Two Laps Down: Smoke Doubles Up at Loudon
Because there’s nothing good to watch on TV - 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 our latest conversation:
From: Scotty Wazz
Sent: Sunday, September 25th, 2011
To: Todd – “Wilson!”
Subject: Smoke Doubles Up at Loudon
So, uh, TB,
Where was this Smoke during the regular season?? Two Chase races and two Chase wins for Tony Stewart and the #14 crew, again thanks to fuel mileage. Luckily for Stewart, last year’s horror of running out of gas at the end didn’t haunt him, but it did shutdown Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle, who were racing Smoke hard, Bowyer looking like he’d win the whole thing. Yet– thanks to another fuel mileage race, we were able to get some interesting names in the top-10; Brian Vickers, David Ragan, Juan Montoya, and Regan Smith– guys who made some noise during the season, but not for a sustained amount of time. Only four Chasers, including Stewart, were in the top-10– Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth being the other three.
Speaking of the Chase, Stewart is now on point with the win, seven points ahead of Kevin Harvick. Jeff Gordon made the biggest jump of all, moving up six spots to 5t, while we could pretty much cash out Denny Hamlin, as he’s 66 points back after a 29th place finish at Loudon. That all said, how much will these fuel mileage issues play into the heads of these Chasers?? This is the second race with such an issue, and you can bet with all of the mile-and-a-half cookie-cutters we’ve got and then Talladega– there’s bound to be another 2 or 3 races where we’ll have issues with Chasers getting caught up on mileage. Should be fun, but also a bit nerve-wracking for some who may be too head-strong to give up positions to top-off.
Yet, when we have guys who make it on fuel– they almost don’t make it to the starting grid, which is what almost happened to Kurt Busch. Busch and his #22 Shell machine did not pass pre-race inspection, forcing them to hurry and adjust the rear-housing on the car, then run to the grid. They were able to make it on time, but Busch finished 22nd. My big question is, when is the last time we had a high-profile name like Busch get stopped at the pre-race inspection?? It almost seems like post-race is the way to go, and then you can make excuses for it because of race conditions. Do you think that the crew knew something ahead of time and thought they could sneak by?? We talked about Kurt being in his own head after being irate at his crew– how much more ticked off he is going to be with this over his head?? At least his teammate finished second in the race and is now in third in points– good for Keselowski.
When it comes to points, we did talk last week about how Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman had a lot left to show– but with only eight races remaining and them being in 10th and 11th respectively– how much more can they, or any other driver, wait to actually make a move?? The fact that we’ve already eliminated one guy (Hamlin) and with each race passing, there’s less points to be had– yet it doesn’t seem like there’s too much of a killer instinct yet. If they wait too long, their time will pass; so it’s almost a do-or-die scenario at this point.
Outside of the Chase, not much to say– unless it’s in the Gas-n-Go segment:
-Michael Waltrip Racing added Scott Miller, director of competition from Richard Childress Racing and said that the Clint Bowyer announcement could come in 7-10 days. Plus, they’ll be cutting ties with JTG-Daughtery Racing at the end of the year. Can they be the real deal now??
-Red Bull Racing told the State of North Carolina that they could be laying off as many a 150 people if the team isn’t sold. Though Jacques Villeneuve is interested– do we think RBR could be running next year??
-At Talladega, it seems that the bumpers won’t be able to be greased– good idea, bad idea??
-Diet Mountain Dew is going to replace Amp Energy on the #88 Chevy. With the Chase going on– wouldn’t you have to think that they would have wanted to do that announcement before the Chase so Dale Earnhardt, Jr could focus on that??
What say you, TB– at what point did Smoke realize he could win?? Will fuel mileage be the biggest story of the Chase?? When should contenders kick it into high gear so they aren’t left too far behind??
Sent: Sunday, September 25th, 2011
Subject: RE: Smoke Doubles Up at Loudon
I gotta say, Wazz,
I’m surprised by this sudden resurgence from Stewart. I figured we’d see this kind of dominance to open the Chase out of someone like Jimmie Johnson or Carl Edwards, but not Stewart, especially with the way he was running earlier in the season.
Now I guess you could take Smoke’s two wins with a grain of salt – after all, both of them were fuel mileage races, and Tony didn’t have the best car in either of them. I’m sure some people in the media may make a big deal about that, but heck – who cares how he got to victory lane, the guy’s got two checkered flags in the first two Chase races, the championship lead, and if he wins the whole thing – there sure won’t be an asterisk next to his name because he could manage his fuel better than everyone else.
At this point, the fuel mileage thing is going to be on everyone’s mind the rest of the Chase. Maybe not for places like Dover, Martinsville or Talladega, but certainly everywhere else. In the end, it might play out that cautions make fuel mileage a non-factor, but with the lack of big crashes so far in this Chase, you’ve got to think that everyone is going to change their strategy at all of the intermediate tracks to make sure they have enough gas. It is good, though – it makes the Chase more of a team effort – as we saw when Jeff Gordon’s crew basically lost Sunday with a slow final stop.
The flip side of the fuel mileage thing, though, is that there are a few guys with really fast cars that really haven’t realized their full potential so far. Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth have been friggin’ fast, but they don’t have the results to show for it. Heck, without fuel problems, Gordon could have had a top-3 at Chicagoland a win at Loudon already, and could be challenging for the point lead. Instead, he’s in fifth. Even Jimmie Johnson should be doing better – he had a pretty crappy car at New Hampshire, but should have been top-3 at Chicago.
The good news here, though, is that I think everyone but Hamlin is still in this thing. It’s not like the guys in the bottom half of the top-12 have sucked, they have had fast cars and bad luck – and nobody but Denny is more than 34 points out. I still think we’ve got the makings of a great battle for the Championship.
That said, those guys that you mentioned – Newman and Johnson – they can’t wait any longer, they gotta get moving if they don’t want to get left behind. Personally, I think it is never too early to panic in the Chase, and that is especially the case now, when there are only eight races left…and three of them are Dover, ’Dega and Martinsville – all of which could be wild-card type races where anything can happen. Fortunately for Johnson and Newman, they both have a pretty good track record at Dover, but I don’t think those guys, or Kenseth, Kyle, Junior and Gordon can afford to make any more mistakes from here on out.
Oh – and how did Hamlin become so mediocre so fast?
- I gotta hand it to Mikey Waltrip – if he scores Miller and then Bowyer in a span of two weeks, he’s lookin’ in pretty good shape. Obviously MWR needed a little more to get them to the next level, and a the guy who turned around RCR along with a driver who’s been in the Chase a couple of times sounds like exactly what they need. Is it enough to make them contenders?
- I’ll be curious to see if Villeneuve cane bring together the investors to buy Red Bull. It would be a shame for them not to find a buyer – we’re talking about a solid second-tier operation, someone has to be interested. The question here, though – it is kinda cheesy that Jacques only wants to buy the team so he can have a ride? The guy is an F1 champ, so it isn’t like Kevin Conway or anything, so I’m ok with it.
- No grease at Talladega = bad idea in my book. They guys are gonna 2-car draft one way or the other, and the grease helps prevent huge wrecks at 200mph – I don’t see why they wouldn’t want that.
- I don’t know if Junior’s announcement is a distraction or not, but I am definitely a little bummed about the new paint scheme – I was hoping for that retro-Dew paint job that they used earlier in the season – that one was way cooler than the silver car they’ll be using next year.
Back to you, Wazz – Are Smoke’s championship hopes real, or are the fuel-mileage wins not convincing enough? Is it ever too early to panic in the Chase? And is this the turning point for Mikey?
From: Scotty Wazz
Sent: Monday, September 26th, 2011
To: Todd – “Wilson!”
Subject: RE: Smoke Doubles Up at Loudon
The interesting thing, TB,
Is that, while yes, Smoke hasn’t had the best car and shouldn’t have won– it’s probably the motivation and confidence that he needs in order to actually give him some kind of push to have great runs from here on out. Like you said– who cares how he got ‘em, wins are wins and they will help anyone get a new lease on life just when they thought they couldn’t have done much with an opportunity like this. That said, he’s got the biggest target on him now and if he starts to fade– he’s streaky enough to fade crazy fast. Yet– I’d love to see if he gets enough breaks to run the table and win one or two more races in this thing.
The one thing that should be changed in the format of the Chase are the tracks that should be used– because half of them being cookie-cutter, mile-and-a-half tracks is not what the fans really want to see. Especially if they start to become all fuel mileage races; it’ll get on the nerves of fans and maybe some drivers, too. I know we come on here and hem and haw about what tracks should be included, but if these are all fuel mileage races and become dull, do you think NASCAR is going to change it around or will the almighty dollar be the final say in all of this??
Even so, like you said– it’s giving a shot to guys who may not have the best cars, but are doing everything right elsewhere in order to get that position. Though, it’s showing once again, you don’t have to have the best car, but you need to have the best strategy in order to actually get someone close to the championship. Sure, luck has a lot of to do with it– but it also seems like patience will be the key to this whole Chase.
It’s going to be interesting at those three tracks you mentioned, because while both Johnson and Newman have good track records there, it seems like statistics are moot at this point. Even so, these two haven’t shown much, but I do believe they were feeling things out. Just to see who they have to deal with and sitting back ready to strike. Johnson was this way last year, too– he sat back in the first race last year (25th at New Hampshire) then won Dover– the place he’s won in the Chase two-straight. Dover will be the weekend for Johnson to make his move and get back in the chatter. I could see Newman maybe getting back up there again– but if Johnson wants to start his kick; the Monster Mile will be the place for him to do it.
As far as the mediorcty of Hamlin– I don’t know what’s going on with him. He started out with the 2nd place disappointment, then seemed to show some promise at the middle of the season; but then just fell off the map. It almost makes you wonder how much leeway he’s going to get from Coach Joe Gibbs, but something has to change with either his crew or the mentality of Hamlin. I still don’t think he’s completely over last year and I think the team needs some kind of kick in the ass in order to get themselves going again. This year is pretty much over with for him, they may want to go over what needs to change and maybe, just maybe– bring Zipadelli over to the #11 and see what he can do with Hamlin.
-Personally– I think Miller will be a bigger coup than Bowyer. It’s one thing to get the driver that’s most coveted, but it’s another thing to get a guy with the competition experience and the ability to know what makes a guy tick and how to get the entire organization into competitive shape.
-Cheesy or not– if it’ll save jobs and save the team, put Jacques in a ride and make it out to be whatever he wants to be. That said, if he does buy the team– you have to wonder if Jacques will keep things as is, or make wholesale changes.
-Maybe because Crisco isn’t paying enough, but I don’t see why greasing is a bad thing. Like you said– I wouldn’t want to see these guys bump-and-grinding at 200mph and possibly doing a lot of damage to the cars, the drivers, and the Chase contenders’ chances all in one shot. Not a smart idea at all.
-Silver is very underused……but it isn’t the old school Dew car. With all the waves and the crazy green (also underused), I don’t see why they wouldn’t go there– it’s already recognizable and is something that could get Junior’s winning ways back.
White flag, TB– does Smoke get confidence from not having the best car and still winning?? Will NASCAR change the tracks if the best cars aren’t winning?? Can Hamlin EVER bounce back??
Sent: Tuesday, September 27th, 2011
Subject: RE: Smoke Doubles Up at Loudon
Not this year, Wazz,
Hamlin was upbeat being interviewed in the NASCAR teleconference Tuesday, saying that all it takes is a small change on the track to make a big difference in the standings, but despite his optimism, I think there’s basically no chance that he’ll get back into the mix being 66 points back. It’s like we’ve said before, not only does he have to gain ground on Stewart, he also has to get past Harvick, Edwards, Gordon…etc. Sure, he might get back on track and move up a few spots, but I don’t see him being a contender this year.
And if I were Smoke, I’d have a ton of confidence from the wins, even though I haven’t had the best car. Not only does he have the Chase lead, but he knows there is room for his team to improve…that’s got to be a good feeling, knowing that if he can step it up the final notch, he can build an even bigger lead. Smoke said after Loudon that the car doesn’t know about momentum, and that is true – but the driver and the people on the team do, and I think that momentum could carry him far.
But…we’ve also seen guys in the past get off to a killer start in the Chase, only to fade. Like you said, if Smoke stumbles, he could fade pretty fast – that’s why I still think we’ve got a pretty good Chase shaping up. I won’t be surprised of the top-5 going into Homestead looks completely different than it does now.
I’m totally with you on the tracks in the Chase – I like having a fuel mileage race every now and then, but not all the time. Money definitely talks, though, and I’m sure there were all kinds of deals made to get the 10 that they have. It kinda sucks, but NASCAR seems to have an agenda with the Chase tracks – they balance a few long-time standards like Martinsville and Talladegawith the biggest, newest markets they can find like Texas, Kansas and now Chicago.
So, what have we learned this week?:
- Smoke has come out of nowhere to claim back-to-back wins in the Chase. Say what you will about the fact that they were both fuel mileage races, but he’s got the trophies, the big-money checks, the points and the Chase lead – we’re both pretty interested to see how far the momentum carries the No. 14 team.
- Let’s not go crazy with the fuel mileage races. One here and there is OK by us, but hopefully stretching the gas doesn’t become the norm, especially seeing as intermediate tracks make up half of the Chase schedule.
- Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman both still have a chance in the Chase, but the time to go is now. They both traditionally run well at Dover, and they need to up the ante to stay in the mix.
- On the flip side of that last one – Denny Hamlin…pretty well done. 66 points back with eight to go? Things aren’t looking good for the No.11 team. They might need a change to bring Denny back to his championship-caliber performances of last season.
- With Scott Miller and most likely Clint Bowyer, Waltrip Racing may not be a second-tier team much longer.
- Speaking of second-tier teams, Jaques Villeneuve needs to buy Red Bull. It will save a bunch of jobs, keep two pretty good cars on the track, and give a former F1 champ a ride. Everybody wins.
Next week – high-banked craziness at the Monster Mile