Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Confusing Contingency Awards, NASCAR’s Aero Dependence Gone Awry & Rain-Outs

Once again, some random, midweek thoughts whilst sitting on the front porch swing and enjoying the blooming Bradford Pears on a rare 70-degree afternoon in March here in Nashville:

  • Atlanta attendance listed at 94,400? Try 9,440.
  • I don’t care what you may think of the FOX broadcast crew’s coverage, the cutaway car is very well (if not under) utilized.
  • Sorry, I meant the FORD cutaway car.
  • Like many, I have my doubts as to whether Sam Hornish Jr. has a viable future in the sport; however, it was fun watching him drive what looked like a winged sprint on Thursday Night Thunder around the joint for laps at a time. That is, of course, until he took out Bill Elliott when the inevitable happened.
  • I guess Mike Joy had it right when he referred to Hornish as “Sideways Sam.”
  • Speaking of Bill, the No. 21 has the classiest paint scheme on the circuit. No contest, so don’t bother arguing.
  • The Kobalt Tools 500 presented by Verizon, the AT&T Race Break, Race Highlights on V-Cast, AT&T Fastest Pit Crew of the Year Award, Verizon Speed Shot…. It’s ironic and sad how NASCAR is more than happy to accept Verizon’s and AT&T’s money via commercial advertisements and race features, but I’ll be damned if a team in need of funding can have a nickel. Exclusivity agreement my eye.
  • Who amongst us believes, as I do, that George should’ve put AJ Allmendinger in the 43, not Reed Sorenson?
  • When the commentators tell us there is three-wide racing all over the track and the producer shows us a roof cam shot from the leader, I tend to yell at the TV.
  • And finally, I guess if what Alan Kulwicki did was a Polish Victory lap, then what Kurt Busch did was a Polish Victory Lap, Polish-style.

Sorry ’bout that last one. You know the drill – give me a shout this week with questions, comments, opinions or random off-week chatter. Come to think of it, an early off week sounds like a perfect excuse to go chase some pre-spawn bass up at the lake.

Q: Hey Matt. My friend and I were talking after the race and I noticed on the internet that Ryan Newman was awarded the WIX Filters Lap Leader of the Race [at Atlanta]. We talked about it, and I did some looking and couldn’t figure out why. We were both always of the understanding that the driver that leads the most laps should win it. What’s the story? – Bethany

A: From a WIX Filters press release dated Feb. 19, 2009: “…to be eligible for this contingency program, race teams must run the WIX Filters contingency decals on their front fenders and use WIX oil and air filters on their racecars during the season.”

Seems that of the eight drivers to lead a lap last Sunday, Newman (who only led three) won the award solely on the basis of running the sponsorship decal. Hey, look on the bright side: had Newman not led those three, the award would’ve gone to Joe Nemechek for leading one circuit during a lap 13 caution period. Well earned, huh?

Unfortunately for Busch, who led 234 of the event’s 330 laps, K&N does not sponsor a contingency award. Mobil 1 does, though. The Mobil 1 Command Performance Award goes to the winner of each race or the next highest finishing eligible competitor. That was Kurt on Sunday.

Q: I’m late on this, but wanted to know how many times the Daytona 500 has ended early because of rain? Thanks. – Corby Patterson

A: Four times, Corby. Fred Lorenzen won in 1965 when the race was called after 133 laps; Richard Petty did it the next year after running 198 laps; Michael Waltrip was the beneficiary of rain in 2003 on lap 109; and of course, Matt Kenseth was your all-wet winner four weeks ago.

Q: Matt, how valid is the claim that the CoT cannot pass because it has aero push? I ask because I’ve seen the claim from fans critical of the CoT, but it doesn’t jive with what I have read and heard from drivers.

Thus far into 2009, I’ve seen many cars pass, both in the pack and for the lead. In fact, the only case where I can imagine the claim applying would be at Fontana toward the end when Jeff Gordon tried to hunt down Kenseth and take the lead. But, I’ll argue that considering Gordon was smoking the tires greatly, both when he was hundreds of yards behind Kenseth and as he got within 50 feet of him. It really looked like a case of using up the tires (overheating them) as opposed to aero push. – Andrew

A: I agree with you on the point that Gordon burned up his tires trying to run down Kenseth at Fontana. That said, it’s tough to predict how much trouble he’d have had getting around had he gotten to him. Could’ve been a handful or he might’ve just drove on past. Who knows.

I do know for a fact that aero push is a huge problem with this somewhat new car, though. And it’s not just the fans that are critical. Just this past week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. called it “one helluva an excuse for a racecar.” When Junior calls out the car so blatantly when NASCAR has instructed the drivers to ease up on the bashing, you know it’s getting frustrating inside the garage.

Of course, Junior isn’t the only one. After last fall’s Texas race, Jimmie Johnson addressed your question to a tee:

“I was really shocked at how bad the cars drove in traffic. It was really unfortunate… you would catch people, and the guy in front of you would run your pace.”

“I really think we need to look at some changes to help these cars not be so aero dependent. They are safer, they are doing a lot of things the right way, but we really need to look at making some changes so these cars can have a little more downforce.”

And before anyone has a chance to fire off that this statement is dated and therefore inconsequential, be reminded that NASCAR was adamant that no changes would be made to the car during the offseason.

Naturally, there will be exceptions to the rule. The plate tracks are an exception to every rule, and the shorts and roadies aren’t affected by aero push and the like. But those big intermediates, where dirty air just clogs everyone up – that’s where we see the aero phenomenon. And it isn’t unique to this car. The last generation of bodies the teams used before the full-time switcheroo to the CoT were aero dependent as well, and that’s why NASCAR was constantly fiddling with the height of the spoilers.

So yeah, Andrew, it remains an issue, but one that most drivers are fearful of being forthright about. Trips to the NASCAR hauler ain’t fun, after all.

Before I go, here’s a tip for those frustrated with the broadcasts: If you have a satellite cable provider like DISH Network or DirectTV, do like I do and simply skip the pre-race show and start watching the DVD’d telecast 45 minutes into the race so you can fast forward through the commercials. Your life will be free from cartoon gophers, insurance cougars and, by and large, Chris “Guy Smiley” Myers.

Trust me, you will feel so much more at peace with the world and all around you by resisting the urge to watch bad television.

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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