ONE: 2012: A Snoozer of a Year
Let’s be fair, now. The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has been kinda dull so far – with the operative word there being “kinda.” Totally, completely or utterly work well as replacements, too. When the biggest storyline after seven races is an exploding jet dryer hit by the hapless Juan Pablo Montoya (under caution, no less) it’s a sad indictment as to the general lack of on-track action.
With TV numbers slipping, albeit only slightly, and a dearth of caution flags, a number of the races this year have been, to put it kindly, only for the true enthusiasts. Now I’m not advocating wreck-fests, but it’s certainly accurate to say we’ve not exactly been blown away by the racing thus far in 2012 – no Texas wind pun intended.
Some of this boredom might come down to the fact that the denouement of 2011 was a title tilt for the ages, but we’ve also run enough races this season to put last year firmly in the rearview mirror. We haven’t even had a good example of “Boys, Have It” either, except when everyone picked on David Reutimann at Martinsville.
Trouble with that incident is, it just felt like the big boys bullying the little kid. So here’s hoping, as we enter a stretch of tracks that tend to produce fantastic competition, we start to see some races we can all get behind. If not, those TV numbers will keep trending southwards. – Danny Peters
TWO: Will Win Number 200 for Hendrick Happen this Weekend?
It was, all told, a pretty good week for the denizens of NASCAR’s biggest and most powerful team: Hendrick Motorsports, with all four drivers securing top-10 finishes. Sure, Jimmie Johnson didn’t manage to turn his dominance into a first victory of the season. But he led a race-best 156 laps and a solid, second-place effort on a cookie-cutter Chase track is not to be sniffed at.
Perhaps more importantly, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne both had good runs, with the four-time champion picking up his first top-five finish of the season (fourth) and the HMS newcomer, Kahne, picking up his first top 10 of the year with a seventh. Dale Earnhardt Jr. wound up in 10th place, cementing his fifth top-10 run in seven races and continued a fine start to the season that’s left him near the top of the standings.
But of course, the big issue hanging over the quartet of HMS wheelmen is the small matter of securing win number 200 for the company. Stuck at 199 since Kansas last fall, the “slump” continues despite leading more laps in 2012 – 773 – than any other organization.
Said Johnson post-race, “To be honest, [the 200th] hasn’t played much on my mind [until the race is over] because I just want to win and I know winning is what my job is about. I seem to think about the 200th after the fact. Winning is what Hendrick Motorsports is about and if we win we’ll take care of the 200th.”
It shouldn’t take much longer. With the Cup Series headed to Kansas this weekend – the site of old Five-Time’s last triumph – chances are we might finally see that all important double century of victories for the most successful owner in the sport. – Danny Peters
THREE: Kansas Hardly An Ideal Destination:
Don’t get me wrong here; I’ve got nothing against Kansas at all. It’s just that the last thing we need is another cookie-cutter competition with limited passing and lots of discussion about aero push. In fact, given the point above about this year being a snoozer, I’m almost tempted to skip the race altogether. I won’t, of course, but I suspect you can understand why I’m saying that and it’s not just because of the unseasonably warm weather up here in New York, either.
Yes, we’ve seen some OK races before at Kansas (and one of the greatest failed passing attempts – Carl Edwards‘s self-proclaimed banzai move on Johnson in the final laps of the 2008 Chase race) – but I doubt anyone is expecting a phenomenal, thrill-a-minute style competition. The stats don’t lie, with last year’s race decided on fuel mileage (Brad Keselowski) before Johnson turned the fall event into a snoozer, leading 197 of 272 circuits.
From a purely racing perspective, a second race at Kansas was a horrible decision. From a business sense, I get it, especially with the new casino opened up but the simple fact is NASCAR is doing a good job of driving people away with races that aren’t fun to watch. I’m not holding my breath that this weekend will be any better, but forever hopeful that Kansas will prove me wrong. – Danny Peters
FOUR: Rumored Partnership Between RAB Racing, Pastrana a Win … for Kenny Wallace?
Travis Pastrana needs a ride to make his Nationwide Series debut in … and more importantly, needs one that would keep him from being forced to qualify on time. Meanwhile, the financial woes of RAB Racing and their No. 09 car are well-known and have already forced Kenny Wallace from the seat.
This one is a real win/win. The No. 09 car is a rock-solid entry that needs money and exposure. Pastrana brings both. But this deal means more than RAB getting some paint on their Toyota and Pastrana getting locked into the field. Pastrana is still very green in racing cars of any kind with four wheels and as such won’t be running more than a handful of Nationwide races this year.
Which begs the question, who can be counted on to keep the No. 09 on track and running well enough for the former X-Gamer to have equipment he can focus on learning in?
Enter one Kenny Wallace.
Wallace has done great things for the RAB Racing team and between relying first on John Wes Townley in the Truck ranks to bring in cash … and now it seems with Pastrana, there’s going to need to be some veteran presence in the garage area for these funded development projects to bounce ideas off of, keep the No. 09 NNS car locked into the field, to play the role Mark Martin undertook for DEI a few years back in the US Army car.
At the same time, if MWR is really serious about bringing Pastrana up to speed, they’re going to need a warm seat and a well-running car on standby. Fielding a part-time No. 99, after the team’s long hiatus from Nationwide Series racing, just isn’t going to accomplish either no matter how well the organization is running in Cup.
Don’t overthink this one, it makes too much sense not to happen. And talk about a personality combo to boot. – Bryan Davis Keith
FIVE: Don’t Rush The Rock Into a Nationwide Race
One of the first questions posed to Andy Hillenburg following Sunday’s Truck race at the Rock was whether there was any truth to the rumor that Rockingham would be hosting a Nationwide Series event in 2013. And as much as I made it clear in yesterday’s Pace Laps column that I was a huge fan of Truck racing returning to the North Carolina track, let me also be the first to say I do not want to see a Nationwide event on the calendar there for next season.
Assuming the economy is having an impact on attendance, going from one race to two immediately takes a fanbase that is, hardcore or not, being recultivated is not always a good thing. Just ask Fontana. Furthermore, the standalone Truck race was something that drivers themselves noted as being cool because, as Timothy Peters put it, it was Cup status for a day. There is something to be said about having a single marquee event to market, get right and learn from.
Because despite all the wonderful things that happened, there were definitely lessons to be learned. Criticisms were minor, from parking to concessions but another year gives Rockingham the chance to be that much more ready for the step up. – Bryan Davis Keith
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