Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? Family Favoritism, Biting the Hand That Feeds You & NASCAR Statistical Silliness?

Did You Notice? That halfway through NASCAR’s regular season, not a single person in the top 12 in points is a first-time Chase participant? We can expand that out to individual teams, too, as each of their car owners has been Chase bound as recently as 2006.

Here’s a breakdown of the numbers by team:

Joe Gibbs Racing – 3 (Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch)
Hendrick Motorsports – 3 (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon)
Richard Childress Racing – 3 (Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick)
Roush Fenway Racing – 2 (Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle)
Gillett Evernham Motorsports – 1 (Kasey Kahne)

Right now, there’s just three drivers in the field who weren’t Chasers in 2007: Kahne, Biffle and Earnhardt Jr. And Kahne’s candidacy appears to be tenuous at best, as he’s holding the 12th and final slot in points by the skin of his teeth; should he lose out to 13th-place David Ragan in the coming months, we’d have our first Chase rookie but lose the only car owner who wasn’t involved in the title hunt last year in the process.

Why do I bring these statistics up? It’s because fans are always enthralled by the prospect of new competition each year. Think of all the young rookies and drivers making an impact in other sports; but as the focus begins to shift from individual races to making the Chase in the season’s second half, that portion of the intrigue appears to be left off the drama. Ragan is the only first-timer who looks seriously capable of making the field, and the closest car owner within striking distance of breaking through as a newcomer would be Chip Ganassi Racing – and they’re a distant 17th (Juan Pablo Montoya).

Once again, we touch on a consistent theme here; while the influx of open-wheel talent these last few years was supposed to lead to greater diversity, instead it’s been increasingly the same old talent behind the cockpit who’s dominating at the front of the pack. How can you root for the underdog when the underdog isn’t around? That, my friends, is the million-dollar question that continues to go unanswered.

Did You Notice? That after listening to Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip these last few years, we should make a new rule forbidding sports announcers from talking about any relatives participating in the athletic event they’re covering. In racing, we’ll make three exceptions if the athlete:

  • Is about to win the biggest race of his career (i.e. – Ned/Dale Jarrett – 1993 Daytona 500)
  • Looks like he could be injured on the racetrack
  • Addresses his announcer relative by name through an in-race radio conversation

But under any other circumstances, the announcer related to said driver should never speak about them, letting the other analysts in the booth handle any situation – positive or negative – in which they’re involved.

Why am I on this latest kick? Twice now in the past month, Darrell Waltrip has defended brother Michael Waltrip with little or no evidence on FOX, initially claiming his brother didn’t hit someone on the racetrack when – just seconds later – replays showed clear as day he was 100% responsible for an accident. The most recent example came at Dover; after a wreck that involved Joe Nemechek, D.W. exclaimed there was no way Michael’s No. 55 car could have been the cause – even when camera shots zoomed in on a crumpled left-front bumper on his NAPA Toyota.

Sure enough, subsequent replays showed Waltrip tapping Nemechek’s No. 78 and turning him into the wall; and while the wreck was unintentional, big brother’s comments certainly didn’t make either one of the Waltrips look all that great.

Combine that with Rusty Wallace’s continual conversations surrounding son Steve Wallace on ESPN – already well documented these last 15 months – and it’s clear that it’s hard for family members to remain unbiased. And don’t take this the wrong way, because I think you can’t blame these announcers for that. After all, if it was your younger brother racing on national television, would you be the one ready to criticize him on every turn?

However, sometimes those criticisms have to be made – because it’s the job of the announcers to point out missteps and mistakes. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason to speak about something if everyone knows you’ll be biased. But something tells me this won’t happen anytime soon…

Did You Notice? What just about was the save of the year for Paul Menard at Dover? During the Monster Mile’s traditional multi-car melee on lap 19 – one that engulfed 11 cars – Menard made some of the riskiest avoidance maneuvers of all. While everyone focused on Denny Hamlin failing to put the brakes on heading down the back straightaway – a move that destroyed his car while he barreled into Elliott Sadler – Menard was in the same boat, only he pushed just that much harder to the left.

Careening towards the inside of the racetrack, Menard somehow kept his car under control at high speed, fish-tailing the wall as he snuck between a fast closing hole between several cars sliding down the banking. The minimal damage from the wall graze was enough to slow his day – Menard finished 22nd, four laps down – but it surely could have been a whole lot worse for the No. 15 Chevrolet. It’s yet another example how the sophomore driver is known for doing what it takes to take care of his equipment; in his 52-race Cup career, Menard’s only crashed out twice.

Did You Notice? How to calculate a Driver Rating? Since this stat is brought up frequently, I’ve tried time and again to figure out how it works, and finally looked at a full-scale explanation offered by nascarmedia.com. I got the answer I wanted, but it’s still left me scratching my head – I’d reprint the whole thing here, but it was three pages long. Three pages!

See, this is NASCAR’s problem with statistics; you don’t ever see anyone in baseball taking three pages to figure out what makes an RBI. Statistics can prove suspect if the common citizen doesn’t know how to calculate them, and a formula in which you need to fractionalize a driver’s finishing position, average running position, average speed and fastest lap within each race and then work with the numbers is just too much for the common fan to understand.

I’m a big-time stats guy, but NASCAR’s going to have several problems making their loop data understandable until they make these things far easier for all of us to figure out.

Did You Notice? That in the midst of several prominent figures criticizing Pocono Raceway – most recently Jeff Gordon – NASCAR is no closer to building a track in New York City than it was this time one year ago.

That means right now, this track is the closest thing anyone’s got to the coveted number one market in the U.S. Yes, the races may be too long, and parts of the facility itself may be outdated; but be careful to bite the hand that feeds you without a real solution to put in its place.

The bottom line is, Pocono is not only unique in track design but marketing purpose; and as long as it remains that way, you can guarantee its place on the schedule for some time to come.

About the author

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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