Race Weekend Central

Five Points to Ponder: The Young, the Old and the Future of NASCAR

*ONE: Truck Schedule Key to NASCAR’s Future*

For all the talk that Brad Keselowski is generating for being the bridge that NASCAR needs to get back to its core fans after his beer-guzzling exploits celebrating Penske Racing’s first Cup title, it’s all perhaps a bit premature. Keselowski has always been brash, old school and outspoken, much to the annoyance of many fanbases (just ask any Hamlin or Edwards fan). The fact that he won a Cup ahead of both of those stars isn’t going to change that opinion.

The future of NASCAR is with the Trucks, and visiting the short tracks that built stock car racing.

Rather, the bridge to those fans lost is being discussed on the third tier of the Truck Series, with the latest rumors pointing to Truck races at Greenville-Pickens Speedway and Eldora Speedway for 2013 pending the successful implementation of SAFER barriers. The incorporation of one of the more lauded short track facilities in the country and what would be NASCAR’s first national touring series dirt race since 1970 is about as old school an undertaking as the sanctioning body has tackled in recent memory. More importantly though, it returns big-time NASCAR racing to the type of venue that is all but guaranteed to put on a good race (a la Martinsville).

Seeing how the sport handles a return to venues such as these, and how the crowds respond, will go a whole lot further towards determining if a bridge is actually being built between NASCAR’s current state and their past fans. After all, Brad Keselowski’s buzz isn’t something that’s going to last.

*TWO: Age Requirement Lessening a Bad Sign for Viability*

Having said that, the good news that the Truck Series will likely get to play host to some exciting races in 2013 was tempered by another announcement…that the age restrictions in the Truck Series will be cut from 18 to 16 for 2013. I already dealt with this topic earlier this season when 15-year-old Clint King made his ARCA debut, stating that there really is nothing to be gained by series putting the equivalent of older schoolchildren in race cars. I posit that point again.

Furthermore, this is NASCAR we’re talking about. They make changes to their modus operandi for one reason and one reason alone; the almighty dollar. What does this move to allow 16-year-olds to race in the Truck Series mean? It’s simple. Without allowing younger kids with rich families earlier access to Truck racing, the series will likely have a much harder time fielding a full entry list of 36 trucks per week, or go the way of the Nationwide Series with an armada of start-and-parks making up the grid.

This is not indicative of a change in a driver development paradigm as was stated during Brian France’s village idiot address. Drivers were coming through ARCA and the East Series at a young age even a decade ago when NASCAR set the age requirement at 18 after Kyle Busch set a blazing pace through the developmental ladder. Nope, just like ARCA, NASCAR needs rich kids with backing and it needs them now.

*THREE: Logano/Gordon Issue Could Become Just That*

In issuing his PR statements over the weekend that he regretted his melee-inducing actions at Phoenix a week ago, Jeff Gordon acknowledged that he had exchanged phone calls with Joey Logano over the week between Phoenix and Homestead. Logano made waves during the fallout when he tweeted that he had lost respect for Gordon, a hero of his before he made it to NASCAR’s biggest stage. Logano had apparently called Gordon following the incident, and Gordon’s follow-up call “didn’t go so well.” Long and short, there’s apparently some tension between these two Cup regulars, even if it hasn’t manifested itself anywhere on the track.

Logano has to be careful here. Gordon, regardless of being out of line in the desert, came through in a big way and proved that he’s still got it by rebounding to win the season finale race. Gordon’s got a few more years left in him, and he will be running up front for those years.

For a youngster who’s on strike 2 of his career and still yet to live up to the tremendous expectations that accompanied his meteoric rise at Joe Gibbs Racing, being on any sort of bad terms with a four-time champion and a title contender, especially one as influential as Gordon, won’t help him any. Logano had every right to tweet after the fracas, but if he’s got a sword to bury after their phone conversations, well, new teammate and champ Brad K might want to give the kid some advice, fast.

*FOUR: Keselowski’s Nationwide Lesson*

Speaking of Keselowski, Brad’s championship in Cup is distinctive as he ran more Nationwide Series races in the same season (21) since Matt Kenseth won the 2003 title having made 14 minor league starts. On the surface, one may go as far as to conclude that Keselowski has finally disproved the notion that a Cup title can’t come with such a concentration of starts across other series.

But that would be ignorant of the fact that Keselowski made a much-publicized move to cut back his Nationwide Series schedule during the Chase, even at the intermediate ovals that long were populated with Cup drivers using the Saturday races for extra seat time. In doing so, Keselowski avoided any situations such as the one endured by Denny Hamlin at Dover (one that saw Hamlin get into it with then Nationwide Series regular Keselowski ironically), and kept his attention focused on the Cup car and adjustments that ultimately won the championship for Penske Racing and the Blue Duece.

Two lessons to be taken here, both rather obvious. One, being a bit scatter-brained during the regular season (i.e. jumping between different race cars) is no big deal as long as you can maintain the top 10 in points. Second, being focused on the primary objective during the Chase leads to Cup championships.

*FIVE: JGR’s Missing Piece*

What I wouldn’t give to hear Denny Hamlin’s un-PR-filtered take on Keselowski beating both him and teammate Kyle Busch to his first Cup championship. The time to stew over that may be short-lived for attitude-filled duo over at JGR that has time and time again come up short when the big prize is on the line. For they may finally be getting their missing piece courtesy of Matt Kenseth next year.

Ever since Kyle Busch joined JGR in 2008, there has been a literal void of senior leadership among the driver corps. Tony Stewart was doing everything he could to find an exit from JGR that season, and from 2009 to present Busch and Hamlin have been the senior drivers, acting like overgrown children on the track with team management that appeared unwilling to reign them in.

Now, with Kenseth coming, there’s finally going to be a no-nonsense presence in that garage, one that knows full well how to bring a Cup home. Assuming Kenseth rubs off even a little bit on Hamlin and Busch in 2013, JGR may finally have a title contender capable of closing the deal.

*Connect with Bryan!*

“Contact Bryan Davis Keith”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/18454/

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