1. Charlotte winner Clint Bowyer is heading home to Kansas Speedway. What are the odds that he'll score another victory and make this championship Chase a four-man race?
Mark Aumann:Bowyer's definitely running as well as he has all season, but despite it being in his home state, Kansas wouldn't be considered one of his better tracks. He has three top-10s in eight starts and a finishing average of 15. Unfortunately, all three guys ahead of him in the standings are way better there.
Joe Menzer:Not great. Have you guys checked his record there? As I told the egomaniacal Jason Schoellen in Fantasy Showdown, lemme let you in on a dirty little secret. Clint Bowyer does not run well at his "home track." A second-place in 2007, yes, but other than that only two other top-10 finishes in eight career starts.
Jarrod Breeze:The odds are still long. He's the flavor of last week, but that means nothing going into this week's race. And he's been rather pedestrian at Kansas lately, although he did finish seventh in last year's Chase race there. And I'll give him a mulligan on his 36th-place result earlier this year due to the engine.
Mark Aumann:Joe, pulling out the record book, too!
Joe Menzer:You were a split second faster!
Mark Aumann:Chase contenders with wins at Kansas: Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, along with Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Like we were discussing about Hamlin at Dover, Bowyer needs to not lose contact with the three top contenders. A win would be much more than gravy on burnt ends.
Jarrod Breeze:And whoever wins Kansas, we'll be saying the same thing this time next week: Can he get back in it? I just think it's too far in the game now to be making up significant ground. I'll stick with the top three, for my money (which isn't much, by the way).
Mark Aumann:And is there a better place on the circuit for food? My goodness, Kansas City has some outstanding places to eat, if you love barbecue.
Joe Menzer:Look, as Jarrod said, I get that Clint's the flavor of the week -- and going to his home track makes for a great story. What that No. 15 Toyota team and Michael Waltrip Racing has done as a whole this season already is fantastic, and anything on top of what they've already done is going to be gravy (but not on burnt ends, unfortunately). So, they'll be loose and confident -- I'll give 'em that. But the facts are the facts, and there are too many others better there.
Mark Aumann:There's an Arthur Bryant's right outside the race track. That puts Kansas No. 1 on my list.
Jarrod Breeze:They got some "crazy little women there," too, I once heard. Over and over again.
Mark Aumann:Yeah, I need to go to 12th St. and Vine someday.
Joe Menzer:OK, so we digress into food ... which is always fine with me. I would argue that you simply must go to the original Arthur Bryant's, if you find the time. I always preferred it over Gates' Barbecue, although that's good, too. And what's the name of that famous steak place downtown that gives you like four pounds of meat? That place is awesome, too.
Jarrod Breeze:Michael Waltrip Racing may be the team of 2012. They are the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland A's of this season. All three cars have been competitive and MWR finally has given Toyota another strong team to go along with Joe Gibbs Racing
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Joe Menzer:Yeah, and aren't the Orioles and A's out of the playoffs? Like I said, nice season ... but they won't win a championship.
Mark Aumann:And Jarrod, the O's and A's are sitting at home watching the rest of the season unfold. Being 28 points out with five races remaining, I think that soon may be the case with Bowyer and MWR. But they have had a great run, don't get me wrong.
Joe Menzer:But let's not get Mark Aumann talking baseball. He's the only one amongst us who can really gloat right now. And I don't like it when others do the gloating, and not us Reds' fans.
Jarrod Breeze:Do you think these drivers put too much pressure on themselves at their so-called "home track?" After top-10s in his first two starts at Kansas, Bowyer hasn't done anything special there.
Joe Menzer:Could be, for some. But like everything else, everyone is different. Certainly Denny Hamlin likes and does well at Richmond.
Jarrod Breeze:And he hasn't led a lap there since his first race there in 2006.
Mark Aumann:And we sort of throw out the "home track" designation, like somehow Bowyer has an advantage due to birthplace. It's not like he raced there every weekend growing up.
Joe Menzer:Well, I think the theory is that there might be a little extra motivation to do well. But if these guys aren't focused in every single week, let's face it, they have no business being in the sport.
Mark Aumann:And Bowyer's proven better at the restrictor-plate races. So maybe he needs to relocate to Sweet Home, Alabama?
2. Rick Hendrick says he's interested in putting No. 88 car fill-in Regan Smith in a Nationwide ride. Should the racer be interested in that kind of move, or stick it out with lower-level teams in Sprint Cup?
Joe Menzer:That's a no-brainer. Go with Hendrick and run for the Nationwide title. I think Regan is smart enough to do that. Now, of course, it's easy for me to say when he'd probably make more money driving for a mid- to low-level Cup team. But I think in the long run, there's no question taking the offer to drive for Rick in the N-wide car is the best option for him.
Jarrod Breeze:I think it comes down to two important factors: Having the chance to compete and the payout at the end of the day. A lot more money to be made in Cup, but if Smith really wants a good Cup ride, he probably needs to show what he can do in a good Nationwide car first to get that opportunity. The payout in the long run has the chance to be much, much greater.
Mark Aumann:Two years ago, I might have advised Regan Smith to find a mid-level ride in Cup, but after seeing how the move to Nationwide seemed to rejuvenate Elliott Sadler's career, I'm not so sure getting one of the Hendrick pieces in 2013 wouldn't be better over the long-term. There's just not going to be any open rides this winter that are going to give him an opportunity to win races and showcase his talents. The guy's a good driver.
Joe Menzer:Well, the return to Nationwide has rejuvenated Sadler in many ways. But it still hasn't gotten him what he really desires: a full-time Cup ride that would give him a chance to get back to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Jarrod Breeze:Mark, Elliott Sadler is the first name that immediately popped into my head, too. And let's be honest, Sadler had more pride to swallow when he stepped back because he had had some moderate Cup success. No reason for Smith not to go it, especially with Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his corner.
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Mark Aumann:You could say, "Hey, stick with James Finch." But with the 2013 chassis rules -- and Phoenix Racing struggling to stay in the sport as it is -- there's no guarantee that car answers the bell for Daytona.
Joe Menzer:Regardless, I think in this case it really is a no-brainer for Regan Smith. What better options is he going to have? I mean, do we even know if James Finch is coming back for sure next season to run a full Cup schedule?
Mark Aumann:Best-case scenario for Smith would be to have the full ride in hand with Hendrick, and then cherry-pick races in Cup when teams bring an extra car -- or need someone to put theirs in the show. Look at guys like Cole Whitt and Josh Wise. They're getting Cup experience, even though those cars aren't going to run up front.
Jarrod Breeze:Nah, you can't stay with James Finch. Kurt Busch is a former champion and multi-Chase challenger, and he couldn't do much with that car. At that point, you are just running in circles, and there's too many doing that as it is.
Mark Aumann:You just hate to see Smith wind up in a situation where he's struggling just to make the show in a car with second-hand equipment. And you just don't know what the economic climate might be in 2014, or if some of the older drivers decide to step away.
Joe Menzer:You know, it's funny, but Regan kind of got fast-tracked to Cup, where I think overall he's shown great potential. But this is only his fourth full-time Cup season to go with one season where he ran 18 races. He's only 28 years old! That's almost hard to believe -- but it underscores that he should take this gig and build toward a better future. It's the only smart play.
Jarrod Breeze:I would like to see JGR give Michael McDowell a full-time ride in the Nationwide Series. Seems like every time he stepped in one of those cars he scored a top-10 finish.
Mark Aumann:You know, I sit here in 20-20 hindsight and wonder if Brian Vickers could have done the same thing this season. He's been lights out in a limited Cup schedule, and still hasn't been able to work his way into anything better. And yep, JB, McDowell's another guy who deserves better.
Jarrod Breeze:That's a huge problem in NASCAR right now, Joe. A lot of these drivers are being "fast-tracked" before they are ready. Joey Logano is another case in point. And do I dare mention Danica Patrick. Anyone really believe she is ready to compete on the Cup level full time?
Joe Menzer:Don't forget that Regan's one Cup win was at Darlington, where he held off a hard-charging Carl Edwards (back when Edwards was a relevant championship contender in 2011). You don't do that at Darlington, of all places, if you're not a talent behind the wheel.
Mark Aumann:The big problem? There are a lot of good drivers and not a lot of open rides. Supply and demand. We're in a time and place where there's not a lot of turnover. But the turnovers in Kansas City are excellent.
Joe Menzer:And there's that great barbecue. You just might have to travel to KC to get it!
3. This week, NASCAR unveiled its competition changes for 2013, including a return to a qualifying format which includes provisionals and a random draw for qualifying order. Will this be enough to put some much-needed drama back into Friday afternoons?
Jarrod Breeze:You want to put drama back on Friday afternoons? Get rid of this top-35 garbage. Bottom line, if you aren't one of the top 43 cars on speed, pack up the hauler and try again next week.
Joe Menzer:Um, that's what they just did, right?
Mark Aumann:It couldn't hurt. Qualifying has become nothing more than a two-lap exercise to determine pit stalls, with the exception of the "go or go-homers." At least there's the feeling that you'll have to try to out-qualify somebody to guarantee a spot in the show. I know there's been this whole brouhaha about "what if a past champion wrecks on his qualifying lap and misses the race?" One, it's highly unlikely. Two, it's not like the new rule is suddenly going to create huge numbers of new cars. But I'm torn on the idea of provisionals, as well. I understand the reasoning, but as a fan of the sport, I want to see the fastest 43.
Jarrod Breeze:Thank you. I don't need to see some part-timer who won a championship in the '80s or '90s to make it in on a provisional just to run a few laps and retire with vibration, or handling, or whatever mechanical issue you like to come up with.
Joe Menzer:I applaud them for getting rid of the top-35 rule. I think that was overdue, to be honest. But really, how much can you spice up the qualifying? It's a little more interesting now ... a little more risky for teams who will have more to lose if they make a serious but uncharacteristic mistake during it. But it's still qualifying. There's only so much drama you can milk from it.
Mark Aumann:The thing I really don't want to see now is a situation where we get back to the whole "qualifying motors" and special doo-dads, just to race on Sunday. I think this new "old" rule is OK in that respect. But, like Joe said, it's one car on the track. There's only so much excitement that can be created from it. Of course, that's not counting the twins at Daytona.
Jarrod Breeze:In actuality, it could be a detriment to perceived added drama because all of the good teams are going to be extra careful not to make a mistake that would cost them a starting spot. And as we've seen time and again, there is too many miles and too many variables in a race that allows a driver to make up position from a bad starting spot.
Joe Menzer:You want to bring in some crowds for Friday afternoons? Do it how New Hampshire does it and package a modified race around the quals. They put on a good show there and it gives fans more for their money. You're starting to see other tracks, like Charlotte, do it. I think it makes perfect sense. I also like the use of the underused word "doo-dads" by Mark.
Mark Aumann:Same with the ARCA races at Pocono and Talladega. In this era, you have to give the fans as much bang for the buck as you can. And in some cases, the lower level series have a lot of banging. You know, the whole issue of "starting position" has become somewhat overrated, especially since crew chiefs can pit out of sequence or take just two tires to gain track position. I think we're seeing more winners coming from back in the pack than ever before -- mainly because so many cars stay on the lead lap. Of course, it wasn't the case at Charlotte on Saturday night, but you get my drift.
Jarrod Breeze:Let's face it, Friday's is for setting up the RVs in the campground site for a long night of tailgating. Do the folks from North Carolina bring their own barbecue to Kansas when they tailgate?
Mark Aumann:... And getting barbecue! Although if you're eating at Friday's in Kansas City, you're not doing it right. Maybe there's a Friday's at 12th St. and Vine. Somebody ask Wilbert Harrison. Kansas City, here I come!
Joe Menzer:I think JB was talking about eating on Friday's -- and not a free meal at TGIF. Although I'm sure he wouldn't turn that down.
Jarrod Breeze:And looking ahead, do tailgaters bring their own hot dogs to Martinsville, or go for the real deal?
Mark Aumann:There's a question for next week's Track Smack!
- Clint Bowyer
- Kansas Speedway
- Regan Smith