The Frontstretch Newsletter: November 17th, 2009

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Nov 17, 2009, 1:50:11 AM11/17/09
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THE FRONTSTRETCH NEWSLETTER
Presented by Frontstretch.com
The Best Seat at the Track, The Best View on the Net!
November 17th, 2009
Volume III, Edition CCXXII
 
DON'T FORGET THE FRONTSTRETCH LIVE BLOG THIS SUNDAY!
Jimmie Johnson's victory Sunday at Phoenix has given him a 108-point lead going into the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, all but securing him a fourth straight title.  But while there may not be much of a race for the championship this weekend, that doesn't mean the action will stop on a 1.5-mile oval whose graduated banking often makes for fantastic finishes.
 
Can't get to a television to watch the race?  Or are you too busy watching the NFL to switch over?  Well, join your favorite Frontstretch writers instead for commentary, opinions, polls, and all kinds of other inside information you just can't get anywhere else as you follow the race LIVE from your computer.  The action starts at 2:45 PM EST on Sunday, so feel free to drop on by.  And remember, viewer posts are always welcome, so don't be shy -- participate!
 
Top News Stories
by Tom Bowles

Crafton To Practice, Qualify No. 7 Dodge For Robby Gordon

While Jimmie Johnson focuses on a fourth straight championship, Robby Gordon has a title of his own to clinch this week. Leading the SCORE International Off-Road Standings, Gordon plans to race the No. 77 Monster Energy / Toyo Tire Trophy Truck in the Baja 1000, the final event of the season held November 19th-22nd on the Baja peninsula in Mexico.

There’s just one problem with Gordon’s race schedule: it conflicts with NASCAR’s weekend at Homestead-Miami. So Truck Series driver Matt Crafton has been hired to practice and qualify Gordon’s No. 7 Sprint Cup Series Toyota, with the driver/owner expected to return in time for the start of the 400-mile race on Sunday.

The 33-year-old Crafton has yet to make an official Cup Series start, but has one win and 108 top 10s in 221 career starts in Camping World Trucks.

Kyle Busch Truck Team In Jeopardy?

Seems like Kyle Busch is further away from owning a Truck team than anybody might have thought. With construction advancing on a new, 62,000 square foot shop for the Cup superstar, rumors abounded he was constructing a new, two-truck organization to debut starting in February 2010. But during an interview at Five Flags Speedway Monday, Busch was skeptical if the plans will come to fruition in time.

“It's going nowhere fast,” he said of his effort to put a program in place. “I've got no shop to put my stuff in, my builders can't build a building in three years, got no hauler, no trucks, no equipment… and it's pretty late in the year. We're already to Homestead; we only have two months before Daytona, so it's a short amount of time to put a lot together. I don't think it's going to happen. So if Billy [Ballew]’s got an open seat for me over at Ballew, I'd be happy to take it again, and hopefully we can get Miccosukee to return. They've been a great partner for us, as well as Toyota.”

Busch had appeared to have crossed equipment off his list of needs with a pending purchase of the assets of Xpress Motorsports' No. 16 Toyotas. But the frustrated driver admitted negotiations there have suddenly hit a snag as of late.

“Nothing has come close to being finalized,” he continued. “The price is way too high. Of course they want to get their money's worth from what they bought, but for whatever the economy is, for whatever the price of the Truck Series is, I feel it's a bit expensive.”

Busch’s current Truck owner, Ballew, is committed to bringing back Aric Almirola full-time in his No. 15 truck for 2010. But Busch’s presence should give him sponsorship money from Miccosukee or elsewhere to bring back a second ride, the No. 51.

Busch was at Five Flags Speedway testing for the Snowball Derby in December.

Phoenix TV Ratings Down 17.6 Percent

Jimmie Johnson may be making history these days, but fewer and fewer fans are sticking around to witness it. The No. 48 team's victory at Phoenix – pulling them within a whisker of a fourth straight title – scored just a 2.9 overnight TV rating, down 17.6 percent from the 3.4 the same event scored in November 2008.

Overall, the Chase ratings are 7 percent lower compared to last season through nine events. However, that number jumps to a 26 percent decrease when compared to 2005, the highest recorded Chase ratings on record in the six-year history of the current format.

Strong Field Of 48 Cup Cars Entered For Homestead

As the 2009 NASCAR season comes to a close, one of the bigger entry lists of the year has popped up at Homestead-Miami Speedway. And while there’s no changes for cars inside the top 35 in owner points expected for Sunday, a solid list of part-time efforts highlight the 13 cars fighting for just eight additional starting spots on the grid:

02 – David Gilliland, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
08 – Terry Labonte, Carter Simo Toyota
09 – David Stremme, Phoenix Racing Chevy
13 – Max Papis, Germain Racing Toyota
21 – Bill Elliott, Wood Brothers Ford
36 – Michael McDowell, Tommy Baldwin Racing Toyota*
37 – Tony Raines, Front Row Motorsports Dodge*
66 – Dave Blaney, PRISM Motorsports Toyota*
70 – Mike Skinner (unconfirmed), TRG Motorsports Chevy*
71 – Bobby Labonte, TRG Motorsports Chevy
78 – Regan Smith, Furniture Row Racing Chevy
82 – Scott Speed, Team Red Bull Toyota
87 – Joe Nemechek, NEMCO Motorsports Toyota*

KEY: BOLD = Car not entered at Phoenix last week
ITALICS = Driver Change from last week
* - Entry expected to start and park unless last-minute sponsorship comes through

After a rough week behind the wheel of the No. 09 of Phoenix Racing, David Gilliland moves back to the No. 02 for his third and final start in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. A strong run may be needed for Gilliland to have that limited schedule continue in 2010, one of a handful of different options as he ponders his future. In the meantime, Phoenix turns to David Stremme this week, as the former Penske driver has a one-race audition to possibly earn the ride full-time in 2010.

Former champions Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott also return to the series, driving the No. 08 and No. 21 cars, respectively. Labonte’s ride is sponsored by fans, a one-race deal with Carter Simo Racing they hope can turn into a more fruitful sponsorship in 2010. But it's Terry's brother Bobby that steals the show from them both, with his past champion's provisional (2000) leaving him first in line to qualify regardless of whether he makes it in on speed or not with TRG Motorsports. Terry Labonte (1996) is second eligible driver on the list, with Elliott's 1988 Cup Series title leaving him a distant third.

Quick Hits

-    Late to the newsletter this Tuesday is Brad Keselowski’s closed door meeting with NASCAR officials following Saturday’s tangle with Denny Hamlin on the race track. Chairman Brian France was present at the meeting, which Keselowski said was about “Trying to pick and choose who you want to be your friends and enemies in this sport, and making sure I understood that process and what it takes to make it to this level.”

In the meantime, NASCAR has no further plans to meet with Denny Hamlin, who threatened direct retaliation on the track at Homestead to settle his scores with Keselowski. Series Director Joe Balash would simply say such behavior would not be tolerated.

-    Rick Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. were adamant Sunday a deal with Danica Patrick isn’t yet done. But all parties have come too far to back out at this point. Sources continue to say a contract will be signed, sealed, and delivered to the public by January 1st.

-    BAM Racing owner Beth Ann Morgenthau came on Race Talk Radio Monday night, announcing their No. 49 car will run full-time in 2010 under the Toyota Camry banner. With sponsorship from Warner Records, the team is expected to return to full-time competition, running all 36 races for the first time since the 2007 Cup Series season. Driver and crew chief announcements will come at a later date, but regardless the team will have its own show on RTR every Wednesday night next season.

Have news for Tom and the Frontstretch? Don't hesitate to let us know; email us at ashl...@mail.com with a promising lead or tip.

Got NASCAR-related questions or comments?
Send them Matt Taliaferro's way at matt.ta...@frontstretch.com; and if you're lucky, you'll get your name in print when he does his weekly column answering back to you – the fans that keep Frontstretch afloat. Fanning The Flames returns Thursday with a whole new set of Fan Questions and Answers!

Numbers Game:  Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500K presented by Pennzoil
By Phil Allaway

1.033
In seconds, Jimmie Johnson's margin of victory in Sunday's Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500k presented by Pennzoil.

2 hours, 49 minutes, 26 seconds
Time it took to complete the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil.
 
3
Drivers who failed to qualify for Sunday's race.
(No. 02 - Brandon Ash, No. 70 - Kevin Conway, No. 78 - Regan Smith)

4
Caution flags for a total of 23 laps at Phoenix.
 
4
Number of times winner Jimmie Johnson led the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500k presented by Pennzoil Sunday.

7
Victories for Jimmie Johnson during the 2009 season.
 
9
Lead changes among only four drivers Sunday.
 
15
Penalties handed down by NASCAR during the running of the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500k presented by Pennzoil.

16
Number of cars on the lead lap at the end of Sunday's race.

21st
Joey Logano's finishing position, earning him Raybestos Rookie of the Race honors. 

37

Cars running at the end of the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500k presented by Pennzoil; but just 16 wound up finishing on the lead lap.

43rd
Tony Raines' finishing position Sunday in the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500k presented by Pennzoil.  He completed just 6 laps of the event before suffering electrical problems on his No. 37 Long John Silver's Chevrolet.
 
108
Points that Jimmie Johnson leads Mark Martin by in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings.

110.486 
Average race speed (in mph).
 
188
Career Cup wins for Rick Hendrick after Jimmie Johnson's trip to Victory Lane on Sunday, including 13 this season.

238
Laps led by race leader Jimmie Johnson on Sunday, the most of any driver.
 
312
Laps in the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500K presented by Pennzoil, equaling 312 miles, or 502.32 kilometers.

90,000
Estimated crowd in attendance at Phoenix.

$267,001
Jimmie Johnson's purse for winning the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500k presented by Pennzoil.

$5,136,375    
Total purse for the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500k presented by Pennzoil.

Phil Allaway is a Newsletter Contributor/Editor for Frontstretch.com. He can be reached at phil.a...@frontstretch.com.
 
Today's Featured Commentary
Will a Hamlin/Keselowski Rivalry Help to Save our Sport?
Sitting In The Stands: A Fan's View
By S.D. Grady

Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
 
Remember the chant from the playground?  Whether you were a party to the upcoming event or not, you probably followed the rest of the kids outside hoping to see what would happen.  It’s called conflict, peaking curiosity in millions of youngsters everywhere -- even when nothing really happens.
 
For days after, there would be whispers in the hall about who was gonna retaliate, and the teachers kept a sharp eye on all the “troublemakers”.  It added a certain tension to the air.
 
It seems NASCAR isn’t that different from the schoolyard. 
 
Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin are currently in the middle of a good ol’ fashioned showdown.  I may not hold much hope for the excitement value of next week’s Cup finale, but I will be tuning into the Nationwide race looking for action to pop right out, as Hamlin has promised some fireworks after the pair joined fenders during the Able Body Labor 200 at Phoenix.  Despite restraining himself from “bashing [Keselowski] for the next 20 seconds," though, Hamlin found it hard to dismiss the Lap 157 wreck that ruined his day.  “I’m just happy I signed up for next week’s Nationwide race. In turn there’s a lot of guys that owe [Keselowski]," he said. "There’s a lot of guys that have a lot of chips that they’re going to cash in, and I’m just going to be the first at the pay window."  
 
My only hope?  That NASCAR lets them take this to the track and show us an example of what rivalries are all about.

What’s even better?  Both drivers have rides in the Cup Series for 2010.  For once, it looks like we’ve got a pair of drivers who just can’t stay away from each other.  And if there’s one thing that will draw fans to the television, it’s a pair of competitors ready to go after each other at the drop of the flag.
 
But…will a rivalry, the likes of which we have not seen since Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jeff Gordon, be enough to truly salvage NASCAR’s TV ratings from the juggernaut of monster multi-car teams?  Since I don’t expect Keselowski to be visiting Victory Lane next season, even if he will be driving a Penske machine, will anybody really care if Hothead Hamlin and Knuckles Keselowski go at it in the turns?
 
Unfortunately, I suspect the answer will be no.
 
Let’s face it; as long as the television cameras are glued to the leading Hendrick Chevy, there won’t be much reason to be looking for that bump 'n' run between the two kids.  Should Keselowski decide to suddenly take a dislike to, say, Jimmie Johnson, then the announcers will have something to talk about.
 
You see, it has been determined that it’s all about the win…the checkered flag.  However, I think it can be safely said that this season has proven that race fans aren’t actually in favor of having a team drive away with it all.  We want stories.
 
We want good guys.  We want bad guys.  We want young guns and veterans.  We like to see everybody get along and yes, every once in a while, we love to see a couple of guys throw the gloves to the ice and have at it.
 
Brad was invited to the Oval Office for counseling.  Maybe all the right words were said.  Maybe…
 
Maybe, they’ll ignore all the warnings and take the spotlight off a predictable ending to the season, setting us up for more excitement in 2010.
 
Now, wouldn’t that be a story worth talking about?
 
S.D. Grady is a Senior Writer for Frontstretch.com. She can be contacted at sonya...@frontstretch.com.

Think you have what it takes to write for the Frontstretch?
Are you looking for a fast-growing website that can give you an opportunity to not only share your thoughts on racing, but have FUN doing it with a group of laid-back, dedicated personnel?  Well, we have the place for you.  Frontstretch is actively seeking 4-6 additional writers for both our newsletter and website to add to our dedicated staff in 2010.  Follow this link for more information on how you can become a weekly columnist for the site and/or newsletter!
 
TODAY ON THE FRONTSTRETCH:

Is Jeff Gordon's Drive For Five Permanently Stalled?

by Danny Peters

Broadcasting Brilliance: My Picks For An All-Star NASCAR Commentating Crew
by Vito Pugliese

Talking NASCAR TV: The Championship Is A Big Story -- But Not THAT Big
by Phil Allaway

Who's Hot / Who's Not In Sprint Cup: Chase Race #9 Edition
by Doug Turnbull

Running Their Mouth: Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500K
by Beth Lunkenheimer

FRONTSTRETCH TRIVIA:
Q:  Kevin Lepage picked up the first of his two career victories in the now-Nationwide Series in 1996 at Homestead, driving the No. 88 Hype Chevrolet for car owner David Ridling.  However, Lepage did not drive the whole season in that car.  What team was Lepage driving for at the start of the season instead, and who started out the year behind the wheel of the No. 88?
 
Check back Wednesday for the answer, here in the Frontstretch Newsletter!
 
Monday's Answer:
Q: 
 Dale Jarrett won the inaugural Jiffy Lube Miami 300 in 1995 at the then-Homestead Motorsports Complex while debuting a new sponsorship from Hudson Technologies.  However, with just two laps to go, Jarrett was running fourth on a track that was very difficult to pass on.  How did he overcome the top three drivers to win?

A:  Effectively, Jarrett was in the right place at the right time.  The top 3 drivers -- Hermie Sadler, Kenny Wallace, and Larry Pearson -- were feverishly battling for the lead.  Sadler had just taken the lead from Wallace going into turn 3, and Pearson was attempting to follow Sadler.  However, Pearson got into the back of Sadler, spinning him into Wallace.  All three cars ended up in the wall hard, allowing Jarrett to skitter by and claim victory.
 
A clip of the incident can be found at this link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgTZVYRtBAo.  Ken Squier, Ned Jarrett, and Geoffrey Bodine have the call for CBS.

Frontstretch Trivia Guarantee:  If we mess up, you get the shirt off our backs!  If we've provided an incorrect answer to the Frontstretch Trivia question, be the first to email the corrected trivia answer to tri...@frontstretch.com and we'll send you a Frontstretch T-Shirt ... FREE!

ADVERTISEMENT
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Frontstretch.com has negotiated a special price for its readers on all paints and sundries at any corporate owned Porter Paints or Pittsburgh Paints location.  Tell your sales associate to use account number TA000553 to let them know that you are a Frontstretch reader, and you are entitled to a 15% discount off the WHOLESALE price on any stocked item. Not valid at dealer locations.
 
Coming tomorrow in the Frontstretch Newsletter:
-- Top News from Phil Allaway
-- Full Throttle by Mike Neff
-- Links to your favorite Frontstretch articles, and more!
 
Tomorrow on the Frontstretch:
 
Did You Notice? by Tom Bowles
That with the year winding down, there's a whole lot more to look at than just the championship? Tom takes care of a few odds 'n' ends and statistical anomalies you might not be looking at in his weekly collection of small observations in and around the NASCAR circuit.

Mirror Driving by the Frontstretch Staff
The Mirror crew is at it again with their usual weekly roundtable debate.  This week's topics include whether any type of Chase format could have prevented this anti-climatic championship finish, whether Lance McGrew is truly the man to resurrect Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s career, whether NASCAR needed to nose into the Hamlin-Keselowski affair, and more.

Frontstretch Top Ten by Jeff Meyer
Jeff's weekly list based on the latest NASCAR controversy will start your morning off with a laugh -- guaranteed.

The Frontstretch Foto Funnies by Kurt Smith
Poking fun at NASCAR superstars? It's second nature to Kurt, as he takes a look at some of the goofiest photos from Phoenix that should never have made it to print.

Voice Of Vito by Vito Pugliese
We'll have another commentary from our Michigan-based columnist which is sure to make you think.
 
Frontstretch Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Top 15 After Phoenix by the Frontstretch Staff
Wondering whether your favorite driver is filling up with 2010 momentum?   In order to end the season on a high note, he'll probably need to secure a spot within our top 15 poll. Take a look and see who's on track to do just that following Sunday afternoon's Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500k presented by Pennzoil at Phoenix International Raceway.
------------------------------
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Got something to say about an article you've seen in the newsletter? It's as easy as replying directly to this message or sending an email to edi...@frontstretch.com. We'll take the best comments and publish them here!
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