Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? JJ Yeley vs. Kyle Busch? Good vs. Bad Teammates? Robby vs. Reality? & More

Did You Notice? That other than Jeff Gordon‘s lucky break on the final lap, there were a total of zero engine failures at California Speedway Monday? It’s only the third time in the track’s history that’s happened; the lack of mechanical problems were especially notable in this case, considering there were all sorts of debris and dirt littering the track over the course of a wet weekend.

That strong performance by parts and pieces seems to bode well for the long-term; however, to me that’s not always a good thing. There’s an air of unpredictability in having the occasional engine failure now and then; but based on early results and technological innovation, it looks like they’ll be happening less often than ever before.

Did You Notice? How inflated certain statistics can be nowadays? There were 32 lead “changes” at California – a new “record” – but that’s because most of those occurred during a cycle of green-flag pit stops, where cars will surrender the lead to slower backmarkers who inherit the top spot simply because they have better fuel mileage. I wonder if we should start changing this statistic to “passes for the lead under green;” as far as I’m concerned, there was no way the California race was record-setting in terms of competition.

Did You Notice? That in the first CoT race on an intermediate track – a new innovation that should level the playing field – we didn’t hear so much as a peep from any rookie? Sam Hornish Jr. was involved in an early crash while Dario Franchitti and Regan Smith struggled to keep up. If you’re in Vegas this weekend, I’d bet the farm on “No Rookie Winning A Race This Season” before the odds get any worse; if it weren’t for the road courses at Infineon and Watkins Glen, I’d almost be willing to lay some money down on “No rookie will finish in the top five in 2008.”

Did You Notice? Top-five finishes for Kyle Busch during the first two races of the season in the No. 18 car. Two top-five finishes for JJ Yeley in two years in the No. 18 car. Average finish for Busch in two starts with Joe Gibbs Racing: fourth. Average finish for Yeley in two starts with the single-car program of Hall of Fame Racing: 27th, with zero laps led.

See also
Thompson in Turn 5: Kyle Busch - So Much & So Soon

I’m not trying to hate against Yeley; he’s a funny, intelligent, talented guy by all accounts. However, it’s taken just two weeks to show the difference between a good driver and a great driver in this series. For anyone who wants to know why top-name owners will put up with Busch despite his volatile personality, reread that last paragraph.

Did You Notice? That along those same lines of good vs great wheelmen, Kyle Petty‘s driven the first two races like he has a 20-ton weight attached to the back of his car. Seriously, at Daytona, he couldn’t even hang on to the lead draft, and at California, he experienced brake problems after being the slowest car in the field virtually all race long.

If Bobby Labonte‘s going to stay at Petty Enterprises, Kyle’s going to have to be a bit of a better teammate on the track than that; and if he can’t focus on the driving anymore, he may need to come to terms with the fact his behind-the-wheel career may finally be over. The future of PE could depend on that.

Did You Notice? How quickly and easily Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer swept their controversy under the rug after Daytona – as opposed to Matt Kenseth hanging on to some bad feelings for David Ragan? Then again, Burton and Bowyer didn’t wreck each other, but still…

Did You Notice? There were no less than half-a-dozen cars who start and parked in the Nationwide race at California Monday – and even with that high a number, the series still couldn’t fill a field of 43 cars? What’s especially disturbing in the two races so far is that even though the number of Cup drivers was drastically reduced in California – a product of the Car of Tomorrow not yet being raced in the series – only one non-Cup driver was able to crack the top 10 (Stephen Leicht).

Just two races into the season, Mike Bliss is the best-positioned Nationwide driver going for the title; but he’s already eighth, 144 points behind Tony Stewart in the championship battle.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2008 Stater Brothers 300 at Fontana

Now, if that’s not a sign of an unhealthy series, I don’t know what is. But here’s what’s particularly disturbing about the start-and-park trend angle of things, two of the cars who were obviously there to park it (the No. 90 and No. 91) are co-owned by none other than SPEED’s Phil Parsons. A full-time analyst of the Truck Series races, why would one of the most visible NASCAR personalities be actively associated with a practice scorned upon by the majority of fans and other competitors?

It’s a legitimate question, one that will hopefully receive an answer at some point. If this new MSRP Motorsports venture is simply saving up cash to one day be able to run the series full-time, that’s somewhat understandable; but if they’re seizing an opportunity to make a quick buck, shame on them.

Did You Notice? How out of hand this whole “Rally For Robby” thing has become? Here’s the thing; NASCAR can’t assess fair penalties if they start playing favorites. Let’s forget the past for a second; at the beginning of each year, a sanctioning body has the right to reassess the way they give out penalties; and in this case, they’ve determined that a pre-inspection body style violation will result in a 100-point loss for both driver and owner, a $100,000 fine and a six-week suspension of the crew chief. As long as they stick with that, then I’m OK with a penalty of that magnitude being assessed if they’re going to get tough across the board.

It’s true that what happened to Robby Gordon was an unfortunate, tragic mistake. But, no one told Robby he needed to switch from Ford to Dodge mere days before the season opener. And if Dodge couldn’t handle that last-minute request, well, he’s got to live with the consequences, and hope that Dodge compensates the team for their newfound support.

Don’t get me wrong; I feel for Robby. But who said sympathy equaled fairness?

About the author

Tom Bowles
 | Website

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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