Finley Factor: Putting A Muzzle On The Dog

The lottery is really just a volunteer tax. Every week thousands upon thousands of people attempt to win it, in spite of the one in million(s) odds. Every week, these same thousands upon thousands of people don’t win the big money and decide to try again next week.

NASCAR’s version of the lottery? The free lap rule.

It’s a fairly easy rule to explain – like the lottery – to explain to those playing. If a caution comes out and a driver is the first a lap or more down (and they did not cause said caution), they become the “lucky dog” and gain a free lap.

Like the lottery, most “lucky dogs” win it by pure luck with no actual indicator of skill. They are simply lapped right before the caution comes out and if it had been even another lap, the leader would have lapped yet another driver. And if there are multiple cautions in a single period, congratulations, everybody gets their lap back!

The reality is that no driver has won a race after winning the free pass in five years now. Kevin Harvick was the last to do so, at Daytona in 2010, and only eight times in the 12-year history of the rule has a driver won after being the “lucky dog”.

If anything, the only factor the free pass rule has on most races is that lapped cars now have extra incentive to “race” each other. This is a code word for “ignore other cars and just get in the way of lead lap cars.”

Other than that, it has no real effect on racing and only serves to make racing sound better in PR statements – “We’ve had X amount of cars finish on the lead lap this year, we’re at the most competitive point in racing history”- and overall is just a waste of time.

Like the lottery.


 

Sonoma Raceway Preview:

Favorite

Jeff Gordon has to be the favorite this week. Even though he has not won at Sonoma in the past five years, he has an incredible 3.8 average finish over that same period, making Sonoma his best track on the Cup schedule.

Sleeper

Jimmie Johnson only has a single win at a road course but it came here, and like Gordon, he is riding a streak of five top-10s in the last five years here.

One to Watch

I’m interested to see how Kevin Harvick does this week. This is a good track for him, but he only finished 20th here last year. Now that this team has some experience together, they should definitely improve on that.


 

I’m getting tired of writing about Danica Patrick, especially because I feel she is performing decently this year, but here we go again.

I would like to provide a rebuttal to an article posted on motorsport.com, in particular, one written by news manager Steven Cole Smith about Danica Patrick possibly being a future Hall of Famer.

Overall I feel Mr. Smith didn’t exactly provide a good argument, as there are plenty of holes in his article that should be pointed out. The Orlando Sentential has already looked at one of them, I’m going to do the rest of the hard work.

“And while she may not yet have compiled sheer statistics that would send her to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the fact that she has been the first female driver to prove that a woman – particularly a woman that isn’t built like a roller derby jammer – can survive season after season in what has always been, and still is, a man’s sport.”

Granted she has finished no higher than 27th in practically Hendrick equipment the last two seasons, but hey, it isn’t like her boss is doing a lot better this year.

“All that said, yes, Patrick doesn’t have a win, but look at her stats this season: As we approach the halfway mark, she is 19th in points, ahead of Greg Biffle (20th), Sam Hornish Jr. (25th), her car owner, Tony Stewart (26th), and her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (28th).

That shows competence. And for a slot in the Hall of Fame, I contend that’s plenty for a pioneer. I’m not remotely saying that her situation mirrors the struggle that Hall of Famer Wendell Scott faced as the first black driver to make a living in NASCAR, but there are similarities.

But Scott’s first real season with NASCAR in 1961 when he competed in 23 of 52 races that year, winning $3,240, came a stunning 52 years before a woman ran a full season, when Patrick did in 2013.”

Competence should never be the skill level of a driver in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The reality is that Wendell Scott was a good driver; he didn’t have the hard stats (i.e. wins) to prove it, but you have to remember his situation. He was running cars out of his backyard and had his children as his primary crew working on them.

Just the fact that he was able to make it to the racetrack was remarkable, never mind his three top-10 points finishes and an average finish of 15th throughout his career.

Granted, those results were a little inflated due to smaller fields and fewer drivers running full time versus today, but Scott still had 147 top-10 finishes in 495 starts, roughly a top-10 every 3.3 races.

Scott was a very consistent driver, similar in many ways to other “strokers” in Cup at the time, including James Hylton and Richard Childress. Nobody had the money the big teams had; they only raced out of pure love for the sport.

Meanwhile, Patrick, save for a fuel mileage win in IndyCar at Motegi, hasn’t won a professional race in 10 years of trying. And for at least the past 10 years, from Motorola to GoDaddy to whatever will be on the No. 10 next season, she has always had big money sponsors.

In seven years in IndyCar, she had an average finish of 10.6 in usually a 20 or so car field, only seven podiums, and a pathetic 124 laps led.

The fact is that she has been a journeyman driver, and as I’ve said, I think her peak is ultimately going to be at the Paul Menard level, she is an incredibly average driver that will contend for a spot in the Chase but probably won’t get it.

“Add to that the attention Patrick brought, and is still bringing, to stock car racing. She arguably brought along her IndyCar fans, as well as female fans who identified more with her than, say, Jimmy Spencer.”

How long did these IndyCar fans stay? Apparently not very long since ratings were down in 2014 after being slightly up in 2013, her rookie year. And even then, with the introduction of the Gen 6 and a few other things, the rating increase in 2013 may not have been only because of Patrick.

Not to mention – what IndyCar fans? NASCAR has been heads and shoulders above IndyCar when it comes to the pure number of fans for many years. IndyCar has been stuck on Versus/NBCSN for years and the only reason NASCAR is going on that network to begin with is to build said network up to someday compete with ESPN. And, of course, I’d cite attendance numbers, but NASCAR doesn’t publically give them out anymore. mainly because of how embarrassing the numbers are, nd are actively tearing down grandstands to reduce seating capacity.

None of this is Patrick’s fault of course, but she definitely brought in either no fans, a miniscule amount of fans long term, or the people she brings in are being outpaced by the people not caring about racing anymore, which is pretty frightening if true.

As far as female fans…. There has always been roughly a 30-40 percent female audience for NASCAR since the 90’s. I’m not going to argue that there are women who became a fan of Patrick when she made the switch, but that doesn’t make a huge difference when the overall number of fans is going down.

“And speaking of IndyCar, no migrant to NASCAR has been able to duplicate the success of Tony Stewart, including Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti and Indy 500 winner Hornish, who is still struggling to establish himself. Patrick has.”

Hold up, hold up. Granted Montoya didn’t “duplicate the success of Tony Stewart,” but he still won races and made the Chase in 2009. Somehow he isn’t as successful as Patrick, who did “duplicate the success of Tony Stewart.” By this point in his Cup career (97 starts), Stewart had 10 wins and 33 top-fives, with a highest points finish of fourth and was in the middle of a season where he’d be the runner up for the championship. Patrick has no wins, no top fives, has a highest points finish of 27th and is on track to finish the current season in the high teens in points. Granted this is a very unfair comparison but I’m not the one making it, I’m just adding numbers to said comparison.

“Is there anyone who can say Danica Patrick hasn’t been very, very good for racing in general, NASCAR in particular?”

Ford has been very, very good for racing in general but I don’t think we’ll be seeing anybody from the Ford family inducted into the Hall of Fame anytime soon.

“Based on what she has done up to now, Danica Patrick is Hall of Fame material. But she’s young (33) and still has time to wow us, possibly by doing the Memorial Day double – the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600.”

To begin with, doing the double is nice but I don’t see Robby Gordon getting the nod to go into the Hall of Fame, and both Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart will go in for their overall body of work.

If I were judging today’s drivers based off of Hall of Fame merit, only 8 full time drivers come to mind as being Hall of Famers as of right now. These drivers are:

Jeff Gordon

Jimmie Johnson

Tony Stewart

Matt Kenseth

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Kevin Harvick

Kurt Busch

Kyle Busch (Remember it’s a NASCAR Hall of Fame, not just Cup merits matter).

Bobby Labonte (Not full time but should be mentioned as he will be going in with his brother whenever he decides to hang up the fire suit for good).

After that there are a few borderline candidates, such as Brad Keselowski or Carl Edwards. But the reality is that it’s unfair to judge all but these select few, because their careers are in progress.

Who really knows what could happen from here on out. Patrick could go win five races and win the championship this year. But you can’t judge careers now, and even if you want to, Danica doesn’t come close in my opinion.

But don’t just take my word for it. Read both mine and Smith’s articles and come to your own conclusion on the matter. My own conclusion is that Danica should not be put into the Hall of Fame simply for having something no woman before her has ever had in NASCAR… money.

All stats cited in the Finley Factor are as per Racing Reference unless otherwise noted.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. You obviously don’t get it… yes NASCAR is losing fans. That’s at there own doing. The racing is terrible the driver like JJ and Harvick and especially Hamlin are a bunch of whiners. I don’t see you berating Austin Dillon because frankly if it weren’t for his grandfather no one else will put him or his brother in a cup car. Ricky Stenhouse has no carreer. At least She shows signs of improvement. Frankly you are just a misogynistic sexist. I bet you even fly a confederate flag. this is why no-one knows who you are but they certainly know who she is

  2. And the powers that be wonder why their is fan apathy with all things Nascar. This stupid debate about DP for starters. Give me a break. She isn’t worthy of being a hall monitor let alone a HOF person. Seriously? You debunked the original article not like you think you did but almost agreeing with this guy based on the low hanging fruit argument. Geez, I am truly insulted for the other drivers who should be and are candidates, it weakens their bar and excellence. Us true fans and not fans of stupid low bar celebrity know better@!

    • It’s not like my argument is “Danica should never be in the Hall of Fame”, it’s “As of right now she isn’t, but she may eventually be”. I’m not going to shut the door on anybody in the Cup field because their careers are simply not over.
      There was a driver, at 97 starts and at Danica’s age (33), that had no wins, two top fives, and eight top tens, which is very comparable to Danica’s stats.
      His name? Dale Jarrett.
      You can’t really judge a driver before they retire.

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