Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Enough With the Whining & Debris Already

ONE: The Debris Cautions Have to Stop

The fastest Coca-Cola 600 in the history of the race would have and should have been even faster if it wasn’t for the figments of the imagination of Robin Pemberton and his buddies in the race control booth, throwing the yellow multiple times for debris so miniscule, the TV cameras couldn’t find it.

These were figments of imagination that either resulted in obstacles that weren’t there … or, even worse, thought that viewers and fans couldn’t put two and two together that the race was being stopped for no reason other than to bunch up the field and provide a TV timeout.

It’s hardly the first time this column has touched on this issue, even this season. But again, caution flags ended up having an impact on this event, even if the final 75 circuits under green allowed the faster No. 5 car to clear the No. 11 and score the win.

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Coca-Cola 600 Victory Eases Kasey Kahne's Pain of High Expectations

Between the Richard Petty Motorsports cars fading from their front-row starts, Kyle Busch’s long green prowess, the continual instances where pit stops were botched, the difference between a caution flag and no caution flag could be huge. The adjustments available to a crew lessen in terms of options and scope that can be accomplished. A mistake under green is 10 times more costly that one under yellow.

Stock car racing is not entertainment. Stock car racing can be entertaining. Though, to be honest, there’s nothing stock about what is now referred to as stock car racing, so maybe it is entertainment now. Either way, the racing needs to be improved or the races need to play out. This manipulation of an event from the box has to stop. There isn’t another sport anywhere in the country where this level of interventionism by officials would be tolerated.

TWO: Logano Has Reason to Worry

The tagline used by FOX to tout NASCAR’s longest race this weekend was that big names win big races, especially at Charlotte. For Joe Gibbs Racing, that translated into Denny Hamlin being the only car able to mount even some kind of challenge to Kasey Kahne late, while Kyle Busch finished third with one of the stronger long run machines in the field.

And as for Sliced Bread? That translated into a 23rd-place finish, three laps off the pace. Two JGR drivers have won races, Joey Logano hasn’t. Two JGR drivers are in the top 10 in points, Logano isn’t. Hamlin and Busch each have more top-five finishes than Logano does top 10s.

Sure, Logano is the youngest of the Gibbs drivers and has the least amount of time of the three in a Cup car. But this is year four with a championship-winning race team and a big-dollar sponsor. And to top it all off, there is talent on the market. Ryan Newman, as discussed last week, may well be losing his Army sponsorship by the time this government fiscal year is over.

Kurt Busch is available and his brother has wasted no chance to sell the merits of said older sibling both as a driver and positive influence in the garage. Even from a longshot perspective, Brian Vickers is out there after a strong showing earlier this year in MWR’s No. 55 car and he’s driven Toyotas for a while.

The big stage was out there for the taking this Sunday, JGR had the track pegged … and the young one came up short. Again. Can’t help but wonder when that’s going to start adding up.

THREE: The Top 35 Goes Stagnant Again

Dave Blaney’s last month has been a considerable departure from his season-opening effort at Daytona. Instead of nearly winning the 500, Blaney has suffered five DNFs in his last seven race starts, including a 40th-place effort at Charlotte Sunday that saw the No. 36 car last only 54 laps before blowing a motor.

Yet, despite tumbling to 35th in the owner points and being on a cold stretch rife with mechanical failures and a start-and-park effort at Kansas, Blaney and Co. are in absolutely no danger of falling out of the Cup field.

Sitting 36th is the part-time Wood Brothers Racing team. Thirty-seventh is Stephen Leicht and the No. 33, the closest thing to Max Q Motorsports racing in Cup these days (complete with Little Joe’s Autos being on the cars). Thirty-eighth is David Stremme’s Inception Motorsports squad, which DNF’d five consecutive events after failing to qualify at Texas.

The point? There’s a significant lack of depth in the Sprint Cup field in 2012, significant enough that no one is challenging for that final locked-in position. There’s multiple issues that come into play from this standpoint.

For one, it begs the question how does one sell the sport to new ownership if there’s not even a line to get in amongst the current players? The larger issue, though, is with 35 cars now completely set in the field, there’s less incentive at the back to push the issue.

Sure, every driver and team wants to run well, run better, race hard. But here’s the sobering reality: if money’s tight, and there’s no challenger, the time for changing over from innovation to survival arrives. That means start-and-parking when its convenient and preserving equipment at all costs … anyone remember Front Row Motorsports and their team orders work a few seasons back to keep all three cars in Top-35 contention?

That’s good business, not good racing. And there’s a reason NASCAR isn’t broadcast on CNBC.

FOUR: Entitlement Runs Wild on the Racetrack

As anyone that read Tom Bowles’s work from Saturday’s Nationwide Series race or Sunday’s Pace Laps column knows, both Richard Childress and Austin Dillon had some harsh words for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and his aggression behind the wheel despite being more than 20 laps off the pace.

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s Hard Racing Strikes a Nerve at Charlotte

Then, there’s an interesting piece done by Sporting News on Newman, who despite having been a Cup regular for a decade is now attempting to learn “give and take” after discussion and run-ins with numerous competitors. Competitors that largely have taken objection with how hard the Rocket is to pass on the track.

And to think so many in today’s NASCAR wonder why so many fans just don’t care anymore? From the stars of the Cup Series to the few future stars being groomed at the Nationwide level, the mentality seems to be … yield. Give way. Make room. Save the racing for the run to the checkers.

There’s no argument to be made that Newman and Stenhouse are the minority in today’s garage in going out of their way to race hard and play obstructionist on the track. And rather than tackling this from a right/wrong issue or a “it has always been this way” perspective, let’s try another one.

Who the hell wants to spend hundreds of dollars and hours of time watching give and take, building up to an unpredictable 15 minutes? There are advantages to racing like Mark Martin (preserving equipment, having favors returned on track) and there’s disadvantages (the chrome horn is not available to win races). Drivers need to do some risk/reward analysis instead of crying to owner, spotter, officials and mommy when they have a hard time on track, and do something themselves.

For all NASCAR does wrong, listening to millionaire racecar drivers whine makes my blood boil.

FIVE: Sato Reminds Race Fans Everywhere Just How Hard It Is

For the second season in a row, a lesser-known IndyCar driver had the Indianapolis 500 in the bag and blew it on the final lap only to hand the race win to a veteran and former 500 winner. Takuma Sato had perfectly split the Ganassi teammates of Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon only seconds prior and coming down the frontstretch to the white flag was right on the bumper of Franchitti.

One turn and an ill-advised divebomb later, Sato was wrecked along the turn 1 wall, handing Franchitti his third 500 trophy.

For every Trevor Bayne at Daytona moment, there’s five Sato crashes at Indianapolis moments. Which, interestingly enough, goes back to the first point here that racing is more entertaining than entertainment, at least at its purest form. Those last second moments, those upset wins, are special because they are unpredictable and a departure from the norm.

Funny how that’s the lesson that apparently needs to be re-learned at NASCAR following the world’s biggest day in motorsports. It could have been worse, though … imagine deciding the 600 with a debris yellow.

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