Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I Really Want To Like Greg Biffle

Greg Biffle loves animals. His dogs are as well known to his fans as he himself is. He spends much time and money benefiting animal welfare organizations, such as the Humane Society and Dream Power. It’s difficult to not like a guy who loves puppies and kittens.
And then there’s his crew chief, Doug Richert, who is probably, in my opinion, one of the best of the active crew chiefs in NASCAR today, if not the best. His first job as crew chief came when he was a child of 18 years, when he was hired as Dale Earnhardt’s crew chief. No-one can balance a car for downforce tracks like Richart. If you watch that #16 cup car, you’ll see the nose lift for the turns and suck down for the straight-aways. It is beautiful; it is Zen-like. Greg Biffle knows how to take full advantage of a car like that, which is part of what has made him a successful driver.
There is Biffle’s driving skill. He is already a past champion of both the Craftsman Truck Series and the NASCAR Busch Series, and is in a very good position to be the first NASCAR Triple Crown winner since the beginning of the Winston Cup (now Nextel) series in 1971. He has the ability to somehow make his car behave in the turns as if he were on a dirt track, going nearly sideways in the center of the turn to get a straight line to the exit. I haven’t seen many other drivers do this on pavement with as much consistency and purpose as the Biff does. He is not really an all-around driver, but his skills and successes on the down force ovals, which make up 2/3rds of the Nextel Cup schedule, more than make up for the talent he lacks on the short tracks and road courses.
While PPIR was open, I had the pleasure of watching the Biff race up close, in both the Truck and the Busch series. He often scared me, but he always made the race exciting and entertaining.

But I don’t like him because:
Actually, I can’t put my finger on this. I really can’t say why I don’t like Greg Biffle. Maybe it’s because the “bug-eyed monster” occasionally shows up. The Biff tends to take up the entire track doing his magic in the turns. In the past, he seems to have forgotten that there are other cars on the track. He seems, for the moment, to have remedied that tendency. He still says some dumb things, but don’t all drivers do that? And there is the question of “if it wasn’t for Richert, would he look as good as he does now?” I don’t know, because he certainly a good wheel, as he showed in the Busch and Truck series, but his pre-Richert record in Nextel Cup racing is only a little short of unremarkable.

Could I become a Biffle fan?
Yes. I may be already, but just haven’t accepted it yet. That's right,
I may be a "closeted" Biffle fan. But you have to have somebody good to race against, don’t you? If Biffle can hone his skills as a Cup driver to the level he has in the other two upper tier series, he will definitely become a “great.” I actually feel bad about not liking him, almost as if I didn’t like Mark Martin. (Stream of Conscience flows here) If I didn’t like Mark Martin, I wouldn’t admit it, because the NASCAR Fans Inquisition would be at my door with battering rams and torches, and it would be barbecue time for the Rev. However, Biffle fans understand that their driver is aggressive, and unpopularity can be expected with an aggressive driver. Believe me, as the fan of another aggressive driver, I can certainly empathize.
So, God Bless Greg Biffle, and thanks to the Biff, and to the now defunct Pike’s Peak International Raceway for the thrills and great racing memories.

Inside The Rev's Mind?

This probably won't make much sense, but I'm gonna do it anyway. If you didn't watch any of the prerace shows, it more than likely won't make any sense. But the AutoZone 500 wasn't much to look at, and I guess the best way to share my thoughts is to publish my notes I took while waiting for the race to start. So here, unedited and in pure form as the thoughts popped into my head, are my notes from the AutoZone 500:

Lap Event/Comment/Quote ---------------------
Thoughts: Great interview with Greg Zippadelli. I like Wendy Venturini's comment that they have been together so long they look like brothers, but my favorite quote was from Zippy about Tony. “You can’t take that fire from him.”
I have noticed that many of the true Tony Stewart fans have come to accept that. I have, I know. It is what makes Tony what he is. It’s what makes being a Stewart fan exciting, and it’s part of what makes Tony make an exciting race.
Other thoughts: I still can’t figure out why I don’t like Greg Biffle. I have to make him the next subject of my “I really want to like” series.
I really get a kick out of FedEx commercials. I think, in Denny Hamlin, they have a driver they really like, thanks to JD Gibbs.
Mark Dove in promo for new Fox program “Free Ride.” (plugging for a Nextel Cup track in Missouri. “We want to make it old school. Have the drivers carry moonshine in the back of the car.”
Happy to see the actors from 24, one of two or three shows I make it a point to watch that have nothing to do with racing.
Happy that Scott Riggs made the race. Good luck to you, Scotty.
Hammond: “I think you have to go through Joe Gibbs Racing to get the championship.” I may be biased, but I think he knows what he is talking about.
Newman’s comment “maybe (Johnson) still had an illegal car,” is probably the most ridiculous comment made by a driver since Jimmy Spencer was a full time driver.
Tony likes Chris Meyers. Tony has the same recurring dream I often do. Serious. Is it something to do with being left-handed?
I actually like DW and Hammond’s drive around feature better than Wally’s celebrity drive around on NBC’s NASCAR coverage.
Are they going to have the pre-race concert every week? I guess it’s for ratings, but I want to see racing.
Loved the UPS pit stop commercial.
Got a chuckle out of “Whoa, Jimmie’s down,” NASCAR promo, but Jimmie could sure use some acting lessons before he does another one like that. Maybe it’s because it was so stupid that I’m still laughing about it.

198 #20 engine goes. Tony still positive about rest of season. Probably
happy to have a week off.
225 That was amazing how Harvick missed hitting the #2 car when Kurt Busch spun.

This Is Gonna Be A Great Year for Race Fans

After watching the Auto Zone 500, at California Speedway, I find myself absolutely and positively energized for the rest of the season. There is no Cup race next week, so that energy may turn into anxiety, but for now, The Rev is revved up.
Okay, so my driver finished in absolute last place, due to a blown engine. Smoke is one of those drivers who can make up for a disappointment and make it look like a walk in the park. So I’m not worried about that. Tony “Smoke” Stewart is all smiles about the way his car and his team were working before the engine blew. “We are a lot better off now than we were at this time last year,” he said.
But it isn’t just the #20 Home Depot racing team that has me fired up. Even though the race itself wasn’t all that exciting to the average fan, it showed many exciting things to look forward to for the rest of the season. For example, in the 2004 season, it took Brian Vickers nearly 24 races to realize he wasn’t the only car on the track. Then last year, it seemed that he had to learn the same thing again, but it only took him 18 races to stop running over the cars in front of him. At California. he seemed to have already gotten it, a predicater that this subject of a future “I Really Want to Like” article may come into his destiny this season.
Why am I interested in drivers I don’t care much for? Competition. When the competition is good, the racing is good. When the drivers and teams come to their full potential, the potential for great racing can be realized. It may be too early to tell, but from the looks of things in the California race, it’s going to be a great season.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Link for Home Depot Racing News

I am now adding the link for

  • Home Depot Racing News
  • to the sidebar on this blog. It is the official racing news site of Tony Stewart's excellent sponser, and is updated before and after each race. There are also images from each race. Enjoy

    Thursday, February 23, 2006

    I Really want to like Jeff Gordon, But I Can't Because...

    I didn’t really intend for this blog to be a Tony Stewart Lovefest, but it does tend to look like one. Face it, the word “awesome” was just sitting around waiting for a guy like Smoke. There really are other drivers I like: Dale Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Elliot Sadler, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, and Jimmie Johnson, to name a few in the NASCAR Cup series. I can enjoy watching any of these drivers race and/or win.
    Then I have this category of “Drivers I really want to like...but don’t.” I will delve into this list in detail, a little bit now and some more in the future, as the racing season progresses. Here is how it, and my thought process, works.

    I really want to like: Jeff Gordon.
    Gordon has got to be one of the best drivers in NASCAR Cup history. With a career record, at the time of this writing, of 73 Nextel Cup victories, and four NASCAR points championships, he ranks 7th in wins among all the drivers in the history of NASCAR. He definitely knows every aspect of driving on any type of track, and his car control is usually impeccable. He has an expert touch on the throttle, and, with his ability to place other cars exactly where he wants them, could be considered the Master of the “bump and run.” All drivers have something in their personality that underscores their drive to excel, and Jeff’s is his huge ego and sense of self-importance. He is articulate and eloquent in speech, he is flashy and aggressive, and the importance of taking care of the fans is not lost on him. To many race fans, Jeff Gordon is the epitome of what would be the Ideal Driver.

    But I don’t like him because:
    Plain and simply, he is Jeff Gordon. Mainly, it is the very ego which makes him successful that rubs me the wrong way. I love to watch him race, but I also enjoy watching him get beat. He is quick to retaliate when he feels wronged, and often he is quick to point the finger of blame for his own misfortune. He owns a vast knowledge of all aspects of racing, including dirty tricks. At Watkins Glen, in 2001, the year of his most recent points championship, he ran out of gas in one of the final turns of the final lap. Rather than pulling his car off of the track, and out of traffic, he parked his car squarely in the middle of the turn, effectively blocking other drivers from racing to the finish, and causing a multiple car accident. Way to keep that points lead, Jeffy.

    Could I Ever Be a Fan?
    NASCAR racing would not be the same for me if it were not for Jeff Gordon. I appreciate his talent, and I thought it was good of him to take at least part of the blame for his incident with Stewart in last week’s race at Daytona. But every time he does something that would cause me to start liking him, he says or does something that really rubs me the wrong way. I apologize to my friends who are Jeffy fans, but, after all these years, if I don’t like him by now, I never will.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    The Return of the Bad Boy

    Sometimes even your favorite driver can be a bonehead. I was reminded of that while I was watching the Daytona 500 last Sunday.
    Tony Stewart had an excellent car for the race. He moved effortlessly from a 17th position start to take third place by lap 25. An incident on lap 27 is important to note for future reference, because Smoke later said this is what got him angry: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took the lead from Matt Kenseth on the frontstretch with Stewart directly behind him. Coming out of turn two, Kenseth was racing beside Stewart, and Tony got loose. Stewart’s car almost went into the infield, but Tony executed a characteristically good save and got back in line in the 5th position. By lap 28, he had taken the lead.
    On or about lap 47, Stewart’s car drifted to the outside, while Jeff Gordon, who’s car was tight and couldn’t turn went up in front of him. The commentators said that Stewart should have let up off the throttle, but I think he was trying to save the car from hitting the wall. Anyway, Stewart hit the back of Gordon’s car, and both cars hit the wall, bringing out the caution. Much to Jeff’s credit, he reported over the team radio that it was his car that got tight, and that the accident really wasn’t anybody’s fault. It was Gordon’s car which received the most damage, the damage being heavy enough to knock him out of contention for the win.
    After repairs, the race restarted on lap 51, with Tony “Smoke” Stewart starting back in the 27th position. But Tony was a man with a mission, and he immediately began moving up in the field with a vengeance.
    Meanwhile, by lap 59, Matt Kenseth had retaken the lead. His Ford Fusion was definitely the car to beat. But Stewart’s car was apparently affected very little by damage, and at this point he had already moved into 17th position, and was still rapidly moving up through the field.
    A big, scary wreck of the sort that can be expected at a restricter plate race, occurred around lap 77, when Dale Jarrett’s car got into the back of Jeff Green’s #66 car. Green went hard into the infield, then even harder back onto the track and into the wall in front of traffic. One of the things that is wrong with restricter plate racing is that the cars are packed so close together that the accordian effect can not be avoided. Several good cars, including some of the crowd favorites were caught up in the wreck. Joe Nemecheck, Carl Edwards, JJ Yeley, and Kyle Petty, along with Green, were all essentially taken out of the race. The only consolation, if there is any, is that no-one was hurt, and that, if this was the “big one” bound to happen at Daytona, it was not nearly as big as it has been in past restricter plate races.
    The race restarted on lap 85, with Matt Kenseth still in the lead. By the next lap, Kevin Harvick had taken the 1st position. The lead changed several times after that, with Kenseth again leading the pack by lap 90. By this time, Stewart had moved up into 7th.
    By lap 104, Mark Martin, who was working as a drafting partner with Tony Stewart, took the lead with Stewart pushing him to the front.
    It is here I will interject some personal notes: As a long time Tony Stewart fan, there have been more than a few of what I like to call “awww Tony moments.” Those are the times when my favorite driver lets his infamous temper take him over. He becomes a single minded fool, with the only thought in his mind being to “get back” at a driver who “done him wrong.” Retaliation becomes a much stronger motive to him than winning the race or getting a good finish. What was about to happen became, to me, not just an “awww Tony moment,” but an “awwwwwwwwwww (expletive) Tony, what the (expletive) are you thinking,” moment.
    Cutting in front of Matt Kenseth, Smoke clipped the front right fender of Kenseth, sending him into the infield. Kenseth spun back across the track and into the outside retaining wall. Stewart was penalized, and in serving the penalty, ran over the jack and received another penalty.
    In the post race interviews, Jeff Gordon said that he was as much at fault as Stewart was, in the lap 47 incident, and Stewart blamed it on the damp conditions. Okay, I’ll buy that. But, Stewart fan or not, I think it’s wrong in any race, for any driver to make an offensive move as blatent as the one he put on Kenseth.
    On another personal note, after the 2009 season, when Smoke is expected to retire from full time NASCAR racing, Kenseth is destined to become my new favorite driver. This may seem ironic, but it isn’t anything new; Matt Kenseth has been one of my favorite drivers since he was still in the Busch series.
    Well, I guess I’ll get over it. Kenseth said he won’t hold a grudge and I believe him. But now, I have to listen to people like the guy on FSN’s Around the Track, who is a habitual Tony basher, use this new fodder against my driver the entire season. No doubt, any little racing incident will cause Darrell Waltrip, Fox’s expert race analyst, to bloviate about the common denominator. And, when I log on to the Tony Stewart fan forum on NASCAR.com, I’ll have to wear my helmet and flak jacket in protection from the Tony bashers who show up there. Well, I don’t have to do any of that, but my love for racing, and for Tony, is such that I will.
    On a much happier note, congratulations to Jimmie Johnson on his first Daytona 500 win. Congratulations to RCR’s rookie Clint Bowyer for his top ten win in his first Daytona 500 race, and to Elliot Sadler for his top 5 finish. Well done to Robby Gordon, who didn’t even make the 500 last year, for a top 20 finish, and to my favorite underdog, Kirk Shelmerdine, for a lead lap finish, after he had to get money from his fans to get tires.
    In the words of Dale Jarrett, “that’s just racin,’” Next Sunday we get the first real race of 2006, in California, with no restricter plates, and the cars can run wide open on the straightaways, and drivers’ skills come into play negotiating the turns and the traffic. Hopefully, we can all move on, without grudges and without feuds, and enjoy the rest of the season.

    Thursday, February 16, 2006

    Backing Into Leadership

    Tony Stewart doesn't want to be the spokesman. He has said that several times in several different interviews. But somehow, whether he wants it or not, he is the spokesman for the drivers of NASCAR.

    "It shouldn't matter how many points you have or how many races you've won," he told the Trackside Live crew on Wednesday, "Any driver who has a problem with a safety issue, or anything, should be able to go to NASCAR and discuss it."

    Ironically, it is exactly that kind of statement that makes Stewart the leader. He has developed a reputation of saying what he means and meaning what he says. On top of that, he has the habit of taking younger drivers under his wing, just as AJ Foyt took the young Stewart under his wing. David Stremme, Jason Leffler, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, JJ Yeley, and Kasey Kahne have all, at one time or another, referred to Stewart as their mentor.

    Curtis Turner didn't want the job when he was selected by the other drivers to bring up the idea of a drivers' union. He was picked because of his popularity among the fans, and his gregarious personality. Big Bill France subsequently banned Turner fromostensiblytensively for life, but, because of fan recognition, he was reinstated after a nearly two year suspension. Richard Petty was an obvious choice. Virtually the Father of NASCAR driver marketing, and proclaimed the "King" of NASCAR for his driving abilities, Petty was the one who presented to NASCAR the drivers' concerns about the safety of the new track at Talledega. He led the boycott of Talledega, which basically amounted to very little, as France replaced the boycotting drivers with drivers from the Sportsman (now Busch) and GT series. It wasn't until Dale Earnhardt was given the duties of spokesman that NASCAR began listening to and acting on what the drivers had to say. After Earnhardt's death, many drivers and fans looked to Jeff Gordon as the NASCAR spokesman. Gordon is perenually a fan favorite, and carries the burden of four NASCAR Cup championships, and is a logical choice for spokesman. Indeed, after the tragedy of the Hendrick plane crash in 2004, Gordon indeed stepped up and exhibited exceptional leadership ability. However, on the same Trackside program as the one Stewart appeared, Gordon said that he would rather concentrate on being leader of his team, than be the spokesman for all of the drivers. He said that his schedule was too full for him to carry drivers' concerns to NASCAR. Gordon acknowledged that Earnhardt was a great spokesman for the drivers, but added that "no-one can do what Earnhardt did."
    It seems that Tony Stewart can, even though he doesn't believe it necessary. Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, and many other drivers have, for years, expressed concern over the practice of slam drafting, and bump drafting in the corners. It seems that it was only after Stewart voiced his concern on the air, in his post-race interview, and then went to NASCAR to discuss the matter, that NASCAR decided to address those concerns.
    Earnhardt was another driver whom Stewart considered a mentor, and he seems to be following in his footsteps. Tony's personality, his honesty, his humility, and his ability and drive to articulate his feelings have put him in a position he doesn't want to be. It seems to matter to NASCAR that he has won two NASCAR championships, plus the prestigious Speed Driver Of The Year Award, and that his fan base is rapidly growing. So, reluctantly, accidently, and circumstantually, Stewart has backed into the role of NASCAR spokesman.

    Wednesday, February 15, 2006

    Clever Crew Chief Knaus Caught (Again)

    The legendary Smoky Yunick set the bar for all crew chiefs when he said, “It is NASCAR’s job to make and enforce the rules; it is the crew chief’s job to find a way around the rules.”
    Chad Knaus, Crew Chief for Jimmie Johnson’s #48 Hendrick Motorsport/ Lowe’s racing team, is arguably the best of the current crew chiefs at what could be called “creative interpretation” of the rules. Last year, Knaus’ endeavors to find more speed for his driver resulted in points deductions and fines. However, you can’t blame the guy for trying.
    One thing he did get away with, last fall, was using a set of shock aborbers which lowered the rear end of the car when the car got up to speed, changing the aerodynamic profile of the car only when it was moving. The pre race technical inspections only make sure the car fits the template when it is standing still. NASCAR inspecters found the strange shock absorbers during the post race inspection. They found that, although the shocks were unconventional, they were in line with the rules. So there was no penalty, but from that time forward, those shocks became illegal.
    What got Chad banned from Daytona participation this week was another very clever trick. He altered the track bar adjustment position so that it would lower the height of the rear window only when the car got up to speed. NASCAR officials wouldn’t have caught it with the pre race template check. However, during Jimmie Johnson’s qualifying run, last Sunday, someone noticed tire smoke caused by fender rub. The car was inspected after the qualifying run, the infraction discovered, and action was taken. Knaus was barred from the remainder of the Daytona events, and Johnson has to start at the back of the pack in his qualifying race on Thursday. Starting in the rear at a restrictor plate race isn’t all that bad, so if you’re going to try something, why not try it at Daytona?
    Personally, I feel that innovation makes better racing. If someone finds a way to make his car faster, the other teams will eventually find a way to catch up. But, just as the crew chief has to find a way to make the car faster, NASCAR has to find a way to keep things from getting out of hand. It is only another aspect of competition.

    I have to throw in a plug here for my friend and fellow NASCAR blogger Clance’. In her blog, The Church of the Great Oval, she has a commentary on the Bud Shootout, titled “Shootout at the OK Corral,” or something similar. I urge you to check it out. It is probably the most unique, interesting, and accurate race review I have seen. And, by the way, it’s all done in dialogue.

    This may be pretentious, but I wonder if Hunter, Darby, and/ or Helton are reading my blog. Last week, I made a big deal about Carl Edwards “always being happy,” and subsequently, NASCAR did things to show that Edwards was not, in fact, always happy. Then, yesterday, I wrote that NASCAR could warn the drivers that they would get the black flag for slam drafting in the corners, and sure enough, NASCAR announced this morning that they would do just that. It is certainly mere coincidence, but I can’t help but to be a little paranoid. Do I really have to be more careful about what I write?

    Tuesday, February 14, 2006

    Stewart Steps Up

    Tony Stewart seems to be taking his role as reigning NASCAR Nextel Cup Champion seriously. Voicing a very real concern about “bump drafting” getting out of hand, he declared “somebody is going to get killed.”
    In making such a statement, he was exercising his ablility as Champion to act as a spokesperson for the NASCAR drivers, and utilizing his own personality trait of “telling it like it is.” It used to be that Tony would get out of his car after the race, and confront a driver he thought screwed up on the track, even fighting with him, if he felt he needed that to get his point across. That is the way race car drivers at all levels have always handled differences. But nowadays, with all the media attention on such incidents, NASCAR and the all-important sponsers frown on that kind of behavior, imposing heavy fines and sanctions.He knows, now, that as the reigning Champion, he can get his complaints out in the open by speaking to the media.

    And his point is valid. Bump drafting is a natural technique in restrictor plate races, it is a way for two cars to help each other go faster; drivers have been doing it for a long time, and there is no harm in it if it is done on a straightaway. However, there are three or four drivers who don’t quite get it, and have modified bump drafting into something called “slam” drafting. Slam drafting is hitting the car in front with such force that it gets the car out of line, usually spinning it into the wall or into other cars. Often, the slam is commited on a turn, or on entering or exiting the turn, and this is a sure way to cause a wreck. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., speaking on the same subject, called bump drafting a “necessary evil.”
    “If you don’t do it, there is no race. You just have a line of cars going around the track nose to tail.
    “But,” he continued, “when you get turned coming off of a corner, the guys behind you don’t know you got turned, and that causes some real problems.”
    There are actually only three or four drivers who are consistently guilty of slam drafting. I won’t mention any names, but two of them are brothers with the same last name as a popular brand of beer, who admit they don’t much care for restrictor plate racing. Another, who’s name rhymes with “Brian Vickers (oops),” seems to have to learn anew every season that he isn’t the only car on the track. Other drivers may take the practice up out of retaliation or just plain frustration. My point is, the the problem with slam drafting could be remedied simply by NASCAR being a little more liberal with using the black flag for rough driving. Not as liberal as they were during the Bud Shootout with Carl Edwards (who showed he isn’t always happy, after all), when he was penalized for going below the yellow line to avoid a wreck, but to let the drivers know that slam drafting, particularly in the corners, will not be tolerated.
    While I’m still on the subject of Tony Stewart, here are some gems from his Speed Weeks Media Day press conference, courtesy of Motorsport.com network:

    Q. Last year you changed a lot of things. You're
    working with the team in a different way, getting
    along better. Do you feel like you're a different
    person now than you were before? Do you think that
    has changed you?
    TONY STEWART: Didn't we talk about that all year
    last year?
    Q. Yeah, but we're going into another year.
    TONY STEWART: You think as soon as the calendar
    year changed, all of a sudden the moon and the
    stars were going to go a different direction?
    Q. No.
    TONY STEWART: Okay, there's your answer.

    Q. Greg Biffle said during the media tour
    qualifying at Daytona is the most boring thing we
    do as race drivers. He said (inaudible) cell phone
    for 40 minutes before he goes out. Do you view
    qualifying as boring?
    TONY STEWART: No, testing is boring -- the most
    boring thing we do as a driver at Daytona. Yeah, I
    mean, we spend -- it's kind of funny because we
    spend two hours a weekend worrying about
    qualifying and we spend two 45-minute sessions
    working on race stuff, we spend two laps in the
    qualifying, we spend three and a half hours in the
    race. I think we spend way too much time and
    effort for two laps of qualifying for sure.
    Q. What do you do here sitting on pit road waiting
    to go out to qualify? Talk on the cell phone?
    TONY STEWART: I haven't figured out how to get a
    cell phone inside my helmet yet.
    Q. He said he keeps his helmet off.
    TONY STEWART: The bad thing is NASCAR makes you
    put your helmet on before you go on pit lane so we
    can't do that any more. I normally am looking
    through the net to see -- hopefully it's a hot day
    and there are girls in tank tops out there. You
    guys know me. You ask me an honest question, I'm
    giving you an honest answer. I'm a single guy, I'm
    looking for hot chicks on pit lane. That's all I'm
    doing. If I can't see them, normally there's a
    crew guy saying, you need to look at 11:00 to your
    left, check it out.
    Q. Far more interesting than talking on your cell
    TONY STEWART: Yeah, who would you talk to? I don't
    even like cell phones. I'm not the best at talking
    on cell phones anyway. It's not a national pastime
    of mine like it is most people.

    Q. What's your opinion of restrictor plate racing?
    How do you feel like you evolved as a driver over
    the years?
    TONY STEWART: Still a checkers player.
    Q. You won, so.
    TONY STEWART: Yeah, but it doesn't mean that you
    got that confidence every week that you can go out
    and win every week here. It's a chess match and
    I'm a checkers player. Hopefully I make the right
    move at the right time.

    And this is what Smoke said at the end of the conference:

    The rest of my day is going to suck. This is what
    I was looking forward to because this is where you
    have the most fun because everything else sucks.
    You can put that on the record, too.

    That’s actually a pretty nice thing to say, coming from a guy who supposedly doesn’t like the media.

    A Correction

    Sometimes, when one is trying to write about the action in a race, the chain of events gets confused. This blogger needs to learn to take notes during the race, rather than trying to remember everything after the fact. Therefore, I must post a correction here. In my previous post, I reported that Tony Stewart helped Denny Hamlin take the lead in the Bud Shootout after the mandatory green-flag pit stop, when in fact, the FedEx team got the car out of the pits ahead of everyone else. I stand corrected.

    Monday, February 13, 2006

    Rookie Hamlin Is For Real

    The 2006 Budweiser Shootout is now in the books. It did not disappoint. An exciting race from start to finish, it was full of surprises, the biggest one, to many, being the emergence of young rookie Denny Hamlin as a driver to contend with in a restricter plate race.

    This was Hamlin's first restricter plate race, and his first race at Daytona, in a Cup car. And he won. That is no easy task for a rookie. Restricter plate races are dangerous. The engine does not have the power to accelerate get out of a bad situation, and, with all the cars on the track being inches apart from each other at nearly 200 mph, the entire race is a bad situation. One mistake (cough Kyle Busch cough) may not wreck the driver who makes the mistake, but it could cause anaccordionn effect, where drivers three cars back get wrecked in chain reaction. The driver must exercise patience, must pick the right moment to move, and must have finely tuned reflexes to avoid running into the driver ahead of him (cough Brian Vickers cough). If the race itself isn't tough enough, the competition in the Shootout, even though it is not a points race, is probably the toughest in the entire racing season. Every driver there is one who has qualified in the pole position for at least one race during the previous season, or has previously won the Bud Shootout. Every driver is there to win, if only for bragging rights or honor, and it is no place for a rookie.

    Denny Hamlin won his place in the Shootout by taking the pole position in the November 2005 Nextel Cup race at Phoenix. It was only his sixth start at the Cup level.

    A driver can participate in up to seven races in a single season at Cup level, but more than that and the season becomes that driver's rookie year. For example, another young racing sensation, Carl Edwards, raced in eleven Nextel Cup events in 2004, eliminating him from rookie status in 2005. Hamlin, during the last half of the 2005 season, shared duties in the Joe Gibbs #11 Federal Express car with fellow Busch series driver JJ Yeley and veteran Cup icon Terry Labonte, limiting his participation to seven Nextel Cup races. Thus, he became one of the very few rookie drivers ever to become eligible for the Bud Shootout.

    While Hamlin's performance in the Bud Shootout certainly drew the attention of fans and the media, more importantly, it drew the attention of the other drivers, even while the race was in progress. In restricter plate races, one needs the help of other drivers to get ahead of the competition; two cars are faster than one. A rookie has very little hope of finding drafting partners, what Darrell Waltrip refers to as "co-opetition." The yellow rookie stripe on a car is a warning to others that "This guy doesn't know what he is doing, and should be avoided." Prior to the race, Hamlin, himself, had told his crew to not expect him to do anything except hold his place, that he would probably spend the race as a "back marker."

    But veteran crew chief, Mike Ford, had given Denny Hamlin an excellent car for the race. Realizing this, Denny quickly took advantage of his car's superiority and made his way to the front, avoiding accidents and errors. Once he got up toward the front, he did find drafting partners, in the persons of Gibbs Racing team mate and mentor Tony Stewart, and championship hopeful Jimmie Johnson. An excellent green flag pit stop, mandatory in the second segment of the Bud Shootout, put him in postition to take the lead. Stewart bump drafted Hamlin into the lead, telling him, via team radio communications, to "hold your line at the bottom, and I'll take care of the rest."

    When a near accident shuffled Stewart toward the rear of the field, Hamlin felt that he had been "hung out to dry." But he took his mentor's advice and held the bottom line on the track, and Stewart, with the help of restricter plate ace Michael Waltrip, quickly made his way back to a position where he could help Denny. Also near the front were the acknowledged Master of restrictor plate racing, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and last year's "bad boy," Jimmy Johnson. Both were determined to win. Stewart took the lead, with 4 laps to go, but a caution flag came out for debris, after several cars brushed the wall in the melee to get to the front. The remaining 4 laps were consumed by the cleanup effort, but, by rule, the Shootout must end under a green flag, so the restart began a two lap sprint, known as a "green, white, checker" finish. Stewart took the lead, but was quickly overtaken by the very capable Earnhardt, Jr. However, Hamlin, who restarted first in the outside lane, was given a good push by Jimmy Johnson, putting him two full car lengths ahead of Earnhardt. Hamlin took the white flag, signaling the final lap, making his way back to the coveted inside lane. The final lap was very excitinMakingh Earnhardt, Jr. making a serious attempt to win, and Stewart trying both to beat Earnhardt and to protect his team mate's lead. Hamlin took the win, in what was only his eighth start in a Nextel Cup car, and he gained the respect of every other driver in the race. Stewart and Earnhardt finished side by side for second, electronic scoring giving Earnhardt the position.

    Remarkable to note is that Denny Hamlin ran the entire Busch Series circuit last year without a single win.

    As expected, it was an emotional win. Not for Denny Hamlin; the enormity of his accomplishment had not yet sunk in. He showed his teammanship by congsponsoring his team and sponser, Federal Express, on finally getting a much deserved win. He declared that he would win Rookie of the Year honors for the 2006 season, not out of unqualified egotism, but out of pride for his team. He was happy that he had won, but had not yet overwhelmed by his accomplishment. The emotion was evident in his parents, who made no attempt to hide profuse tears of pride and joy. Their son, who had nearly ended his racing career in 2003, due to lack of funding for his short track team, had proven himself to the world.

    Saturday, February 11, 2006

    Last Minute Pre-Season RantnRaving

    Green flag! The 2006 Budweiser Shoot Out is less than 2 hrs away, weather permitting. Here are a few preseason questions and comments before it begins.
    What I Like:
    ARCA's Bobby Venturini is fully recovered from his injuries suffered in a very scary wreck a year ago at Daytona. His sister, Speed's Wendy Venturini got the honors of welcoming him back to racing on live TV.
    Carl Edwards is always happy.
    Ken Schrader looks good in any driver's suit.
    Ken Schrader loods great in the #21 Wood Brothers Ford.
    Mark Martin is still racing.
    Tony Stewart is still Tony Stewart.
    They showed the drawing for the Shootout starting line up on TV. I don't remember them doing that before. I'll probably say the same thing next year.
    Jeff Gordon has a good car and is whining about it. Welcome back to the same ol' Jeff.
    Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has a good car and will be a contender for another win at Daytona.
    It will be a breakout season for Casey Mears.
    It will be a breakout season for Jamie McMurray.
    It will be a comeback season for Petty Racing.
    Richard Petty's grin which outshines the sun (as long as the sun is behind the clouds)
    Kyle Petty's grin which outshines his father's.
    And I like this article I found on SI.com:
    Jamie McMurray makes his Roush Racing debut in Saturday night's Bud Shootout, a non-points all-star race that launches the season. The car has a new number -- 26 instead of 97 -- at least in part because team owner Jack Roush wants to distance himself from Kurt Busch, a driver he considered a headache. -- Tampa Tribune
    What Seems Strange to Me:
    Matt Kenseth in a white car.
    Bobby Labonte in a yellow driver's suit.
    Carl Edwards is always happy.

    Finally, A Few Questions:
    Will Happy Harvick ever really be happy?
    When will people realize that more Toyotas are made in America by American workers than are Fords?
    Why is Carl Edwards always so happy?

    We'll tune in and see anwers to these and many other questions. Right now, it's time to go racing!!!

    Friday, February 10, 2006

    Last Political Commentary

    This is my last mention of political issues in this blog. I will continue to post my articles on racing and articles on entertainment here, but any political commentary I have will, from now on, be on my blog titled “Lift That Torch, Ring That Bell.” I realize that it is inappropriate to present my “outside the box” political views to those who came here to enjoy commentaries on racing, as it is to present my NASCAR commentaries to those who came to discuss political issues. There is a link on the sidebar here for “Lift That Torch,” and one on “Lift That Torch” for this blog, for those of you who enjoy both. My evil twin hopes that I may have influenced some of my NASCAR friends to think outside the politics-as-usual box, and that I have aroused some interest in NASCAR in those who were not previously NASCAR fans. “It’s a small world, after all,” and we’re all in it together. Peace.

    Wednesday, February 08, 2006

    NASCAR Drivers: Having What It Takes

    What does it take to be a race car driver? In the upper tiers of automobile racing, it takes a person who is very different from the ordinary. The level of racing in NASCAR, IRL, OWCCS (Champ Car, formerly CART), and Formula One requires perception, stamina, concentration, and instinct that goes far beyond what most of us are capable of. At speeds approaching, and exceeding, 200 mph, half a second may seem like several minutes to a race car driver.

    Most of the NASCAR drivers started racing at a very early age. Jeff Gordon was practically born with a steering wheel in his hands, beginning his stellar career racing go-carts at the age of five. Tony Stewart wasn’t far behind, winning his first go-cart race at the age of seven. NASCAR driver Scott Riggs didn’t start in cars, but competed in Motocross motorcycle racing starting at the age of six. If you look at the careers of all of the drivers currently in NASCAR, the average age these professionals embarked upon their path is around 14 years. Many of the drivers grew up in racing families, most notably, Dale Jarrett, Kyle Petty, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Racing is literally in their blood.

    Driving in a field of forty-three cars, inches apart, at 198 plus mph, also requires patient aggression. The whole point of racing is to finish ahead of all the others. No driver wants to finish second, everyone is there to win. So, when there is an opportunity to pass another car, the driver must take it. In a 200 mph parking lot, such as the races at Daytona, that opportunity is not taken easily. The driver must be patient for the opening, and be able to anticipate where the other cars are going to be at the time he makes his move. Experience is very much the key in this case, plus an almost unnatural instinct. If there is the slightest error in judgement, a crash is certain to happen. Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr have shown the most skill recently in applying patient aggression at the restrictor plate races, such as the ones at Daytona.

    It is not that these drivers don't know fear. They definately do feel fear when they get into a car, preparing for a race. There are too many variables in racing to be totally unafraid. But, the best drivers have the natural ability to transform fear into adreneline and concentration, which are very necessary to finish a race unharmed. Sometimes there are accidents which, to the observer, may seem careless or avoidable, but there is absolutely no room in racing for carelessness. Most drivers trust and expect that every one of the other drivers will be driving at the same level of concentration he or she has.

    There are no NASCAR drivers who are Atheists. Before every race, as part of the opening ceremonies, a prayer is given for all the drivers, crew, and fans. This has been part of the opening ceremonies at every level of NASCAR, since the very beginning of NASCAR sanctioned racing. Jeff Gordon's testimony of Christ is well known, and Tony Stewart has also testified that the power of prayer has helped his team. Even after the opening ceremonies, as the drivers get into their cars, the observer can see every crew member of every team in prayer. "You learn to pray a lot, when you work for Joe Gibbs," Stewart remarked toward the end of the 2005 season. Both football and racing fans know about Gibbs' conviction for the power of prayer.

    All of us want to go fast. It is in our dreams. There are very many in the world who race cars, but a very small percentage of those drivers have what it takes to race at the Formula One or NASCAR level. That is why most of us fans are happy to watch the ones that can do, do what they do the best.

    Monday, February 06, 2006

    Busting a Myth (Depolarizing Politics Pt. II)

    Note: I'm getting radical here, this is my Libertarian Activist side coming out. Just for fun, please check out "The World's Smallest Politcal Quiz."and click on the tab marked "Quiz"
    I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but there is no Easter Bunny. And, by the way, there really is no difference between the Democrat Party and the Republican Party. They are two factions of the same mega-party, representing the oxymoronical philosophy of Social Capitalism. This “Demopublican,” or, if you will, “Republocrat” Party represents the Government and stands for rubber stamping the individual, that is, it tends to eliminate individuality and attempts to force everyone to think, talk, and act exactly the same.
    “The scariest words in the English language have to be ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’ ” - Ronald Reagan
    I’m not referring to the individuals within the Administration or Congress, as there are several people of character and integrity within these organizations, who actually do, or attempt to, serve the public. But the Demopublican party, as a whole, is more inclined to serve the Government. The Government, as it stands today isn’t the combination of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches we learned about in Civics, but is a giant amorphous entity made up of these branches plus the huge bureaucracy that has grown within it. It doesn’t matter who is in the White House, or who is in control of Congress, the Government tends to acquire and consume capitol and private property. By way of explanation, consider this: the Federal income tax code defines income tax as a “voluntary” tax. But what happens when you choose not to volunteer? The Government takes your money and your property.
    Do you own a car? Only if you don’t leave your driveway. Things that common sense and personal responsibility tell you to do anyway have been made into laws. Mandatory insurance laws have subsidized the insurance companies to the point where they can charge unreasonably high rates. I remember when comprehensive auto insurance was $600 a year rather than $300 a month. You don’t even have to commit a crime to get stopped and checked for compliance. You can get stopped for a crooked or bent license plate, a “soft tire,” or a “cracked taillight.” And then, if your papers aren’t in order, the government gets to keep the money it gets for selling the car at an auction, along with what fines you have to pay.
    If you own real estate, you can’t cut trees, build, or hunt on your own property without the government’s permission. You have to have a license, a permit, or sometimes, an environmental impact study in order to use your own property as you see fit.
    Eminent domain gives the government the right to take your property, but only if you get just compensation for it and if it is for public use. A park, a highway, or a wildlife refuge would reasonably be considered “for public use,” but a shopping mall, a football stadium, or an oil drilling operation may be for the “public good,” due to tax revenues and added government income, are not for “public use.” Yet recently, there have been several cases of private property confiscation for uses other than by the public. Furthermore, the Government avoids paying just compensation by condemning property and artificially devaluing it.
    “You don’t want the Government to ‘legalize freedom.’ They legalized Civil Rights and look how they screwed that up.” - Russell Means
    And, yet the Demopublican party goes along with this practice of government as usual. It continues to demand more “food” or money for the Government, so the Government may continue growing. The Government will never have enough money, its hunger for power and control is never satiated. Part of it is our own fault. Rather than deal with a problem at the community level, we sigh, declare “there oughta be a law,” and elect the same status-quo politicians to the same status-quo government. Consider the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Because of a combination, and culmination, of mismoves, misjudgement, and incompetence, on both state and federal levels, the evacuation of the flooded areas of New Orleans was seriously mismanaged, leaving thousands of people stranded for days. There arose a huge public outcry that the Federal Government come up with a viable emergency actions plan. The public got what it asked for; in the future, in case of a disaster, the military will wrest control of the stricken state or states from the respective governor(s) and impose martial law. There is nothing wrong with that from the status-quo vision, but it seriously oversteps the bounds and responsibilities of the Federal Government, as outlined in the Constitution.
    “A man who is younger than thirty years old and is not a liberal has no heart. A man who is older than thirty and is not a conservative has no brain.” - Winston Churchill
    Socialism, as economic policy, has been tried on many levels of Government, and has failed. Socialism requires that the Government choose who gets the money and who doesn’t, thus creating even more bureaucracy. It ties up and delays aid and benefits to those who need it, and restricts industrial innovations and productivity due to lack of incentive. It artificially sets price restrictions, which often creates a supply and demand crisis, and often results in high unemployment and inflation rates. A Socialist economy, in a Capitalist world, will inevitably face gigantic trade deficits.
    Free Market Capitalism, on the other hand, has never been tried. Theoretically, a Free Market would be controlled by the laws of supply and demand. Witness, for example, the subtle and deft manipulation of capital supply by the former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, who successfully avoided inflation of the American economy for nearly 20 years. What Greenspan did was exert a very minute and limited control of the market, and let the economy take care of itself, which it did, in spite of high oil prices, stock market crashes, 9/11, and natural disasters. With Greenspan, we caught a glimpse of what a Free Market could do. Ultimately, the consumer, the common man, if you will, would have some control over the economy, being able to cast a vote with his or her purse as to what prices and product quality are appropriate. I will venture this: It wasn’t Wal-Mart or Home Depot which put Mom and Pop out of business. Instead, it was the combination of payroll taxes, minimum wage, licensing, and other Government restrictions and requirements which restricted the small business’s ability to compete reasonably and fairly.
    If there is to be a distiction between the two factions of the Republicrat Party, at least one of the factions must remember that a Constitutional government is one which is “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” rather than the current concept of government of, by, and for the government. A place to start would be to re-create government that works from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. Many of the responsibilities Big Government has taken from the states and the smaller communities, could be returned to the states and the smallest communities possible. Federal bureaucracy, and by result, spending could be drastically reduced. The Government could be eventually weaned from the Federal Income Tax. To head in that direction, with that goal would be a drastic change from the status-quo, but should result in a positive end.

    Friday, February 03, 2006

    The Champ

    Any professional sport likes to celebrate its champions. Hopefully the champion has a positive demeanor, and is a respectful, and respectable, representative of the sport. Sometimes, that isn’t the case, but for NASCAR, Tony Stewart has been an ideal champion. His personality has shone brightly, as he has gone to various promotional and press events, during the off-season. His often self-deprecating sense of humor is infectuous, his honesty is profound, and his love for the sport is obvious. He absolutely adores children, and throughout his career, he has donated millions of dollars in support of children’s charities, particularly the Victory Junction Gang Camp, which was founded by Kyle and Patty Petty, in honor of their son, Adam, who was tragically killed in a racing accident in 1999. He has also joined his sponsor, Home Depot, in building playgrounds in "high risk" neighborhoods for children around the country.
    It hasn't always been this way for Tony. It is the same Tony Stewart, but the perception of him has been different in the past. Not long ago, he was thought of as NASCAR's "Bad-Boy." He wasn't seen as media friendly, actually shoving a photographer and knocking the tape recorder out of a reporter's hands when they each picked bad moments to interview the driver. His temper flared often, when he had a bad day racing, and his answers were often short and acerbic.
    Now, since the end of the 2004 NASCAR season, that has changed. Realizing that he needed an attitude adjustment Tony "Smoke" Stewart moved away from the racing community in North Carolina, back to his boyhood home in Columbus, Indiana, near Indianapolis. There, he is treated as a friend and neighbor, rather than as a racing celebrity. As he relaxed, the "real" Tony Stewart became more visible, and, as those of us who have been Smoke fans for a while already knew, he rapidly began gaining respect and a liking among the fans, the public, and the press.
    Probably one of the most memorable moments in the history of NASCAR came last July, when Stewart finally realized his boyhood dream of winning a race at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Tens of thousands of race fans, Stewart fans or not, stood and cheered as Smoke took an emotional victory lap. Stopping his car in turn two, he exited the car to receive congratulations and a Coke from his father. He considers that day the most important of his life, even more so than any of his championships.
    And what did he do during the off season? Sometimes, he raced. Tony Stewart is the kind of driver who can get in any type of race car and win, or at least try to. In 1994, he won the USAC Midget Car championship, which he repeated in 1995, the same year he won championships in the USAC Silver Crown series and the USAC Sprint Car series, becoming the first driver ever to win the USAC triple crown in a single season. In 1997, he won the Indianapolis Racing League (IRL) championship, and in 2002, he one the first of two NASCAR Cup championships. He will get in any of these cars at a moment's notice and race, so great is his love for racing.
    A little over a month ago, Stewart entered a Midget Car event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, known as the Chile Bowl. This is a prestigeous race in the world of open wheel racing, drawing hundreds of entants and thousands of fans. Unfortunately, during a qualifying run, his car flipped and crashed into the fence, injuring several ribs on his right side. Although he didn't qualify for the main event, Tony stayed the entire weekend to watch the event, his right arm in a cast as a precaution, signing autographs for fans and quipping, "It's a good thing I'm left-handed."
    And the injury didn't keep him from racing, either. Two weeks later, he was racing again, in the Rolex GrandAmerican 24 Hours at Daytona, a sports car race drawing some of the most famous drivers in the world.
    "Really, the only time I didn't think about the pain from the ribs was when I was in the race car," he told reporters. "That's pretty much the best time for me, when I'm in a race car."
    Probably one of the most significant indicators of Tony's new popularity is the press itself. Carol Einarsson, a writer for the on-line racing journal Inside Racing News.Com, has long been a detractor of Tony Stewart. But recently, she published an article titled "What I Like About You: Tony Stewart." This is an excellent article, describing the Champ's qualities, and may be read by clicking on the article title. It is definately a turn-around point of view by Einarsson.
    All in all, Tony Stewart has been an outstanding representative of NASCAR, drawing new fans for both himself and the sport, proving to be everything a Champion should be.

    Thursday, February 02, 2006

    A Tribute

    Joe Clark loved to build things. A free lance carpenter, he built cabinets for new and remodeled homes, and did restoration work in older houses. He loved music, and you could tell where he was on a job site just by following the sound of Classical symphonic music coming from his radio. He also loved the Blues, and made his appreciation of it known to me whenever he heard me play harmonica. And he loved people, never having a bad word to say about others, and always being interesting to talk to. Although somewhat shy, he enjoyed the company of others and his company was always enjoyable. His testimony of the Spiritual was personal, genuine, and very strong. When he fell ill, he regretted not being able to work, and not being able to go fishing, for he also loved being with Nature.
    I learned yesterday that Joe had fallen to Lymphomia last Saturday, January 28. He was only 64. For his friends, family and myself, it is not a time of mourning, but a time of celebration, and Joe would think it silly for us to mourn him. No-one has said, “He is with God, now,” because he has always been with God. Indeed, the sense of God’s Presence was always strong when Joe was around. He didn’t fear death, he didn’t even acknowledge death. His life showed greatness without fame. His generousity provided gifts far beyond the Material. He lived well and died well. We who love him will sorely miss him, but we will not mourn him. Instead, we will celebrate, and congratulate him, for he has passed his final exam and graduated from this school called “life” with flying colors.