Thursday, June 02, 2016

The Frontstretch Newsletter: The Hammer Comes Down on Certain Crew Chiefs

Presented by
The Best Seat at the Track, The Best View on the Net!
Jun. 2, 2016
Volume X, Edition LXXXI
What to Watch: Thursday

- Today, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards has two practice sessions scheduled for tomorrow's General Tire #AnythingisPossible 200.  They will not be televised.  Meanwhile, the ARCA race from Nashville in April will be shown on ASN at 7 p.m.  If you can't get the race on TV, there will be a free livestream at

Thursday's TV Schedule can be found here.

Top News
by the Frontstretch Staff

Kyle Busch Motorsports Appeal: Penalty Upheld On Daniel Suarez

Wednesday, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel heard Kyle Busch Motorsports' appeal of the penalties handed down to the No. 51 team in the Camping World Truck Series after the JACOB Companies 200 at Dover.  The panel upheld the $6,000 fine and ten owner point penalty.  Read more

Have news for the Frontstretch? Don't hesitate to let us know; email us at with a promising lead or tip.

A Look Back At The 100th Indy 500
Potts' Shots
by John Potts

I was right. It was a zoo.

But it was like a fun trip to the zoo.

I can't remember a crowd for the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race anything close to this big since the 1980s. Of course, we were warned that all reserved seats were sold out a couple of weeks before the race, and on Wednesday of race week they stopped selling General Admission tickets.

I should also mention that the interest in this race made it a tough press credential as well. My appreciation to Tim Sullivan and his staff for the courtesy and friendliness which they always extend to everyone, and especially to the Frontstretch staff.

Now, for more stories about my travails getting to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the event. I made it to Carburetion Day without a problem, the IndyGo (our public transportation system) shuttle dropping me off at the golf course clubhouse and picking me up at the museum. By the way, that day was also the biggest I've seen since the '80s; the crowd there was courteous and well behaved.

Race Day was another matter, as IndyGo informed me that Homeland Security had put a "bubble" around IMS and they could not approach closer than about a couple of miles. Turned out they must have singled out IndyGo, because there were all kinds of shuttles at the track, up to and including tour buses.

However, when I found out they could go as far as Michigan and Tibbs, I set up my trip from home to our old house in the 3100 block of West Michigan. I knew the way from there, and it's only a couple of miles. I even knew a couple of shortcuts from Michigan to 16th Street on quiet streets with practically no traffic. Great, because there were no sidewalks, either, but the streets were much smoother than most sidewalks in this fair city.

Took an hour to get to the dropoff and another hour for me to make it to the Media Center, joining the walk-in traffic. I suspect that's quicker than most people who drove as close as they could get.

My laptop is on the fritz these days, and Aaron Bearden was in there actually covering the race. Susan Chrysler was on hand to help me out, so after pre-race ceremonies I decided to just cruise around the place and take notes. You know, typical Potts' Shots stuff.

About those pre-race ceremonies… if you haven't witnessed them at IMS before the 500, you've missed some of the most moving, patriotic stuff ever presented.

The new guy did a great job with "Back Home Again In Indiana" accompanied by the Indianapolis Children's Choir, and the choir themselves were great on "God Bless America."

One of the highlights for me was seeing Lady Gaga (who was there to ride in the two-seater behind Mario Andretti) walk over and hug every one of the Pearl Harbor survivors who were being honored. I'm sure she endeared herself to a lot of fans who before that never gave her a second thought, including yours truly. Nice lady, too.

Another nice person was Ice-T. Came out of the Media Center and there he was. Had to cruise over and say I just wanted to shake his hand. He asked if I was a rap music fan, and I said, "No, but I sure like your acting."

Seeing old friends was also a big part of the day. That list includes Al Stilley, along with who knows how many photographers I used to credential at Indianapolis Raceway Park and too many others to name. Never connected with my old intern, Doug Boles, but I imagine he was pretty busy.

Doug, by the way, has given the place a new personality. The front office used to be rather faceless and unconcerned about what the great, unwashed-out-in-the-infield felt, but no longer.

My biggest highlight of the pre-race ceremonies was the playing of "Taps" to memorialize our fallen warriors. It's always big, but this year was special. At the sound of the first note, the crowd went immediately silent. Completely. I confirmed it by watching a replay when I got home. I had never in my life experienced hearing 350,000-plus people go quiet all at once. Of course, when the bugler was finished, they erupted in applause.

Cutting Susan loose to her own resources, I started wandering around and listening to the public address call of the race while glancing up at the giant video screens before finally spotting the perfect place to watch the race. It was a portable big screen down inside of turn 2 which had lots of room in front of it and big speakers for the PA.

If there was a drawback, it was the heat. Yes, it was HOT hot. But I stuck it out and thoroughly enjoyed the second half of the race. Particularly Bryan Herta's call for Alexander Rossi to start saving fuel with 30 laps to go because he, like everybody else, was way short of making it to the finish.

I've always wondered about crew chiefs' thought processes in cases like this one. In my mind, you have two clear choices – stay out and conserve fuel in an attempt to make it, or go ahead and pit to top off the tank as soon as you enter that "window." Why wait until five or six laps are left for a splash, and then not have enough laps to catch up?

I employed this strategy myself when acting as crew chief for Leonard Blanchard and his '67 Fairlane in a USAC 250-miler on the road course at IRP back in the day. He was signaling that he needed fuel and I kept waving for him to keep going. The leader (Parnelli Jones) only had a couple of laps to go and I thought we could make that. If we had pitted, we'd have lost two or three positions and about $1,000. We made it with a fifth-place result. Of course, Leonard ran out on the backstretch and had to be towed in, but what the heck?

Oh, by the way, I was fried by the time the 500 was over, but I was early for my ride back. I stopped at the "Hi Neighbor," a biker bar at 10th & Tibbs I used to frequent and managed to cool down.
The Critic's Annex Old School Edition: 1997 Jiffy Lube 150
by Phil Allaway

Welcome, everyone.  I hope you've recovered from Memorial Day weekend.  I have, sort of.  Not quite.  I was planning on actually holding the Annex until tomorrow's Newsletter so that I could cover NBCSN's coverage of the K&N Pro Series East ComServe Memorial Day Classic at the brand-new Dominion Raceway (airs today at 6 p.m.).  However, while randomly searching on YouTube for Busch North clips from Lime Rock, I stumbled upon today's selection.

It is the Jiffy Lube 150, race No. 15 of 22 for the 1997 Busch North Series (note that a number of those races were in conjunction with the Busch Grand National Series).  This was not one of the conjunction races.  Instead, this event was held at the Thunder Road International Speedbowl, a quarter-mile track with high banks located in Barre, Vt.

The race aired live on TNN at the time as part of Motor Madness, a weekly show featuring some kind of motorsports on Friday nights.  Admittedly, most of what I remember about the TNN Live Motorsports Series are near-weekly Monster Jam Thunder Nationals broadcasts from places like the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines.  For a 12-to-13-year-old with nothing to do, it was a nice way to kill a Friday night.  I want to say that this race is the only race ever put on national television from Thunder Road, but I cannot confirm that.

Given that this event was a 150-lap race with no scheduled pit stops, there wasn't that much to do in the pits, but TNN had that covered, regardless.  Steve Byrnes was in the pits, along with Katie Haas.  I admittedly didn't remember Haas, but she's the kind of on-air personality that you would see on TNN back when they focused on southern living and country music.  A little research on YouTube shows that she was formerly a radio personality as well.  It makes perfect sense since Haas sounds like Claire B. Lang if Lang had a stronger Southern accent.  Haas was basically the telecast's host, although the fact that she was in Vermont is a little unusual.  It appears that she was usually studio-based.

Pre-race coverage featured a short segment on racing at Thunder Road, including an interview with track owner Ken Squier.  Squier rightfully believed at the time (and likely still does) that short track racing is the backbone of stock car racing in the United States.

Speaking of Squier, he was in the broadcast booth for the race, along with Buddy Baker.  You could just see on his face how proud he was that his short track was on national television in front of a sellout crowd.

There was a driver snapshot of Dave Dion (voiced over by Haas), then the defending Busch North Series Champion.  Dion describes the blue-collar aspect of the series.  Despite being the defending champ, he stated that his win earlier that year at Loudon was more satisfying knowing that he also built the winning engine.

From the start, Squier and Baker noted the presence of the big surprise of the night, Kip Stockwell.  It was Stockwell's Busch North Series debut, driving the lone Oldsmobile in the field.  However, Stockwell didn't just have an ace up his sleeve, he had a royal flush in his corner. 
Stockwell had a lot of experience at Thunder Road, having previously competed as a regular there.  Also, despite being in an Oldsmobile, it had a good pedigree.  It was a car previously raced by Mike Stefanik a year or two earlier that the Stockwells had purchased.  Finally, this event was the first ever Busch North Series race at Thunder Road.  The last NASCAR touring race there prior to this one was the Foliage 100 for the NASCAR Coors Tour to wrap up the 1985 season won by Chuck Bown (Editor's Note: This series was the predecessor to Busch North).  How many drivers that raced that day were in this event?  A grand total of four (Bobby Dragon, Stub Fadden, Jamie Aube and Barney McRae) out of 26.  A couple of others had some experience at Thunder Road (Dion and a couple of others).  Others, like Stefanik, had never raced there before.  Nothing beats experience on this type of track.

Another noticeable aspect of the race was the fact that there were a number of spins that didn't cause yellows.  Louis Rettenmeier spun into the dirt on the frontstretch without drawing one.  So did Brad Bennett.  McRae spun twice and kept going without drawing one.  All four incidents occurred in the first half of the race.

Glen Brehio (pronounced the same way as the Crash Bandicoot villain Dr. Nitrus Brio) drew the pole for the race (they had pole qualifying, which was won by Dion, then had a redraw) and led the first 25 laps.  For Brehio, that's notable because they're the only 25 laps he ever led in the series.  This race was his big chance.  He proceeded to blow it.

An unforced error resulted in Brehio hitting "The Widowmaker" exiting turn 4 and eventually spinning out.  While Squier was focused more on the Stockwell story since he had a foot in the game (remember, he owns the track the race was at), I'd argue that what Brehio was doing was just as significant as far as Busch North was concerned at the time.  Outside of this race, Brehio never qualified better than 15th in his career.  That race was at Riverside Park Speedway, another quarter-mile that was located inside of the amusement park of the same name in Agawam, Mass. (it closed as part of the renovations of Riverside that eventually resulted in Six Flags New England).  He was a rookie running what turned out to be his only full season in the series and it hadn't gone well to that point.  It was surprising that he was there.  Given that 42 cars attempted to make the 26-car field in this race, it would have almost been considered surprising that he made the grid.

Brehio's spin was caused by a blown right-rear tire after the wall hit.  Unfortunately, the No. 05 team didn't completely fix the car the first time in the pits (outside of the track). Later in the race, Brehio blew another right rear tire, spun and hit the Widowmaker again.  That time, he did more damage and spent some time behind the wall before coming back out to finish 22nd.
The big wreck on lap 98 that caused a red flag was a tough crash to cover with the small production that TNN had in Barre.  Kelly Moore spun after contact from Tracy Gordon in turn 3; then, Mike Olsen came in and hit Moore.  The cameras on the frontstretch focused on that incident.  However, that wasn't the big story.  Jerry Marquis went off the top of turn 3, popped a wheelie, then plowed his Chevrolet Lumina into a conveniently located wall.  Brad Bennett and Pete Rondeau (yes, the chap that used to be Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s crew chief) were also involved.  A later interview in the pits revealed that Marquis had basically lost his brakes.  When the Moore spin occurred, Marquis would not have been able to avoid being in it.  Jumping off the track was basically an alternate move.

Dennis Demers was also used as a pinball for much of the race.  It appears that someone climbed up on his left rear at least twice during the event.  The first one was not shown on the broadcast.  The second caused a yellow when Tom Bolles did it and spun on the frontstretch.

Post-race coverage was a little unusual.  Yes, there was a winner's interview with Kip Stockwell (Editor's Note: That marks the only Busch North victory in 139 career starts for the Vermont native).  Then, TNN aired a brief piece on the Dragon family, which included interviews with Bobby Dragon, his brother Beaver Dragon and Beaver's son Brent.  This piece was nice, but really out of place.  After that, viewers saw the top-10 finishers and that was it.

Watching this race 19 years after the fact seems really weird.  It might be the most rough-and-tumble race I've watched on a paved short track in years.  Even the K&N Pro Series events at places like Bowman-Gray Stadium, Shasta Speedway and Meridian Speedway aren't as rough as what we saw in this race.
Squier knew going in that this race required him to bring his "A" game to the booth.  He did just that.  Lots of enthusiasm and showmanship.  Baker may not have been all that knowledgeable about the series, but he was a very good analyst.  Baker knew his stuff when it came to racing and it showed.  Byrnes and Haas both did a pretty good job in the pits.  It's a shame that they (probably) didn't get to see much of the race due to their positioning in the garage.
Phil Allaway is the Newsletter Manager and a Senior Writer for  He can be reached via e-mail at

"It's been a struggle with that sponsor stuff. It's tough, man. I don't have a dad that can write the check and I just have to go prove myself on and off the racetrack. I feel like I have done a good job off the racetrack and I've done a good job sometimes on the racetrack.

I need to be better on the racetrack sometimes. Made some mistakes so I just got to be better than the mistakes I've made."  - Jeb Burton on his current sponsor issues, before Richard Petty Motorsports parked the No. 43 team

by Aaron Bearden and Sean Fesko
by Bryan Gable

as told to Zach Catanzareti

by Dustin Albino
by Toni Montgomery
Q: Here's an easy one. Which famous Hall of Fame NASCAR driver saw his career come to an end at Pocono with a vicious crash during the 1988 Cup season?

Check back Friday for the answer, here in the Frontstretch Newsletter!

Wednesday's Answer:

Q:  Back in the summer of 2002, Steve Park and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had a massive crash on the first lap of the Pennsylvania 500 where the Armco Barrier gave significantly.  While that helped Park out, it wasn't ideal.  What did Pocono Raceway do to fix the barriers for 2003?

A: The single-strand Armco barriers were found to be incorrectly installed.  The support posts didn't go far enough into the ground.  What the track did was create three-strand Armco barriers similar to what Watkins Glen has.  Then, they reinforced those barriers with earthen banks.
In The Frontstretch Newsletter:
We'll preview the upcoming weekend for the Sprint Cup Series at Pocono.

Zach Catanzareti answers Four Burning Questions heading into this weekend's action in Pocono.
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