Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? A Look at the 2011 NASCAR Season to Date

Greetings, NASCAR fans! Yours truly has been enjoying his indefinite sabbatical from NASCAR writing while I pursue other, uh, pursuits. But those of you who enjoy the Foto Funnies (and thank you) know that I have not been completely able to extract myself from the Frontstretch staff; it’s like getting out of one of those Record and Tape Club deals. (Yes, I’m older than you.)

But this month, ol’ Bowlesy needed my help and I was more than happy to oblige. So here’s a look at some small observations from the 2011 season to date:

Did You Notice? How many NASCAR pundits (an oxymoron along the lines of “paperless office”) declared Trevor Bayne to be the next rising star in NASCAR following his surprise Daytona win? Never mind that four of the last six 500 winners failed to even make the playoffs in the year that they won it, big names such as Jeff Gordon (2005), Ryan Newman (2008), Matt Kenseth (2009) and Jamie McMurray (2010). All of them were employed by much better-funded outfits than the Wood Brothers, who have been surviving on recycled spring rubbers and Ramen noodles for at least 10 years.

See also
Ford's New Star? Wood Brothers Savior? 20-Year-Old Trevor Bayne Fits the Bill

Look, no one is happier for Bayne and the Wood Brothers than myself. If anyone deserved a 500 win, it would be both of them. (Uh oh, did I just clap?) But more than anything, Daytona this season demonstrated once again the ridiculous folly that is plate racing, a record 74 lead changes meaningless with the complete crapshoot style that’s a byproduct of befuddling rules.

As my then-girlfriend (now wife) curiously inquired when I attempted to explain restrictor plates, “how can they race if they’re all going the same speed?” It’s a question still unanswered after over two decades of multi-car pileups and random winners. And this year was no exception: we had a 17-car wreck just 30 laps into the Great American Race that decimated the field and left the win up for grabs to the luckiest bidder.

Yet with every feel-good win for the underdog in the Daytona 500, plate racing becomes more likely to endure forever in spite of repeatedly annoying results. Kind of like the Rolling Stones, right? But trust me, one victory doesn’t push its winner any closer to parity with the competition, as we’ve seen from the No. 21 car’s so-so performances at Phoenix and then Las Vegas.

You shouldn’t completely write Bayne off; if he drives for one of the big four someday, we’ll see how much that talent can grow. But others who cover the sport should know better than to pronounce Bayne the next Jimmie Johnson based on one restrictor-plate race win.

Did You Notice? Four-time Cup champ Gordon’s genuine surprise at his ability to best zero-time Cup champ Kyle Busch in an on-track battle for a win? Remember, Wonderboy once was a mentor of sorts to the brash young lad when Kyle drove the No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports. But that was 2005, the year of Gordon’s last 500 win and the first for a Busch that’s easily outclassed his mentor in the stats column as of late. What a difference having one win in three seasons makes.

Side note: I guess I’ll need to “follow” Gordon on Twitter now – he’s officially joined – since that seems to be the big thing these days. Personally, I don’t see the point of telling the world whatever business you’re up to in 140 characters or less several hundred times a day, but if it helps Gordon appreciate his fans better as he claimed, hey, tweet away.

Did You Notice? That the Las Vegas Nationwide race established Danica Patrick as the greatest racecar driver ever, bar none?

Let’s call a spade a spade here: she was on a different pit cycle and went from 10th to fourth while other drivers pitted for fuel. And it was Vegas, a venue hardly known for testing the mettle of a racecar driver. But hey, I’ll give credit where credit is due; fourth is fourth and she did finish the race. The sexy swimsuit model’s finish was the highest ever by a female driver and more results like this one will almost certainly assure that she will be showing what she can do in a Cup car very soon, as soon as Rick Hendrick figures out a way to fire Kasey Kahne.

See also
Danica Patrick's 4th-Place Finish Best for a Woman in NASCAR History

NASCAR, of course, is ecstatic at the boost Danica will surely give to the ratings, and a female racecar driver not averse to showing off her figure while off the track might finally be something NASCAR-related that Brian France understands. (France’s marketing company “Brandsense” had Britney Spears as one of its clients. This partnership doesn’t excuse his implementation of the Chase, but I think we understand him a little better.)

Did You Notice? Speaking of those ratings, how about that average television score for NASCAR races being up for all three events this season? Could this pattern be related to the quasi-retirement of yours truly and my often critical columns, heavily influencing the entire “75 million” strong fanbase into thinking that the sport wasn’t worth watching anymore?

See also
Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: NASCAR Racing Against the Media-ocrity

Laugh all you want, but critical writers got blamed for the ratings decline by the likes of Tony Stewart, Newman and Larry McReynolds, among others. So you’re welcome, NASCAR.

Did You Notice? That Stewart still hates finishing second, even when the finish put him at the top of the points standings? I suppose it’s understandable for a driver to be annoyed finishing second in a race that he more or less dominated before a careless penalty cost him the race. But the backflip is more entertaining than climbing the fence anyway.

Did You Notice? The sudden frailty of Joe Gibbs Racing engines? We’re up to two in three races now after two in an entire 36-race season for a three-car team which typically carries some of the best horsepower to any track on the circuit. That is not something I’m used to seeing; and now that Joe no longer runs Chevrolet engines, he can’t expect any help from NASCAR, either.

Did You Notice? Bristol Motor Speedway’s refusal to drop ticket prices to reach the much desired sellout that once came so easily to this racetrack? Good for them, recognizing that tens of thousands of people have already paid full price for the tickets. You want one discounted because it’s last minute? Go to StubHub.

Finally, please remember the devastation in Japan and contribute if you can. The Red Cross always comes up big in times like this one.

Have a great rest of the week and enjoy Bristol, gang.

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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