Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Frontstretch Newsletter: Did NASCAR Get The Championship 4 Right?

Presented by Frontstretch.com
The Best Seat at the Track, The Best View on the Net!
Nov. 15, 2016
Volume X, Edition CCIV
What to Watch: Tuesday

- IMSA testing will take place today at Daytona International Speedway. Meanwhile, NASCAR teams continue preparation for their final racing weekend of the year down at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Tuesday's TV Schedule can be found here.

Today's Top News
by the Frontstretch Staff

VisitFlorida.com Racing Announces 2017 Driver Lineup

On Monday, VisitFlorida.com Racing announced their full-time drivers for the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.  Marc Goossens will return to the team to drive the new Riley Mk. XXX-Gibson with defending PC Champion Renger van der Zande as his teammate.  Read more


Today's Featured Commentary
Chasing the Final Four: Did NASCAR Get it Right?
Sitting in the Stands: A Fan's View
by S.D. Grady

Logano, Kyle, Jimmie and Cousin Carl...did the mysterious conglomeration of points, wins and chance called the Chase deliver to NASCAR Nation the right combination of drivers eligible to win the 2016 Sprint Cup championship? Let's look at the facts....

16 drivers entered into the Chase back in September.  Some competitors like Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray and Chase Elliott pretty much got into the big show through luck. While Buescher did collect an automatic entry with a win, it wasn't because his team had a competitive car.  Elliott, McMurray and Dillon managed the feat without a victory, simply by performing decently throughout the season.  Those drivers are not part of the Homestead Championship 4.  So far, the system worked.

Next, we had the drivers who collected a single victory during the regular season.  Kyle Larson finally added a win to his column, but he only had a fair year besides that perfect day. There were splashes of brilliance, but nobody saw the Chip Ganassi team making a run for the big trophy. Tony Stewart grabbed his Cinderella moment in the California sun, but with only half a season to catch up with the competition, that Sonoma victory would be his last of his career without adding another Cup to the mantle.  What about Kurt Busch? There were glimmers of excellence, but I don't think anybody was screaming for the elder brother to sit at the head table this year.  Once again, karma seems to have sorted out those that were kind of awesome, but shouldn't be the 2016 poster child for NASCAR.

Now, it gets dicey.  Joey Logano won at the beginning of the summer in Michigan, but otherwise his year has been akin to a yo-yo. He'd finish top 10 one week and crash out or get mired back in the crowd the next.  What has been different this year has been a noted silence out of the younger Team Penske driver.  He hasn't been quite as vocal when facing uncertainty--did that make him seem to be less successful? At any rate, if it hadn't been for Michigan, Logano wouldn't have had the opportunity to be one of the Championship 4. If he wins it all, quite a few fans will be left feeling unfulfilled.

Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson both kept the big prize in sight all year long.  While it seemed like the JGR crowd had the 2016 season all sewed up by July, it was more likely that Knaus and Johnson were plotting their final maneuvers to reach the big race.  Color the world unsurprised, then that the No. 48 team pulled a win out of their hat in Martinsville. Now Kenseth, the silent and smiling member of the Gibbs organization simply approached the end of the year like Jaws.  Unfortunately, a single turn of his steering wheel ended it all, but if he had made the podium, nobody would have been shocked.

How about Martin Truex, Jr.? While the single-car team enjoyed a spectacular start to the year, it all fell apart in the middle of the Chase.  We've seen another driver/team combination struggle with playoff jitters, too; Denny Hamlin, please step forward. The fact is the pressure isn't lifted once you are part of the Chase, it just gets worse.  For Truex, the cracks in the smaller organization's armor gave way under the heightened pressure.  It was a valiant effort. How about the perennial bridesmaid, Hamlin? Well...yeah...we've had plenty of years where he didn't make the big show. No shock there.

Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski; we can honestly say that if we traded out Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards with those two, most of NASCAR Nation probably wouldn't have blinked.  That gave a certain validity to these last few races.  Happy and Bad Brad both had very good years, with their machines remaining in the top 10 right up to the very end.  It is the nature of elimination that somebody had to go home.  How the odds fell in favor of the Shrub and Edwards may be more of a reflection of the domination of the Gibbs camp we've seen all year long, but not on the singular performances of Harvick or Keselowski.

So, when all is said and done, we've actually got a fair representation of the teams that actually deserve a shot at the gold next Sunday. It's still a bit of smoke and mirrors as to how we got here, but there should be some reassurance that the racing gods haven't forsaken NASCAR entirely. Whether we see Jimmie Johnson lift a seventh Cup over his head next week or inaugurate a new driver as our champion, at least we won't be handing it to a team undeserving of the award. Thank goodness.


While Alex Bowman is getting plenty of love by the NASCAR community, I figure one more mention won't hurt. The substitute driver for the No. 88 machine put on one helluva show at Phoenix this past weekend, displaying his rapidly maturing talents.  He grabbed the pole and led 194 laps, in contention for victory through the final two restarts. The unfortunate contact between him and Kenseth put a damper on the final outcome, but Bowman definitely demonstrated his ability behind the wheel.  Somebody has got to get him a 2017 contract!

S.D. Grady is a Senior Writer for Frontstretch and runs a NASCAR blog called the S-Curves. She can be reached via email at sonya.grady@frontstretch.com. Follow her on Twitter at @laregna and on her Facebook page (she's an author, too!) at https://www.facebook.com/Author.SDGrady.
Numbers Game: Can-Am 500k
by Tom Bowles

Top-10 finishes for rookie Chris Buescher during the entire ten-race Chase thus far. Buescher is the only driver to make the initial Round of 16 who hasn't earned a top-10 finish this postseason.

Laps led at Phoenix by Kevin Harvick Sunday en route to a fourth-place finish. It's the first time since the spring race in 2013 that Harvick has failed to lead a lap at Phoenix. Harvick had led 1,064 laps at the track in the previous six races held there prior to Sunday, winning five of them while coming up second in the other event. 

Ford driver out of 12 potential championship contenders within NASCAR's top three series. Joey Logano, driving the No. 22 for Team Penske is the only one to make the cut in Cup, XFINITY, or Trucks.

Joe Gibbs Racing drivers to make the Championship 4 at Homestead. It's the first team to put two drivers in the Championship 4 since the current format came into play in 2014.

The fewest number of wins any of the four Cup title contenders has entering Homestead. Joey Logano and Carl Edwards have three while Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson have four apiece.

The most wins for any Cup driver this season. The lead in that category is currently shared by Johnson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex, Jr. and Kevin Harvick. If that holds, it would be the lowest number of wins for any individual driver to lead the Cup Series in the modern era.

Straight top-15 finishes by Denny Hamlin, including four top 10s. He still failed to advance to Sunday's Championship 4. 

Career Cup titles won by Jimmie Johnson. A seventh would tie him with Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and Richard Petty for the most in the history of NASCAR Cup Series competition.

Lead changes at Phoenix Sunday, the third-fewest in Sprint Cup this season. Only the spring race at Phoenix (seven) and this year's Brickyard 400 (four) had fewer.

Laps led by Alex Bowman at Phoenix. The driver of the No. 88 had led nine career laps in the Cup Series before Sunday's race.

Laps led by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. through 18 races this season before his concussion injury.

Laps led by Matt Kenseth during this Chase. The end result was no wins, two finishes outside the top 20 and another miss on making the Championship 4 that will battle for the title at Homestead.

Tom Bowles is the Editor-In-Chief of Frontstretch.com. He can be reached at tom.bowles@frontstretch.com and found on Twitter @NASCARBowles.


by Matt McLaughlin

by Jeff Wolfe

by Danny Peters

by Phil Allaway

Q: NBC's return to NASCAR in 1999 at Homestead was a little rough.  As a result, the network decided to prepare for inheriting a larger share of the 2001 NASCAR season with their one race weekend in 2000.  As such, a deal was made to acquire Benny Parsons' services for the race broadcast.  What was exchanged in the deal?

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

Monday's Answer:

Q:  By NASCAR standards, the garage areas at Homestead-Miami Speedway are quite tight.  However, what is the true setup of Homestead-Miami Speedway's garage area?

A: When Homestead-Miami Speedway was built, it was built with European-style garages.  Under that setup, the pit wall would be eliminated and the chain link fence behind pit lane would also go away.  In theory, drivers would be able to pull into the pits, then directly into their garages.  For NASCAR, two teams are assigned each European stall (one gets the front side, while one gets the back side).

The garages have never been used in their intended fashion at Homestead.  Back in the late 1990s, though Homestead hosted two rounds of the FIA GT Championship.  Here's the 1998 race.  That will show you some of the differences they might have been going for.

In The Frontstretch Newsletter:
We'll have the latest NASCAR news along with a weekly commentary from our Professor of Speed on the state of the sport.

On Frontstretch.com:
Find out where your favorite driver ranks after Phoenix when our experts from across the web weigh in for The 10.
Talk back to the Frontstretch Newsletter!
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