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Two Laps Down: The Northern Knock-Down-Drag-Out

August 31, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Because sometimes crazy and genius are just a few steps apart, Scotty Wazz (from the Face Off Hockey Show) and I share our views on NASCAR each week in Two Laps Down. Here is the e-mail transcript of this week’s conversation:

—–Original Message—–

From: Scotty Wazz
Sent: Monday, Aug 30th, 2010
To: Todd – “Wilson!”
Subject: The Northern Knock-Down-Drag-Out

Oh boy, Mr. Toddrick,

The race in Montreal could be up there as one of the best of the season….and it was a road-course in the Nationwide Series in Canada. But if nothing else, the NAPA 200 was an example of how a driver can dominate, but it’s really the machine that determines how you finish. Marcos Ambrose dominated the first part of the race, then he loses power in his car– and his sway arm breaks. Carl Edwards picks up the lead and takes control, then his sway arm breaks. Robby Gordon takes over the lead and it looks like smooth sailing, but thanks to the G-W-C, he runs out of gas in overtime, leading to Boris Said’s first NASCAR win.

Small teams made big news this weekend...and Robby Gordon ran out of gas

That said, the big question: what is up with all these part failures? In addition to the leaders– Patrick Carpentier, Andrew Ranger, and some of the one-off guys all retired due to their equipment breaking. Was the track that tough or were teams not setting up their cars right?? Also, with the one-off teams, is the Nationwide the best place for these guys?? It’s bad enough that the Cup Series drivers are coming to take some seat time for the younger kids (this week aside, it seemed), but is this a good place for one-offs, or should the younger guys get more time in this different environment?? This always seems to be the debate when all the ringers show up at road course races.

And TB, while the Cup Series was off, there was plenty of drama among some of the lower end cars that makes you wonder about how these teams operate. J.J. Yeley was given the boot by Whitney Motorsports. He let his fans know by via Twitter and it seems he may have found out through a Facebook posting that his replacement would be Michael McDowell. Yeley went so far as saying that @$$-kissing does get you places….which could create an interesting situation in Atlanta, but who knows. Whitney is actually switching from Dodge to Chevy along with the driver switch, which peeved Yeley, as well—J.J. said he wished that he could have been able to use the new equipment and get some power that they didn’t have in the Dodge, which he says caused him to miss races by the smallest of margins. Don’t feel bad for Yeley, who will be in the #36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevy for Atlanta.

Now, I bring that up because it makes you wonder how these smaller teams are doing business and if it’s the best for the sport. Here we have Whitney not really letting their current driver in on an engine switch, then we have David Stremme, who earlier in August left Latitude 43 Racing after he said owner Bill Jenkins had not met financial obligations in his contract, which is something this week’s winner Boris Said said he also had problems with when it came to Jenkins. The saga of BAM Racing continued after Robby Gordon Motorsports cut ties with BAM and is suing sponsor Warner Music for lack of payment and breach of contract. With all this going on, is there going to be a time where NASCAR has to step in and maybe take a look at the ownership of one team before it gets taken over by another, especially when it comes to driver’s contracts, if nothing else?

I think it’s time to bring back some Gas-N-Go, where we touch on some of the other topics of the week:

-Remember last week we talked about RPM, it seems they’re sticking with the two-car system in A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose. Good idea or bad idea??

-Regan Smith re-signed with Furniture Row Racing for the #78 next season. I’m surprised the #78 is still running, but remember when he and Aric Amirola were supposed to take DEI into the next generation?? Wha happen??

-Max Papis is heading to the Truck Series next year and I know we touched on it in years past, but shouldn’t some more inexperienced drivers, especially those from open-wheel racing, be going through the system from the bottom up, rather than the fast track to the Cup Series??

I’ve rambled on enough; take it over Brett Hull lookalike.

~SW

—–Original Message—–

From: Todd – “Wilson!”
Sent: Tuesday, Aug 30th, 2010
To: Wazz
Subject: RE: The Northern Knock-Down Drag-Out

Hey Wazzman,

If only I could use that Brett-Hullness to my advantage somehow….

By my count, there were at least 19 drivers that could have been categorized as either road-course experts or one-off starters Sunday…nearly half the field – I’d agree that was a little excessive.

Now, if all those ringers had produced some great, clean, exciting road racing, then there would be nothing to debate – but all of the ‘experts’ were running into each other and wrecking just as much as the Nationwide regulars typically do, so the only improvement we saw in the racing action was at the front of the field. Of course, the ringers at the front were those that have a lot more NASCAR experience, so that was to be expected.

Montreal was a tough, but fun track - should the Cup series run there, too?

That being said – the fact that so many dedicated road-racers were getting eaten up by Montreal is a testament to just how tough the track is. It is far more of a traditional road course – fast straights…hard on the brakes…quick, tight corners – then do it all again. Sonoma and The Glen are much more forgiving to stock cars, and I think that’s why we saw so many cars get beat up during Sunday’s race. That, and the curbs in Montreal – the rumble strips were so tall, that whenever anyone cut a corner, they would scrape the bottom of the car – I’m pretty sure that is why both Ambrose and Edwards broke suspension parts. I think it is a fun track, but it definitely favors the finesse of a dedicated road racer as opposed to a full-time NASCAR driver.

I’m glad you mentioned Yeley and Whitney Motorsports, because that brings up an interesting question about ‘Start and Park’ teams. Looking at Yeley’s stats this year, he’s completed a whopping 45% of his laps run (and if you take out Charlotte and Sonoma, that number goes down to 30%), so whether they run Dodge or Chevy, it appears that they are a start and park team. Now, Sunday night I was listening to an interview with Todd Bodine, and he said he thinks start-and-park teams are fine, for two reasons – one: they fill out the Cup field, and two: those teams are using the start-and-park to bank up money so they can be competitive later on.

What do you think of that? I think it is a bunch of B.S., frankly. Sure, the start-and-park teams do fill out the field, but what difference does that make? And how many teams have successfully used start-and-park money to build up a competitive organization?

But that brings me to Furniture Row and Regan Smith – like you, I am shocked they are still in business, but I give them credit for actually trying. Nobody would think twice if they threw another washed-up driver behind the wheel, ran 15 laps each week and collected an easy paycheck. But they are actually making an effort – taking a chance on a young driver (and former ROY) and using Earnhardt-Childress engines. It’s a start, and who knows – maybe they will have a little success. I know their chances will be far greater than any of the start-and-park teams that Bodine was defending.

So, to hit you back on the Gas-N-Go:

- I think a two-car team at RPM isn’t the best idea – I think they need a veteran presence, but who? I can’t think of who is available that would fit the mold. I’m not saying he would be the answer, but do you think they should be keeping Elliott Sadler?

- I talked about Smith above, but as for Almirola – he’s better known for people mis-pronouncing his name than his driving skills…although he does appear to be the driver of choice in the garage when it comes to baby-watch fill-in duty. Talk about a bad move – if Almirola hadn’t gotten miffed about that whole Denny Hamlin Nationwide fiasco and stayed at Gibbs – he might be in the 20 car right now.

- There are always exceptions to the rule, but yeah – I think it would benefit just about any driver to work their way up from the bottom – even if they just do half a season in Truck and half in Nationwide before they come to Cup – people like Dario Franchitti and Jaques Villeneurve probably would have had a better shot at success (I know JV did some truck stuff, but it was only a couple of races). That is one of the reasons I’ve defended Danica Patrick this season – she may or may not be successful, but at least she is trying to work her way up, instead of assuming she can just hop in a Cup car and start winning.

So what do you think – Does Bodine have a point about start-and-park teams? Should RPM be keeping Elliott? Is Danica doing things the right way? Most importantly, should Almirola just go ahead and change his name to Eric Amarillo? What say you?

Todd.

—–Original Message—–

From: Wazz
Sent: Monday, Aug 31st, 2010
To: Todd – “Wilson!”
Subject: RE: The Northern Knock-Down Drag-Out

Hey Wilson,

You know, it’s quite something when it comes to Todd Bodine (whose bobblehead still lives on, mind you) talking about the start-and-park guys, because of what he went through when he was in the #26 Discovery Card Ford back in the day. It’s one thing fill out the field– that’s fine, and we don’t have to listen to everyone talking about the economic downturn in sports. Plus, once they park it, there will be one less guy in the way for when the race actually gets interesting. However, I don’t know how he can say whether or not these teams are actually building up for the future. There might be the odd team that succeeds, but the amount of these start-n-park cars just popping out of nowhere recently is astounding. And for some reason, I think most of the time these are just used as tax write-offs and nothing more. I don’t think we’ll see half these teams, like Latitude 43 or Whitney Motorsports, in the next five years. Granted, I’m sure I said about this BAM Racing, and yet– they’re kinda kicking around.

Aric Almirola....or Eric Amarillo....or possibly Eric Armadillo - that one is our favorite mis-pronounciation

Furniture Row is sticking to it, though. They’ve gone through the likes of Joe Nemechek and Kenny Wallace before going with youth in Smith. However, Smith is going to have the issue of not really having a veteran mentor to learn from. Whether or not that is going to make or break Smith, I have no idea– but I’m sure it would help him a lot, because while he’s been hanging around the series since 2008, it’s not like he was groomed to be a top-tier guy in the whole Earnhardt-Ganassi merger, which saw him pushed out and put into that #78 car. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s treated and if he’s given the ability to run wide open and if he has the power to get to the front and make some noise. As far as Amirola, I back the Eric Amarillo or even Eric Armadillo movement.

Speaking of the lack of a mentor, I don’t see why Elliott Sadler shouldn’t be kept in the fold at RPM, aside from the turmoil they have dealt with this year and threatening to take him out of the ride and all of that. Sadler has been around and would be a valuable tool to learn from for Allmendinger and Ambrose. That said, with the past they’ve had, I think Sadler could also be a distraction if anything were “to go down”, as the kids say. However, it makes you wonder if RPM would be interested in someone like a Todd Bodine, who has the track experience and could be around to run a few races; or at least teach Allmendinger and Ambrose. It wouldn’t mean a full-time ride, just a couple here and there, and being a resource for the other drivers the rest of the time. A second crew-chief, if you will. Granted, that brings up the whole “too many cooks in the kitchen” question, but you can cross that bridge when you get to it.

When it comes to Danica– I definitely give her props for taking it slow and not only going through the Nationwide Series first, but doing the limited races, as well. But you have to wonder when and if she’s going to ever cut bait on the Indy Cars and go NASCAR full-time or if this is all a tease for nothing more than publicity. Plus, you have to wonder about the others lined up for the #7 Chevy, like Josh Wise and Landon Cassill. Does it make it easier that they get overshadowed by the hype machine that is Patrick, or do they each feel like they could be sole driver and she’s just jumping in as she likes? They’re trying to achieve the same goal as her, but in the end– they get held-back because of all of this.

One final thing about Montreal – seeing how beat-up even the winning car was, do you think there’s a chance that the Cup guys go up there to add another road course, or will this be a strictly Nationwide event? As much as NASCAR wants to get into other countries, they seem very reluctant to get their main series out of the US. Does most of that have to do with the contracts NASCAR has with these other tracks or are they gun-shy about getting into foreign lands?? If anything, you have to see these places as possible areas to get sponsorship and to extend the fan base. Sure, that means you really put pressure on drivers to compete more, but it could limit them dipping into the other series and maybe taking seat time away from up and coming drivers. I guess only time will tell if the main series, which has all the brand and driver recognition, will actually branch out.

Alrighty TB– bring us home. Can the Cup series expand outside of the continental United States and be successful?? Who would you put in a limited time spot for RPM’s drivers to grow?? If you’re dealing with Danica, how long before you tell her to make a decision on where she’ll focus her racing efforts?? Which would you choose Amarillo or Armadillo??

~SW

—–Original Message—–

From: Todd – “Wilson!”
Sent: Tuesday, Aug 31st, 2010
To: Wazz
Subject: RE: The Northern Knock-Down Drag-Out

Hey Scotty, and the infamous Todd Bodine bobblehead,

The question about the Cup Series – or NASCAR in general – going international is a good one. With all the talk about attendance numbers and TV ratings dropping, expanding the fan base to new areas is a logical solution. Heck, there is a group getting ready to build a new track in Austin, Texas to get an F1 race, and the Formula 1 promoters are all about it for that exact reason – they want a race here to expand their fan base.

Danica needs to pick a side, and soon - before she finds herself without the results or the options in either series

Because of the advantages, I think that not having a Sprint Cup race in Canada is stupid. There are tons of Canadian fans – I’ve talked to people from Canada that drive all the way to Dover and Pocono (and further) just so they can see a race. Montreal has no problem selling tickets for a Nationwide event – a Cup race would go over even better. And it is so easy for the teams to get there – they don’t have to pack up the cars on planes or make all kinds of crazy arrangements. I think a good overseas plan would be difficult (but possible) to do, especially in this economy, but whether it is Montreal, Toronto or someplace else – Canada is a no-brainer.

But while NASCAR in Canada is an easy question, a veteran to lead the way at RPM is a tough one. Sadler would have been halfway decent, but that bridge has pretty much been burned. A guy like Bobby Labonte might have worked, but – oh…that’s right – that bridge was burned a few years ago (noticing a trend here?). Looking at the list of drivers, it is tough to pick out who might be a good fit – guys like Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte haven’t been relevant for years, and the pool gets even shallower after that. Mark Martin could be a possibility after next year, but he really didn’t do a whole lot in a development role for Regan Smith or Aric Almirola (I’m firmly in the Eric Armadillo camp, BTW). Maybe Bodine does make some sense…although it pains me a bit to admit that…

And I agree – Danica is going to have to choose NASCAR or IRL – and sooner, rather than later. While she is taking the right approach to entering NASCAR, she is not learning very quickly, and it seems like every time she starts to look comfortable, it is time to pack up and head back to the IRL for a month or two (where she’s not performing well at all right now). She’s got to commit to one or the other, rather than settling for being mediocre in both. If she doesn’t make a decision soon, she’ll end up with few options in either league.

So, to put a lid on it this week:

- Exciting racing this week at Montreal, and the Sprint Cup series should take note: it is time to seriously consider a race north of the border – the fans are there already, and the racing would be great.

- For some reason, the off-track drama this week surrounded the also-rans and the start-and-park teams. But at least the also-rans are trying hard, and if Todd Bodine thinks the start-and-park teams are good, more power to him, but we don’t really see it the same way.

- We still agree RPM could use a veteran to help A.J. and Marcos…but who?

- Danica might be taking the right approach to entering NASCAR, but she has to choose, and choose quickly – otherwise she could lose out in both NASCAR and the IRL.

- Armadillo, FTW

Todd.

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