Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Too Many Cautions & Talk, Talk, Talk

ONE: No Excuse for Multiple Competition Cautions

Competition yellows are enough of an annoyance seeing as how they seem to pop up every time Goodyear brings a new tire, or it rains, or a track is repaved, or there’s the slightest chance that tire wear could play a role in a race. But having two in the same race weekend, that’s just absurd. And that’s exactly what happened on Sunday (June 17), with NASCAR throwing one at lap 26 despite having two cautions already slow the field prior to that, and then throwing another one 25 laps later.

Yes, rains early Sunday afternoon washed the track clean. Yes, the lap 51 yellow occurred after 25 laps of green-flag racing, at the time the longest stretch of the afternoon. That still doesn’t justify halting competition twice, all but reducing the first 100 miles of the afternoon to meaningless test heats that left fan and competitor alike knowing full well how the race was going to flow, what strategy to play.

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Sooner or later, shortcomings with regard to tires need to be resolved ahead of a race weekend. There’s no reason that a rain shower or a speed difference that everyone and their mother knew was coming should throw that much of a wrench in the works. Sooner or later, teams have got to be left to their own devices to figure out the limits of their equipment, be it to conserve or to push the envelope until something breaks.

Handholding teams, competitive events (and perhaps most notably, an exclusive tire provider and sponsor) is doing no favors to the on-track product short of rendering sections of it testing.

Funny how that works out, ban testing and then use race weekends to handle it. Fans paying to see testing, there’s a laugh.

TWO: Gibbs’s Endorsement of Logano Means Little

Despite following up his Nationwide Series win with an ugly wreck in a racing incident Sunday at Michigan, Joey Logano received a verbal endorsement from longtime team owner Joe Gibbs, who told ESPN after the race, “We’ve got a lot invested. He’s our guy and we plan on going forward.” The comments all but solidified the rampant speculation swirling through the garage that Logano’s tenure in the Home Depot ride is on shaky ground.

But more importantly, the comments, as positive as they may seem, mean utterly nothing. Joe Gibbs, JD, hell every single employee at Joe Gibbs Racing could want Logano in the No. 20 car, but it’s ultimately not their call.

It’s that of sponsor Home Depot, who have endured the past four years going from a now three-time Cup champion to a near-teenager who for all his accomplishments has come nowhere close to living up to expectations … and to battling with corporate nemesis Lowe’s and their thoroughbred in Jimmie Johnson.

All the Nationwide Series wins in the Dollar General/Gamestop Toyota may keep stuffing the trophy case in Huntersville for the JGR outfit, but until they translate into Cup contention, a Chase berth and a legitimate run in the postseason, the fact remains that Home Depot and the No. 20 are an also-ran on the big stage. And there’s no way getting whooped the way Home Depot has by the Lowe’s ride the past few seasons wouldn’t take a toll on any sponsor.

When the CEO of Home Depot makes the same comments Joe Gibbs did at Michigan yesterday, take stock, Logano is safe. Until then, this remains a performance question. And his fault or not, all the momentum of Pocono hit a concrete wall yesterday.

THREE: Eury’s Danica Comments Well Off-Base

After a top-five qualifying effort evaporated in a series of multiple spins over the course of Saturday’s 250-mile race, Danica Patrick’s crew chief took exception not to his driver’s performance, but that of her competitors, stating “We all have egos. We don’t want the girl to outrun us.”

It was bad enough reading more of Eury’s comments, specifically remarks where he took Austin Dillon to task for having the nerve to take the air off his competitor’s spoiler to make passes (the horror! Using the only trick in the book available to pass on an intermediate oval!) But Eury’s old-fashioned remarks that Danica’s fighting an uphill battle and being raced differently because she’s a woman is both the easy way out and frankly ignorant.

Male or female, Patrick got her shot in a Nationwide car far more for off-track endorsements than for her non-remarkable resume in IndyCar competition. Male or female, Danica has gotten more media attention and support from the sport’s star structure simply for showing up than for anything accomplished on the track in a stock car. Male or female, Danica is in a powerhouse car and is thus a big gun.

In a series full of drivers out trying to make a name for themselves, it’s hardly surprising that fellow competitors are trying harder to pass the big guns …especially when they’re racing for 15th instead of first.

Painting a picture of the boys club picking on the girls may make for great copy and may be an easy excuse for a crew chief that has to be frustrated, knowing full well that he’s not going to race for wins short of the plate tracks in 2012 despite having great equipment. But they’re hardly informed comments.

FOUR: Notice How Little Airtime the Latest Kurt Busch Blow-Up Got?

ESPN’s Marty Smith was a busy boy on the Kurt Busch beat this weekend, not only interviewing the entire Phoenix Racing team to discover why they voted to keep their volatile driver in the No. 51 car, but also to catch the latest tirade of the elder Busch versus the media.

Following an apparent incorrect report by MRN that Busch had left an interview slot early after finishing top five in the Nationwide Series race Saturday, Busch exchanged terse words with Smith and a number of other reporters.

One would think that given the episode that Busch’s exchange with Bob Pockrass at Dover became, this would have been the story of the weekend. Instead, Busch was pretty much left to his own as he limped with a wrecked racecar through Sunday’s 400-miler.

Goes to show the power of Youtube. Without a vitriolic video tape that captured the tense words in the flesh, one is left to comprehend, there’s suddenly not as much to latch onto or make comments about. No video, no transcript, no outrage.

But more importantly, it goes to show that maybe, just maybe, there was a case of buyer’s remorse after seeing the impact of the fiasco that emerged from those that called for Busch’s head after Dover. For all those that fully supported Bob Pockrass for asking a legitimate question in a post-race interview, there were equally as many that still didn’t think Busch’s actions merited a suspension from competition.

Seeing just how willing the sanctioning body is to overreact, anyone stop to think that maybe, just maybe, this outburst got ignored because nobody wanted to see another suspension for no good reason?

Smith’s interviews over the weekend revealed that the No. 51 team respects Kurt Busch for his talent and no-nonsense attitude towards racing. Is it that much of a stretch to think that such a persona resonates with race fans as well, love Busch or hate him?

FIVE: Why Michigan Wasn’t Jr.’s Most Important Week

The hoopla surrounding Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s first win in four years was massive, making headlines in places NASCAR is seldom seen outside of the Daytona 500. And it was obviously a massive step in legitimizing the consistency that the No. 88 team has shown so far in 2012 as being something capable of contending come Chase time.

But for all the hype that goes with ending a 143-race losing streak, the reality is that Jr. has a longer trend to buck … that of how he follows a midseason first win.

Rewind back to 2008, where Jr. scored his first win for Hendrick Motorsports in a fuel-mileage affair at the same Michigan oval. His fourth top five in five races at the time, Jr. followed that Michigan win with only one top 10 in the next eight races. It wasn’t until Richmond that he found the top five again.

His only win at Chicago in 2005 did nothing to stymie what was then the worst season of his career, a tremendous drop-off from his 2004 campaign that produced six wins, including a Daytona 500 trophy. 2003, it was it was 20-plus races before he won again after scoring the spring Talladega victory. One thing in common between those three seasons? Jr. wasn’t contending for anything by the end of them.

Breaking the streak was one thing. But if more wins don’t follow, it may not mean much.

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