Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Newsworthy or Not? Road-Racing Ringers & Winners

ONE: Don’t Add a Road Race to the Truck Series

Both road courses run over the course of this weekend added some much needed flavor to the Nationwide and Cup series. A standalone trip to Road America broke the streak of Joey Logano dominance, while of all places the road course at Sonoma provided perhaps the best officiated race of the 2012 season, with only two yellow flags flying over the course of 350-plus kilometers (and only one of them was unjustified).

Nelson Piquet Jr. scored a career-first win while the points race in the Nationwide ranks tightened, while Clint Bowyer scored his first W in Michael Waltrip Racing colors and Kurt Busch turned heads with his strongest performance to date in the Phoenix Racing No. 51.

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Bowles-Eye View: Clint Bowyer’s Victory Justifies MWR Offseason Maneuvers

The action was well worth watching without devolving into the absolute wreckfests that have been seen the past few seasons. Frankly, after 15 oval races it was about time to try something else, seeing as additional short tracks and dirt races are out of the question. But having said that, there’s no reason to add a road course to the Truck Series schedule.

Why? Simple really. If it’s to be done correctly, it wouldn’t take one road course, but two. The expenses of road-course racing are very real, requiring specially-built trucks and equipment in much the same way that dedicated restrictor-plate cars used to be before the advent of the CoT.

To ask Truck teams to make such an investment given their paltry purses is enough of a reason to say no. But even more so, road racing can hardly be considered a discipline on the tour if it’s only featured in the form of one circuit, one date. Mastering one road course is not mastery of road racing.

If road racing is to be done at the Truck level, it needs to be done correctly, which means multiple dates to justify the investment and all the development it takes to hone the discipline. Considering it was just recently that the Truck Series went from 25 dates to 22, the math doesn’t add up.

TWO: Kenseth’s Silence May Well Be Lack of News

Short of Jeff Gordon and his lifetime contract at Hendrick Motorsports, there might not be a more stable driver/team pairing in the Cup Series than that of Matt Kenseth and Roush’s No. 17 Ford. But despite a second Daytona 500 trophy in four years, the 2003 champion has yet to find the sponsor dollars needed to keep racing, instead relying on the pockets of team owner Jack Roush to keep his team competing for a Chase berth.

So naturally, the second that Kenseth remarked (consistent with his decade-plus long career) that he was not going to discuss his contract this weekend, the rumors started flying that the literal old guard of Roush Fenway Racing was going to Penske or to Gibbs, or wherever a seat happened to open.

Sure, AJ Allmendinger has not had the start to the 2012 season that he or Shell/Pennzoil were looking for in their No. 22 car, and sure, Logano’s Pocono win alone didn’t get him off the hot seat at JGR in the No. 20 car. But think real hard about each of those slots. Is Kenseth really a sponsor’s dream?

This is a guy who’s primary backer in DeWalt has returned to the sport since leaving (with another driver) and whose deal with Crown Royal went by the wayside despite another Daytona 500 win and consistent seasons of Chase berths. Kenseth on paper would seem the perfect candidate, being both level-headed and a contender to win every weekend, but history says otherwise given his lack of sponsorship success.

Which begs the question … is Kenseth the guy Home Depot is looking for to challenge Jimmie Johnson and Lowe’s? Shell/Pennzoil is a better fit, but does Penske Racing need a veteran to complement Brad Keselowski? Let’s not forget the Ford camp has a bevy of development talent in Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne that need full-time Cup rides and quickly. They’ve got a bit more longevity in their tanks as well.

So let’s take a step back here and think a second. Roush Racing is using the same partial scheduling tricks that they used to keep Jeff Burton on track for over half of the 2004 season, only to a lesser extent. And Kenseth is running far better this year than Burton did in that miserable campaign that ended up sending him to RCR. Instead, the quiet robot may well be on to something … a history of not talking and nothing to talk about.

THREE: Speaking of Talent Surpluses

Piquet’s solid development as a stock car racer received a whipped cream topping courtesy of a Nationwide Series win on Saturday. Sitting top 10 in Truck points with five top-10 finishes in the first seven races, Piquet has joined teammate James Buescher as a prime contender for a Nationwide Series seat in 2013 … and he’s got a loyal sponsor in Qualcomm to boot.

Add in Brandon McReynolds, who nearly won Daytona and did win Talladega for the team’s ARCA operation this spring, and Kasey Kahne-backed Brad Sweet in the team’s No. 38 car, and there’s suddenly a lot of hens in the chicken coop for a team that retracted a Nationwide car coming into this campaign.

And unlike Roush, which through its Ford alliance may well have an outlet for talent soon courtesy of Penske Racing’s impending shift to the Blue Oval, the Turner camp isn’t quite so fortunate. Buescher has family connections, Sweet has an alliance with the team’s marquee Nationwide entrant, Piquet has sponsor dollars and McReynolds has name power.

Either something has to give, something has to grow or Justin Allgaier has to step his game up to keep the No. 31 seat (he did run well on Saturday). For those looking for a simmering Silly Season pot ready to boil over, keep an eye on this operation.

FOUR: Race Winners All but Overshadowed Saturday/Sunday

Piquet won the Nationwide Series race in convincing fashion on Saturday and Bowyer scored a much-needed first victory for MWR in 2012. But had one watched Saturday’s broadcast or read any news site from Monday, one would have thought the weekend’s winners were Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch.

ESPN spent nearly the entire afternoon gushing over the latest evolution of NASCAR’s (arguably) most photogenic female, from her pass for the lead that lasted all of one corner to the horrific bump she took from Jacques Villeneuve late that elicited huge gasps from the booth.

By now, this has come to be expected, both because it’s been the status quo for race broadcasts since her debut in the ARCA race at Daytona in 2010 and especially seeing as how it was also the celebrate Title IX weekend on the ESPN networks.

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But having said that, I for one left the Sargento 200 telecast knowing not one thing more about Piquet than I already did before the day started. Part of that does, granted, stem from the fact that he made the race a stinker up front, but he hardly seemed the story of the day.

This trend was less pronounced but evident on Sunday and it wasn’t because of the TV coverage (Petty and Dallenbach did well to address both Busch’s underdog effort and Bowyer’s delivering the goods for MWR in the closing laps). But look at ESPN’s headline story as of today, it’s about the return of Kurt Busch, not Bowyer’s risky move paying dividends or a story of just how strong MWR as an organization appeared Sunday.

Our good friends at Jayski posted an extended blurb from Busch’s post-race presser on their front page … above the actual race results.

Use your imaginations folks … what is going on here?

FIVE: End of an Era for Robby Gordon

It was a breath of fresh air to see Robby Gordon and the No. 7 team back on the entry list this Sunday and it’s always fun to see Robby run a road course. But not this Sunday. The No. 7 team qualified nowhere near the front of the field, fell off the pace early and lasted only 73 laps, succumbing to steering failure.

Gordon ended up finishing 39th, ironically only two spots better than he did after start-and-parking Phoenix in February, and noted that this will likely be his last Cup race until the 2013 Daytona 500.

There’s nothing more to be said here than it’s sad. It’s heartbreaking to see the owner/driver that for years fought the tide and made it work finally forced to all but give up, and to see their competitiveness on the track seemingly sapped by going down that part-time route. Kurt Busch may have provided plenty of hard racing and emotion for this Sonoma weekend, but it’s not the same without the other Gordon in the field.

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