Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Departures, the Rocket Goes Leffler & Dillon’s Tarnished Crown

ONE: Who Can Blame Steve Addington for (Possibly) Leaving?

Though it was dismissed as “pure rumors and speculation” by Steve Addington, the current crew chief for Kurt Busch and the No. 22 Penske Racing team, sources in the garage area at Charlotte tell Frontstretch otherwise … that these rumors indeed do have some weight to them.

One can’t blame Addington for aiming to play down any talk surrounding upcoming shuffles in team personnel; Busch may be 27 points out in the seventh position, but with Talladega still on the docket and Busch having proved strength on 1.5-mile ovals as well as Phoenix and the plate tracks, he’s by no means out of the running. The last thing the No. 22 team needs right now is to be in the spotlight of Silly Season, with media ready to pounce on the story of how another Busch brother ran a race-winning crew chief away.

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Holding a Pretty Wheel: Is Rumor Mill Grinding the No. 22 to a Halt in the Chase?

After all, it wasn’t but a few seasons ago that Addington got shown the door as Kyle Busch‘s crew chief despite having won over 10 races the last two seasons on the job and the driver openly admitting that his overwhelming focus on the 2009 Nationwide Series title distracted from his Cup effort. While Busch and Dave Rogers have done well to keep the No. 18 car at the front of the Cup field, it’s not like Rowdy has found another gear courtesy of the crew chief change. Put simply, Addington got the short end of the stick losing his job at JGR.

Considering that in the past four years Addington’s leadership atop the box has produced 16 wins and three Chase berths for the Busch brothers, there’s really not a lot left for the guy to prove. He’s going to get another job should he choose to leave the No. 22 team, and who can blame him for considering that decision?

Sure, Penske Racing has had ups and downs, but face it, they’re a two-car operation and the sole Dodge team in the garage. They’re not going to be Hendrick Motorsports no matter how good the crew chief is. And no crew chief and team for that matter deserves the type of

The fact is, Cup racing’s most abrasive family is about to run off a major leadership asset … again. Fact is, Kyle Busch hasn’t found the promised land since promoting Dave Rogers. Kurt’s not going to benefit from being so insufferable through all of 2011 either.

TWO: Danica and Ryan Newman?

Let’s get one thing straight here. Danica Patrick‘s Cup ride in 2011 is going to be a full-time car. There is absolutely no way that Stewart-Haas Racing or her myriad of sponsors are going to risk the story that would be racing’s princess failing to qualify for a NASCAR race.

Problem is, this isn’t the Nationwide Series anymore. Finding enough money to field a driver for 29 races competitively to keep the car in the Top 35 is a whole different chunk of change from patching together sponsorship at JR Motorsports last season to buy a few sets of tires for Scott Wimmer every couple of weeks.

Even including the money that GoDaddy has spent on Mark Martin in 2011, all of that plus the NNS funding they spend isn’t enough to suddenly fund 35 Nationwide races and 36 Cup races. Further, in the case of SHR, Ryan Newman is a Chase contender and still not fully sponsored driving for the organization. In short, backing isn’t copious.

So what’s the solution? It’s obvious. Newman’s going to have to get his Jason Leffler on. Put Danica in the No. 39 car for seven races and have one of the sport’s best qualifiers run a third car to keep himself in the points. Like it or not, Danica means more for the bottom line than Newman’s 15-race deal with the Army does, and while running a third car would do no favors for the Rocketman’s Chase hopes, Stewart-Haas is still part of the Hendrick satellite.

And no matter how independent both SHR and JRM want to say they are from the big Rick, they’re not independent. Danica is coming and she takes precedence.

THREE: Ty Dillon’s Tarnished ARCA Title

Ty Dillon ran very much like he did all season long in Sunday’s ARCA finale at Toledo, leading laps and a fixture in the top five all day long en route to a second-place finish that capped a dominant season. Seven poles, seven wins and 16 top 10s in 19 races … no one in the ARCA field came close to toppling the No. 41 RCR entry in 2011.

But that celebration wasn’t without controversy. Dillon was no stranger to controversy at Toledo prior to Sunday’s race (Oct. 16); he won the spring event at the track after spinning out nine-time champion Frank Kimmel for the lead inside of 15 laps to go. This time, it wasn’t racing for the lead, but Dillon found himself on the receiving end of a perfectly executed bump-and-run for second place by Brennan Poole in the closing laps.

And demonstrating absolutely no composure or discretion, Dillon retaliated not with a bump-and-run, but running absolutely roughshod over Poole’s No. 25 with less than five to go. There was no doubting intent … Dillon didn’t appear to touch the brakes entering turn 1 before making contact.

As a result, no sooner was the smoke clearing from his celebratory burnout at being crowned the 2011 ARCA champion than did the Venturini Motorsports crew that saw Poole’s car destroyed emerge on the frontstretch, and it wasn’t out of congratulations. Dillon and Poole’s crew clashed, with ARCA’s officials channel blaring for calls for track security to make their way onto the racing surface to break up the scuffle.

In the end, Ty had an incredible season and is showing every bit the promise and talent that his older brother Austin has in gunning for this year’s Truck Series crown. But episodes like these demonstrate just how valuable the slow and measured approach Richard Childress has taken in developing his grandsons as drivers will prove to be.

Truth be told, in terms of on-track performance, Ty was ready to move to the Trucks well before winning the ARCA crown this weekend. That being said, driver maturity takes time to develop and no matter how talented the younger Dillon is, episodes like this weekend’s demonstrate that part of his development still has a ways to go.

ARCA’s officials were stern over the radio in telling Dillon as he lined up for the race’s final restart after wrecking Poole that “if he spun [Chris] Buescher (who was the new leader after the wreck), he would not receive the checkered flag.” This time next season, experiences like those may well prove to be invaluable, even if Ty spent much of the last few months driving an RCR entry all over the ARCA field.

FOUR: Let’s Be Clear: The No. 48 Team Wasn’t Beaten

I’m going to come out and say it, the No. 48 team’s hope for six titles in a row are done. And it’s a shame.

Why? Because the longest streak of titles in Cup racing history is going to be broken not because the mighty hegemon has been toppled, but because the No. 48 team stumbled. The team ran out of fuel at Chicago and saw a top-three car turn into a 10th-place car. Johnson lost a ton of track position at Loudon because he forced the issue trying to pass Kyle Busch and got himself out of shape.

And the wreck at Charlotte? Chad Knaus’s four-tire strategy was the wrong call and Johnson couldn’t save his car.

This all comes down to the No. 48 team on their own accord. Knaus and Johnson were on the same page for five straight Chases. They fell off of it for this one. That’s going to cost them a title.

But any driver that hoists the trophy at Homestead damn well better not claim to have toppled the No. 48 team. It’d be a false claim.

FIVE: No One is to Blame for Dan Wheldon’s Death

It’s scarcely been 24 hours since Dan Wheldon‘s untimely passing in Las Vegas and already there’s plenty of sports writers out there raising issue with all the ways this horrific incident could have been avoided. Perhaps none of those articles that I’ve seen have been more noteworthy than Greg Couch’s “Did Wheldon have to die?”

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Holding a Pretty Wheel: An Open Letter to Race Fans - Did You Cheer Knowing a Driver Could Die?

The article spares no punches in placing blame; the drivers were concerned that the speeds were too high; the $5 million prize demonstrated how IndyCar was turning a dangerous sport into a carnival; that NASCAR drivers all ran away from the race because they knew it was a deathtrap.

Newsflash: racing is dangerous. And IndyCar racing especially so. Running the equivalent of go-karts at speeds of 230 mph can not be made safe, be the banking five degrees or 25. Wrecks are going to happen. Injuries are going to happen. And sadly, tragedy is at some point going to strike.

Motorsports isn’t easy. It’s time-consuming. It’s financially consuming. It’s emotional. And life and death hang in the balance whenever cars take to the track. It’s arguably the most taxing form of sport found anywhere. The rewards are great, and so are the risks.

Dan Wheldon knew the risks when he got behind the wheel this Sunday and he paid a price no driver should have to. But the fact remains that he was a racecar driver. He was a fierce competitor, one respected throughout the open-wheel community for his prowess on the track and his conduct off of it.

One thing about racecar drivers though … they choose to do this. It’s that choice, to take the risk and pursue a form of success, of glory, that few on this planet will ever get to enjoy that make them as celebrated and cherished figures as they are to the legions of racing fans found throughout the world.

It’s that choice that ended Dan Wheldon’s life … and that has so many of us that call ourselves race fans shedding a tear and giving pause to reflect on a storied career and a good man.

Sitting here trying to make this a story of promotion gone wrong, of what it all means is both untimely and uncalled for. This isn’t NASCAR 2001, where safety innovations left and right are available and not being used. And even if they were, the fact remains that no one forced any of the 34 drivers that started Sunday’s race to be out there. What happened to Wheldon at Vegas could have just as easily happened at Kansas. Or Texas, a track that’s arguably more dangerous than Vegas for both stock and open-wheel cars alike.

What happened on Sunday was an inevitable consequence of racing. It was a tragedy. But nobody did anything wrong here. Dan Wheldon went out, as his family noted, doing what he loved.

That’s story enough.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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