Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? … Five Teams Looking To Save Their Season Five Races In

*Did You Notice?…* For every team in contention for this year’s Chase, there’s another dangerously close to early elimination? You’d think, five races in, that wouldn’t be the case, considering debates surrounding whether Denny Hamlin can miss that period of time and still charge back into the playoffs.

But, by and large, as has been widely reported in recent years, strong starts in the point standings, even this early, typically hold up come September. Here’s a quick look at how many drivers eligible for the Chase, five races in went on to earn a bid once the regular season was complete…

Did You Notice? … Back-Breaking Maneuvers, The Perfect Combination And A Secret Success

*Did You Notice?…* The fine line Joey Logano walks now? The 22-year-old was hardly apologetic after breaking Denny Hamlin’s back, literally, with a last-lap incident that, regardless of intention, he felt evened the score.

So much of Logano’s response has been reported; we won’t go into detail on that in this space. But the result of this incident, after Hamlin’s compression fracture diagnosis, is a sobering reminder of the worst case scenario for “Boys, Have At It.” That’s not to say athletes despising each other is a bad thing; hatred, when expressed through aggression on the field, has built the backbone of contests like the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers – Baltimore Ravens rivalry. That passion, borne out of contempt for the opponent, always leaves those games as two of football’s best each year.

Did You Notice? … Who Has Something to Prove, Underdogs Overachieving and Quick Hits

*Did You Notice? …* A running theme among all the drivers succeeding this season? You’ve got Brian Vickers, in a part-time ride running eighth in his first 2013 start with Michael Waltrip Racing. There’s AJ Allmendinger, making spot starts for James Finch flirting with the top 10 every time out. On the luck rollercoaster sits Matt Kenseth, more emotional than perhaps ever before in surging to the front at Las Vegas. Even the point leader, Brad Keselowski, who spent the offseason feeling disrespected by critics, has roared out of the box with four top-5 finishes in the first four races.

Did You Notice? … NASCAR's Safe Zone, Small Market Blues And Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?…* NASCAR, and Goodyear don't understand the price of \"playing it safe?\" For the answer, we turn to one of the NBA's most \"beloved\" champions, the San Antonio Spurs, who the sport's commissioner once called a team that could do no wrong. Led by a player with a squeaky clean resume, Tim Duncan (and David Robinson before that) there once seemed a time where \"sin\" was not a word anyone on the 12-man roster had in their vocabulary. Every one was considered a model citizen; the biggest controversy in the local paper concerned who lost an after practice game of H-O-R-S-E. It's that type of bonding that will put you over the top, executives figured, and they were right. <div style=\"float:right; width:250px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/7973.jpg\" width=\"250\" height=\"351\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">NASCAR President Mike Helton's message to drivers this season? \"Be positive, 100% of the time.\" But is being 100% devoid of conflict and controversy what people are really looking for?</p></div> There was only one problem with this juggernaut of a franchise; no one, outside of the city of San Antonio wanted to give them the time of day. It seemed NBA fans, for all their hype about wanting positivity couldn't be more uninterested when it actually happened. The \"good guys\" were the \"boring guys,\" in the eyes of too many and a story like LeBron James redeeming himself, down in Miami or the rivalries created by Kobe Bryant ended up attracting more popularity. The act of overcoming adversity, the drama of bad turned good put more people in front of the couch. How does this theory apply to the here and now? Tire compounds, especially the last two Goodyear have brought to the table are designed to \"play it safe.\" They're in the business to bore, focused on not falling off and without the type of catastrophic, on-track wear-and-tear we're used to. Goodyear, by doing that feels that fans, even if there's less of them will have more trust in their tires off the racetrack and buy them based on reliability. But isn't loyalty towards a product maintained in NASCAR no matter what happens in the races themselves? I didn't see people buy less Tide, back in the day because Cal Wells' No. 32 car crashed all the time. You've got to believe any reasonable person understands a tire is going to blow, at times under race conditions. So which is better: a softer compound that is riskier, one you have to manage but attracts more passing (and fans?) Or the \"goody two shoes\" type of compound, rock hard that never falls off and is one you can run for 200 laps, without fail. The \"San Antonio Spurs\" compound, if you will. The same thing can apply with the drivers, in the wake of Denny Hamlin's fine who are expected to be more politically correct than Barack Obama in front of a child. You'll hear what they're programmed to say, they'll hide what their first reaction tells them to do and the end result is, well, a bunch of robotic responses. Will that attract more fans, less drama and more positivity to the point we're watching _Sesame Street_ instead of sports? Or do people need the emotion and raw, human reaction of what's happening to keep them entertained? For the answer, we look to what was hyped at Phoenix just a few weeks ago. It wasn't all the drivers saying how nice the Gen-6 car was handling. It was the anger felt by both Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon, last November and if their personal vendetta was going to heat up again. With a \"San Antonio Spurs\" mentality, playing it safe there was nothing to market – nothing for the fans to hang their hat on emotionally. Just something to think about as we head to a Bristol where, other than Gordon-Bowyer we're not necessarily looking for any fireworks so far in 2013. Everything is tame, seemingly as NASCAR wants it. They're \"playing it safe;\" that'll certainly collect you a check. But does that limit the amount, if any the sport can grow? *Did You Notice?…* There’s an intriguing trend going on within NASCAR’s Nielsen numbers? Let me explain; television ratings are measured in what’s basically a two-step process. Step one is the overnights, measured from the metered markets like New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia. These are major cities, where the feedback is instant and you're not waiting, say for some mailed in envelope straight from a farm. Step two, or the final ratings numbers come in later and take all 210 media markets, even the smallest of rural towns into account. The sport of stock car racing has always depended on that \"second round;\" with so many fans, based in the south living away from major metropolitan areas a half-point bump in the ratings was almost a given. But one of the interesting surprises in 2013 is it just hasn't been happening; in fact, the small market numbers even _hurt_ the total for the biggest race of all, this year's Daytona 500. Bumps at Phoenix and Las Vegas, while positive were also significantly smaller than expected. So what gives? It looks like the \"new fan base\" giving the sport a try, at least within the first few weeks have their roots walking the city streets. That makes sense, considering the most criticism you hear surrounding a newcomer like Danica Patrick comes from the \"good ol' boy\" southern sector who don't think she's the woman that will break in effectively. Patrick, for all the criticism sent her way has the capacity to bring in casual fans. A guy from New York City, used to the more sophisticated open-wheel series and who maybe saw a commercial with her in it will be quick to take a glance at the sport. The danger there, of course, is that those fans lose interest after the first few weeks, move elsewhere and then NASCAR has lost a strong connection with its roots. Could that be exactly what's happening? *Did You Notice?…* Some quick hits before we take off… - Fans contact me all the time complaining about some of the sponsor \"gimmicks\" that permeate the sport. The latest one, this week surrounding Michael Waltrip Racing's new \"social media girls\":http://www.twitter.com/MWRGirls/ whose primary responsibility, besides looking pretty is to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at a race weekend. (This venture now pairs with Christmas Abbott, the good-looking female CrossFit trainer turned pit crew member for Clint Bowyer. Looks like Waltrip, if he can't be the sideshow is determined to make one. But I digress.) Fans, to say the least were unimpressed by what they claim was little more than an off-track, unnecessary publicity stunt. While you're at it, why don't you add me to that \"over the top\" category; do we really need something like that to draw people in? In theory, the number of vocal complaints I've gotten would lean towards a resounding \"no.\" Except, as I tell people all the time it's one thing to complain… another to actually act on those complaints. As it stands, already these girls have over 1,900 girls on Twitter and keep growing. The more that number inflates, the more people will copycat the concept so don't be surprised to see \"PenskeGirls\" show up in the near future. - As Michael McDowell told me Tuesday, an extra $100,000 is no longer enough to run a race the distance on bare bones funding. His estimate? $150,000. I mention this figure because I remember a conversation, distinctly with Kevin Buckler of TRG Motorsports three years ago in which his race-by-race cost of doing business was roughly half that. So for the small teams, in three years your expenses have doubled? That's a business model which should concern anyone, let alone a sport struggling for sponsorship. \"BOWLES: 1-ON-1 WITH MICHAEL McDOWELL\":http://www.frontstretch.com/tbowles/42560/ *Connect with Tom!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/NASCARBowles\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Tom Bowles\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14345/

Did You Notice? … NASCAR's New TV Challenge, Record Droughts &amp; Six Shooters

*Did You Notice?…* The major undercurrent of FOX’s rebranding of SPEED as FOX Sports 1? The new network, set to debut August 17th is a reaction to NBC’s recent cash infusion into its own sports network. NBCSN, who happens to be looking for a chunk of NASCAR races in the next rights package, is being built as a “superstation†of sports with designs to challenge ESPN over the next decade. Add in CBS’ own dabbling in sports, albeit on a smaller scale with CBSSN and FOX felt like they needed to get with the program. (Note: ABC, the last member of TV’s network giants is owned by the same parent company, Disney, that controls ESPN.) With that adjustment, though comes a reality check that some of the programming all have enjoyed on a racing-only network will simply go away. You’ve got to think, considering how they had cornered the racing market at one point FOX recognized a limit to how much money they could make through motorsports-related programming. Sports television, after all is a business just like all other fields and rebranding the network allows it to pursue other, more profitable sources of programming. Already, Dave Despain’s _Wind Tunnel,_ popular amongst hardcore racing fans has been placed in the “under evaluation†category as to whether it will continue under the new network. What a nice way of saying its days are numbered, right? I think Despain, while one of the best racing reporters of our time doesn’t have an audience centered on that juicy 18-49 age group that makes advertisers start to spontaneously drool. There are other sports, like soccer that take less time, are easy to produce, have a well-rounded following and will bring in a newer, hipper audience. Again… if FOX felt racing would carry the majority of their new venture, maximizing the profit why wouldn’t they have found a way to keep a version on SPEED? The bottom line is, while racing will form parts of the network (it won’t go away; FOX’s TV deal would be a waste without it) don’t expect it to be front and center all the time. Especially during the Fall, when Sprint Cup is televised elsewhere and NFL season takes center stage racing will be barely a blip on the radar screen. Expect major drops in the ratings, too if the big network chooses to move a handful of their Cup races to FS1 beginning in 2015. Yes, the network may be in 90 million homes but we saw the consequences for IndyCar when their races were relegated to Channel 12356 on the local cable channel. (The Nielsen ratings are so microscopic, these days it’s hard to get a reading on what they actually are for that series.) In the short-term, there’s not much NASCAR can do about this adjustment. But as the four stick ‘n’ ball giants – hockey, baseball, football, and basketball – carry on with their own, branded networks you have to wonder what the sport is going to do to protect itself. Through NBATV, for example basketball can always rest assured its product is out there, along with 24-hour analysis and special programming for its hardcore fans. At one time, NASCAR was rumored to be starting its own TV network in Charlotte but those plans, at the moment appear to be on hold. In the meantime, its own NASCAR.com website continues to struggle with interactive, in-race enhancements for fans to the point people have emailed me and said they can’t even navigate to the website because it’s crashing their browser. On Twitter, a once cutting-edge way for fans to stay connected to the sport now comes with a worry drivers can be fined for speaking their minds about series rules. We’re living in a technology and television generation, yet both seem to be slipping out of NASCAR’s grasp. Getting a grip on that, beyond Danica Patrick and the Gen-6 car may be more of a key to growth than anything else. But I’ll tell you one thing that definitely isn’t a positive; a racing network specifically changing its name to _get away_ from racing, with no replacement in sight. That doesn’t tell people to come sit in the stands on Sunday. *Did You Notice?…* The panic over the new Generation-6 model? It’s two races in and already, after some below-average competition people are ready to take this car and throw it in the trash bin. We haven’t even been to an intermediate track yet! For those threatening to boycott the sport, already it’s like watching a baseball game after changing the rules and then leaving, stomping your feet in the third inning. Is it that bad you can’t bear to see how it turns out? I do have one concern, though and it surrounds dominance from a particular program. \"As I pointed out yesterday,\":http://www.frontstretch.com/tbowles/42496/ the whole concept of “cookie-cutter†tracks filling the boredom quota in our lives comes from the fact Jimmie Johnson has absolutely dominated them. Here we are again, two races into a season and that pesky J.J. has an average finish of 1.5. His current shop, still led by crew chief Chad Knaus won 10 times and stomped the competition during the first year of the Gen-5 chassis. Add in the atypical early success of Earnhardt at Phoenix, a track where he’d skipped a beat at times in very recent history and you’re looking at the possibility for a runaway regular season, at least. The Gen-6 was designed, in part so the smaller teams could start on a level playing field, have a better chance to challenge the superstars above them. Instead, should HMS come out and take control it all but sets a Formula One style separation in stone. Someone needs to find a way to compete; there’s still time. But you have to think if J.J. contends and/or wins this Sunday he’s got to be the overwhelming favorite in the Chase once again. *Did You Notice?…* This interesting twist, following Carl Edwards' Las Vegas win put together by our own Kevin Rutherford? For a driver of his caliber (and for someone whose previous winless streaks weren't as daunting), Edwards' 70-race losing streak in Sprint Cup was unexpected and a bit troubling. Though he's never been a driver to go on a tear, save for 2008's nine-win campaign, seeing his familiar No. 99 out of victory lane took some getting used to. But while the streak was sizable, it's certainly not among the longest. In fact, in terms of resolved streaks (i.e. winless streaks broken by a victory), it runs about mid-pack. As hard on one's confidence 70 races without a win may be, Bill Elliott actually holds the distinction of the longest losing streak in Cup that ended up being broken with a victory (for drivers who have won at least once). Awesome Bill went an astounding 226 races, between 1994 and 2001 without one. A close second is Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s dry spell between 2008 and last year, 205 races in total. That said, Edwards' streak came at a time when he was still semi-competitive. In 2011, he finished tied for the championship despite winning only once that season, while Elliott and Junior downright struggled during the years of their streak.That's partially what makes the lack of wins less affecting; one only really looks at 2012 as a year when he didn't perform up to standards. Edwards' winless streak isn't even that long put against other active drivers in the same boat. Of former winners who have competed in one of NASCAR's top series since 2012, Ken Schrader holds the current record, with a 565-race dry spell dating back to 1991. Derrike Cope hasn't won since 1990 – 327 races – and former champ Bobby Labonte just hit 326. In terms of drivers in (proven) winning equipment? Martin Truex, Jr.'s 205 races without a victory comes to mind. It all comes down to the team for which Edwards drives. Guys at Roush Fenway Racing are pretty much expected to win, not go on 70-race spells in between victories. Coupled with the fact that he actually hasn't been half bad despite not winning, him taking so long to taste victory surprised a lot of people. Don't count on it being this long again. *Longest Winless Droughts Snapped* (Between wins - Number of starts to get first career win does not count) *Bill Elliott* - 226 ('94 - '01) *Dale Earnhardt, Jr.* - 205 ('08 - '12) *Jeff Burton* - 175 ('01 - '06) *Sterling Marlin* - 170 ('96 - '01) *Dave Marcis* - 167 ('76 - '82) *Did You Notice?…* Quick hits before we take off… - An underreported story from Phoenix is the way new Ford “front man†Brad Keselowski pushed the old, uncontested superstar a car length ahead during that green-white-checkered finish. Clearly, both men have matured since this \"2010 flip\":www.youtube.com/watch?v=-y-9ZDs8fd0 that could have turned tragic after the two couldn’t get away from each other on-track; the mellowing of the bad blood between them is genuine. But I also think two of the smartest men in the garage are well aware of where their bread is now buttered. Penske Racing (Keselowski) is getting their engines from Roush Fenway, during year one with the Blue Oval program and needs all the support they can get. When you don’t build your own equipment, well, the last thing you want to do is bite the hand that feeds you. As for Edwards? He’s never been afraid to seek out help and support. And who better to help rebuild your confidence, sharing information than a man that just won the 2012 Sprint Cup championship? - Front Row Motorsports is putting on a brave face this week. But after tearing up five cars, out of a possible six to start off 2013 you have to wonder how much they’re hurting for equipment. An underfunded team, who doesn’t have extra cash lying around to begin with the next month or so may be a case of “survival mode:†third driver Josh Wise starting-and-parking while the other two, David Ragan and David Gilliland, take out a restraining order on anyone within 50 feet. Such is the nature of NASCAR these days, another layer of possible conservatism that comes with running behind on building these new cars. - Is it just me, or does Kurt Busch still think he’s driving Phoenix Racing equipment? Even last Fall, when experiencing success with Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 he’d put himself in hot water unnecessarily with a self-imposed trip to the outside wall. You’d think a former Cup champion, once known for his consistency would learn to take a 15th-place car and finish 15th with it. Second place is the first loser; I understand that much-needed aggression within the sport. But sending yourself to the garage on a wrecker comes with a nasty bill that’s only going to dig your smaller team a deeper hole. - NASCAR and the NRA. Really? Who knew both sides had a burning desire to shoot themselves in the foot? Anytime you try and put politics and sports together, well, mixing oil and water comes to mind. No one cared, for example about the six-shooters in Texas Victory Lane until everyone started sniffing post-NRA deal. I just don't see this ending well for either side… *Connect with Tom!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/NASCARBowles\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Tom Bowles\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14345/ *Connect with Kevin!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/surfwax83\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"http://facebook.com/surfwaxamerica\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6501.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Kevin Rutherford\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/37802/

Did You Notice? … Here Come The Lawsuits, Good Samaritans And NASCAR’s Public Perception

*Did You Notice? …* Daytona International Speedway, along with NASCAR better make some major withdrawals from the bank? Lawyers have been retained for three of the fans injured in the crash, investigating whether they’ll sue both the track and the sanctioning body for negligence. Matt Morgan, of the law firm Morgan & Morgan based out of Florida has taken the case, going national in their quest to publicize their investigation into whether the sport could have done anything to prevent their injuries.

This next wave is where NASCAR’s PR machine, retooled over the last couple of years has to be ready to tackle head-on. It’s notable, in their favor every fan I talked to Sunday at Daytona, including one who had coolant sprayed on his glasses he was so close to where the majority of debris landed had no concerns of returning to the track. The running theme, on the reasonable sample size I spoke with was “fluke accident,” “you can’t live your life in fear” and “you assume a risk when you go to the track.” Heck, some of the fans who got hurt were back the next day attending the Daytona 500 and getting the most out of their money.

Did You Notice? … A Wide Open Race, Ownership Issues And A Newcomer’s Impact

*Did You Notice?…* In the midst of Danica-mania, the most important point to be made about this year’s Daytona 500 is that there is no absolute favorite? Entering Speedweeks, I thought Hendrick Motorsports was poised to dominate; to an extent, they’ve flexed some muscle by putting five of their engines within the top six (only Trevor Bayne, third-quickest in the Wood Brothers Ford broke them up.) But Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited showcased some cracks in the armor. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s engine ran sour during the final segment, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon were swept up in an early wreck, and Kasey Kahne, not known as a plate specialist, was underwhelming at best. (Maybe he was focused on the half-marathon instead?)

Did You Notice? … Young Guns, V-Day Heartbreakers And NASCAR Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?…* The influx of young talent entering prime rides in 2013? The Frontstretch Staff “discussed this one”:https://frontstretch.com/tbowles/42294/ in the sixth and final part of our season preview but, instead of answering there I wanted to expand on the topic elsewhere. For me, it’s a copout because I have a hard time cutting down the drivers I’m watching to just one or two…

So, without further ado, here’s who you should put on the radar screen…

Did You Notice? … Start-And-Park War Brewing?, Aerodynamic Engineering & NASCAR Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?…* The battle over start-and-parking is revving up for 2013? The first salvo was fired at the end of January, where Bruton Smith went so far on the Media Tour as to ask reporters in attendance to stop the practice, where cars come to the track, park and collect the prize money for profit.

“Start-and-park should not be a part of what we do,” said the Speedway Motorsports, Inc. owner, whose tracks, he claimed, “donated” tens of millions of dollars to “this cause” in 2012. “Either NASCAR should shorten the race or something in order to stop this, but I think it’s got to be stopped.”

“I hope we look back in a year and (start-and-park) is history. Because it should be history.”

Did You Notice? … Awesome Bill’s NASCAR Family Dream, Family Fraud And Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?* … How difficult it is for some drivers to hang it up for good? Bill Elliott is the latest example of that, a certain Hall of Famer hanging on nearly a decade after full-time retirement. Back then, it was nearly a Cinderella story for Awesome Bill, the 1988 Cup Series champion who’s best known for capturing the 1985 Winston Million: a reward for capturing three of NASCAR’s “crown jewel” events (Daytona, Talladega, Darlington) in the same season. 48 years old when the “R” word first beckoned, he’d won every major event in the sport and came within a lap of winning the 2003 season finale at Homestead before blowing a tire on the final lap. Walking away in his prime, the dream most superstar athletes rarely achieve was firmly within reach.

Did You Notice? … NASCAR’s Sponsor Search, Martin’s “Retirement?” And Shocking Admissions

*Did You Notice?…* How many of the top teams still have races available for primary sponsors? We’ve only been through two days of the NASCAR Media tour, with several of the top programs still to go and the list that’s been accumulated is staggering. Take a look at the number of unsold races for the following teams:

*Stewart-Haas Racing*
*Tony Stewart (No. 14):* 9 of 36 races unsold (25%)
*Ryan Newman (No. 39):* 8 of 36 (22%)
*Danica Patrick (No. 10):* 3 of 36 (8%)
*TOTAL FOR TEAM:* 20 races unsold

Did You Notice? … Landon’s Loss, Testing Tidbits And The Danger Of NASCAR Stability

*Did You Notice?…* Those who impressed at Daytona testing weren’t as surprising as some might think? Yes, some eyebrows were raised when Jeff Burton led Friday morning practice at Daytona. Overall, Richard Childress Racing was strong, flashing the best speed out of the Chevy brigade despite winning all of one race last season. But Burton, with new crew chief Luke Lambert shouldn’t surprise anyone. Daytona was the No. 31 team’s strongest track last year; their two top-5 results of 2012 were registered there. In the 500, especially Burton looked like an upset contender, leading 24 laps before getting shuffled back to fifth down the stretch.

Other strong teams have a very familiar ring to it. Take Joe Gibbs Racing, with the combination of Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Kyle Busch. Hamlin led 57 laps in last year’s 500, the most of any driver while Busch has totaled 180 in that category over the past five seasons. Add in newcomer Kenseth, the defending race champion and it’s easy to predict they’ll be successful.