Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Single-File Questions After a Single-File Sunday

There are a lot of topics to get to this week, so we’re going to get right to the questions.

Q: In the first five Car of Tomorrow races, NASCAR jumped up and down, pointing to the “close finishes.” But the last six CoT races (excluding the Talladega plate race where we always see close finishes) have been anything BUT close at the checkers. Could it be that those hair-raising finishes were aided and abetted by the infamous “debris caution” in the last laps that NASCAR is so famous for?

And have these less than stellar finishes occurred after Tony Stewart compared NASCAR to the WWE, manipulating the finishes with phony cautions? I have noticed that field bunching cautions dropped noticeably since then.SallyB

A: The mysterious invisible debris cautions have been somewhat nonexistent lately, haven’t they Sally? We’ll examine that in a minute. First off, I went back and looked at the finishes of the first five CoT races and found that, beyond Bristol and Martinsville, where close finishes are not necessarily the norm, but not uncommon either, the endings weren’t quite as close as NASCAR would like for you to believe.

The first five CoT races saw cautions thrown within the final 30 laps for either a blown engine or a wreck – so each one was legitimate, not for some sort of phony debris. Even still, the Bristol and Martinsville races were the only real tight finishes of those five, coming in at .064 and .065 second margins of victory, respectively. Even with field-bunching cautions at Phoenix, Richmond and Darlington, the closest margin of victory among those other three was .697 seconds… hardly a nail biter.

In that group, Phoenix was the only “debris-in-question” event; three cautions were thrown for debris when the field spread out, but none of those came in the final 100 laps. Since then, only three of the last nine CoT events have had margins of victory of less than one second – with some races finishing with an interval of as much as seven seconds between first and second place.

Moving on to the second part of your question. Despite no connection to the CoT finishes, I believe Tony’s spouting off about the debris cautions still holds merit, as a rash of them occurred in the second half of the 2006 season and carried over to ’07. This year, we started with one at California (24 laps to go), then Atlanta (16 to go – when Stewart held a 1.7-second lead when the yellow flew), followed by Texas (42 to go).

So basically, yes, phony cautions were being thrown, but the only CoT race they appear to have affected was Phoenix. And yes, once Stewart blasted the sanctioning body, the bunch-ups seem to have died down. Thanks for having the stones to say something, Smoke.

Q: The ABC/ESPN ads say that this is the tightest the points have ever been in their commercials for the Chase. True? Or a [freakin’] lie? I seem to remember closer battles, including one that ended in a (eight)-point finish between Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson. Why the false info?M.W. Sims

A: Of course it’s a [freakin’] lie, man! If ABC/ESPN has perfected one thing in its NASCAR coverage, it’s the practice of overhype, and that was just another example. Did you catch the Talladega pre-race, where ABC ran a montage of restrictor-plate racing wrecks? What’s the point of that beyond selling the violent aspect of the sport to the casual fan?

And what’s up with the “Every Lap Matters” campaign? Sure, it sounds dramatic, but it was out-and-out debunked by Jeff Gordon after the California race when, in response to a question about his 22nd-place finish, he said, “It’s like this: None of these races really mean a whole lot. I’ll be honest, it’s kind of hard to be in this position (first in the points standings) because you’re in a position where it really doesn’t matter; and yet you’re a competitor and you go out there and you run hard and try to lead laps and win races. But you know in the back of your mind that it really doesn’t mean anything.”

Here’s the best strategy, M.W.: Mute the TV and pray for clear radio reception. Barney Hall will treat you right.

Q: Hi Matt. Jacques Villeneuve actually did an admirable job in his stock car racing debut! Like most, I thought it was a recipe for disaster when NASCAR allowed him to run Talladega. And in the Chase to boot! Also, him dropping to the back of the field to start the race seemed to be a classy move.Tommy Eblen

A: Yes, J.V. did much better than anticipated with his 21st-place, lead lap run. However, I’m still under the opinion that allowing the former open-wheeler to make his stock car debut at the Talladega Chase race was an iffy decision at best, regardless of the outcome.

See also
Nextel Cup Rookie Report: Villeneuve, Montoya Not Terrified by Talladega

As for Jacques falling back. I think that had more to do with other drivers’ complaints and an experienced and respected car owner’s guidance. You can’t tell me had Villeneuve been racing his own car with his own money on the line that he would have ducked back. It just goes against a racer’s mentality.

Regardless, he made the right move and followed it up with a solid run.

Q: Talladega just wasn’t Talladega from my point of view this time. I’m no mechanic and certainly no engineer, so I don’t know how to fix it, but I enjoyed what we had more than what we’ve got. I hope they get the Car of Tomorrow figured out by Daytona, or ratings may take a dive right away due to parade-style racing that makes fans want to take a nap – or worse – sleep. At least the FOX production crew will do a better job of covering Daytona.P. Bowin

A: I didn’t have as much of a problem with Talladega as some. I think the drivers could have made it as exciting a race as we’ve ever seen, but chose to lay back until the final 25 laps. When they want to go, they can. I’m not a CoT fan, but I pin this on the drivers more than the car.

And don’t get me started again on the race coverage, but please indulge me this: There is no such thing as Draft Lock, Rusty! Retire the graphic, retire the term.

Remember that Frontstretch is LIVE at the track all weekend from Lowe’s Motor Speedway. From a special podcast from Matt Taliaferro and Tom Bowles – right from the pit area – to event coverage and special interviews from Mike Neff, we’ll have you up to date with all the news and notes from the track in Concord, N.C., right here first. Would you expect anything else from the site that bills itself as the “Best Seat the Track, Best View On The Net!” We hope not!

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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