Saturday, December 30, 2006

Not in it for the Money

Previously, I mentioned that JPM didn't go to NASCAR just for the money, that there is much more to be had for a driver who is in demand by other teams in the high-stakes world of Formula 1 racing. This article sort of vindicates that thought.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ricky Rudd -- Back Where He Belongs

I am happy to see Ricky Rudd come out of retirement and go back with Yates Racing. According to this article, he will be racing for Yates with out-of-nowhere and possible ROTY sensation David Gilliland as his teammate. I was ready to bury the entire Yates team, when they were talking about selling all or part of the team to DEI, but I'm good at being wrong, and that is a good thing sometimes. Rudd has plenty of talent, and some of his best races were with Robert Yates. You go, Ricky! It's good to see him back.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Season's Greetings

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. For my Christmas message, please click here Just a little video thing on line.

Monday, December 18, 2006

If Life is a play...

There seems to be a fine line between "Hero" and "Geeky sidekick." This is a fun quiz, which is the reason it's showing up here.

You scored as Hero. You're my hero! LOL



Geeky Sidekick








If life is a play, what is your role?
created with

Saturday, December 16, 2006

If Brian Vickers Raced Bicycles...

Okay, not to pick on the guy, but I just couldn't resist. This isn't how I feel about Vickers, whom I think is an underrated driver, but this does go along with the perception that many people have of the kid since Talladega:

Please click here if you can't see the video.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Off-Season Dangerous for NASCAR Champs

2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson broke his wrist last Sunday, and it was not in a racing incident. He was participating in a celebrity golf tournament, when the driver of his golf cart took a sharp turn, and Johnson fell out. This will prevent his participation in this year's Nations' Cup in Paris next weekend, a fun racing event featuring champions from all types of racing, but is not expected to prevent him from preseason testing at Daytona next month.
It should be noted that Tony Stewart, the 2005 champion, broke his wrist last year during the off season while racing in the Chili Bowl National Midget Series. At least he did it in a race car, while Johnson was the victim of a freak accident. The off season seems to have become dangerous for champions, any way you look at it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

It Must Be The Season

Football just isn't working for me. It hasn't worked since 1998, when the Broncos had their first Super Bowl victory, because that was the pinnacle of professional football and a team can't do anything more than that.
Anything else that happens after that is just a repeat of the same thing, win or lose, over and over again. Don't get me wrong--I follow football avidly, but I just can't watch hours of football on television with the same interest with which I watch auto racing.
You see, in football, you can't watch a game with the attitude that "if my team can't win the game, maybe the other team can win." That just seems silly, no matter how you look at it. In racing there are forty-three competing teams, and if a race fan's favorite driver can't win, then perhaps another driver whom the fan likes can. A football game can be considered over for the football fan when, entering the fourth quarter, that fan's team is behind 31-3. Granted, there can be a "miracle" set of circumstances in which there could be an incredible come-from-behind streak, but professional football is so predictable that such miracles are few and far between.
In NASCAR, on the other hand, nothing is predictable. Come-from-behind streaks are the rule, not the exception in racing. Where every football field is identical in dimension, no two race tracks are alike, creating a different set of circumstances in every race. Fuel and tires are as much an element in racing as are the drivers and their teams. Races have been won or lost due to pit strategies concerning fuel and tires during the course of the race. The situation of having forty-three teams--forty-four, counting the track itself--in the same game at the same time equals forty-three variables that effect the outcome of the game. Every competitor in racing, driver and team, has its own strategy and tactics, and there are forty-three different reactions to any given situation.
One thing that football and NASCAR have in common is the questionable or confusing calls of those officiating the game. This is definitely a random factor that could change the outcome of a game in either sport. In NASCAR, the rules are constantly changing, much to the dismay of the traditionalist NASCAR racing fans, but we watch anyway, because like it or not, the rule changes invariably add another element to the game, and often create more excitement. Some of the rule changes in NASCAR, such as adding restrictor plates on the carburetors for the Superspeedway races, are the equivalent of the NFL adding swinging giant sharpened titanium blades across the football field during the games. Restricting the air intake for the engines reduces the horsepower and torque of the engines, packing the cars close together at very high speeds and increasing the chances for a serious and even deadly accident.
NASCAR has the element that the NFL doesn't have--the underlying fear that something terrible could happen. Race fans don't want to see terrible things happen, but we watch with the fear that they could. A football player with the flu, a broken shoulder blade, or broken ribs will only see limited action during a game, if at all, while race car drivers often race, and sometimes win, while playing with an injury or illness. It is the intensity of the sport and the player that makes the difference. Any race car driver can tell you that driving fast in competition is a way of life, and an all-consuming addiction. The need for speed outweighs any illness or injury.
I'll be watching football for the rest of the season, but not with the same interest I watch NASCAR racing. The Broncos are not likely to make the playoffs, and the excitement of having a winning team isn't there. All in all, it is more thrilling to watch guys beating and banging on each other at nearly two-hundred miles per hour than it is to watch guys beating and banging on each other at seven or eight miles per hour.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

NASCAR Fans Don't Do This:

We may throw a few beer cans, but you won't see anything like this at a NASCAR race:

Team Red Bull News

Doug Richert, one of the best crew chiefs in NASCAR will be Brian Vickers' Crew Chief for the 2007 season. Read about it here.
This means, that I may become a Brian Vickers fan of sorts, next year. It also means I don't have to try to like Greg Biffle any more.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

This doesn't surprise me

ISC scraps plans to build NASCAR track on Staten Island. You can read the article here
Trust me, you do not want a new NASCAR track in your town, if it is owned, in full or in partnership, by ISC. Colorado Springs and El Paso County already had the plans and the money in place to expand accessibility and traffic control, if ISC was to expand Pike's Peak International Raceway (PPIR). Instead of expanding it when they took full control of the track last year, ISC closed it and sold it, with the stipulation that the new owner would not have racing events of any kind on the property. There was really no good reason for this, except that they thought they would be able to build a track in Denver that would draw more people, at the site of the old Stapleton International Airport. That didn't happen.
ISC has a tendencey to count its chickens before the eggs are laid. PPIR hosted the Busch series race every year from 1998 until 2005, and, though the 42,000 seats were never sold out, attendence was usually 37,000-40,000 fans each year, and this was before the influx of the double duty drivers in the sport this year. Needless to say, I am very disappointed in ISC, and I cheer when they have failures such as the one in NYC.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Just So You Know

The polls on the sidebar of both this blog and my other blog are not paid advertisments, nor are they meant to trap anybody into spam or unwanted advertisments. Please feel free to participate.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Surprise, Surprise....Surprised?

What do you think was the biggest surprise of the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup season? Fox Sports on line featured an article by Larry MacReynalds and the rest of the Fox NASCAR staff on this question, and of course I thought it would be appropriate to add my thoughts.
The larger consensus of the sports writers seemed to be Denny Hamlin. Hamlin was impressive, but not all that surprising. His performance during the last seven races of the 2005 season demonstrated that he was a force to be reckoned with. After cutting his teeth on asphalt short tracks, such as South Boston Speedway in his home state of Virginia--where beating and banging is the rule rather than the exception--he carried his talent smoothly to the highly competitive world of NASCAR Cup racing.
Nor was Tony Stewart's failure to make the Chase this year that big of a surprise to me. A disappointment, yes, but surprise, no. One of the biggest attractions of NASCAR racing for us is that the only certainty is uncertainty. Anything can happen--and a broken shoulder blade, running out of fuel at the wrong time, Greg Biffle, and an uncharacteristically missed set-up at Richmond were some of the things that happened to my beloved #20 team. What was more surprising was the fact that Smoke scored more driver's points during the last ten races than any of the drivers who were in contention for the championship. Still, considering Stewart's talent, it wasn't really that surprising. The elimination of such a talented driver from the champion ship contention was more of an indictment against the points system, than it was of the team that should have made it and didn't.
A bigger surprise to me was the breakdown of Robert Yates Racing. Dale Jarrett is a much better driver than his recent record has shown, and something was obviously wrong in the Yates camp. At the same time, another excellent driver from Virginia, Elliott Sadler, was nearly a no-show in the success column for Yates this season. Yet Sadler finished the season with Everham Motorsports, with some top ten finishes and some awesome runs, proving that the problem in the Yates organization was not the driver. It is almost depressing to think that a mere five years ago, Robert Yates had one of the most exciting teams in the sport, featuring Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett. Now, the Yates team will likely cease to exist for the 2007 season.
If Mark Martin's decision to leave Roush Racing in order to have at least a part-time ride in Cup racing didn't surprise anyone, we must be truly jaded. Initially, the idea was for "The Kid" to race full time for Roush in the Craftsman Truck Series, where he would have been highly likely to win a championship, with a few races in Cup and the Busch series. Martin decided that he would rather race in more Cup races without having to race full time, something Roush couldn't give him, and contracted with MB2 Motorsports for 2007, where he will race 22 Cup races in the 01 car.
The biggest surprise for me was the exodus of championship quality open-wheel drivers, AJ Almendinger and Juan Pablo Montoya, to NASCAR. Almendinger, who was the only American driver in the Open Wheel Championship Car World Series (Champcar) in 2006, demonstrated that he had a future in that series when, after being fired by one team, won three consecutive races as Paul Tracy's team mate with Forsythe Racing Inc. Apparently, that future didn't look all that bright to Almendinger, who has signed a three-year contract in NASCAR with Red Bull Racing. It goes to show that if you have the talent, there is money for you somewhere.
Montoya's defection from Formula 1 wasn't all about the money. His contract with the Maclaren/Mercedes Racing Team was due to be renegotiated, and he chose to negotiate with Ganassi Racing instead, in order to, in his words, "get back to real racing." This was surprising because all the Fame and Fortune in automobile racing is with Formula 1, or, at least, that is what we are lead to believe. A driver cannot be considered "the World's Greatest Racer" without F-1 on his resume. Even if Montoya had not signed with Maclaren, there are plenty of other teams who would have snapped him up for good money. Money isn't everything for Montoya, however, and he made the decision based on disappointment with the quality of racing in what is supposed to be the premier racing series in the world. It was no longer fun for him to participate in what has become a single file high-speed parade of ultra-expensive high-tech machinery. Montoya's defection to NASCAR has given our racing series the status of a true World Class sport.
Feel free to tell us what the biggest surprise of the season was for you, in the comments section, or on the poll, or both. If you want to vote twice, there will be a similar poll at the "Church of the Great Oval" Yahoo Sports Group, which you may join by clicking on the appropriate button on the sidebar here. Note: administraters are not always on duty, Yahoo tends to be slow, and there are probably other reasons that we urge you to be patient if you want to join the Church of the Great Oval and do not get approved immediately.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Where in Hell Am I?

I ran across this while surfing, and thought it might be fun.

The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to the First Level of Hell - Limbo!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

Purgatory (Repenting Believers)High
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Very High
Level 2 (Lustful)High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Low
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very Low
Level 7 (Violent)Low
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Moderate
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Very Low

Take the Dante Inferno Hell Test

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Somebody Elses Comments

I would like to write something similar to this for the end of the season, but there are so many others that I fear I may break my rule of not being influenced by the writing of others. I may still do it, but only after forgetting what I've read.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

This is one day late, because I accidently posted it on my other blog.

Clickhere if you can't see the video

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Champ!

Photo Credit: US PRESSWIRE Copyright © 2006 Mark J. Rebilas

We can all breath a sigh of relief now, for Jimmie Johnson has won the NASCAR Nextel Cup. We have known, since his 2002 rookie season that it was only a matter of time before the naturally talented driver won a NASCAR Cup championship. He had to. Johnson has not finished a season outside the top five in points standings in five years, and even came within eight points of winning it at the end of the final race of 2004. It may as well be sooner than later, and the #48 team got it over with.
Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus deserve it. After the first four races of the Chase for the Championship, the #48 team was so far out of the lead that many sports writers had counted him out, but the team literally turned up the juice and excelled in the last six races, including four second place finishes in a row.
Knaus is one of the smartest crew chiefs in the business--not the smartest, because he has been caught "pushing the envelope" in the grey area of the NASCAR rule etch-a-sketch, and was suspended for four races earlier in the season. But the #48 team is strong, and carried on without him, establishing a reputation as a team that could come back from adversity, which they have done throughout the season.
Johnson didn't have to win the race at Homestead--all he had to do was finish twelfth or better to clinch the championship. He didn't just hang out safely in twelfth the entire race. Much to the delight of many a race fan, he competed; leading a lap during green flag pit stops, and coming back from a pit stop snafu in which the bit from an air wrench got stuck on a lug nut, dropping him sixteen places. "Anything can happen" was a phrase which remained in our minds right up to the checkered flag. Johnson had a car which could have won, but he wasn't going to do anything stupid to jeopardize his chances, and he couldn't be blamed for that. He finished ninth, giving him plenty of points to win the Championship, and yet another top-ten finish. Like him or not, this guy is good.
Greg Biffle won the race. Again, we have to think, "it's about time." Biffle's team has struggled this season--since winning at Darlington on the eve of Mother's Day, the #16 team's performance has been less than satisfactory. Perhaps it was the level of competition this year, but Biffle is expected to compete at a championship level. Much of his misfortune this season has been exactly that--the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being caught up in somebody else's mistakes. Some of it was brought on by the driver himself, for Greg Biffle has a tendency to be over-aggressive and to overdrive the turns, often putting him into the back of another car. This is something that can be cured by experience--many a great driver has shown the same flaws early in his career--Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, AJ Foyt, Tony Stewart, and Jeff Gordon, to name a few. Hopefully, Biffle, whom we feel is championship material, will overcome his shortcomings as well as these other drivers did. At any rate, we are happy to see Greg Biffle find Victory Lane in the last race in what was a disappointing season for him.
Now that the season is over, I hope my readers will continue to visit this blog. Off-season is a time of withdrawal for the true NASCAR addict, but I plan on keeping the hunger fed with some more opinionated drivers' profiles, similar to those posted here early in the season. I will also write some book reviews, and write on some subjects of entertainment other than NASCAR. It's the end of the season, not the end of the world, and the Daytona 500 is only a few weeks away. Hang in there.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Fear, Intrepidation, and Anticipation

Apply this quote to the NASCAR season finale at Homestead:

'No turning back!?' Why did you have to go and say that? That's as bad as saying, 'nothing else can go wrong now,' or 'this will be Fluffy's best Christmas ever.'--Doctor Who

Todd Bodine won the Craftsman Truck Series (CTS) Championship Friday night, and all he had to do was finish the race. Our favorite, Johnny Benson, still had a chance to beat Bodine in points, until, while racing for second place, a truck spun into the infield, and then slid back up the track, right in front of him. There was no avoiding it, and Benson's hopes for the CTS Trophy disappeared long before the race was over. He was able to finish the race, but he finished in twenty-sixth place. What he needed was to finish in the top three positions, and have Todd Bodine finish twenty-eighth or worse. Bodine played it safe, running steadily in the twenty-first to twenty-sixth positions, not taking any chances. He finished twenty-second, which, considering Benson's troubles, was more than good enough to win the Championship.
Mark Martin won the race. His limited schedule in the truck series yielded a very high percentage of wins. In each race he entered in the CTS this season, he immediately became the one to beat. In eight of the CTS races this season, he either won or came in second.
Martin wa originally slated to race in CTS full time, next season, but, not wanting to be left out of Cup racing next year, he decided to give up his Ford ride with Roush Racing, and went for a twenty-two race Cup schedule in a Chevy. So, Friday's victory capped Martin's final career truck race in a Roush Ford. Bottom line--Martin, who has not won a NASCAR championship on any level, gave up a nearly certain CTS championship next year for a chance to continue racing in Cup.
Speaking of Cup, and remembering the quote at the start of this post, there is no sure thing about the outcome of the Nextel Cup Championship, or of Sunday's race. No doubt, Jimmie Johnson will be content to run safely in twelfth place for most of the race, which is all he needs to do to win the Championship, but that is easier said than done. The competition is heavy, with four other drivers who have a chance to win the Championship, several others who will race their hearts out to make sure they will have guaranteed in February's Daytona 500, and many others who will be giving it all they've got just to win a race. Johnson, or any of the top five contenders, could get caught up in something involving all these other drivers and see his Championship hopes go to the hauler prematurely.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 115 points out of the lead, absolutely has to win the race in order to win the Chase. Even winning wouldn't be enough--Johnson would have to finish thirty-nineth place or worse, and Matt Kenseth would have to have terrible luck. We already know that Earnhardt can't count on anything like that, but, still the Earnhardt fans will be watching just in case something does happen.
What will throw off every scenario for the Championship will be the domination of the Everham teams. Kasey Kahne has the season's best record this season on the intermediate tracks among all the drivers, but team mates Elliot Saddler and Scott Riggs are also very good drivers, and all three Everham drivers qualified in the top four positions on the starting grid--a definite advantage with a good car, and one that may keep any of the Championship contenders from gaining the all-important bonus points for leading a lap.
Brian Vickers may have learned his lesson at Talledega--where he won his first race a few weeks ago, and became arguably the most hated driver in the Cup series. But there are still plenty of wild cards, including Robby Gordon, JJ Yeley, and David Stremme, among many others. Robby Gordon is on the high of winning the Baja 1000 this week, and with a reputation of not giving a darn about other drivers on the track, he will happily ruin someone's Championship hopes to continue his winning streak. Yeley and Stremme, are not bad drivers, just inexperienced and on a steep learning curve. They have both made stupid mistakes this season, which have taken out other drivers, as well as themselves, and the contenders probably fear that the learning period isn't over. In NASCAR, one can't always avoid the mistakes of others.
So, the only predictions I can safely make this weekend is that the Championship will not be determined until the last lap, and that it will be a very exciting and fulfilling race at season's end.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Big Finale

Well, here we are, at the final race. There is always something melancholy about the end of the season, but the good news is that NASCAR has the shortest off season of all professional sports--twelve weeks from Sunday's race at Homestead until the Daytona 500 in February. And there is more good news--if only in that the season has been probably the best and most exciting since 1998. It has been very satisfying for those of us who can't seem to get enough excitement. And there is the fact that, going into the last race, the Championship has not been decided yet.

Of course, Jimmie Johnson has the best chance to take the Cup, being sixty-three points ahead of second place. This means, he clinches the championship if he finishes seventeenth or better. If he leads a lap during the race, getting bonus points, he only has to finish twelfth or better, regardless of where Matt Kenseth and the other three contenders finish.
Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are tied for third place, ninety points out of the lead. There will likely be times during the race that one or both of them will move up closer to the points lead. Say, for instance, that on lap 112, Kenseth is leading the race, Havick and Hamlin are running in the top ten, and Johnson is way back in twenty-fifth or twenty-sixth place. This situation would put these two guys within thirty points in the lead. This theoretical example is to illustrate exactly how close the championship race is between the top four drivers. As it happens, there are many different sets of circumstances which could put Hamlin or Harvick in the points lead by the end of the race.

Momentum is on Johnson's side, however. The #48 team has been performing exceptionally well since the last race at Talledega, and no amount of bad luck during the race seems to be a handicap for the team by the end. Still, with the competition being what it is, the driver among the top five who has the least bad luck will be the 2006 champion.

None of the contenders can afford to have something like this happen.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Review, sort of.

Don't give him the trophy yet, but Jimmie Johnson is doing exactly what it takes to win that elusive honor. After being virtually counted out after the first three chase races, Johnson and his #48 team have performed heroically and have taken the championship points lead by sixty-three points over second place Matt Kenseth. They have done so by making the smart moves, going for the win, but not taking the kinds of risks that would result in disaster.
The final three-lap shoot-out in Sunday's race at Phoenix was a great example of what Johnson and his team have been doing. After the restart, even those of us at home were on our feet as Kevin Harvick shot into the lead with Johnson close on his tail. Harvick got loose in turn three, allowing Johnson to get right up against his rear bumper. However, Harvick, an excellent driver in his own right, was not about to let victory slip through his fingers, blocked Johnson and prevented him from passing. Johnson had two choices; he could have pressed the issue, putting nose of his car under the tail of Harvick's, causing him to get loose and creating an opportunity to take the lead and the win, or he could have let up on the throttle, and hope for another chance to pass before they reached the finish line. He wisely chose the second option, because the first also could have resulted in both cars wrecking, as often happens in the course of a hard fought race to the finish. It was enough for him to settle for second place, keeping the points lead, while Harvick took a hard fought and well deserved win.
Harvick is the fourth driver to achieve back-to-back victories at PIR, and the first to do so in the same year, since the addition of the March race last year. His behavior, in the aftermath of the post-race incident last week, in which a member of Scott Riggs' #10 team physically assaulted Kevin and his wife Dalana, has been exempliary of a true champion. Harvick contacted the owner of Riggs' team, Ray Everham, and asked that the offending team member not be fired. He also assured Everham that there were no hard feelings, and that there would be no retailiation on the track. Scott Riggs, who had been running in second place toward the end of the race in Texas, when contact with Harvick's car ran him into the wall and out of the race, also showed superior sportsmanship, when he told reporters that it was just something that happens in racing. He was not involved in the post-race incident.
While the race for the win was going on, rookie sensation Denny Hamlin was having the time of his life racing one of the sport's all-time greats, Jeff Gordon, for third place. Gordon is mathematically out of championship contention for the points championship, but racers live to race, and race he did, door-to-door and fender-to-fender, for nearly three laps. Hamlin managed to keep to the inside of Gordon, the shorter distance around the track, and prevailed just before the checkered flag fell, taking third place.
We can't give the Championship to Johnson, just yet. There is the sappy, emotional side of us that will need a box of Kleenex if and when the two-time runner up does accept the trophy. He really does deserve it, and it could be just as well now that he gets it, rather than later. It will still be an emotional moment if something goes wrong for him in the final race at Homestead, Fla, next Sunday, preventing him from taking the Nextel Cup.
It doesn't have to be an engine problem or a transmission problem that would once again deny the trophy to Johnson. A cut tire, or running out of fuel late in the race could be fatal to his championship hopes. Even being caught in traffic with a missed set up could be bad for the #48 team.
Face it; anything could happen, as so often does during a race. Matt Kenseth is only 63 points away from the lead, which could be made up with not too much luck. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are tied in third place in points position, ninety points out of the lead, and either one of them could still be the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup champion, given the right set of circumstances. Fifth place Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is still a mathematical possibility, 117 points out of the lead, if he gets all the good luck, and the other four contenders have absolutely no luck at all. The bottom line is this--the cap-off of what has been an excellent racing season is that the championship will be determined on the last lap of the last race.

Photo Credit: Sherryl Creekmore

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Phoenix Rising

The Phoenix is a gigantic bird of myth that rises from the ashes of ruined civilizations, worlds or universes, depending on which legend is referenced. It is a symbol of renewal, rebirth, and everlasting life, arising after the fiery end of time. There is a city in Arizona named after the Phoenix, somewhat appropriately as it has risen from the firey Arizona desert. There is also the Phoenix International Raceway (PIR), which has seen plenty of fire from numerous accidents, and rises from the ashes every time race fans flock there to satisfy their passion, four times a year--twice for NASCAR and once each for USAC and the IRL.
The appearence of NASCAR is scheduled quite metaphorically at Phoenix, at the death of each season in the fall, , and shortly after the rebirth of the season in March. In the November race, the Championship battle is often down to a matter of life or death for the contenders, as far as the points contention is concerned.
Over eight years, and twenty races, thirteen winners have had to rise from the ashes of starting the race from outside the top ten. Five winners have started from third place or better. Three drivers have won twice at Phoenix--Davey Allison, Jeff Burton, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. In each case, the repeat winner won back to back races at PIR.
These statistics favor Kevin Harvick, who, under a not-too-extraordinary set of circumstances could see his championship hopes rise from the ashes. He is the winner of the Phoenix race last March, and is starting in second position on the grid. He still has a chance to be the first driver in NASCAR history to win both the Busch series and Cup series in the same year, but it would have to take some bad luck on the part of Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth in order for that to happen.
The pole sitter, Jeff Gordon, has never won a race at Phoenix, which is actually amazing, considering his illustrious career. Although his chances of winning the championship this year are close to nil, a win at PIR, Sunday, would be a much desired accomplishment for him. The #24 team has the experience and the ability to bring Gordon to Victory Lane, and the driver has the skill and determination. He just got married this week, to Supermodel #102 (her name escapes me), which is added incentive for him. He is a racer, above everything else, and a victory would be a bonus to his honeymoon weekend.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won at PIR in November of 2003 and 2004, before the Spring race was added to the schedule. He definitely has a handle on the track, and he is not out of reasonable contention for the Championship. Junior's best career accomplishments have been either in the big restrictor plate races or on the short tracks--those which, like PIR, are a mile or less in length. It could be very exciting for a large number of fans, if Junior were to win Sunday.
Denny Hamlin is the last driver in the top ten who still has a chance to win the Cup Championship. It was at PIR that he won his first Budweiser pole position last year, in what was only his sixth Cup race. He feels confident about Phoenix, as well he should. The #11 team, with the venerable Mike Ford as crew chief, has shown that it can overcome adversity, and help their driver finish in the front. Hamlin is no fluke--he has extrordinary talent, and could become the first Nextel Cup rookie to win the championship in his rookie year.
He is starting in twentieth place, which should be no impedement at Phoenix for him. Watch for Hamlin to be running in the top three by mid-point of the race.
The real excitement of the Chase for the Championship is the points lead battle between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. Kenseth is only seventeen points behind Johnson, and has a slight advantage over Johnson in terms of experience and performance at PIR. He won at Phoenix in November of 2002, after starting way back in the twenty-eighth position. Sunday, he is starting in the top ten, higher up on the grid than he is accustomed to, but that should be no impediment to the former champion, who is an Ace on any track. Look for Kenseth to lead the most laps in the race. At the risk of jinxing him, I will say that he has the best chance of all the drivers to win, Sunday.
Not that Jimmie Johnson will just pull over and let Kenseth win. He deserves to win the championship, and he knows it. After a poor start in the Chase, this year, the #48 team has truly risen from the ashes, making up over one-hundred and forty points in four races. Johnson has become a smarter driver than he has been in the past, and smart is what he needs to be to beat Kenseth, who is absolutely brilliant. Still, Johnson will be up in the front of the pack early, and will possibly make it a very exciting battle for the finish.
Of the non-chasers, the best drivers with a chance to win Sunday are Kurt Busch, who won at PIR in March of last year, and Tony Stewart, who won in 1999, and is currently on a roll. Stewart has earned more points in the first eight races of the Chase than any of the top ten Championship contenders. He likes winning, and he likes PIR.
Kurt Busch is determined to prove that he is destined to be one of the NASCAR greats. I will make no comment on that, but I will say the man is talented. He can protect the legacy of the Blue Deuce--as the #2 Miller Light car became known in the hands of the great Rusty Wallace--and he will attempt to do so at Phoenix.
Now let's take a moment to honor the veterans of our armed forces, both those who are active, and those of past conflicts. Because of the duty and sacrifice of over forty-million Americans who have served in the military, over the past 230 years, our nation has never had to rise from the ashes. Thank you, and God Bless all of our troops.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

#10 Crewmember suspended indefinitely

Well, from what we know about last Sunday's post race altercation, I'ld say the punishment is justified. Read about it here

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tony in Texas

Photo Credit:
PRESSWIRE Copyright © 2006 Mark J. Rebilas
For more photos, please visit That's Racin' slideshow

Monday, November 06, 2006

Texas Review

Tony "Smoke" Stewart is definitely on a roll. Wearing the complimentary ten gallon hat awarded to the victor at Texas Motor Speedway, he looked as if he was about to tell Rowdy Yates, "Let's head 'em off at the pass!"
Indeed, heading 'em off at the pass is exactly what Smoke did to win his second consecutive Cup race and his third in the last eight races. He made it look easy, dominating the race and leading all but thirty or so laps. His lead was challenged by Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson, but Kahne's car blew an engine, and Johnson wisely decided not to risk losing his points lead by pressing the issue. Stewart has now scored more driver's points during the Chase for the Championship than any of the ten Championship contenders. Eleventh place is the highest points position Smoke can hope for, but he is doing what he said he would do--winning as many races as he can. "I finally won a race at a track where Jeff Gordon hasn't won, yet," he said in a post race interview.
"We just got a late start (in getting a successful program)," he told the hosts of Speed TV's NASCAR Victory Lane. He is having a great time racing without the pressure of trying to win the championship.

A Matt Kenseth fan called the Speed TV program Wind Tunnel With Dave Despain and remarked, "(Kenseth) started the race like a sack of fertilizer and finished it smelling like a rose."
Of course, that type of performance is what the #17 team does. It seems as though Kenseth's crew chief, Robbie Reiser, cannot seem to bring a car that is good off the hauler, but, by the end of the race, Matt can finish in a high enough position to keep himself well within contention for the championship. This is where David Pearson, I mean Matt Kenseth, is consistant, and this is why I truley believe that he will be the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Champion. As it stands now, he is only fourteen points out of the lead.

Not that Jimmie Johnson doesn't deserve to win the Championship. Though he is not among my top ten favorite drivers, his talent and ability, and the talent and ability of the entire #48 team, must be a cause for celebation if he takes the Cup. As close as he has come to the ultimate prize, finishing outside the top three in points only once in his career, he does deserve it. It should be exciting to watch the points battle between Johnson and Kenseth over the course of the final two races of the season. Kenseth should re-attain the points lead at Phoenix, and Johnson should be better at Homestead. But then, much of that scenario depends on luck.

There are three other drivers who are still strong contenders for the Cup; Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Any of those three drivers could still take the points lead, if they finish far enough ahead of both Johnson and Kenseth. The lack of points security is best illustrated by the fact that Jeff Burton, who held the points lead four weeks ago, has fallen, due to bad luck, to a point to where he is out of reasonable contention. Anything can happen, and we don't know what will happen until it does happen.

This blog does not make a practice of commenting on infractions until NASCAR has completed its investigation, and penalties have been assessed. I will say one thing; what happens on the track, if it is a racing incident, should be resolved by the drivers involved. No crew member should risk getting his or her team sanctioned by getting involved in an altercation with another team that does not involve a driver or drivers. Scott Riggs got spun by Kevin Harvick, late in a race in which he was performing very well. He was not involved in the altercation which allegedly took place after the race, but he will probably recieve sanctions from NASCAR due to the irresponsible and immature alleged actions of one or more members of his crew, in a confrontation with Kevlena, that is, Kevin and Dalana Harvick. If anything was to have been said, it should have been only between the two drivers. Enough said for now.

Thanks, Terry

Photo courtesy of Babs at Mattit.
Terry Labonte ended his long and fruitful NASCAR Cup career Sunday, at the end of the race at Texas Motor Speedway. While his swan song wasn't as memorable as Michael Schumacher's, his career was. Twenty-two years ago, at the age of 28, he became the youngest NASCAR Cup champion at the time. His first victory at the Cup level was at the now discontinued Southern 500, and, fittingly, his last victory was at the 2004 final running of the Southern 500, at Darlington. He was truly a class act among the Cup drivers, cool and even tempered, earning the name "The Ice-Man." Texas Terry, as he is known, won his second championship in 1998, in a close points race with teammate Jeff Gordon. He is ranked 24th on the all-time NASCAR total wins list, but ranks eighth among all drivers in top-ten finishes. He also holds the record for most races started.
There is, at the very least, a feeling of melancholy whenever one of our racing icons retires. Every driver is a hero; living for the sensation of speed and fierce competition. Those of us who have been following NASCAR for a long time have seen a lot of our favorites ride off into the sunset. In the end, all we can do is tell our retiring heros, "Thanks for everything you have done for the fans."

Errata--A correction
The news item I used for reference when I posted my take on the Robby Gordon sanctions led me to believe that Robby had been fined $15,000 as a driver and $15,000 as an owner. After all, the article read that he recieved a "$15,000 fine and penalized fifty driver's points...and...a $15,000 fine and penalzed fifty owner's points."
That led me to believe that he had been fined $15,000 twice--as an owner and as a driver. That was not the case. In fact, the errant driver was fined only $15,000, and his crew chief was fined $10,000. My apologies for any misunderstandings. My error emphasizes my point, when I caution the reader to not place bets on what I post.

Friday, November 03, 2006

"T" For Texas

Disclaimer: The following is not intended to denegrate or in any way to make fun of Texas or Texans. It is written in such a way to emulate and pay tribute to the beautful and wonderful Texas drawl, with inspiration drawn from the late, great Waylon Jennings, King of the Hill, and my little sister. Please take it as a compliment, and please don't shoot me for trying.

Tell yew what--ah'm lookin' forward to the big race in Teyaxas this Sunday comin'. Yawl know that thar's goin' to be some real big Teyaxas action. T for Teyaxas, T for Terry. Teyaxas Terry Labonte. He'll be retarrin' from racin' after Sunday, but ah b'lieve he'll give us one ha-ell of a show. Tell yew what! Eyup!
Teyaxas Motor Speedway is sorta lack thuh one in Atlanta, but it ain't thuh same. Thar's a transition 'tween thuh fav percaint bankin' on thuh straitches and thuh twenty-fawr percaint bankin' on thuh tarns that's big as Teyaxas. Jus' axe Jeff Gordon. He don't lack thuh track none a'tall. Don't matter no ways, he's from Caly-forny.
Tell yew what--that thar Kasey Kahne is durn good at Teyaxas. Not that he's in containtshun for thuh champeenship any more, but that ain't gonna stop him from tryin' to win. If thuh boy has a good car, and if he has good luck, he could runna way with thuh race.
Then thar's good ol' Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He's got a durn fair shot at bein' thuh champeen, and Teyaxas is wahr he dun got his first win. He should be doin' somethin' rat good Sunday. Eyup!
Don't fergit 'bout mah boy Denny Hamlin. He lacks our good ol' track in Teyaxas. Shore as shootin', he's durn good, and he's got a whole mess of confidence, now that he is on his good tracks. Ah'm pickin' Hamlin to be thuh winner, come Sunday, if good ol' Teyaxas Terry don't take it.
Tell yew what, Matt Kenseth can do 'bout anything on any track. Yawl know that the #17 team is durn good.
Mah money is on that he'll do everything he can to keep his points lead.
Ah think Kyle Busch can just 'bout hang it up. If he does good, things go bad for him. It's just been a bunch of gawdurn bad luck fer him
Ah seem to be repeatin' mahself week after week, whenever ah talk 'bout thuh Chasers, so, for now, ah'll skip thuh rest of thuh top teyen, and talk 'bout some of thuh other drivers who'll be doin' good.
T for Teyaxas, T for Tony Stewart. Tell yew what, that ol' boy can wheel a car anywhere. Thuh transition 'tween thuh straights and thuh tarns ain't gonna bother him none, and wahr it's needed most, Ol' Smoke can just stick that car to thuh bottom of thuh track lack no other. And TMS is wahr that's needed most.
Bobby Labonte, Teyaxas Terry's brother, is workin' perty durn hard to bring Petty Racin' Enterprises back to the glory of old. He just keeps gettin' better and better at doin' that. Ah think he could at least take another top five finish in Teyaxas.
Tell yew what--Greg Biffle has always done good at TMS. Three yars ago, he pract'ly owned that thar track. Ah reckon it's 'bout time his gawdurned bad luck run out and his good luck start. His crew chief, Doug Richert, shor knows how to set up a car for that track. Ah wouldn't be too durn dissappointed if he wahr to win thuh race.
Ah'm still tickled plenty 'bout thuh retarn of Ward Burton to racin'. He's a good ol' boy from Virginia, who can drive a race car perty durn good. He will be tryin' to bring thuh #4 Morgan-McClure team back to thuh success it had in thuh good ol' days.
In eight yars, thar have been 'leven different winners at TMS. That just goes to show yew how tough a 1.5-mile oval can be, 'specially if'n it's in Teyaxas. Thuh winner, 'sides gettin' a few bucks, gets a pair of real shootin' arens. Of course, tha'r loaded with blanks, so thuh winner won't pull a Dick Cheney while celebratin' a victory.
Tell yew what--to get the entar effect of watchin' the race, get some good Teyaxas barbeque to eat durin' the event. If'n yew live in Teyaxas, or are goin' to thuh track, stop by Angelo's, if it's still thar (it was last time Ah checked, but that was some time ago). Teyaxas has thuh best barbeque in thuh world, and Angelo's is thuh best barbeque in Teyaxas. It's rat near the track, too, located somewhars in Fawt Worth.
If'n yew cain't get genuwine Teyaxas barbeque, yawl can make some good Teyaxas style chili con carny in
yawl's very own home. Brown two or three pounds of groun' beef, drain thuh grease, if'n yew have a hankerin' to do so, and mix thuh meat with 'bout a third a jar of red chili powder. Add, 'bout a palmful of cumin--be sure to crush thuh seeds--a clove of garlic, minced, and one medium size onion, chopped fine to medium. Toss it into a stew pot with 'bout two quarts of water, bring to a boil, then lower thuh temperature and simmer, covered, for 'bout two hours. Stir occassionally, and add water when necessary. Don't be afeared to expeer'ment--Ah lack to add a few dashes of Louisianna Hot Sauce, or somethin' lack that. Even a litter bit of steak sauce can be yer own secret ingredient. Once, Ah accidently dropped some seegar ashes in thuh pot, and it added some durn good flavor. Tell yew what--REAL CHILI AIN'T GOT NO BEANS. Double thuh recipe fur two people, triple fur three, and so on.
Yawl should have plenty of good ta-kill-ya and Lone Star Beer on hand, 'specially if'n yer watchin' thuh race on tee-vee. DRINK RESPONSIBLY IF YOU DRIVE, AND DRIVE RESPONSIBLY IF YOU DRINK. Yaw'l might wanna load the CD player with plenty of Waylon, and put thuh tee-vee on "mute." Waylon was thuh best singer/songwriter ever, even if yew don't have much hankerin' for country or western music.
And, oh yeah, GO COWBOYS!

Don't do The Crime, Etc.

Oh, no, not Robby! He really did it this time. His actions at Atlanta last week--throwing foam roll bar padding out of his car, to bring out a caution, and a lucky dog pass for him--are unforgiveable. There is a difference between a misjudgement in driving--such as that at Daytona in 2001, which caused a very scary wreck between Ward Burton, Tony Stewart, and Bobby Labonte, or the one in New Hampshire in 2004 which took Stewart and Jeremy Mayfield out of championship contention--and intentionally creating a situation to change the outcome of the race. Not only did he change the outcome of the race, but he meddled with the standings, and interfered with Jeff Burton, who was racing his way to gain a lap when the caution flag flew. This is outright cheating in the worst way, and though I was able to forgive him for the driving errors, The caution-for-debris issue is way too dishonest to forgive.
It isn't that I don't like Robby Gordon. I consider him one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR today. Some of my readers might remember this item I posted early in the season. However, I feel that the penalty--two $15,000 fines, 50 driver's points and 50 owner's points, plus probation for the remainder of the calander year--is not stiff enough. NASCAR has, in the past, ended drivers' careers for lesser violations--for example Curtis Turner, the Dale Earnhardt, Jr of his time in popularity, was banned from NASCAR for trying to unionize the drivers. I'm not advocating that. I don't believe NASCAR should end a driver's career unless in the case of substance abuse policy violations. In my opinion, he should have been suspended for at least one race, and his top ten finish at Atlanta revoked, because his blatent cheating resulted directly in that finish. A driver of Gordon's talant should be held accountable for such actions.
Robby Gordon has said he will appeal the penalty on the grounds that it is too harsh. He really should just accept it and count his blessings that the penalty wasn't more appropriate for his actions. The appeals board could, he should realize, impose a harsher penalty, rather than reducing the one that was handed him by NASCAR.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

For Amazement and Amusement

A video showing proper(?) 4-wheeling technique :

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Watching Nothing

I watched over three and a half hours of nothing on television last night, and was fascinated by it. As a Halloween special presentation, Sci-Fi Channel broadcast a live supernatural investigation of the Stanley Hotel on the program, Ghost Hunters. I watched much of it, until about 1:30 AM Mountain Standard Time, when I felt it necessary to hit the sack.
The show did have its moments--enough to keep me somewhat enraptured--such as some strange sounds they recorded that sounded like laughter and the murmering of a crowd. And, yes, I think I did see some unexplained shadow movement that was caught on camera. I am looking forward to seeing the debunking segment of the investigation, if it is aired at a later date.
There were also many good ghost stories, for the Stanley Hotel, the building that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining, has a rich history of hauntings and ghost sightings. But the disadvantage of doing the investigation on live television became apparent when crank callers rang the phone to one of the rooms in which the investigators were gathering information. Entertaining, yes, cool, no. Also, much of the program was of the investigators hunting "cold spots," which became tedious as the night wore on. Still, it was good enough for me to keep watching for as long as I did.
I am not a regular viewer of the popular program, but I do watch it occasionally. I am as interested in the paranormal as anyone is, and I have some personal experiences that I keep to myself for my own reasons and reference. There is a reason that the show is popular, but I think that the live presentation may have been a bit too much. It is just another example of why NBC is going broke.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Goblins and Gremlins

It's near Halloween, and, at Atlanta, the goblins and/or gremlins showed up for the occasion. Kyle Busch literally ran into trouble early, and finished several laps down. Kasey Kahne, the race favorite, put himself out of championship contention, when he forgot that David Stremme's car was to his right, and ran right into him. And, much to the dismay of us sentimentalists, goblins got in the way of Mark Martin, and he wrecked in the closing laps of the race. Kevin Harvick had gremlins in his car the entire race, and he finished two laps down. Matt Kenseth also seemed to have continuing problems with the "Miss Setup" goblin, but still pulled off a very exciting fourth place finish. This is something Matt can always seem to do--take a twentieth place car to a top five finish. This is why I have picked him to win the championship this year.
Gremlins also continued to plague Jeff Burton, as a cut tire relegated him to a thirteenth place finish. But the other Jeff in the Chase, Jeff Gordon, managed to overcome Halloween Demons and finish sixth. As did Denny Hamlin, who was a lap down for much of the race, and finished in eighth.
While the Halloween creepies were bothering all those guys, they left the others alone. Dale Earnhardt, Jr took a gamble on older tires at the end of the race, and still managed to pull off third place, in the aforementioned exciting race with Matt Kenseth. Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson raced valiantly and cleanly for much of the final eighty laps of the race. And Smoke won, his ability and experience guiding him around the track to find the groove where his car ran best, under the changing track conditions.
The beautiful carved bear trophy awarded to Tony for winning the Bass Pro500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway was only the capping off of a wonderful weekend for him. Saturday, he finished the final race of the Crown Royal International Race of Champions series in third place, which was enough to win him that championship. His name on the IROC trophy is added to such racing greats as Mark Donahue, AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, and Al Unser. I was counting all of Tony's championships in go-carts and quarter midgets when I counted 19 career championships for him. Officially, only his USAC, IRL and NASCAR championships count, and now, with the IROC trophy, it makes 11 official national championships for him.
After Atlanta, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, and Kyle Busch have fallen out of contention for the championship. With only three races to go, it was the wrong time for things to go wrong. Jeff Gordon, 144 points out of the lead, still has a chance, if everything goes right for him and goes wrong for the six drivers ahead of him in points. Kevin Harvick is 121 points out of the lead, and can take inspiration from Jimmie Johnson, who made up 130 points in three races to get to where he is, in third place. Jeff Burton is tied in fourth/fifth place with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 84 points out of the lead, and either one of them could still race his way to the championship. For the top three drivers, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin, there are only 66 points separating first from third, and any one of them could leave next week's race at Texas Motor Speedway in the points lead. Here's to another great race in a great season.

JPM Update
Juan Pablo Montoya finished his first NASCAR Busch Series race, the Sam's Town 250, at Memphis, in eleventh place. Not bad for someone who has only driven stock cars for a little over a month.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Atlanta Tricks and Treats

Atlanta is one of the fun tracks on the NASCAR Cup circuits. True, it's a 1.5-mile "D" shaped oval, like Lowe's, Texas, Kansas City, Chicago, and Las Vegas, but each one of these venues has its own personality, and Atlanta is the "fun" one. All the drivers like it, and if you are there and have a ticket, you can see the entire track, which also makes it very fan friendly.
The surface of the track at Atlanta Motor Speedway is termed "abrasive." This means that the tires will grip, for about ten or eleven laps, but then the cars will start sliding and moving up and down the track as the rubber is used up, and the track becomes slick. The good drivers like this--if the car is set up well. We can expect, during the first part of the race, every pit stop to be for four tires and fuel. There won't be that many tricks for fuel mileage until the last quarter of the race, and this depends on how many cautions there are. There may be a caution or two within the first 30 or so laps, but we should see more green flag laps than we did at Lowe's a few weeks ago.
The real trick will be catching--or should I say "katching"--Kasey Kahne. The cute little guy has had an excellent run on the 1.5-mile tracks, winning at six such races so far this year. He won, in fact at the Atlanta race last Spring, and sweeping another venue as he did at Lowe's two weeks ago will be some added incentive for him. There is no reason to believe that he can't win another one. Unless he has engine problems.
The Everham teams--Kahne in the #9, Scott Riggs in the #10, and Elliott Sadler in the #19--have all been gaining in strength. The engine problems suffered by Sadler and Riggs in the last few races are being dealt with, and hopefully we will not see such problems at Atlanta. However, because of the speeds an gearing used at Atlanta, the question of engine durability will remain a concern..
Hendrick Motor Sports (HMS) also has had some problems with engines this season, and if not with engines, then with gearboxes. It seems to be the biggest problem which has kept Jeff Gordon from getting to the top of the points race. Jimmie Johnson, who is only 41 points out of the lead, has also had such mechanical problems throughout the season. The #48 team is good at overcoming obstacles, and it should be remembered that Johnson has never finished a season outside of the top four in points. With that in mind, I am adding Johnson to my list of "drivers who I would not be unhappy to see win the Cup." He is on a roll, coming off of the victory at Martinsville, and he may just have the trick that will get him to Victory Lane.
An engine problem for Jeff Burton at Martinsville is what put the Chase for the Championship back to the piont where any of the top nine drivers can take the Nextel Cup. Kevin Harvick is now in second place, and Burton dropped from first all the way back to sixth, but still only forty-eight points out of the lead. Richard Childress Racing, the team for which both Burton and Harvick drive, is known for engine reliability, which is why the engine failure last week came as a surprise. Hopefully, the team engineers know what went wrong and have been able to remedy it, and they will be able to stay in the race to the finish. I'm expecting top five finishes for both of them.
Possibly the meanest trick was the rain. For A.J. Almendinger, the former Champ Car series driver, it was. Atlanta was to be his first Cup race in NASCAR, but, because of rain, he didn't get a chance to qualify.
For the Chase drivers, the rained out qualifying session was the biggest treat, for the cars start in order of owner's points, meaning the top ten start in the top ten positions. We could probably see a relaxing of the insanity that has marked the start of most of the races so far this year, because the chasers will be careful not to take each other out in the first few laps of the race. For fans of insanity, there will still be plenty of that from about twentieth position on back.
Matt Kenseth starts on the pole position, with Kevin Harvick next to him. Harvick will probably take a shot at the lead from the start, but Matt will most likely prevail, coming out of turn two, and be able to lead a few laps.
For those of us who are Mark Martin fans, he has declared that he will win the race. This is uncharacteristic of the driver who has been, at the most, pessimistically optimistic about his chances for winning a race, so we should pay attention to him. Martin is one of the greats, with a unique racing style, and the ability to quickly fill any space in front of him. If he says he will win, we better take that as a strong possibility that he will.
The treat for the multitude of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans is in the fact that the #8 team has strengthened greatly on the 1.5-mile tracks, and we should see a strong showing for Junior. As a driver, Junior is smart, and his car control abilities are among the best. Atlanta is a track that is good for Junior's style of driving, and he may move up some in the points standings by the end of the race.
Being in the top ten, and in contention for the championship is a treat for Wonder Rookie Denny Hamlin. He has shown some amazing ability to adapt to any type of track, and he is starting in fourth position. We expect him to back off a little in the first part of the race, letting others make their own mistakes, but he will be there at the end. To think, his goal at the beginning of the year was "to finish most of the races and to get Rookie of The Year." Those goals have been met, and there is a very strong possibility that he will be the first rookie in the history of NASCAR to win the championship.
It is my mind, not my heart that is picking Kyle Busch to win this race. He is energized, seeing that he is once again in reach of the points lead, after Burton's engine failure and the finishing order at Martinsville virtually reset the Chase. I'm not a big fan of The Schrub, but we must recognize his talent and his ability, and, if he doesn't put himself in the position of being taken out in retaliation, determination and skill will make for very exciting finishing laps, and victory.
In the end, it will come down to engine durability and pit strategy, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that no-one in the Chase has engine problems, just to keep the points close, and the Chase for the Championship exciting.

Friday, October 27, 2006

IROC Final Race is Saturday at AMS

Well, I made the mistake of watching Speed TV's The Chase is On and realized that every time I've written a preview, I sound just like Carl Edwards. I spoiled it--for my Muse, I mean--and can't think of writing anything about Atlanta which hasn't already been said. Not on the Cup level, anyway.
So, let's talk IROC, the Inernational Race of Champions. For those who aren't familiar with IROC, it is a four race series in identically prepared cars. They are Pontiac Firebird based cars, with fiberglass bodies, set up somewhere between the NASCAR stock cars and the GT class we see in the Grand Am series. The drivers in the series are made up of past champions and current champions from the NASCAR Cup series, the Indy Racing League (IRL), the Open Wheel Championship Car Series (Champ Car), The Rolex Grand Am series, the World of Outlaws Sprint Car series, the NASCAR Busch Series, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series, and, this year being the first time for it, the ARCA series. Atlanta marks the fourth and final race in this year's IROC series. If you need more backround, follow this link.
Tony Stewart leads the IROC in points, and can win the $1,000,000 prize if he finishes Saturday's IROC race in third or better. Mark Martin has done that six times, and he is also in the race. They are joined, from NASCAR by Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex, Jr., and Ted Musgrave. Also in the race are , Scott Sharp, Sam Hornish, Jr. from IRL, Steve Kinser, from World of Outlaws, Max Papis, from several different sports car road racing series,Wayne Taylor, from Rolex Grand Am, and Frank Kimmel--the eight time ARCA champion. Most of them are still in a position to win the IROC championship, which is par for the course in IROC, and which makes the final race always exciting.
Smoke can win it, though. He has the reputation of being able to drive the wheels off of anything, and he has amassed 19 championship trophies throughout his career, includng two in NASCAR Cup and one in the IRL. The IROC cars seem to suit him, as he has won IROC races at Texas Motor Speedway, which is similar to Atlanta, and on the Daytona road course. The IROC races depend on drivers' skills, and Tony is arguably the most skilled driver in the series. He has offered a deal with the owner of the IROC series, that if he wins the IROC championship, he will give the million dollars back to the series in exchange for including his dirt track at Eldora in the IROC mix next year. That would be exciting for those of us who follow the series. He is serious about it, and that is an added incentive for him. It should also be incentive for us to watch the race Saturday, and see what happens. It will be aired on Speed TV.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Review: Martinsville II

I'm writing this on Sunday, during the races, and I have to say Thank God for MRN, because I'm trying to follow both the NASCAR race, and the Brazilian Gran Prix, which is the last Formula One race of the season, and, incidently Michael Schumacher's final race of his career. Even if I weren't flipping, I'm still happy to have MRN on to follow the race at Martinsville, because a lot is happening during the television commercials. Mainly restarts--after five cautons, three restarts happened during commercials on NBC.
When ABC/ESPN get their turn, I'm hoping they use the split screen for the ads, like they did for the IRL races, where you can still watch the race while the commercials are on.
The race at Martinsville, was everything we could hope for. Granted, we didn't want to see the wreck on the first lap, which was once again the result of drivers trying to race the first lap as if it was the last, but the remainder of the race featured everything that is great about short track racing. It was actually fairly clean for a short track race--there were few instances on pit road involving contact between cars, and the majority of the sixteen caution periods were caused by single-car spinouts with minimal damage to cars. There were some great moments of racing during the entire course of the Subway 300--lots of drivers working well in traffic, racing each other as cleanly as possible on a half-mile oval. There was some real racing going on, such as Junior racing Jeff, Jeff racing Tony, and Bobby Labonte coming back from two laps down to lead some laps and finish third.
Not that we wanted to see Jeff Burton lose the points lead the way he did, with engine problems which put him out of the race, but what that did to the points standings is simply awesome to those of us who are paying attention to the points race. Now, with Matt Kenseth back in the lead, Kasey Kahne, in eighth place is only ninety-nine points out of first place. It is, with four races left, anybody's championship. But I get ahead of myself.
I genuinely feel that we got to see some of the best racing this year during the last hundred laps or so of the race. Nobody was going to give up anything, but the drivers were very respectful of each other. The only downside was David Regan, who will be driving the #6 car next year, but showed that he is not quite ready for the Cup level, causing many problems for other drivers, especially Ken Schrader, who could have possibly won the race. Smoke retaliated for Schrader, and I imagie he was congratulated for that by every other driver, except for Kyle Busch, who unfortunately hit the wall while trying to avoid Regan's spinning car. Otherwise, there was some great racing between Tony and Jeff, there, where we could see the two best trying to beat each other while avoiding beating on each other. But the race between Home Town Boy, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson in the closing laps was outstanding. Denny did everything he could, running on seven cylinders as he did nearly the entire race, to beat Johnson. He was definitely handling the turns very well, but he just didn't have the power to maintain the lead on the straightaways. I was certainly yelling for him, and he didn't lose the race for not trying.
But I'm not unhappy that Johnson won. He raced to that victory, and earned it well. There was some booing among the cheers--when Jimmie got out of the car he gave the booers The Finger, much to the delight of the crowd--but they don't throw beer cans at Martinsville, to their credit.
Two years ago, four members of the Hendrick family, including the universally liked Ricky Hendrick, Rick Hendrick's son, died when the plane numbered N501RH crashed on its way to the race at Martinsville. Johnson's victory was not without memory of that tragedy. This was another tribute to the memory of the seven who died in that crash. So, even though I was pulling for Bobby Labonte or Denny Hamlin to beat Johnson, my congratulations to Jimmie Johnson for his victory is sincere and heart-felt.
With the Chase for the Championship being reset for all practical purposes, I am still picking Matt Kenseth to win the Cup, because I feel he is every bit as good a driver as Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon, and a second championship now would help to prove that. There are some other drivers, if Matt doesn't win , with whom I would not be dissapointed if they won the championship instead, not necessarily in this order:
Jeff Burton
Mark Martin
Denny Hamlin
Kasey Kahne
Kevin Harvick
Next week is Atlanta, a very fast intermediate track. The Chase is anybody's once again, and this makes it exciting. I'm looking forward to some more great racing in each of the four final races.

Schumie's Last Stand

Seven time Formula One World Champion, Michael Schumacher could arguably be called the Greatest. He not only has the record seven championships, but also has ninety-one Gran Prix wins. And, for a little while, it looked as if he may end his career on top. He was three championship points ahead of reigning Champion Fernando Alonso with two races left in the season, and his career. Then disaster struck at the Japanese Gran Prix, when, while leading the race, his engine blew. That was strange, since the Ferrari engines are usually very sturdy and reliable.
One could say that it wasn't in the cards for Schumacher to retire with eight championships. Now, ten points behind the points leading Alonso, going into the Brazilian Gran Prix, Schumacher could still have won the championship if, 1: Alonso had to drop out of the race, for some reason, and 2: Schumacher won the race. After showing some excellent performance in practice and in the qualifying rounds, Schumie was almost a shoo-in for the pole, but, during the pole shoot-out round, disaster struck again when the hydraulic system for the #6 Ferrari's fuel pump failed. The car that should have been on the pole--it had been the fastest during the qualifying rounds--was doomed to start in the tenth position.
But Michael Schumacher, the Great One, was not about to go out with a whimper. Making some amazing passes in the first lap, he quickly worked his way up to fifth. Then, on lap eleven, his right rear tire* blew.
Having to limp around the circuit, pit, and repair, put him back in twentieth position. Again, with his unique and aggressive driving style, he picked off competitors one by one, passing inside when he could, and passing on the outside when there was absolutely no room inside. He was driving that car hard, and wheel hopping didn't seem to bother him--the Ferrari was bouncing, skidding, drifting, and sliding all the way around the Gran Prix course. Watching him, you have to feel, "that's what I'm talking about." You just know he is showing exactly why he is The Great One.
With three laps to go, Michael Schumacher has muscled his way to fifth place. Kimmi "The Iceman" Raikonnen, the man who will be in Schumacher's seat next year, is running in fourth. A battle for that position ensues, and it is racing of the kind rarely seen in Formula One racing of late. Raikonnen, a future champion in his own right, is not about to just let Schumie pass him. Schumacher goes right, and Raikonnen is already there. He goes left, and the Iceman blocks the way. Finally, headed into the front stretch at the end of the lap, Schumacher makes a move only he can make--in front of him is Raikonnen, and to his left is the guardrail. Seeing the slightest hint of daylight between the two, he deftly puts his car into the space where there is barely any space, and successfully passes without wrecking. It is the amazing ability of Schumacher that convinces us that he deserves to be known as one of the greatest racers of all time.
He finished in the fourth position, and Alonso, finishing second, took the championship. Schumacher's teammate, Brazilian driver Philippi Massa, won the race at his home track, giving Ferrari the constructor's championship. Schumacher didn't even make the podium.
But that didn't matter. Schumacher's final race before retirement showed us why he is the Great One, because we got to watch him make some of his greatest moves. It will be etched in our memories.

*Remember, in NASCAR it's "tire," in Formula One it's "tyre." Both mean the same thing.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Old School Racing at Martinsville

Many of the Cup chasers cut their teeth on tracks like the one at Martinsville, VA. This is a one-half mile, flat concrete paved oval, the shortest on the Cup circuit. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Denny Hamlin, for instance, spent their entire pre-NASCAR careers on short paved ovals such as Martinsville. Most of the population of North America lives within a two hour drive of a short oval.
It's old school, but for a longer distance than the Saturday night circle burners usually race. In addition, with 43 cars on the track at the same time, it's crowded, which makes a big difference in how the race is run. The driver has to be careful not to overdrive into the corners, which will certainly use up brakes. The corners are so tight, a car will have to slow from almost 120 mph to 50 mph in order to make the turn without crashing. At least aerodynamics aren't important, because, with the crowded conditions and the difficulty of passing, there will be body parts (auto body parts, that is) flying off the cars from all the beating and banging that will be going on. The late, great Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt, once said, "Rubbin' is racin'," and that saying will definitely come into play at Martinsville
Qualifying is important here, for both pit position and for track position. As has been mentioned, passing is difficult, and it will take a ton of skill to move up through the pack. The pack will, by the way be illustrating the fact that NASCAR racing is a contact sport. You really want to start the race up front in order to have the best chance at finishing up front.
Jeff Gordon has seven victories at Martinsville, including last year's Fall race. This is one race in which we can see the skill that makes him one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. In two of the last three races at this track, he has one, and in the third, he finished second. He certainly has a handle on the track, and has secured a front row starting position in qualifying. He is not yet out of contention for the championship, but he will have to do a lot of winning in the last five races to get there, and it may start at Martinsville.
Junior, who is still within easy striking distance of the points lead, is very comfortable at Martinsville. In his first Cup race there, he learned what not to do, hitting, in his own words, "everything, including the pace car."
Since then, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has raced Martinsville using his extensive short track experience, and it is now, possibly, his favorite track. It is a lot of fun to watch him race there--his car handling technique shines at the races which require a high percententage of drivers' skill. All he needs to do is keep doing what he has been doing--avoid mistakes--and he could win this thing.
But the points leader, Jeff Burton, is also an accomplished short track driver. He needs to finish well to maintain his lead, for Matt Kenseth is only forty-five points behind him. However, Kenseth is not strong at Martinsville, so Burton may not have a lot to worry about, except to get through the traffic jam and avoid being involved in someone else's accident.
Kyle Busch is more of a dirt racer than a pavement racer, from his pre-Cup days, but has shown that he can run well on the short tracks. Like Gordon, he needs a lot of luck to get back into contention for the championship, but that won't prevent him from trying to get a win. Recently, the "Schrub" has shown more maturity than he has in the past, when he used to cause problems for other drivers in traffic, but our biggest concern is whether or not his recent education has stuck. He should make the race interesting, either way.
One would think that a Sprint car driver, like Kasey Kahne, would be good on the short tracks, but Kahne's strengths have been on the intermediate tracks. He definitely is a high quality talent, though, and he should be able to do more than hold his own in the traffic. There is no reason why he can't extend his strength to Martinsville, and he needs to finish all the rest of the races in the top five. He should be considered another driver to watch, come Sunday.
There is no telling how Mark Martin will do, Sunday. All of his good performance has been countered by a lot of bad luck not of his doing. He continues to smile, post race, no matter what happens. He had said that maybe the Championship "wasn't in the cards," for him, but that doesn't mean that he has given up. He continues to have fun, and who knows, he could pull it off. He did have to go to a back up car after crashing in pre-qualifying practice, so Sunday may be an uphill battle for him.
Kevin Harvick is steady, much like Jeff Burton. His performance at Martinsville has been competent, but not spectacular. Like Jimmie Johnson, he is able to adapt to any sort of track and make a good finish. It is my opinion that he may be better in traffic than Johnson. Johnson, a talented driver, tends to get confused in traffic, and his reactions are a mite slower, which could get him into trouble Sunday. If he didn't have such a penchant for running into the back of other drivers, we could have a kinder view of his chances at Martinsville.
Now, my pick among the Chasers to have the highest finishing position is Denny Hamilin, Wonder Rookie. He hasn't been that long away from short track racing, at least not as long as most of the other drivers. And he has shown an uncanny ability to adapt to any situation. If he stays focused, he could, once again, find Victory Lane.
Non-Chasers to watch:
Last week, Tony Stewart showed some great sportsmanship, deigning to avoid racing the race leaders in order to gain a lap, and thus avoiding a repeat of the accident a few weeks ago when his good friend Kasey Kahne was caught up in Stewart's wreck. Smoke definitely knows his way around Martinsville, and has led a lot of laps there, with some close finishes and some wins. He will likely let the Chasers race each other, and try to get around them only when he feels it is safe. He does have the highest drivers rating of any of the other drivers at Martinsville. It will be tricky, but if he gets a chance to try for the win, he will get it.
Scott Riggs, Clint Bowyer, and Dave Blaney all look good to go, Sunday. Riggs didn't qualify as well as we thought he would, but he is another "short track ace," and could make his way back through the traffic. Clint Bowyer is on the coattails of his RCR teammates, and he does have talent, and he is a focused driver, so he could also finish in the top ten. Blaney is a dirt track driver who has adapted well to paved short tracks, and he will certainly be worth watching.
Or listening. Martinsville can be boring to watch on TV, depending on what we see through the cameras, which is often a single file line all the way around the track for most of the race. It is highly suggsted that we listen to the radio broadcast, if available, with the TV on "mute," so as to get a good play by play on the action.
Now, for entertainment purposes, and since we are talking about old school racing, the following video is "Old School" School, and has nothing to do with racing:


Welcome Back Ward!

Big News for "wahr's Wah'rd" fans: Ward Burton, a long time fan favorite will be in the #4 car for Morgan-McClure Motorsports for the rest of the season. We have fun trying to decipher his heavy South Boston accent. Jeff Foxworthy once said, "I'm from the South, and I don't even know if he's speaking English."
Ward Burton is a very competent driver, and we are happy to see him once again in a driver's suit. In my opinion, he should have never left. He is starting in the 35th position, Sunday, and has said he plans to finish in the top twenty, or better, if my auto-translator was working correctly. Welcome back, Ward, we missed you.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Juan Pablo Update

JPM has expressed pleasant surprise that he can actually talk to other drivers in the garage area--they just don't do that in Europe. Nor do they compare notes. His main reason for coming to NASCAR was that he wanted to get back into "real racing." The following is from USA Today:

By A.J. Perez, USA TODAY
Something just wasn't right as Juan Pablo
Montoya turned his first official laps in a NASCAR Nextel Cup car this week at
Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"(Kevin) Harvick came to the team. He said, 'You
know, looking at the car from behind, I think the car is too low on the left,' "
Montoya relayed in a teleconference Wednesday. "He said, 'I think you should try
this here, do that.' "
So much for whether the Formula One-turned-NASCAR
driver at Chip Ganassi Racing would be accepted. The 31-year-old Colombian
already has spent time with Cup drivers off the track, and they've proved to be
equally as friendly on it.
"We don't do that in Europe. If you see somebody
struggling in Formula One, you never going to go and say, 'You're making this
wrong.' You actually go to your guys, and you say, 'You see what they're doing
wrong,' " Montoya said with a chuckle.
Montoya will make his NASCAR debut in
a Busch Series car Oct. 28 at Memphis Motorsports Park, which wouldn't be his
first choice.
"If I had to pick to say where I wanted to do my first Busch
race, I wouldn't pick that one," said Montoya, who has run two ARCA races in
recent weeks, of the tricky track.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Friday The Thirteenth Weekend Jinx

Last week, we saw something very sad at the end of the race at Talladega. Either Junior or Jimmie Johnson was about to win the race when an over-eager Brian Vickers took them both out. I felt sad for Earnhardt, and for Vickers, whose first Cup victory was tainted by his bad move. Sad for Earnhardt, Jr, because, though he is not my favorite driver, he is among my top five favorites, and I was really pulling for him to win that race. In fact, I didn't think I could be any sadder for any driver who had a chance to win and got caught up in somebody else's deal.
Then, with around 80 laps to go in the Bank of America 500 at Lowe's, Saturday night, another one of "my guys." JJ Yeley, made a sudden move toward pit road and inadvertently collected Mark Martin. Now that is really sad. Mark Martin's favorite track is Lowe's, and he really looked as if he could win. It wasn't totally Yeley's fault--he did signal his intentions--but it was a night race, and Martin obviously couldn't see the signal. Yeley had already made his commitment toward pit lane when the unfortunate Martin tried to pass him on the bottom, resulting in a bad accident.
It doesn't seem that Yeley can finish a race without getting in a wreck with somebody else. It isn't always his fault--as often as not, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I like JJ. He is really a nice guy, and people who know him are very impressed by his spirit. But I may be the first to predict that he will be driving full time in the Busch series next year, and be sharing the #18 Cup ride next year with the Cuban Missile, Aric Almerida. This is just a rumor, and you heard it first here.
I was already sad before that happened. As it has been this entire season, many drivers began the race as if the first lap was the last lap, and another one of "my guys," Denny Hamlin checked up coming out of turn four of the first lap, to avoid an accident, and got rear ended by an apparently inattentive Mike Bliss. Luckily for Hamlin, though, the #11 team was able to get the car back onto the track, sixty-eight laps later, and he finished in 28th, sixty-nine laps down, but not losing that many points.
That someone can finish nearly seventy laps back from the lead can finish in the top thirty can only attest to how heavy the attrition rate was. Blown engines took out Kurt Busch, Elliott Sadler, Jeff Gordon, and Jamie McMurray, among others. Other drivers, including Clint Bowyer and Chaser Kevin Harvick, had transmission problems. It was definitely a Friday the Thirteenth weekend for many drivers.
There were some really great moments, and some very heartwarming moments. On the restart--after a caution for debris, with 28 laps to go, Tony Stewart, my main man, was the first car a lap down, and the first car in line on the inside lane, could have raced the leaders to get his lap back, as so many others had done during the course of the race. He didn't. Instead he held off, letting the leaders, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Burton, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr by before getting back into the race. He didn't have to do that, and he displayed some excellent sportsmanship by doing so. Way to go, Smoke. I'm sure that many of the Stewart haters were wondering who was actually in the #20 car. It's Smoke, people, and that is why we love him.
There were some other good times. Junior and The Gordon racing clean and hard, some very good challenges and passes for the lead, and some previously unthought-of of drivers, especially Tony Raines showing some remarkable ability in racing some of the top drivers. Raines led some laps, and stayed mostly in the top ten throughout the race. Talk about stepping up! Prior to Saturday's race, Raines had only led 3 laps in his Cup career, and had not yet had a top ten finish. Saturday, he finished ninth. Sterling Marlin, an old favorite, got his first top ten finish in over two years, and we were happy to see that. Bobby Labonte, another old favorite, did exactly what he had to do, and brought the famed Petty #43 Dodge to a respectable fifth place finish.
And it was Kasey Kahne who won, sweeping both Lowe's races, with Jimmie Johnson second, and Jeff Burton in third. Junior kept his championship hopes alive by finishing fourth, but Matt Kenseth, who once again had car problems, and was often two laps down finished sixteenth, high enough to maintain second place and forty-six points out of the lead.
Congratulations to Kasey Kahne, the "cute little guy," who now has six wins to his credit this season. He is still over 120 points out of the lead, but, considering his rough start in the first three races of the Championship series, he is doing well, and is not yet out of contention. A lot can happen in five races, and at least one of them is going to be as tough as the first five have been. Martinsville, the shortest oval on the NASCAR Cup circuit, is the home of next week's race, and it will be back to old school racing. Forty-three high-speed cars on a half-mile track always ensures some rough racing. It should be fun.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Friday Night Fights

Congratulations to Dave Blaney, who achieved his first Busch Series victory in a Friday night crashfest at Lowe's Motor Speedway. And to Kevin Harvick, who, although he didn't have that great of a night, being plagued by mechanical problems, clinched the NASCAR Busch Series 2006 Champiionship. This is Harvick's second NBS Championship, his first being in 2001. The 2006 championship represents the earliest clinch in NBS history.
Dave Blaney is a name familiar to most race fans. He is still active in open wheel racing, driving both USAC sprints and midgets, and winged sprints such as those we see in World of Outlaws and National Sprint Car Racing Association. His main job, however, over the past two years, has been in Stock Cars. Until 2005, Blaney was utilized as a standby, part time driver for several teams, but mostly by Richard Childress Racing. With the Childress restructuring in 2005, Blaney got a full time Cup ride in the #07 Monte Carlo. He was replaced by Rookie Clint Bowyer in 2006, but that doesn't take away from Blaney's ability, because that was the plan, and Blaney started the season in the Bill Davis Racing #22 Dodge Charger, which has become a team showing steady improvement this year, thanks to Blaney's skill. He now has a three year contract, with that team, and BDR will be switching to the Toyota next year.
Saturday night's race proved to be a tough one, with a high rate of carnage and attrition. There were numerous accidents, involving such notables as Bobby Labonte and Kasey Kahne, and many suspension and tire problems, because, after all the levigating and resurfacing, the famed "Humpy Bumps" are still there.
Cars bottomed out on the bumps, got into the "marbles"--the tire debris that is thrown against the outside wall--and spun, and there were no less than three red flag periods to clean debris. To top it off, there was a final lap crash which took out the race leaders, when second place Casey Mears went high up the track to pass first place Carl Edwards, got loose, spun, and crashed into Edwards. Dave Blaney, who was running in third, avoided the wreck and won.
It is always a thrill to welcome a first time winner to Victory Lane, and Dave Blaney is one who truly deserves it.