For one, that’s disrespectful for people not knowing why I can’t go. Number two, I’ve got a picture of myself and the President, Barack Obama, in my bookshelf in my office right behind my desk shaking hands at the White House. I’ve been there and I’ve done that and I respect that. I was very flattered to get the invitation. I got the invitation less than two weeks ago to go and I’ve got a function that I’m obligated to be at with 3M in Minnesota that they’ve had planned for basically nine months. It’s an annual thing, but they have over one hundred-and-some of their business people and customers at that I go for two days. We arrive Wednesday morning early and I don’t get to Richmond until late Thursday night. I called them and talked about the invitation and this was very important to them because the function is designed around me and they really can’t have it if I don’t go. Unfortunately, the date conflicts with the

“If I hadn’t been and hadn’t met him and shook his hand and been in the oval office with him before, I might try to chisel my sponsor a little harder to let me go, and I don’t want to put it on them, it’s simply I have an obligation that I accepted long before this. A lot of times we can move our schedules around depending on what it might be, but when you have people coming from other countries that are planning on meeting you and being with you for a day-and-a-half, it’s really hard to change that.”

Sorry Greg, but I think you’re exaggerating a little: You can fly to the White House for a little meet and greet and get right back to your little corporate event. But hey, go ahead and be disgusted with me and my judgment.

The bottom line for me: If the president invited me to the White House, I would make sure to get there, even if it was inconvenient and some things needed to be rescheduled. And it’s disappointing that several drivers didn’t adjust their plans to attend.

And the biggest irony of all? … If the race can’t get run Tuesday, the entire White House event will be cancelled, and rescheduled for later in the year. If that does happen, let’s hope Obama gives these guys a little more time to plan so they can quit their whining and actually make it.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

If the Atlanta race ever gets run, Sprint Showdown millions will make it that much more exciting

There is an old saying that ‘Money Changes Everything’
And for the drivers coming into the Atlanta race today with a shot at $3 million -- $1 million for them, $1 million for a fan and $1 million for a charity of their choice – that is most certainly the case with this race.

I’ve always liked these kind of promotions (Winston Million, No Bull 5, etc.), as they spice things up a bit.
Some of the drivers eligible weighed in on what it means to them as they prepare for the race.

Paul Menard is playing it cool, saying that the potential bonus isn’t going to change how he drives too much.
“Obviously we are trying to make the Chase, first and foremost but this definitely adds extra incentive, he said. We’ve got Habitat for Humanity is our charity and Andrea Gave from New Jersey I believe is our fan. A little extra added bonus. We’re not going to try any harder or less hard. We’re going hard. If we win this, it’s a big deal.”

Kyle Busch said he’s really hoping he can come through for his fan, who has hit a run of bad luck.
"We're obviously honored to be in the position to have the opportunity to go after the money, of course. Really looking forward to
being able to win a million dollars for the fan who -- a young lady whose been unemployed for about six months unfortunately and her husband just got laid off recently, so certainly they're looking for the most that they can in these recent troubled months that they've had. It certainly would be a fitting story to see them take home the opportunity to
win the money along with us with the 18 car here this weekend."

And the hottest shoe in the business, Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski, said the race for the $3 million comes at the perfect time for him.

“It’s an awesome promotion and ’m proud of Sprint to put this on to give everyone an opportunity for great things, especially the fans. Obviously, there is an element for teams, which has my guys excited. Another element is for the foundations and charities that all of us drivers represent. It’s all for a great cause and I’m proud to be a part of it. I’m just excited to see which one of us can win it, if we can get it done. I think the timing is rather perfect.”

Even drivers not in the hunt for the big money recognize it might spice up the race.
Jeff Gordon is among them.
“I think that it is obvious there is a lot on the line. To me there are so many great storylines this weekend and next week, especially this week when you throw in the Sprint Showdown million. Obviously those guys that are running for that million have a lot of motivation and are going to be very eager to get themselves in position to win this race, so you know they are going to be pushing the envelope. It is just dangling a larger carrot out there for them. You can expect that to create some fireworks,” Gordon said.
“If this race comes down to a battle with one of those guys at the end. I think absolutely, we all want to be spoilers in that. We are also trying to get yourself seeded even better in the chase by getting a victory or two here before the chase starts. You have guys that are trying to maintain their place in the top ten, you have guys that are trying to get in on wild card, plus you have those that are already in the chase that want to be starting as high up in points as they possibly can when the chase starts, plus the million.

I echo Gordon’s sentiments and predict that, if this race ever gets run, the excitement will be amped up an extra notch due to this Sprint Showdown.

My prediction: No one will end up winning the million; though Busch and Keselowski are the most likely to be able to make it happen. I wish them, and their charities and fans who would also benefit, the best of luck.

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