Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Confidential: Insider Dishes on Chasers, Tony Stewart, the CoT & New Hampshire

Over the final two months of the season, Frontstretch is proud to debut its newest column: NASCAR Confidential. Once every three weeks, we’ll have one of our Cup-driving friends stop by and give us his take on what’s going on in the series today. Don’t ask us who he is, because we won’t be telling you! His anonymity allows him to speak freely on most topics that might otherwise be muzzled by the political correctness of the sport.

All you’ll get from us is he’s a full-time Cup driver that you see every week… but we’re sure you’ll get a ton of good information from him every time he stops by. Be sure to contact us and let us know what you think of his debut!

A NASCAR Insider Speaks Out…

On whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. intentionally wrecked Kyle Busch:

“I don’t think he intentionally went down in the corner and drove it in on purpose just to wreck him; but once he did get in that deep, I don’t think he tried to save it all that much, either. My best guess [based on my experience] is you get in deep and say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to hit this guy.’ But if it’s someone that’s already wrecked you, you go, ‘Well, payback’s a bitch.’ And you just kind of take it for what it is, knowing that you’re in too deep [and you should pull out]. If it’s someone else, you try and possibly avoid him a little bit more, but if it’s not…”

On whether turnabout is fair play four months after the first incident:

“Oh, yeah. [Grudges] last forever. They will last literally forever. Racecar drivers, we have short memories on a lot of things: anniversary, girlfriend names, stuff like that. But when it comes to payback and what was done to you on the racetrack, your mind will last forever.”

On whether Tony Stewart’s post-race Richmond tirade is a sign of larger problems:

“I think… that’s a tough call because it depends on the crew chief/driver relationship and the way that they interact. You take Tony Jr. and Dale Jr. – that’s who they are all the time. To this day, they say this is the way it is, this is the way they work, and that’s normal. [The outburst] might come from frustration, Tony leaving and basically Greg [Zipadelli] not going with him… they know that this relationship is over. The frustration of not winning… that’s going to happen.”

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“Ultimately, everybody’s goal is to win, and that’s what they’re out there for. So if your relationship’s fine, it’ll go away the next day because that’s the nature of the beast. But if it’s not fine, it’s just going to keep lasting and keep building.”

On Joey Logano’s Cup Series debut (he’ll run New Hampshire driving the No. 02 Home Depot Toyota), and whether that hurts Stewart in his bid for a third title:

“I think Logano’s going to do a good job. He’s definitely good, and ultimately… he’s in the best equipment that’s out there right now. So anybody that’s got any kind of talent is going to shine in those racecars. It’s just the nature of the beast. They’re good cars, and if you can drive them, you’re going to be fast.”

“I don’t think [Logano] is a distraction; and the No. 20 team not getting along with Tony has nothing to do with Logano. That has to do with Tony and his ranting and raving. Let’s put it this way: if Joey didn’t run the next 10 races the rest of the season, it’s not going to take away from the No. 20 team quitting on him if they are. It has to do with Tony leaving, Joey coming, and whatever internal is going on with that team. Him running a fourth car during the weekend isn’t going to change that.”

On whether team orders are alive and well, and will be for the duration of the Chase:

“I personally haven’t seen team orders – but of course there’s going to be. That’s part of having other cars, and you can argue that it’s fair or not fair… but that’s the nature of the beast. When you got teams that are already in, and they’ve got one of their own needing to get in, you’re going to do what you have to do to try and help them get in. Besides blatantly going out there and wrecking the guy, you’re always going to see little stuff, where if you can just slow another guy down just a little bit – that’s going to happen.

“And at the end of the Chase, if you’ve got somebody that can win the championship and the other guys can’t, you’re going to see the same thing. That’s just part of the sport. That’s why you have teammates.”

“I think you don’t specifically go out there saying, ‘That’s my role, to help [your teammate],’ but if there’s a way – whether it’s helping with setup, giving him more room than anybody else, that’s part of your job.”

On whether non-Chasers should be less aggressive around guys going for the championship:

“I could give a crap who’s in front of me. I don’t care. I’m not in the Chase. That’s not my job, to worry about them. They’re the ones in the Chase, so they’re the ones that have to worry about being smart and being a little more cautious than everybody else. That’s their deal, and if it came down to leaning on one of the Chase guys to win or battle for a position, compared to somebody else – I’m going to [treat them] the same. It’s their job to worry about going for the championship… not mine.”

“[For everyone,] you’re always going to points race. But what bothers me more is when guys go, ‘He should be more cautious because I’m racing for the championship.’ Well, who gives a crap? That actually means that you need to be more cautious. We’re not going to pull over. I don’t like anybody on the racetrack. I don’t ever intend to go wreck somebody on purpose, but just ‘cause you’re in the Chase… I could really give a crap.”

“And I think [we all] get more aggressive the end of the year. Everybody’s on different agendas at this point, whether it’s championship, Top 35, finding a job next year, trying to prove yourself for a job – there’s always different agendas, and especially with this season. It’s so long, and you go through so much, in the middle of the season you get in this lull where it’s long and you just go week to week, but now it’s like, ‘OK, season’s over,’ and everybody’s got an agenda and you gotta go out and prove it, whatever it is.”

On who’s going to win in the playoffs:

“It’s pretty clear the favorites in this Chase are the guys we all know: Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson. If you’re going to pick one darkhorse out of the rest of the field, it’s Tony – but I don’t think it’s going to happen. That’s what makes the Chase exciting, though – it is 10 races, somebody can heat up, one of those guys can have a problem, and the next thing you know, it’s a battle. But I would say – I guess if I had to pick any of the darkhorses, it would be Tony or Denny Hamlin, because they’re good and the Gibbs organization is what it is.”

On racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:

“Track position, track position, track position [is the key to success]. It’s pretty simple; if you’re in the back or in the middle of the pack, the less you have a car that can just dominate. You can’t really get around anybody. Obviously, you gotta have a good-handling car, a car that turns in the center and gets good forward bite off. It’s kind of like all the tracks with these cars – track position almost overrides a bad-handling racecar these days.”

“That’s because New Hampshire is the hardest track on the circuit to pass on, and I think these cars just multiply [the problem]. Just because everybody’s struggling to get the thing to turn in the center and get forward bite off, so it’s one of those things where you get under somebody, your car’s already not turning very well and it’s already not getting off the corner… so when you’re under somebody, you’re just not going to finish the pass.

“And I think that with the old cars, you could at least get it to turn a little bit and get a little better forward bite off. So if you’re under somebody that isn’t handling as well, you could make the pass – but with these, the difference between a good-handling racecar and a bad one is very little difference. So, it’s hard to pass.”

On whether the CoT’s handling has improved over the summer:

“No, it’s still about the same. I think, on the bigger tracks, people have gotten a little bit better handling on them. At the mile and a halfs, you see a little bit of a difference; but on the short tracks, you’re still slipping and sliding around the whole time and it really hasn’t changed.”

On who wins New Hampshire:

“I’m going to go with Johnson. He’s on a roll. If you had asked me five races ago, I’d have said no way [would he win]. But man, him and Chad [Knaus]… it’s almost like the Boston Red Sox right now. They just know when to start going… and I think [the No. 48], how good their team is, they kind of trick everybody into – I think they try a lot of things in the middle of the season, when he’s running third and fourth in points, knowing he’s going to make it no matter what.

“And they learn some things, they don’t learn some things, and they have a bad weekend where you think ‘Man, the No. 48 team doesn’t look strong. I think they’re starting to fade.’ But all they’re doing is building this book and when it’s time to go, it’s time to go…”

“Kyle [Busch] didn’t run great at New Hampshire [in July]. He ran OK at Richmond, obviously, and got wrecked… but they’re not as good on the short tracks, and I think Jimmie and those guys and Chad – they’re badass when it comes time to go. So, they’ve switched my opinion.”

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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