Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? … Cash Over Loyalty, Three Winless Drivers Who Could Cash In And System Shutdown

*Did You Notice?* … 5-Hour Energy and Aaron’s Rents, combined are giving Michael Waltrip Racing funding for a total of 38 races next year? More than anything else, that sobering reality is why Reutimann will be packing his bags and heading to the sidelines for 2012. Despite being signed to a multi-year deal, rumors are running rampant at press time 52-year-old Mark Martin has been signed to take over the No. 00. The car will then scale back to a partial schedule, likely under the Aaron’s sponsorship while some of those contingency, smaller primary deals like Best Western can be used to help fund the No. 15.

Did You Notice? … Roush’s Damage Control, Cale Gale’s Swan Song, And Schedule Shenanigans

*Did You Notice …* That yet again, Jack Roush and his public relations team got to doing damage control way too late in the game following the much- ballyhooed story of Ford’s team orders edict for Talladega … a storyline that came to a head when? Rewind back to Pocono in August, after a month-long saga regarding Carl Edwards and his contract negotiations. After this episode lingered for the better part of the summer, with the No. 99 team lagging and rumors running wild that Edwards would be leaving the team that gave him his break for Joe Gibbs Racing, the contract finally got signed.

Did You Notice? … A Cost-Cutting Idea, Toyota’s Five-Year Plan That Wasn’t, And Points Projecting

*Did You Notice?…* All the panic when Toyota entered the Sprint Cup ranks? Within five years, American patriots feared a foreign automaker would be dominating the NASCAR circuit, piling up championships while running Ford, Chevy, and Dodge out of town. If you believed some prognosticators, right now we’d have a grid of 25 Toyotas, a rundown 1995 Ford Taurus, some Chevy Luminas and, well, that’s about it.

Except that hasn’t happened. Chevy collected their ninth straight manufacturer title Sunday, making Toyota 0-for-5 in their bid to reach the top of the NASCAR ladder. They also have yet to win a single Cup Series championship – Jimmie Johnson controls that hardware – and have just two drivers in this year’s Chase, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, with neither one looking capable of breaking that ugly streak.

Did You Notice? … As The Turner Disintegrates, Pit Stall Shenanigans & NASCAR Nasty

*Did You Notice?* … In the most competitive Chase in history, teams and drivers will do whatever it takes to get ahead. Stay out on fumes to lead a lap, take two tires with an ill-handling car for track position, “play nice” with start-and-parkers in front of them to help their pit selection…

Huh? Yeah, that last one doesn’t seem to fit. But one has to wonder what was going on this weekend between the No. 14 of Tony Stewart and the No. 46 of Scott Speed.

Did You Notice?… Ratings Up, Johnson Down And Anything But Tandems

*Did You Notice?…* That for all the talk of just how boring Sunday’s race at Loudon was, lacking much if any side-by-side racing, NASCAR scored a major TV ratings coup. The numbers, released Tuesday show a 19% increase – yes, 19% in viewership over the Fall Loudon race of a season ago. And this was on an NFL Sunday, no less!

Frankly, after hearing those numbers I’m shocked Brian France and Co. haven’t put out a press release already, describing how fans have accepted the Chase and all its glory of the past seven years. And, love the Chase or hate it, love the racing or hate it, that kind of showing amongst TV viewers is a major plus for the sport.

Did You Notice? … Pressing The Panic Button, NASCAR “Independents” And Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?* … The Chaser pressing the panic button this week should be *Jeff Gordon?* Sure, Denny Hamlin sits 41 points back but I don’t think anyone realistically expected that operation to be a contender. Heck, the Fed Ex team is already running 2012, TRD developmental engines knowing they come with a horsepower-or-hand grenade without warning warranty! That’s hardly playing it safe, the Chase mantra even with this new points system as the team realized making some gambles was the only way they’d realistically have a shot.

Did You Notice? … Potential Chase Spoilers And Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?* … NASCAR gets so focused on the postseason we often forget there’s 31 other cars on the grid each week? So, in honor of giving you a breather from the onslaught of Chase previews let’s look at a few “spoilers” set to win or wreak havoc during the season’s final ten weeks.

*A.J. Allmendinger.* Quietly, Richard Petty Motorsports has put together a remarkable comeback season just months removed from near bankruptcy. Marcos Ambrose has already won, victorious at Watkins Glen but it’s been the ‘Dinger who’s emerged as more consistent. The best full-time Cup driver yet to win a race, he’s positioning himself to take that next step under the helm of new crew chief Greg Erwin. That change, made despite an already successful start under long-term head wrench Mike Shiplett has really stepped the performance up another level. In just the last five weeks alone, the Californian’s collected a 10.4 average finish while failing to dip lower than 12th in any race.

Did You Notice? … Sponsor Collectors, A Lucky Break & The Anti-Chase Climax

*Did You Notice?…* The circumstances behind Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon’s fantastic finish? If NASCAR needs a road map for its return to national prominence, have officials watch the last 10 laps at Atlanta, let their mouth drop and make that the standard for how any race ending should unfold.

The sad part is the situation creating the drama is just as rare: neither Johnson nor Gordon had any “title concerns” to worry about. Both found themselves solidly inside the playoffs, clinching their spots one week earlier at Bristol and were simply focused on a three-point Chase bonus for the victory. If the No. 48 lost it on Turn 4, giving 110% that final lap? No big deal; Johnson’s DNF would affect nothing but the body shop, forced to rebuild a car that probably wouldn’t get back on-track the rest of the season anyways (NASCAR won’t visit Atlanta again until next Fall).

Did You Notice? … Earnhardt’s Strategy, Martin’s Last Stand And Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?* … Steve Letarte’s in a tricky situation when it comes to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.? For most of the year, the crew chief’s done a fantastic job in boosting the sport’s Most Popular Driver after two straight ugly seasons. But as we enter the homestretch, just three races until the Chase cutoff Junior is trying every which way to erase all the momentum he’s gained.

Make no mistake; since a solid sixth at Pocono in June, the No. 88 team has spent their summer learning every which way to skydive off a cliff. They have just one top-10 finish the last nine races, two runs of 30th or worse and have led just eight laps over that stretch. In fact, for the season Junior’s on track to lead less than 100 laps, by far his lowest total since a five-race Sprint Cup debut in 1999. Along the way, we’ve seen Earnhardt’s confidence take a hit, at one point blaming the tire compound at Loudon for struggles that weren’t there with those Goodyears come April, May, or June.

Did You Notice? NASCAR’s Real Silly Season Story Not Carl, Contraction

*Did You Notice?*… The reason the Carl Edwards saga won’t go away? Sure, the sport’s most popular free agent has been begging for privacy, impossible to receive in this age of public transparency where every celebrity’s move is documented in full. Too many drivers, team members, and heck, even sponsors are affected by this decision for them to sit in silence, working off Carl’s schedule as the clock slowly ticks towards Homestead.

But the sad part about this whole scenario is these people are on edge because, just like the current economy, NASCAR is very much an _employer’s_ market. Drivers like Clint Bowyer, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Trevor Bayne, even Brian Vickers know their _only_ opportunities could come if Edwards opens the door – and a ride – at Roush Fenway Racing. That’s it; there’s no plan B, temp agency or million-dollar reality game show ready to save them.

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