Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Earnhardt’s Adversity, Cookie-Cutter Construction & Decal Dealin’

How I long for the days when the economy was booming, the money was flowing and Athlon Sports was sending me to Vegas for the race every year.

On a brighter note, a big “thank you” to all you readers. The questions have been diverse this year, and outside the normal topics we read about ad nauseum every day. You’re all doing a solid job of taking ownership of this column.

Q: First, I am a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, but enough is enough. I think it’s time to go and be a car owner and hire Kasey Kahne to drive the No. 88 while he’s available. “It’s loose, it’s loose,” that’s all we hear. I, for one, am tired of the whining. Thanks, just had to vent. — Ed

A: Well Ed, I’m glad you used the forum here. Unfortunately, Junior doesn’t own the No. 88 — that’d be Rick Hendrick’s car to do with as he pleases. But to your point, I think everyone was deflated at Earnhardt’s performance (or lack thereof) in Fontana.

That little Daytona dash of his got a lot of hopes up. It also lured more eyes his way — even more than usual. Junior and non-Junior fans alike had one eye on the ticker last weekend to see if things were going to be different this year. After all, we heard the optimism out of the boy during the offseason, we heard the reports from the Media Tour that the Nos. 5 and 88 teams would act as one, we heard Junior himself say three wins and a Chase berth were realistic goals.

And Daytona was reason for hope. Restrictor-plate hope, but hope nonetheless.

Then came Fontana and the carbon copy of a 2009 performance. The car just never got any better. It wasn’t near competitive.

I don’t know what to tell you except to keep hoping, Ed. My favorite driver retired a few years back and he was like most in the twilight of their careers: basically a non-factor by the time he stepped away, his glory years come and gone. Watching him slump was enough to make me not want to watch. Honestly, there were times I’d get home from church and dreaded watching the ticker at the top of the screen, patiently waiting to see him mired somewhere in the 20s or 30s.

I mention this — yes, I’m about to land this plane — because Junior is still in his prime — my guy wasn’t. He’s still in the best equipment out there — my guy wasn’t. And most importantly, it’s only been two weeks. Let me stress that last point: It’s only been two weeks. Yes, that run on the intermediate track in Cali was, well, 2009-ish, but I’ve got this sneaking suspicion that those shiny new spoilers waiting in a certain R&D shop in Concord are going to make a difference.

Q: I meant to ask this after Daytona, but why weren’t any of the new tracks that got built, like Kansas, Las Vegas, California and Chicago made into 2.5-mile tracks like Daytona and Talladega? People say build more short tracks, but I’ll take another superspeedway. If nothing else, it’s a change of pace. — Corby773

A: Two reasons jump to the top of the list, with a third more speculative: First, back in the mid-‘90s when ISC and SMI were in expansion mode, they wanted to build venues that could host open-wheel and stock-car events. Since a track the size of what the Cup and IndyCar circuits compete on can only be used for select events, the track owners wanted to maximize each track’s usefulness. 1.5 miles was a perfect medium.

Second, I don’t believe either track-building company was interested in opening up another speedway where restrictor plates would be mandated. I’m not exactly sure Bruton Smith would have been opposed to it, but something tells me that NASCAR would’ve quickly told him to invest in a new pair of designer shades instead.

Lastly, I think ISC and SMI bought into the fact that the 1.5-mile speedway was the “model” template — it was the perfect size to accommodate a Shinola-ton of fans and the speeds and the feel was big. These were palaces of speed they were constructing, after all.

What I don’t think they foresaw (and how could they?) was how big a factor aerodynamics would come into play as the years went on. I’m not going to re-hash the aero issues at these tracks, only to say that “downforce” was a term very few of us had heard of, much less understood, in 1990.

*I’ve noticed this year that there are fewer contingency stickers on the fenders of a lot of the cars. I first noticed it on the Hendrick cars, then I really started looking at others. The only cars I’ve seen quite a few on were the Roush cars.*

Q: My question is, are these all NASCAR sponsor deals, or is it something each team pursues themselves? — Denis Sand, World Renowned Quotalogist

Well Denis, less sponsorship equates to fewer decals in general. That’s true across the board. But to get more specific with the contingency decals, NASCAR has certain series partners like Sunoco, which is an exclusive supplier, that sponsors the Sunoco Diamond Performance Award. Goodyear is another. It presents the Goodyear Gatorback Belts Fastest Lap Award after each event. Every team dons these decals because there are no competitors; there is no Hoosier Tire or Unocal 76 that the teams have a choice to partner with. So those are standard.

Other decals are contingency programs that not all teams participate in. Think Mobil 1 and its Command Performance of the Race. Only teams that are partnered with Mobil 1 are eligible – that’s why Kurt Busch puts on a Command Performance a lot even if Jimmie Johnson (a Quaker State boy) dominates.

Lastly, there are team-specific decals that look like contingency decals, but are not. These typically are posted on the B-post or near the back wheel well. Think Snap-On Tools, Coca-Cola and Adidas.

If you didn’t see your question this week, it’s because I have a few in R&D mode. I’ll get ’em next week. Until then, enjoy Vegas.

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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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