Two Laps Down: Dodging Raindrops in California
Because we still haven’t won the lottery yet - 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: Todd – “Wilson!”
Sent: Monday, March 26th, 2012
To: Scotty Wazz
Subject: Dodging Raindrops in California
We said we needed shorter races, Scotty,
But not necessarily like we saw Sunday at Fontana. I think it was great that NASCAR made a quick, definitive decision about whether or not to continue the race as opposed to dragging everything out, but the only problem is that we never got to see how things were really going to play out – if maybe somebody like Kyle Busch or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had something extra left that they were going to bring out in the closing laps.
Without getting too far off track, though, that would be one of the potential benefits of shorter races – instead of drivers biding their time and just waiting until the last portion of the race, they would have no choice but to run all-out from the green flag to get toward the front.
Back on track, though – how smart does Tony Stewart look right now? Here’s a guy who wins a championship, fired his crew chief, and now with Steve Addington on the box he’s turned in two wins despite the fact that he never does well at the beginning of the season. And it wasn’t like he got a gift from the rain – Smoke just plain drove by Kyle and then started checking out when the rain finally came.
So everybody is fully on-board the Smoke band-wagon right now, and I totally get that, but how long will this hot streak last? We see this every year – someone starts off hot and everyone starts talking championship – (perfect example – in the poll on Nascar.com right now, two-thirds of the people think Stewart will win at LEAST five more races this season, which is pretty unlikely) but by the time the Chase comes around, we’ve cycled through about three or four other drivers. So how long do you think Tony can keep it up?
Staying on the topic of hot drivers – we talked about Dale Junior last week, but what about Greg Biffle?? This will be his third week at the top of the standings, yet everyone has been talking about Smoke and Junior. I’ll be perfectly honest – I am surprised that he is still leading the points. He didn’t really build up a lot of momentum at the end of last season, and of all the Roushkateers, The Biff wasn’t the one I assumed would be in this position. Are you as surprised as I am?
Other observations from Sunday’s race: The racing was the same old follow-the-leader we’ve become accustomed to at Fontana…Jimmie Johnson got lucky: he had a leaking oil line when the rain caution came out, but was saved by the red flag instead of going laps down having to fix it…Kurt Busch actually managed a good finish (9th) – mostly because he didn’t have enough time to screw everything up and/or wreck…and Kasey Kahne moved himself from the brink of dropping out of the top-35, but not necessarily by doing anything impressive – he simply finished 15th.
Ok, Gas-n-Go time:
- Jimmie Johnson got (most) of his Daytona penalty thrown out – the $100k fine stays, but no suspension for Chad Knaus, and Jimmie got his 25 points back – were you surprised as I was?
- Penske is switching to Ford…but may still be making Dodge engines next year for other teams. Could this whole thing get any stranger?
- Noting the horrible attendance last week and (obviously) our discussion about how Bristol has lost it’s mojo – owner Bruton Smith says he is seriously considering putting the track back to the way it was before it got paved/progressive banking. Is that the best NASCAR news you’ve heard in awhile, or what?
Over to you, Wazzman – is Stewart just the first fad of the year? Where did The Biff come from? Was Fontana anything other than the same-old, same-old?
Sent: Monday, March 26th, 2012
Subject: RE: Dodging Raindrops in California
It could be a balance, TB,
Because last year, we saw Smoke get going in the last ten races, but Addington is a guy who was helping Kyle Busch to wins early in the season. It could be just what Smoke needed to have the guy to set the course early and then let his own instincts take over when he needs to the most– late in the season. And, like I said before, he’s adjusted and focused more on driving rather than the operations side of things– thus, less stress for him, I’m sure.
Honestly, I think that Smoke is just getting started. He’s making up for his lost first-half of the season last year, but actually knows how important that is. It was a wake-up call for him to get in gear early because that kind of luck probably wasn’t going to come around twice in a lifetime. For me, it’s a great sign for him that he’s able to build off the championship season and not have the “hangover” of winning a championship and actually resting on his laurels.
That said, five more wins….I don’t know. Polls in general are a bit silly, especially when you’re doing something with a popular driver like Smoke. It’s a bit of a high expectation for him to pull off five more victories– but he is tuned in, so never say never. At this point, you have to wonder if he’s going to start focusing on cruising throughout it all since he’s probably going to be in the Chase with the wins and the points. At what point do you think he’s going switch it to looking ahead to the Chase?? Hell, this early in the season– it’s crazy to even think about it, but could be food for thought later on.
Yet, the call to actually call the race quickly because of the rain was genius. You have to think NASCAR had to get an earful from the teams about having to finish Daytona on a Monday night and then having to travel cross country to Phoenix for next week’s race. With the fact the teams have to drive back to their shops in North Carolina and then up to Martinsville, NASCAR probably didn’t want to hear the same thing again, so since it was half-way; make it official.
Back to the race, I’ll tell you what, you’re completely right about Johnson. It’s this kind of luck that he’s had this week that makes me think he could be a threat more-so and many people may be underestimating him. I’ll get to the other stuff in the G-n-G, but my thought is that with the streak over, I think JJ is actually allowed to think about racing again rather than the hoopla that surrounded him last year.
And you talk about the Biff and I’m with you on the guy who really is the most overlooked and most unassuming of the Roush Rockets to actually be at the top of the table. Though at the same time, that’s the thing that could be making him run as well as he’s running. Biff knows he’s low man on the totem pole and has to prove himself; but also he won’t get the stress and questions that guys like Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth might get, which would definitely make him more comfortable. I’m sure he may get jealous if he keeps this up, but if he can get in under the radar, he could be dangerous down the stretch.
-The craziness about the 48′s deal this week is that you knew Mike Helton wasn’t too keen on the result handed down, but kept a brave, monotone face when saying he agreed with the Chief Appellate. How much of a boost does this give Johnson and the team and how much does NASCAR feel shame because of this ruling??
-Why would Penske keep building for their possible competitor?? Don’t you think Ford would put a stop to this?? Albeit, the fact there is no Dodge teams, it’s a bit of a moot point, yet all seems very crazy.
-The Bristol news is a great announcement, but you have to wonder if it’ll actually make a difference or if drivers will be more ticked off if it’s just not the same as it was in the late-2000s. Though, to bring back some more competitive racing, I’m sure they’d do whatever it took.
-One more note, good friend to us over the years– Hermie Sadler– will be back in the Sprint Cup, piloting the #33 Chevy for Richard Childress at Martinsville. We talked last week about Michael Waltrip using the #55 as a test for someone like Brian Vickers; but is it good for Childress to use the #33 for some older guys to try and get back into the scene??
Right around to you, TB– is there a new balance with Smoke because of Steve Addington?? Did travel actually play into the cancellation?? Can the Biff be the most underrated driver who will still be underrated if he wins a title?? Does JJ and the 48 have that horseshoe again??
Sent: Tuesday, March 27th, 2012
Subject: RE: Dodging Raindrops in California
Good points about Smoke, Scotty,
You’re right – here’s a guy who barely made the Chase last year, so this time they concentrate on getting off to a solid start so they don’t have to worry….and next thing you know, they are essentially locked in after two early wins.
But the even bigger point you made – now what? Do they keep pushing for wins? Start preparing for the Chase? Sure, it is early, but I’m sure discussions have already started, and while I can’t imagine that Stewart will put aside all the momentum he has right now, but I bet they are going to bring some extra parts and ideas to the tracks in the Chase the first time around to try in practice (and possibly the race) – but that’s the advantage of getting wins early in the season.
Of course, the real test for Addington will come in those final 10 – because so far he’s been a great early-season crew chief, but his record for wins in the Chase is lacking. It does seem like the perfect combination, though – a great early-season crew chief with a great late-season driver. I don’t know if it is a 7+ wins combination, but a real Chase contender, nonetheless.
And I wouldn’t be surprised at all if travel played a role in the quick decision to end the race early. If we had the old schedule and if rained in, say -Bristol the week before Martinsville, I bet they would have sat it out and possibly pushed the end of the race to Monday. I’m not sure if maybe that didn’t shortchange the fans a little, but I certainly understand the decision.
Talking about guys running under the radar this year – call me crazy, but I think Biffle and Johnson are in the same boat. With all the talk about Stewart and Junior, people are kind of glossing over guys like Biffle and even Johnson – assuming that Biffle couldn’t possibly hold on to the top spot and that Johnson isn’t the dominating force he used to be. All the JJ talk has been about the penalty, not really about his racing.
I think you are on to something about JJ, though – he’s smart enough to use the lack of attention to his advantage, and experienced enough to stay in the background until just the right moment.
But another guy that even I haven’t bothered noticing this season is Martin Truex, Jr. Heck, a few weeks ago I was asking you what was up with the No.56 team, but that was at Vegas, which happened to be his worst finish this year. Since then, he’s turned in two-straight top-10 finishes and is fifth in the points. We’re starting to get to that point in the season where guys start drifting out of Chase contention – so can Truex keep it going, or is he going to start to slip?
- It may have been status-quo for Helton and his slightly frown-y mega-’stache, but underneath he must have been pretty embarrassed. NASCAR threw the book at Johnson/Knaus, and it turned out they didn’t cover all their bases, and definitely got a slap on the wrist from the Chief Appellate officer. Knaus must be feeling pretty good right now – it should give the team a big boost.
- Penske claims that teams have been inquiring about their Dodge engines…but who knows who those teams are. I’d think the only reason Ford would allow them to keep building is so The Captain wouldn’t have to fire everyone in the engine shop if they run Roush powerplants.
- Even if the drivers prefer the current Bristol, I think it would be cool if they actually went back to the old configuration – not only for the racing, but just because that means they were actually listening to the fans.
- Hermie in the #33? It might be more of a favor to Elliott for the job he is doing in Nationwide, but I like it when the big teams throw a guy in a car to test them out/give them seat time – whether it be a Sadler in the 33, Stenhouse in the 6, etc. It should happen more often.
Take it to the finish, Wazz – when does Smoke turn his focus to the Chase? Is Johnson flying under the radar right now, of just Biff? What do you think about Truex’s hot start?
Sent: Tuesday, March 27th, 2012
Subject: RE: Dodging Raindrops in California
At this point, TB,
I think Smoke and Addington will keep going for the wins and trying to run as well as they can until the Coke 400 in Daytona before they start worrying about the Chase. That way, not only will it give them time to rack more wins up and make sure they’re in the Chase; but it’ll give them eight races to get into Chase trim and mind-frame. Almost a mini-Chase before they get ready for the actual 10-race shootout at the end.
Here’s the thing, and this is just me, is that Addington will probably get along fine with the late-season runs with Smoke. More over, Addington will have to be a passenger and actually let Smoke make all the calls, as Addington only has one win in the last two seasons during the Chase and only four top-tens in that span. You’d have to think that at this point, Addington will be a passenger and he might be alright with that. For a guy like Smoke to actually be in control could be best because he’ll be in charge of his own destiny. At the same time though, you can bet that the team jumping out in front so early will allow them to actually work on pressure scenarios much more than immediately being thrown into that situation without notice.
The interesting point about the travel is that we’ve talked at times in the past about just having that whole west coast swing to be clustered together because it’s silly and not that cost-effective to keep going coast-to-coast with the haulers over a span of four weeks. Of course, it would mean teams would probably have to set-up a Western shop, but could probably be for the best for the teams and less stress when actually getting cars set-up in a short time frame. I don’t think it short changed the Fontana fans….because they never seem like the most exciting of people out there.
I totally agree with Biffle and Johnson being in the same boat, but their ability to sustain is going to be the biggest part about these two. We all know that Johnson is a guy who can make a charge when he’s been thought to be down-and-out, but Biffle is the real wild-card. He’s a good driver, but never gets the credit he deserves. With him at the top, you have to think he has to take advantage of that now or else he’ll always be deemed one the better drivers to be underestimate because he couldn’t take the reigns and then go from there. It could be a big season for Biffle, but only if he wants it to be. If he doesn’t take control, no one will think one way or another– but the minute people start to notice is the minute after Biffle decides he wants to be the man.
And speaking of being the man, I think that’s what Truex is doing with his MWR ride. He was supposed to be the cornerstone of that team and then he just got lost in the fold. Now, he’s in a contract-year state of mind so he can maybe keep his ride– since getting a new ride is a rough proposition– and he is trying to show that he’s worth the money that Mikey is actually giving to him. However, I also think that addition of Mark Martin to MWR has helped Truex focus and adding someone like Bowyer with experience in growing up on the circuit makes things really more comfortable for Truex and takes some of the pressure off of him to actually perform.
One final thing about Penske, it’d be interesting to see what teams are the ones that actually inquire about the engines. That mystery probably has some of the Ford and Chevy guys looking around to see who’s unhappiest and then cater to them for a short time to make sure they don’t jump. Or it could be Truck or Nationwide guys seeing what they can get out of the shop– though that’s a bit of a stretch. You’re right about Ford letting him keep the shop open as to not actually have people lose jobs– but it could also be so the Penske makes sure he gives as good as he gets– or he’ll just switch right back to Dodge if not.
So, what have we learned??
-Smoke and Addington are running the show right now, but can they sustain this pace?? And more importantly, at what point do they start to actually focus on the Chase??
-A west coast swing is a great idea and could get more exposure and maybe some jobs to open up Western shops. That said, NASCAR seems content with the back-and-forth approach, which could hurt their bottom line with getting races to their full limit.
-Greg Biffle has been silent in the past when it comes to being a contender. He’s at the point now where he needs to put up or shut up because there’s not a better time than now to come from under the radar to actually make a true run for the title.
-It’s hard to believe that Jimmie Johnson could be considered under the radar, but breaking the streak could have done it. Not only that, but the early shot in the arm from the penalty being rescinded could be what he needs to elevate him again.
-You put experienced drivers with a guy who is on the fringe of being a top driver is what Martin Truex, Jr. may have needed in order to be comfortable with MWR.
Back with some East Coast flavor with some flat-track, bull-ring racing at Martinsville this weekend.