News & Media

Track Smack: Bumps, slumps and a teammate trumps

June 14, 2012, ,

Topics: Logano's bold move; Junior's anniversary; Kenseth overtakes Biffle

1. Joey Logano went to Victory Lane last week at Pocono Raceway, but put the bumper to former mentor Mark Martin to get there. Should fans applaud that move, or be uncomfortable with it?

Joe Menzer: Applaud it. Demand more of it. I think too many of the drivers these days are too nice, plus we all know how difficult it is to pass. Logano didn't wreck him, he just gently moved him out of the way. It was beautiful and we need to see more of that kind of stuff, not less.

David Caraviello: OK, first of all, I wouldn't go as far as to say he "put the bumper to him." That might be a little strong. Martin made the smallest of mistakes, Logano saw an opening, and nudged him a little to loosen his car so he could get by. That does not exactly rise to the level of rattling someone's cage. If you have a problem with that, it might be time to go watch some bocce ball or something.

Bill Kimm: Oh man, they better applaud ... that was fantastic. Logano was the dominant car all weekend and it was only right for him to be in Victory Lane. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, and anyone who says otherwise needs to stop watching races and find a less adrenaline-filled sport ... maybe synchronized swimming. David and I thinking alike -- this could be an interesting Track Smack.

Joe Menzer: Uh, here we go again ... did you not read what I said, too? Who am I? The Invisible Typist? And bocce ball actually can be exciting ... depending on how much beer you've had to drink and whether or not you're doing extreme bocce on a beach. More on that later.

David Caraviello: I will say this, Joey clearly had the faster car. In that situation, it's tough to criticize anything the guy does to get by whomever is in front of him. I'm not advocating taking people out, and that's not to say the car in front doesn't have a right to that position. But if you can do it as relatively smoothly and cleanly as Joey did, I can't imagine anyone having an issue with it. Unless they're a Mark Martin fan, of course. Or Mark Martin himself.

Bill Kimm: It is disappointing Mark Martin came out and somewhat criticized Logano. I get being upset with losing, but what Logano did was perfectly executed, and Mark knows that.

David Caraviello: I mean, after all we heard in the aftermath of this season's first Bristol race, when people pined for the bump-and-run days to such an extent that they didn't show up, I can't imagine anybody being upset with this. Allegedly, it's the kind of stuff people want to see more of. And when the guy has the fastest car all weekend -- well, it's hard to argue with the tactic, especially given that he waited for Martin to make the smallest mistake first. If you're going to nudge someone out of the way to win, that's the right way to do it.

Bill Kimm: Hey, the three of us enjoyed it and really, isn't that all that matters?

Joe Menzer: There's no "allegedly" about it, pal! It's what people want to see a whole lot more of, trust me. Here's the thing with Mark Martin. You've got to love his volume of work throughout his career. But the fact is if he had just a touch of a mean streak in him as a driver -- as much as even a guy like Jeff Gordon, I mean -- he'd probably have about 10 to 15 more race wins and a couple of championships. You've got to respect that that's his style, to race ultra-clean. But it costs him sometimes, no question.

David Caraviello: Now Joe, that might be a touch unfair. The guy has how many Cup wins, and you're questioning his killer instinct? Wanting to know where his "mean streak" is? I'm not sure Jimmie Johnson has a mean streak, and things have worked out fine for him. You can be ruthless on the race track and still compete against people a certain way. Not everybody is going to be an Intimidator.

Joe Menzer: I think you're wrong there. I think Jimmie and Jeff and most others are willing to bang a little -- heck, they've done it to each other at Martinsville in the final laps before -- more than Mark is willing to do. I understand not everybody is going to be an Intimidator. In fact, that proves my point. It's not Mark's style -- and there is no question in my mind that through the years it probably has cost him some wins, maybe even a championship or two.

The Pocono poke

Joey Logano made a move on Mark Martin that Martin never would have made.

David Caraviello: Listen, a man's got to have a code. Martin doesn't do that kind of stuff, and he's not alone. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. But I don't know if you could take this to the level of, oh, he might have a couple of championships if he were more willing to knock someone out of the way every now and then. The guy has 40 Cup Series wins doing it his way. Very difficult to argue with the results.

Joe Menzer: But he made the choice to race the way he does, and I respect it. He's consistent, and I like consistent. He says he'll race people clean, and he does. I'm just saying there have been times through the years where that has undoubtedly cost him on the bottom line. He'd rather do it his way than knock somebody out of the way for a win. There are some guys -- take Kevin Harvick, for instance -- who unabashedly admit they will do whatever it takes to win if they're in position to do so. The fact that Mark Martin has 40 Cup wins racing his way only illustrates how talented a driver he is.

Bill Kimm: Everyone has a different style and there is no real correct answer as to how to be a successful Cup champion. That being said, the fact Logano was in position to do what he did bodes well for him ... and he needs to show a little more aggressiveness out there; he's not a rookie anymore looking to earn respect.

David Caraviello: Well, there may be some generational differences there. But listen, if Martin were doing it his way and never winning, that would be one thing. But he's won a lot more than he gets credit for. His way works for him. And that's cost him -- what? Championships? There were a few penalties that impacted that quest along the way, to be certain. But I don't know if being meaner here or there would have changed the course of his career.

Bill Kimm: Joe, would this be the time we talk about that "extreme" bocce-ball tournament? You put people in the wall when you throw that green ball?

Joe Menzer: I do what I have to do to win. Know what I mean?

2. On to Michigan International Speedway, where it's been four years since Dale Earnhardt Jr. recorded his last Cup victory -- on Father's Day, at the same track. Odds of a repeat performance Sunday?

Joe Menzer: Hmmmm. I'm going to say he'll have another strong run but he won't win. And here's why: right now you can't blame him for points racing. The way this deal is set up -- even as badly as he wants to win -- they need to protect their points position and keep piling up the top-10s, top-fives, to make sure they get in the Chase by being top-10 in points overall by the Richmond cutoff in the fall.

David Caraviello: And the Earnhardt Watch begins again. We thought, maybe at Daytona. Then we thought, maybe at Talladega. Then we thought, maybe at Charlotte. Now we're thinking, maybe at Michigan, given this is where he last won four years ago. Hey, Michigan seems as good as anywhere. Dale is good almost every week, and the drought-buster could come at almost anytime. At Michigan? Certainly, given how strong he traditionally is on big tracks. But I don't know if Michigan necessarily stands out as a better candidate than any other facility right now.

Video flashback

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s victory at Michigan in June 2008 ended the longest winless drought of his career. Until the next one started the week after.

Joe Menzer: The Earnhardt Watch begins again? I didn't know it ended.

Bill Kimm: It never ends. No matter how much some of us want it to. It. Never. Ends. If I were a bettin' man, which I'm not, I think he has to be a solid 3-1, maybe a 4-1 bet -- which is pretty good. This is a great season for the No. 88 and I think a win will come sooner rather than later. No reason the "new" Michigan won't suffice.

David Caraviello: To Joe's point about protecting their position, they were sitting ducks at Pocono in that regard. They were trying to stretch fuel all they could, but the Kasey Kahne crash and the long ensuing caution period made their bed for them. And over the radio, Junior was adamant -- don't let me run out of gas. That would have been devastating at such a big race track. If anything, they were relieved to come in, put the fuel question behind them, and race for a top-10 finish. That's not points racing -- that's being realistic and taking the best option presented to you.

Joe Menzer: I was there in June 2008 when he won his last Cup race, and I do have to say it was pretty cool. The crowd went nuts. Victory Lane was more raucous than usual, and it's usually pretty raucous. As far as Pocono, like I said, the way this deal is set up now ... you can't blame them. For better or worse, it's all about getting in the Chase. The thing is, though, once you're in the Chase, I do believe you have to win a race or two at the least to win a championship.

Bill Kimm: This weekend is all about coincidences for the No. 88. He last won on Father's Day ... this race is on Father's Day. It was at Michigan, where this weekend's race is, and Joe Menzer was there, as he will be this time around ... I think those odds just went to a solid 2-1! If I'm Junior, I'm taking that snazzy photo of Menz from his bio page and taping it to the dash!

Joe Menzer: Wow. Bill Kimm's karma is pretty convincing! I think between now and the Richmond Chase cutoff, Junior is going to have to have a really dominant car and an almost perfect day regarding luck and everything else to win. As much as I hate to say it, they'd be stupid to take gambles that could risk them starting a tumble out of the top 10 at this point. That's probably the downside of this system, but there are plenty of upsides. There are plenty of other teams willing to risk everything to get wins now, and Junior is in a different position.

David Caraviello: Dale Jr. at Michigan: one win, four top-fives, eight top-10s. His average finish there, though, is 15.8, which is not as good as I thought it would be. And, he hasn't cracked the top 10 in two years. So maybe this isn't necessarily the best place for him. Of course, the resurfacing is going to change everything. And he never was particularly any good at Pocono, and he had perhaps the second-best car there. So who knows?

Joe Menzer: Well, we do! We're the experts, right? And I say for Junior at Michigan ... strong car, top-10 finish, no win.

Bill Kimm: More important numbers, David -- four top-fives and nine top-10s in his past 10 starts this year. I don't care what he has done at Michigan recently, this is a different No. 88 team and he is proving it each and every week.

David Caraviello: Joe, clearly they have a lot to lose given their position, and it's probably natural to want to get more conservative. But in reality, they're going to need wins to avoid falling into a hole to start the Chase. I think they know that. Earnhardt is having a great season, and he is unquestionably a championship contender, but if he goes 0-fer in the regular season he's looking at starting the Chase in something like eighth place.

Joe Menzer: Well, we'll see what happens. I'm not saying they won't go for a win if they're in position. But I think they're mostly points racing right now, and I'm saying you can't blame them. It is indeed a dangerous game to play -- because you can't just flip a switch and start winning races once you're in the Chase just because you've had a good points season up until then. Not when you haven't won since June 2008.

David Caraviello: Exactly right. I was talking to a highly placed motorsports source the other day, and he just threw out the possibility of Junior's breakthrough coming at the least expected place, somewhere like Sonoma. Some guys wreck, some guys run out of fuel, and there goes the No. 88, pulling into Victory Lane to break the skid on a road course. Wouldn't that be fun. I'd love to see it.

Joe Menzer: Wow. You talked to "a highly placed motorsports source?" That's even more impressive than a Junior victory would be!

David Caraviello: Hey, somebody has to do reporting while you're in the carpool line.

Bill Kimm: I thought David was our "highly placed motorsports source." Now I'm all confused.

• It's been 143 races since Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s last win.
• The 143 races were won by 26 different drivers.
• Hendrick Motorsports drivers won 33 of the 143 races.
• Earnhardt has finished second seven times since his last Cup win, including twice in 2012.
• Earnhardt has 17 top-five finishes, 41 top-10s and led 861 laps in that span.
• During the 143 races, three drivers broke winless streaks of more than 100 races.
• The longest winless streak ever broken by a driver at Michigan is 170 races by Sterling Marlin in August 2001.
• The longest winless streak broken in the June race at Michigan is 76 races by Earnhardt in June 2008.
• Michigan marks Earnhardt's 450th Cup start.

Joe Menzer: New nickname: HPMS. Thankfully, the carpool line has concluded for the summer. And don't worry, Bill, you are frequently confused during these Smack sessions, aren't you?

3. Matt Kenseth has usurped Roush Fenway teammate Greg Biffle as points leader in the Sprint Cup Series. How much does that mean right now? And how long does he keep it?

Joe Menzer: Truthfully, it doesn't mean squat right now. But it does illustrate how strong Kenseth has been all year. Remember, his season began with winning the Daytona 500.

Bill Kimm: It's a moral victory, but that's all. As for how long he keeps the points lead -- I see more Roush domination in the Irish Hills, so he will probably head to Sonoma with the lead ... but lose it there.

Kenseth vs. Biffle

Through 14 races
Fin. 21+ 11
Lead Lap Fin.1313
Laps Led221489
Avg. St.15.09.1
Avg. Fin.7.68.6

David Caraviello: Well, it brings to the forefront something that's been overlooked all season -- how sneaky good that No. 17 team is. They're always there, they're always steady, like a golfer who never puts up a big number. Yes, it was an engine failure that set Biffle back, and you can't blame him for that. But I have a sneaking suspicion that Kenseth's team might be the stronger of the bunch, and might occupy that top spot a little longer than we think they will.

Joe Menzer: In the first 14 races, Kenseth has seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes to go along with that Daytona 500 win. That's really consistent and shows that they've got the staying power -- but Bill's right about him possibly losing the lead at Sonoma, a place he doesn't really like.

Bill Kimm: Yes! I finally get to disagree with HPMS! Biffle has shown week in and week out he is the top dog at Roush, not Kenseth. There is no way you can convince me the No. 17 is stronger than the No. 16!

David Caraviello: Um, they're ahead of them in the standings, if you haven't noticed. And I'd take Kenseth over either of his closest pursuers on a road course. Maybe Denny Hamlin, your defending champ in this Michigan race and decent enough on road layouts, has two good weeks and takes it from him. I know it's only a 10-point advantage, but the way the tracks fall, I could see Kenseth holding on to the top spot through the summer Daytona race, at least.

Joe Menzer: In 12 career starts at Sonoma, Kenseth has exactly one top-10 finish. That could be a significant speed bump for him.

Bill Kimm: Kenseth is ahead because of one engine failure. Biffle held the points lead for 11 weeks I believe. Spare me the "Kenseth is ahead of him" argument. The No. 16 has been the top dog all season.

Joe Menzer: Bill, I was talking to a highly placed source at the local Dairy Queen the other day, and he said all the Roush Fenway Racing cars will be good at Michigan. But he, too, indicated that the facts -- yes, the facts -- point to problems for the No. 17 team, however temporary, on the road course at Sonoma. All of which only illustrates that it doesn't really matter who's leading the points right now, except for the fact that those near the top -- Kenseth, Junior, Biffle -- are going to race in whatever manner best protects their current guaranteed positions in the Chase. Further illustrating the point I made earlier about Junior and "points racing."

David Caraviello: Please. Greg Biffle is hardly Boris Said. That's a wash. Listen, people have been underselling Kenseth his whole career, because he can be kind of a lurker on the track, and isn't showy off it. But goodness, the guy can drive. And he has that killer instinct Joe was talking about earlier. And he just doesn't make big mistakes. He and his team are tailor-made to hold the points lead for a long time. Not to mention he's the funniest driver in the garage. Somebody asked last week if he was worried about his crew being in Pocono for six days. His answer: "What are they going to do -- hike themselves to death?"

Bill Kimm: My "highly placed source" in the parking deck at Turner said Kenseth and Biffle are basically a wash this season. Both have been strong and steady this season. So, let's agree that both guys are on top of their games right now.

Joe Menzer: Everything HPMS said about Kenseth is right -- although there is something creepy about you calling him "a lurker."

Bill Kimm: Did HPMS just bring up Kenseth's sense of humor as proof Kenseth is a stronger driver than Biffle?

David Caraviello: No, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Bill Kimm: I think HPMS is ready for a game of bocce!

Joe Menzer: Extreme bocce! There is nothing like it.

David Caraviello: Just don't try to bump me out of the way, Menzer. Then you'll see my mean streak.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the participants.