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Toyota Owners 400: Of Fire and Ice, Of Frustration and Disappointment

Posted by Amy in General | NASCAR
The 14 Crew services the Rush Truck Centers Chevy

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, and others pit during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)

First off- I am going to start with the end of the race: Was that not an exciting finish to the race? It’s too bad that not all races can be that exciting: with four cars bumping and banging and digging hard for the win during those final laps.  I am sure more people would watch the races if they were hearing NASCAR fans talking about THAT at the water cooler on Monday.  Those last several laps even had me forgetting, if just for a moment, how dismal of a race my driver was having.  Of course it didn’t help that my driver’s race was so crappy that during the last 150 laps or so- he hardly said a word on the radio. A quiet Tony? Is usually a pissed off Tony.

The fact that this race at Richmond is run at night only highlighted the facts that 1: Cars use a lot of brakes at Richmond and 2. Yet again Goodyear brought a less than superior tire to the track.  How many tires did you see actually catch wheels on fire this race? A lot- with their flames made more spectacular by the darkness of a night race.  At first I thought that maybe it might only be a Toyota issue since the first two spectacular tire fires were the Toyota machines of Cole Whitt and Clint Bowyer.  Both cars had significant wheel well fires because of cords in the tires catching on fire and then catching the surrounding tire and ducting on fire.  Tires eventually plagued several other teams as well, most spectacularly the Chevrolet SS piloted by Reed Sorenson who’s wheel fire eventually erupted the whole car into flames.  Kudos to the crew member of Kasey Kahne who rushed over without hesitation and worked hard to make sure Reed was pulled safely from the fully engulfed Chevrolet.  That said- it was quite obvious to me that the tires were tending not to last even a full fuel run.  I am not sure if Goodyear is monkeying around with the compounds they are bringing to the track or if tried and true compounds are not getting along with the new rules package (including the no ride height rule) but SOMETHING needs to be fixed. It’s ridiculous for a driver to have to worry about their safety (and the safety of both other drivers and fans) when driving because of tire failure. It does NOT make for a very exciting race as a fan as you sit and worry whether or not your driver is next in the game of Goodyear tire Russian roulette.

Checking Tire Wear at Richmond

Checking tire wear at Richmond (Photo Credit: Stewart-Haas Racing Facebook Page)

As far as Tony Stewart’s race at Richmond, well that was a tale rife with frustration and disappointment both for driver and for fans.  See every Tony Stewart fan knows that Richmond is not just one of Tony’s favorite tracks it IS HIS FAVORITE TRACK and who could blame him considering it was the site of his first Sprint Cup win.  So I went into this race excited to see Tony compete. And compete is exactly what he could not do. His car was tight in the center and loose off and just got worse from there.  Usually I would stress that the cup cars had very little time considering they hadn’t seen the track since Friday’s practices.  I would usually site the fact that the track was green and the team just missed the set up.  However- this fan pays attention.  She knows that the track had a race on it the night before as well as earlier in the day.  The track was not green.  It seems that more often that not the car unloads bad and they can never seem to catch back up to the track. No matter how many kitchen sink pit stops they do, no matter how wholesale the changes they make the pit stop are.

It frustrates us Tony Stewart fans you can be certain of that.  However, I am pretty damn sure it frustrates our driver even more.  Tony’s radio transmissions through the whole race tell us the story of his frustration.  He started the race off positively. Telling “Robert” (aka Spotter Bob) to reign him in if he gets too riled up, through out the beginning of the race he communications the car’s handling often and descriptively.  In the middle of the race this tone subtly chances to one of frustration and aggression, until he finally tells his crew chief Chad Johnston “I’ve had this race car the whole race and we haven’t made any improvements. We have to go a different direction.” And when after that pit stop they are even worse than before he gets even more frustrated on the radio. When his crew chief tries to reassure him that the 4 car is complaining of the same issues- Tony doesn’t want to hear it. He’s not driving the 4 car- he wants his car better. He is frustrated and cranky and has every right to be. After that Tony’s radio grew frustratingly quiet as the driver quit giving so much feedback- usually only answering questions when asked.  The frustration and disappointment heavy in not just his voice but the voice of his spotter and crew chief as well.

Tony Stewart snaps into the 14

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images North America)

Tony Stewart is the driver but he is also the owner and he wants HIS team to perform.  He wants to be up there fighting for the lead, not fighting to get back a lost lap or two because he can’t keep up.  I am no engineer that is for certain. I am a just a fan but I think it’s time to change something.  Do not get me wrong- I am not saying that this rests solely on the shoulders of Chad Johnston nor am I calling for his resignation- yes he is the crew chief and in charge of Tony’s car BUT something is just not firing on all cylinders within the whole team. I am not sure what that something is that is indeed missing. Is it on the engineering side? Is it on the crew chief side?  Is this indeed due to an organization that is stretched a tad too thin because of recent expansions?  Is it a personnel problem? I can’t say. I am just a fan and I have no clue how to run a race team or what it takes to make a team successful. What I can say is that someone obviously needs to look outside of the usual box of tricks to find the answer because they have already exhausted all the corners of the existing box and obviously haven’t found that something that works.

Your favorite driver and mine started the race 20th and finished the race 25th, one lap down. This puts Tony currently 15th in the points standings.  The race winner was Joey Logano, who is the second driver to win two races this season.

Notes about Richmond:

1. I have made no bones about the fact that I have been impressed with Kyle Larson’s performance so far this season and Richmond wasn’t any exception. He was able to rally even after being wrecked half a lap into the race.  However, after having listening to him being lauded all through the pre-race show I will readily admit that a little tiny piece of me chuckled when Clint Bowyer hit into him and sent him spinning in turn one of the first lap. I may have even snickered and said “So much for that rookie.” I admit it-  I am such a bad naughty race fan.

2. Why is it that when NASCAR fans hear short track they automatically think of Bristol and Martinsville and NOT Richmond? I love the fact that tempers seem to flare at this track- I am willing to admit that because to me when tempers flare it means that the drivers are passionate about racing.  What race fan doesn’t like to see passion and drive erupt between two drivers whether it be between two drivers like Keselowski and Kenseth who are fighting for the lead on the last lap or Mears and Ambrose who were actually brawling after the race over 19th.  You HAVE to love that- as a fan because it means that the drivers care and are passionate about where they end up. I sure love that.

3. I have two kind of crazy ideas that might help Stewart-Haas teams get back on track for the season. First idea is to have Greg Zipadelli sit on the box and work solely with one team through out the week. Start with say- Kurt Busch. Work with him and his crew chief. Get them to where they need to be then move on the next week to Kevin or Tony. Idea two? Switch up the crew chiefs for one week- just to see what happens- just for shits and giggles.  Hey now- I did said they were kind of crazy ideas.

The Gratuitous Tony Stewart:

Tony Stewart Gets Ready To Race

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, sits in his car prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond. (Photo Credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images North America)

Tony Stewart in the Garage at Richmond

Tony Stewart in the Garage at Richmond (photo credit: Tony Stewart Official Store Facebook Page)

The next race is Sunday at Talladega.

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#14in14 #GoTonyGo #StandWithSmoke

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