Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 5 - California

When NASCAR arrived in Fontana California to race in 1997, it was seen as a bold step for NASCAR, that the goal of being a true top-tier national sport had been realized. With the Dallas-Fort Worth area and now the 2nd largest media market in the fold, the notion of “stock car” racing being essentially a southeastern phenomenon could no longer be sustained. OF course NASCAR had a long history near Tinseltown. Riverside was once one of the major race courses on the series – the prime road race on the circuit. Ontario Speedway also brought the good old boys to Hollywood, but much of this was before the days of full television coverage when drivers like Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, and Bill Elliott became regular names in sports vocabulary. Once upon a time, did anyone besides true race fans outside of the southeast know of anybody in NASCAR besides Richard Petty?

NASCAR became so confident in the western hub of its nationwide expansion, Fontana added a second date in 2004, while the venerable Rockingham track was closed and Darlington was reduced to one date. From that point forward, Fontana became an embarrassment perhaps the first sign that NASCAR was slipping into decline to where by 2008 the sport was plummeting in attendance, TV viewership, and willing sponsors. Hideous signs of decline became self-evident including the inexplicable start and park phenomenon that perplexes true sports fans. That California then was reduced to but one racing date for 2011 was a hard concession to reality, even mighty Los Angeles couldn’t be committed to two NASCAR dates and that Rockingham is back on the truck schedule might be a gentle reminder that there is no place like home after all. Certainly from a fan’s standpoint, watching at home, a Rockingham race is far superior to the same-old same-old pictures from modern cookie cutter tracks.

Plenty of buzz is roaring as the Auto Club 400 approaches tomorrow. First, surely Hendrick Motor Sports winning their appeal on all accounts except for the fine for their “C” post infractions preparing to race in the Daytona 500 provides much speculation. Certainly, some of how NASCAR handled penalizing the 48 team under Chad Knaus’s direction seemed to be an odd departure from protocol, but then that the arbiter handling the case was a GM official and a sense that perhaps he was looking out for corporate interests for its flagship team is hard to ignore wondering if Jack Roush or Joe Gibbs had been in the doghouse, they would have fared as well.

Bristol Motor Speedway also gained much attention with its dismal attendance and suggestion that the style of racing since progressive banking was installed simply Bristol racing isn’t as crowd friendly and needs to be corrected. Bruton Smith, the track’s owner, is seriously considering reverting to the track’s configuration before alteration. However, how much of this is track configuration and not $4.00 a gallon gasoline? While Bristol is easily in a day’s drive from many areas, it’s still a long haul and if the cost of the trip isn’t the killer just day-to-day driving to and from work is.  

The racing on the track should tell the story – four races, four different drivers win, one Ford, one Toyota, one Chevrolet, one Dodge. Early race accidents knocking out top drivers is also hard to ignore considering Jimmie Johnson leading the pack of drivers eliminated early in the Daytona 500 and Carl Edwards having to ride junk around the track not to be surpassed by garbage entries who weren’t competing just sowing up surpassing him. No competitive driver should ever be affected by Joe Nemechek or his band of fellow criminals being granted NASCAR welfare.

The final story is the battle for owners’ points. After the 5th race, all entries in the top 35 in owners’ points are guaranteed a starting position in the field. The driver in the hot seat in David Reutimann in the #10 Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing. Stewart-Haas stuck a deal to have Reutimann run 26 races to keep the ride in the top 35 in owner points to guarantee their investment in Danica Patrick having a guaranteed spot and not be subject to the additional stress of qualifying on speed. That Reutimann who seemed like a driver growing in the ranks absolutely tanked in 2011 leading to his dismissal from Michael Waltrip racing. His response to his dismissal and bad mouthing everyone in sight during Daytona’s Speed Week certainly called his motivation as a driver into question. The opening of the #10 ride certainly gave him the chance to show himself deserving of a competitive full-time ride. The #10 ride is one position short of the promised land. David Reutimann will be in one big doghouse if he can’t deliver.

Conversely, a bad showing by the #5 Rick Hendricks Chevrolet driven by Kasey Kahne is in danger of falling out of the top 35 with only a seven point edge from falling out. Teams “on the bubble” include #83 Thomas Uberall driven by Landon Cassill +4; Bob Gerain #13, Casey Mears, +10; Tom Ueberall, #93 Travis Kvapil +14; Brad Jenkins, #38, David Gilliland +16; Richard Childress #33, Brendan Gaughan +16; Bob Jenkins # 34, David Ragan +16. To say David Reutimann has his work cut out for him is an understatement to be sure.

Here’s how the field lines up:

1-11-Denny HamlinToyotaFedEx Express
2-18-Kyle BuschToyotaInterstate Batteries
3-55-Mark MartinToyotaAaron's Dream Machine
4-16-Greg BiffleFord3M
5-5-Kasey KahneChevroletQuaker State
6-39-Ryan NewmanChevroletU.S. Army
7-29-Kevin HarvickChevroletJimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches
8-20-Joey LoganoToyotaDollar General
9-14-Tony StewartChevroletOffice Depot / Mobil 1
10-48-Jimmie JohnsonChevroletLowe's / Jimmie Johnson Foundation
11-15-Clint BowyerToyota5-hour Energy
12-99-Carl EdwardsFordSubway
13-56-Martin Truex Jr.ToyotaNAPA Auto Parts
14-88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.ChevroletDiet Mountain Dew / National Guard
15-17-Matt KensethFordFord EcoBoost
16-1-Jamie McMurrayChevroletBass Pro Shops / Allstate
17-2-Brad KeselowskiDodgeMiller Lite
18-10-David ReutimannChevroletAccell Construction
19-31-Jeff BurtonChevroletCaterpillar
20-30-David StremmeToyota@TheNASCARFans
21-24-Jeff GordonChevroletDrive to End Hunger
22-78-Regan SmithChevroletFurniture Row / Farm American
23-51-Kurt BuschChevroletPhoenix Construction Services
24-42-Juan MontoyaChevroletTarget
25-22-AJ AllmendingerDodgeSouthern California AAA
26-47-Bobby LabonteToyotaCharter
27-27-Paul MenardChevroletCertainTeed / Menards
28-43-Aric AlmirolaFordMedallion Financial
29-9-Marcos AmbroseFordDewalt
30-26-Josh Wise*FordMorristown Driver's Service
31-83-Landon CassillToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper
32-98-Michael McDowellFordCurb Records
33-13-Casey MearsFordGEICO
34-36-Dave BlaneyChevroletTommy Baldwin Racing
35-23-Scott RiggsChevroletNorth Texas Pipe
36-49-J.J. YeleyToyotaAmerica Israel Racing
37-33-Brendan GaughanChevroletSouth Point Hotel & Casino
38-34-David RaganFordFront Row Motorsports
39-19-Mike BlissToyotaHumphrey Smith Racing
40-93-Travis KvapilToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper
41-38-David GillilandFord1-800LoanMart
42-32-Ken Schrader+FordU.S. Chrome / 1 Less Than 2 Ltd.
43-74-Reed SorensonChevroletTurn One Racing
Did Not Qualify
44-7-Robby GordonDodgeSpeed Energy
45-87-Joe / Pellet & Wood Stoves
46-37-Timmy Hill*

Entries shown in red are below 35th in owners' points.


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