THE FRONTSTRETCH NEWSLETTER
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The Best Seat at the Track, The Best View on the Net!
July 31st, 2012
Volume VI, Edition CXLIV
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What To Watch: Tuesday
- Joey Logano will meet with the national media in advance of Sunday's race at Pocono. Logano, who won at the 2.5-mile triangle in June is widely speculated to lose his Cup Series ride in 2013 to Matt Kenseth, leaving the 22-year-old at the center of Silly Season conversations for every ride from Penske Racing's No. 22 to a spot back in the Nationwide Series.
by Tom Bowles
Tire Test Productive At Michigan While Danica Crashes -- New Compound Selected For August Race
NASCAR's August race in the Irish Hills will come with a fresh set of Goodyears. After 28 Cup teams tested at Michigan Speedway's 2-mile oval Monday, the tire company claims a new compound will stay safe while slowing speeds for the upcoming event, just the second for the series since the track was newly repaved.
"Back in June was our first race on this new pavement. We digested everything we saw over the weekend, in practice as well as what we had in the race," Greg Stucker, Director of Racing Tire Sales for Goodyear, said after the test. "We digested that and looked at all the data, poured over all the comments we got from the teams and drivers, made our recommendation for our package coming up in August. That is why we were here today for, just confirming that."
The recommendations did appear to deliver as promised, drivers slowed to just 195 miles an hour although speeds down the straightaways were still approaching 210. Back in June, with 200+ MPH average speeds the company had major blistering issues with its rubber to the point teams were forced to use a new compound on raceday for fear of a rash of tire failures during the event. However, the compound selected was rock hard, resulting in a single-file affair with little variation in speed.
There was one major incident during the test; Danica Patrick, testing Tony Stewart's No. 14 Cup Series Chevrolet lost an engine and crashed hard into the outside wall. Patrick, who is preparing for a full Cup Series schedule in 2013 was uninjured and able to drive the car back to the garage under her own power.
Redesigned 2013 Car Designs Approved
It's official: NASCAR's Cup Series will have a fresh new look for 2013. The sanctioning body officially approved new designs from its four manufacturers Monday, the latest step in a change from the current "Car of Tomorrow" chassis to another next-generation look scheduled to debut in February. The rubber-stamp means teams can officially get to work, making parts and pieces for the new models after aerodynamic tests, held in mid-July fit within NASCAR's parity standards.
"We commend the manufacturers and our team at the R&D center on all the hard work they've put into this new car," exclaimed NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton. "We believe the new car is going to be a milestone opportunity for our sport, one that our fans will embrace."
The changes to these models are aesthetic as well as engineering-based, designed to look more like the cars fans drive out on the street each day. As far as branding is concerned, Chevrolet will switch to its SS model for 2013, while Dodge will race the Charger. Ford will stick with its Fusion model while Toyota will also continue to race its Camry.
- Two major names are expected to make their debut in respective NASCAR series this weekend. John Wes Townley, running in the Truck Series full-time is expected to climb behind the wheel of Frank Stoddard's No. 32 Ford with Zaxby's sponsorship. The 22-year-old is still seeking his first top-10 finish in that division, along with NASCAR's Nationwide Series in 57 combined starts. Meanwhile, Brett Moffitt, the current point leader in K&N Pro Series East will be making his Nationwide Series debut with RAB Racing's No. 99 Toyota at Iowa Speedway. Moffitt, who is running for Shigeaki Hattori in the lower-tier division has two victories this year, four top-3 finishes in a row and is an Iowa native, growing up in the town of Grimes.
- Several sources are adamant Joey Logano (mentioned above) will be heading elsewhere for 2013, but J.D. Gibbs Monday fought back, claiming they're trying to re-sign the youngster and keep him at Joe Gibbs Racing. With Matt Kenseth all but officially headed there, replacing Logano in the No. 20 Toyota Gibbs will not verify that move; however, his insistence in recent interviews is to expand to four cars with Logano manning the fourth team if retained. Gibbs has never run a four-car operation full-time in the Cup Series, last expanding from two to three full-time cars in 2005.
ESPN reported Monday that Kenseth's move to Gibbs, the worst-kept secret in NASCAR right now can't be announced due to Kenseth's current contract with Roush Fenway Racing. The current driver of the No. 17 Ford has been with RFR since moving up to Cup full-time in 2000.
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Today's Featured Commentary
Who Needs Dale Jr. Anyway? NASCAR Nation for One
by S.D. Grady
People ran screaming in the streets. Hedges were chopped down, cars repainted from variable shades of red. Entire wardrobes were sent to the donation center, an unexpected Christmas present some thought would never come. It was very nearly the end of the world... or so we thought.
Actually, it was only Dale Earnhardt, Jr. divesting himself of his adored No. 8 as he headed over to Mr. Hendrick's garage, where the revamped Junior Nation decided green was the new black. And the party continued.
That was 2008. If you visited a track, you would have witnessed the massive cavalcade of media that haunted Junior's every step -- even as he tried to ignore them. His future in NASCAR looked rosy and the world held their breath just waiting for that first Hendrick win, and ultimately the preordained Cup that -- as an Earnhardt -- would surely come his way. But it never did. Let's be honest. It never even looked like it could. We held our breath for an awfully long time.
Then the unthinkable happened. NASCAR Nation stopped holding their breath, patience slowly melting into indifference. Oh, not in the kitchens and Dale Jr. chat rooms. At the grassroots level, our most popular driver EVER remained in everyone's heart. Never did the noise abate when he passed anybody on the track. And when he made it to the front, well, I've actually heard the crowd screaming over my headset in the last couple years while I tried to crane my neck to get a glimpse of what's happening. That kind of adoration is unique and unshakeable.
The NASCAR Nation I'm talking about is the media. The fickle TV, radio, cameras, those like me with a keyboard... all of us. We just sort stopped talking about when the win would happen, if it would, who would help Junior get there... and lo and behold, it did. Now Junior is perched on top of the points standings, a virtual lock for the Chase and driving like, yes, he could actually be the one hoisting the Sprint Cup come November.
Well, if simply changing his number created a huge amount of anxiety and attention for our sport, what would the prodigal's son arrival at the head table in Las Vegas do?
The heavens would open, trumpets caroling, masses collecting in town squares... exactly what NASCAR has been dying for since about 2002. Once again, seats would start to fill up. Prices for those fancy, schmancy seats would skyrocket. And the noise... noise, noise, noise. Junior Nation would rise up in celebration, all the while drawing the eyes of every casual sport fan across America. New eyes could translate into that youthful fan base the suits have been searching for over the past decade. A broader audience combined with the hopefully improved Car of 2013... think of the possibilities.
There is no doubt, the continuation of Earnhardt Jr.'s presence at the top of this year's standings can only be good. Good for him, for NASCAR and every track that hasn't been able to hide vast stretches of empty stands -- where Junior Nation and its rivals used to sit.
Now, I'm not trying to pile the kind of pressure on L'il E that he suffered under in the past. I truly hope no person has to walk through life with a microphone hovering six inches from his face 24/7. But I am being realistic about what it would take to resurrect our struggling sport back to its glory days.
NASCAR needs the No. 88 to win this championship. Hopefully the Dew Crew shares this desire and will bring that much missed celebration to our record books.
There's no doubt, NASCAR Nation needs it!
What NASCAR does not need is appearing arbitrary in the enforcement on their own rule book. Nothing hurt their image more than throwing the black flag on Elliott Sadler in Saturday's Nationwide race after failing to do so to Kyle Busch on the opening lap.
While the officials may be holding up the letter of the law, insisting Sadler clearly passed a wobbling Keselowski, this case is one where what the NASCAR fans saw will override anybody's myopic interpretation of the facts, no matter how correct they might be. Consistency has long been the mantra of the head office. Mr. France needs to make sure that's what NASCAR is presenting to the fan who is holding the money for their next ticket hostage.
Sonya's Weekly Danica Stat
Indianapolis: NNS in the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet
Finished: 35th (DNF, crash lap 38)
Points Position: 10th
Numbers Game: Brickyard 400
by Garrett Horton
Greg Biffle had his best finish on Sunday since he won Texas back in April. Biffle also started the 2012 season with three straight third-place finishes.
After going 11 races without a top-10 finish, following his win at Martinsville, Ryan Newman has quietly put together a three-race streak running 10th or better. He wound up seventh on Sunday.
Martin Truex, Jr. needs five more top-10 finishes in 2012 to set his career high for a season. His personal best came in 2007, when he posted 14 top-10s. With 15 races remaining, he has already accumulated ten.
Hendrick drivers have combined for six wins in 2012 after having only five all of last year. Jeff Gordon, who had three of those five victories in 2011, is the only winless Hendrick driver this year.
Kyle Busch snapped a dry spell of seven finishes outside the top 5 with his runner-up result at the Brickyard. You have to go back to Memorial Day, where his third-place finish at Charlotte was his last top 5.
It has been 15 races since Carl Edwards' last top-5 finish. After posting two in the first five races of the season (fifth at both Las Vegas and Fontana), he has not had one since. Sunday was a complete nightmare for Edwards, with early engine problems dropping him well off the pace and to an eventual 29th-place result.
Current replacement for AJ Allmendinger and 2006 Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish, Jr. placed 16th on Sunday, his best performance driving for Roger Penske in the Cup Series this year. It was Hornish's best since a 15th at Talladega in the Fall of 2010.
On any race week, chances are that at least one of the top-5 starters will finish in the top-5. That is the current trend, anyway, as the last 17 races have seen at least one top-5 starter end up finishing in one of the first five positions.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the Indy 500 in 2000 and dominated the 2009 and 2010 races here, was never a factor in this year's running and could only manage a 21st-place finish.
David Stremme, a start and parker for most of the year, posted a 24th-place result on Sunday, the best effort for Inception Motorsports in their two-year stint in the Cup Series.
Despite all of Jimmie Johnson's accomplishments, he has never posted 25 top-10s or more in a single season. Well, if he maintains his current pace, he will end the season with 27 top-10s, as he is finishing there in three out of every four races this year.
Matt Kenseth's early exit from the Brickyard was easily his worst finish of the season. Prior to Sunday, he hadn't run worse than 22nd.
BONUS F-1 Edition (In spirit of the Senna documentary that aired the past two nights on ESPN2, here are a few of statistical nuggets from Ayrton Senna's career.)
Senna captured three F-1 championships in his 11 year career, just one of eight drivers in the series history to have won at least three.
Senna's 41 career victories ranked second-most at the time of his death, only behind rival Alain Prost. Both Senna and Prost have since been passed by Michael Schumacher, whose 91 victories are the most all-time.
Senna had 65 poles, a record he held up until 2006, when Schumacher broke it by winning four that year to make his total 68. No other driver has more than 33.
Senna's 80 podiums rank third all-time, just behind Schumacher and Prost.
Garrett Horton is a Contributor to Frontstretch. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Garrett_Horton.
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TODAY ON THE FRONTSTRETCH:
by Mike Neff
Who's Hot/Who's Not in NASCAR: Indianapolis/Pocono Edition
by Brett Poirier
Q: Joe Nemechek lived up to his "Front Row Joe" nickname by winning the pole for the 1997 Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono. However, after leading 11 laps, an incident took him out of contention for a decent finish. What happened?
Check back Wednesday for the answer, here in the Frontstretch Newsletter!
Q: In the 1990 AC Spark Plug 500 at Pocono Raceway, Darrell Waltrip started the race just two weeks after breaking his leg in a practice crash at Daytona. Under an agreement between Waltrip, his doctor and NASCAR, he would run only one lap before coming in and handing over the Tide Chevrolet to Jimmy Horton. However, when Waltrip came in for the change, Horton was penalized by NASCAR. Since there was no pit road speed limit at the time (they were instituted early in 1991), he could not be held in the pits for that; and Dave Marcis, who did a similar driver swap that weekend, was not penalized for doing it. So why was the No. 17 held?
A: Technically, Waltrip broke a promise to Dick Beatty (the series director at the time) not to pass anyone on the first lap. Waltrip made a couple of passes before bringing his Tide Chevrolet in for the stop. Beatty was naturally ticked and held Horton for a lap before he could go out on track. Horton eventually finished three laps down in 20th.
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Coming tomorrow in the Frontstretch Newsletter:
-- Top News from Brad Morgan
-- Full Throttle by Mike Neff
-- Links to your favorite Frontstretch articles, and more!
Tomorrow on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice?... by Tom Bowles
What does one innocuous comment from Dale Earnhardt, Jr. tell us about how his 2012 victory has failed to boost the sport's presence nationally -- or his own popularity? Tom returns with the reality of a "popular driver" that's lost some of his mojo, part of a list of small but important observations about the sport.
Mirror Driving by the Frontstretch Staff
Your favorite Frontstretch writers are back to discuss a variety of different topics. Among them: How to bring back excitement to Indy, the definition of winning at all costs and a rulebook written in ... pencil?
Kevin's Corner by Kevin Rutherford
Kevin is back with a website look at one of the hot topics in NASCAR now.
Frontstretch Top Ten by the Frontstretch Staff
We'll have a top ten list that will tickle your funny bone, guaranteed.
Beyond The Cockpit: Jim Hurd by Mike Neff
Sometimes, it's the men behind the scenes who keep NASCAR going more than you will ever know. Mike has a special story about an "air gun specialist" who truly keeps everyone on pit road in perfect position to succeed.
Open-Wheel Wednesday by Matt Stallknecht
This week, Matt returns with another look at the Izod IndyCar Series ahead of this weekend's race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
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