Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dealing with rain delays and whatever

The biggest problem with rain delays during a race is keeping oneself entertained. We could enjoy some of the commercials we may have missed during last week's race (advertising writers managed to capture perfectly Juan Pablo Montoya's perceived personality for his Juicy Fruit Gum commercial, by the way). We were entertained during the ESPN 2 rain program in which the three Wallace brothers, Rusty, Mike, and Kenny interviewed each other, and during the Fox rain program with Mike Joy's incessant "old" jokes targeting the venerated journalist, Dave Bergeron. We even enjoyed it when Kyle Busch took over a mediocre interview from Matt Yokum and interviewed himself, and, in the process, named the "gopher cam's" gopher graphic "Skids."
But most of the time, we were bored.
Being bored motivated us to think and find something to rant about. So we decide to rant about the love of mediocrity.
People tend toward mediocraty, especially the NASCAR "fans" who complain that it isn't like the old days; that it is "all about the money."
There are claims around the web that NASCAR "let Toyota have more horsepower (from their engines) than Chevy, Ford, and Dodge."
This is similar to claims that NASCAR "let Hendrick Motorsports win sixteen races last year."
These claims are true, but the idea they convey, that of special privilages to certain teams or manufacturers, is wrong.
The fact is that NASCAR has a set of rules and specifications for the engines and cars that all the teams must follow. I don't know much about engineering or the mechanics of engine building, but it seems to me that, under these rules, NASCAR "lets" any team build an engine that produces as much horsepower as the Toyota engine, and it "lets" any team win as much as Hendrick Motorsports does. All they have to do is work to be competitive with the top teams in these catagories. To make special rules pertaining to one team, or one manufacturer in order to lower the standard to enable the other teams to compete, would be completely unfair, and would exploit mediocraty. In order to exist as a sport, technology and expertise must be constantly improving, rather than degenerating to the level of the least talented of the competitors.
Another truism seen around the Web is "NASCAR is all about the money."
To quote Tauc, from Stargate SG-1, "Indeed."
NASCAR was founded for the money, as many fans seem to have forgotten. According to a Speed TV program about the history of the Daytona 500 and NASCAR aired during the Daytona Speed Weeks,. stock car racing was in a serious decline at the time "Big Bill" France founded the sanctioning body. According to the sources on that program, it is unlikely that stock car racing would even exist outside of local tracks outside small towns dotted across America, if at all. Without NASCAR, there would be no Auto Club Speedway, nor would there be Darlington, Lowe's, Daytona, Talledega, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Chicagoland, or Loudon, unless they were built for open wheel cars. Tony Stewart would probably still have been in the right place at the right time, as IRL split from CART, but unless one was an avid USAC fan, no one would have ever heard of Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, or Ryan Newman. Likewise, such names as Ned Jarrett, Lee Petty, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, or Mark Martin would be known only to those who saw them race at their local tracks. Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr would have never been able to quit their day jobs, there racing careers would have been limited to that of a weekend warrior driving a car for some wealthy hobbyist who had $20,000 to spend on a Kia to race on Friday and Saturday nights. Frankly, even as far back as 1952, a race car was too expensive at $2,000 for the average racer to buy and maintain. He or she either had to race the family sedan, or hope that a racecar owner saw enough talent to hire him or her to drive the car.
Now the cars cost $200,000 or more. They do not look like the cars you buy from the show room, but neither do they look like any of the much lighter cars you would find on the open wheel circuits. They have fenders and roofs, and weigh around 3400 lbs. They are, technically, stock cars, albeit purpose built racing stock cars. In order to be competitive, the teams that field these cars need money, and that money has to come from sponsors. A sport, such as NASCAR, must continue to grow and build just like any other business, in order to have continued existance, and in order to do that, it must have money.
To quote from Mark Yost's 2007 book, The 200 MPH Billboard:

NASCAR takes care of its sponsors better than any other major league sports in America. Primarily because NASCAR--the executives, the drivers, and the fans--realize that sponsors are the lifeblood of the sport. They understand that the sponsors are the ones who pay the bills and allow the whole thing to happen.
"I put the sponsors right up there with the fans," said Richard Petty, "Without either of them, I wouldn't be able to do what I do."

Now people seem to think that the debacle last weekend in California, due to the weather somehow means that greed has somehow taken over common sense. These are the same people who feel that if we do not live in the southeastern part of the United States, we should either have to travel there to see a race, or read about the race, after the fact, in a magazine or newspaper, just as we did in the old days. They believe that they have more of a right to watch a NASCAR race at Rockingham (because ARCA is somehow beneath them), along with 40,000 other people, than 65,000 Californians--who had to call in sick to work--have to see a race in their part of the country.
They cannot face the fact that NASCAR is not the same sport as that which features the weekend warriors on the local tracks, but is a national passtime, and is for everybody who is interested, not just a small segment of the population in the rural South.
Granted, it was a travesty for NASCAR and Fox to try to run the Auto Club 500 on Sunday, but that decision more than likely lost money than gained money. There was no broadcast while we were waiting for work on the drying of the track or the postponement of the race. The local Fox affiliates ran their own programming, collecting their own money from their own advertisers. Fox Sports kept us updated through the night with fifteen second spots, for which they had to pay.
NASCAR has a product to sell. They sell the product to Fox Sports, to the ticket holders, and to the sponsors. Fox Sports, in turn, has to sell the product to the television audiences and their own sponsors. These business organizations had an obligation to present their products, so they did their best to do so. (End RANT)
Once the track was actually raceworthy, and the cars were able to race on Monday, it turned out to be a better race than we have seen at Fontana. There were 33 lead changes, and there was plenty of wheel to wheel racing for position throughout the field. There were long green flag runs, and very exciting green flag pit stops. There was a hint of Hendrick domination, as Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon--who seemed to have unbeatable cars early in each green flag run--finished third and fourth, but Roush-Fenway driver Carl Edwards was the second winner in two races. Whether or not speedway racing on a 2 mile long intermediate track is your can of beer is up to you, but the race at Fontana showed us that there is plenty of good and competitive racing yet to come Racing we wouldn't even see if it weren't for NASCAR's "greed."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What's up in California?

It seems to be human nature to pick things. We pick flowers, pick friends, pick partners, girlfriends, boyfriends, fruits, vegetables, noses and ears. We racing fans like to pick our drivers, teams, manufacturers and sponsors. Especially, before the drop of the green flag, we like to pick who we think will win the upcoming race.
We really want to pick our favorite driver to win, to go with our hearts, justifying that he can win, of course, because he is one of the best. However, a look at track records, team performance, and driving style often shows that going with the heart isn't always the wisest way to go.
Daytona's season-opening restricter-plate race, and all the pageantry and celebration that goes with it, is behind us now, and all the cars will be running at full horsepower at California Speedway, near Fontana, California.
Herein lies one of the problems in picking a winner for Sunday's AutoClub 500. With practice and qualifying both rained out this weekend, we have only last month's testing to tell us anything about how the cars might run in full racing configeration. The new spec car, which I call the Formula N car, has yet to run one lap of competition on an intermediate track, that is, a track with moderate banking and 1.5 to 2 miles long in circumference. Testing earlier this month gave us little to go on, except that teams were still finding ways to make the car racier.
Therefore, technically, everybody is a rookie starting Sunday's race. Setups discovered during testing may not translate well to competition, and there still may be tire issues. Rear-end gearing also comes into play as far as engine performance and stamina, and that is something else that can't be fathomed until after the race. The inexperience with this car on this track is what I think is going to make the race fun, as well as the heightened level of competition that has resulted from Jimmie Johnson's amazing run to the Championship last year.
The heart can therefore utilize the mind when making picks for the top five, and visa versa, because there is so much uncertainty involved. Since, unlike the Daytona 500, racing is in the hands of individual drivers. And since it is in the hands of the individual drivers, the crew chiefs and pit crews are even more important now. So we go for the teams that have the best record in the pits and in driver ability on this particular track.
Based on that, five drivers immediately come to mind. Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Jeff Gordon all have multiple wins at the California Speedway. Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch also have recent wins there, it being the site of the Schrub's first win.
There are other factors we need to throw in here to offset the unknowns of the spec car. Even though testing didn't tell us, the fans, a lot about how the car will be in competition, we did see some display of horsepower. When we are talking horsepower, Toyota comes to mind, although the Dodge teams claim, and actually showed last week, that they dynoed at nearly the same horsepower as the Toyotas. We can't, therefore, in making our picks, overlook the Dodges, especially the Penske teams that seem to have some momentum going for them. We could see both Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman in the top five, and maybe even a few other drivers from Everham and Ganassi in the top ten. However, California features wide open racing, and teaming up as these cars did at Daytona offers little, if any advantage.
The experts like Carl Edwards, who tested very well at the beginning of the month, and who has come close to victory before, so we must mention him when we talk about probable winners. Greg Biffle is also upwardly mobile, and the Fords traditionally have a good record at Fontana, so don't count him out, either.
As the reader may have noticed by now, I am trying to talk myself into a way of picking my favorite driver as the winner. California Speedway is one of only three venues at which Smoke has yet to win a race. Since this is a track that features open racing and a widely spread out field, it is closer to what we would call pure racing, pitting the driver against track conditions as well as against other drivers. In spite of his record at California, and the similarily configured Michigan International Speedway, this is the kind of racing for which Tony Stewart thrives. He is goal driven, and his goal here is to win at a venue where he has yet to do so.
I like to believe he can do it.
With qualifying rained out, he will start seventh on the grid, and from that position we have to believe he will quickly take the lead, as is his habit. There will be some exciting moments early in the race, as we get to watch Smoke race with the HMS Juggernaut of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, but for the main part, drivers will be trying to hold their positions while preserving tires and engines. If practice is rained out this afternoon, or if NASCAR officials decide that the cars need an opportunity to check tire wear and work on setup, there will probably be a competition caution on lap 20, and after that will be a new start to the race. This will tighten up the field once more, and we will see some more position jockeying.
It should be a joy to watch these guys run against each other, as they are all top quality drivers. The owners points starting position will give us a great opportunity to see some of the absolute best compete against each other.
Although a spread out field looks boring to some fans, the movement up through the field of Dale Earnhardt, Jr, and Kyle Busch, each a car control specialist in his own right and special way, should be enough to hold attention.
I still say, it's going to be a great season, and this should be a great race, as long as it isn't delayed by weather once it gets started. So pick yourself a good seat at the track or in your home, and enjoy the weekend!

Monday, February 18, 2008


In the modern day science fiction/horror classic "Alien." the space-suited investigators are exploring the wreckage of what appears to be an ancient spacecraft. They find the remains of a huge alien being, still strapped into the pilot's seat. Further investigation reveals a chamber full of egg-like objects. One of the explorers gets closer to one of the objects to get a better look when suddenly....
Ryan Newman wins the Daytona 500!
It was Roger Penske's first ever restrictor-plate victory, and his first Daytona 500 victory in his 36 year history as a NASCAR Cup team owner.It was Ryan Newman's first Cup victory in over two years, and his first Daytona 500 victory. For only the ninth time in the 50 year history of the Daytona 500, the winner came from a last lap lead change, this one brought about through the co-operation of no less than six Dodge Chargers working together. Talk about teamwork!
We have been speculating that it would take a lot of teamwork to stop the Hendrick Juggernaut, but the Hendrick Juggernaut hardly got out of the box. After a very long calm before the storm Jeff Gordon developed a fatal suspension failure and had to retire from the race. Later, during the storm of the closing laps, reigning NASCAR Nextel Cup Champion and pole sitter Jimmie Johnson got tangled up with DEI rookie Ragan Smith, in an accident that finished the end of his day, which had not been that good from the drop of the green flag.
With a little over six laps to go, Casey Mears, who had been running in the middle line, decided that he wanted to be the leader of the line that Tony Stewart and dedicated drafting buddy Dale Earnhardt, Jr were running. However, he made his move a bit too late, and got clipped by Stewart, who really had no choice, as Earnhardt was less than inches from his rear bumper.
A sidenote: If Tony Stewart had lifted a bit to avoid hitting Mears, and Earnhardt had run into the back of him as a result, would it be possible for Smoke to be more unpopular than he is now?
That left Dale Earnhardt, Jr pretty much on his own for the final run, which was not a very good situation to be in when it came down to the every man for himself portion of the race. Still, he managed to finish in eighth place, the best finishing position among the Chevrolets.
The expected (by some) conflicts among the volitile Joe Gibbs Racing team mates was something else that never happened. Nor did a continuation of the Tony Stewart/Kurt Busch conflict. In fact, Stewart and Dirty Kurty worked quite well together at different points during the race to move up throught the traffic, and in the end, raced each other very cleanly.
Tony Stewart said, after the race, that he may have made a mistake in making the decision to give up the lead to help team mate Kyle Busch on the last lap, but he had had the apprehension that if he had stayed in front of the charging Chargers on the last lap he could have been wrecked. So he opted to move out of their way in hopes that the alledgedly superior horsepower of his and Kyle Busch's Toyotas would be sufficient to get back in front of the Dodges. It wasn't, but the surprise here was that Smoke gave up a nearly certain win in favor of helping his team mate get a better finish. It may be surprising as well to those who know little about My Man Smoke that he admitted to making a mistake.
In the end, six Dodges finished in the top ten, the Toyotas of Stewart and Busch finished third and fourth, respectively, while the Ford of Greg Biffle, who finished tenth, and the Chevy of Dale, Jr. filled out the top ten.
Teamwork didn't work out for Roush-Fenway's David Regan and Matt Kenseth. Regan apparently misjudged the closing rate of the new Formula N car, and made a move toward Kenseth, lost control and wrecked both cars.
RCR had a similar incident between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton. Burton had a chance to win the race, being in the proximity of team mates Kevin Harvick and Bowyer, But Bowyer also decided to move into line, and in doing so may have moved too soon, or too late, as he was clipped first by Harvick, then by John Pablo Montoya, who had meen moving up inside of Burton, and was sent careening into the side of Burton's car. After the incident, Burton expressed his displeasure with Bowyer, surprising many by showing that he can get angry.
Debunking the Myths (The "Snoops.com" section)
From various comments around the Web:
"Brian France and NASCAR are recieving bribes from Rick Hendrick to make sure that NASCAR policy is biased toward Hendrick Motorsports.
"Deals have been made to make sure Dale Earnhardt, Jr wins the Daytona 500"
"Toyota has paid off Brian France to make sure they dominate the field, and end the competition from the Chevy, Dodge, and Ford teams."
Either NASCAR does a terrible job at meeting their behind-the-scenes obligations or none of the above accusations are true. In the end, neither Hendrick nor Jr. came close to being given the win, and Toyota was clearly outraced by Dodge. The race itself should be enough to debunk the above myths.
But wait, the conspiracy theorists who have come up with these ridiculous accusations claim that they do not watch NASCAR any more, so they will be stuck with their own silly little beliefs forever, having seen no evidence to prove them wrong. We should not pity them, because their predicament is of their own making, and they will never know what they are missing in what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive and exciting NASCAR racing season to date.
Granted, the Daytona 500, being unique in both qualifying and in car set-up rules, and is not a true barometer of what is to come the rest of the season, but we saw an indication of the level of competition that we can look forward to. As the teams find ways to make the car handle better, and to preserve the tires better, the racing will become better. Thus we will be likely to see some of the best racing ever in the coming weeks and months.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Oops, I nearly forgot to do this!

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It's time for the Big Show!

Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin.... - Jim Morrison "The Lizard King"
Indeed, everybody is in for the Big Show, The Great American Stock Car Race (as opposed to The Great American Race, the Indianapolis 500), The Superbowl of Automobile Racing, a.k.a The Daytona 500 gets the green flag today.
Those of us who have loved racing for a long time understand the significance of the "most anticipated event in racing history." It is not only the first points race of the season, but is perhaps the most coveted victory by the drivers and teams for the entire season. It isn't just the trophy, nor is it the prize money; it is the opportunity to have your name written in history along with names like Lee Petty. Richard Petty, Fireball Roberts, Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt, and Jeff Gordon. Racers who win the Daytona 500 become household words for generations to come. A Daytona 500 victory is more important to most drivers than the Championship points Cup itself.
Add to all that the fact that this is the fiftieth anniversary of the all-important race, and a victory today becomes even more prestigious.
It is not easy to pick a winner of this race, in any year, but, this year especially, there are even more unknowns than there have been in years past. The restricter-plate, which causes the cars to run together in close packs throughout the race, has been the instigater of many a multiple car accident, but this year the effects of the horsepower limiting device are even more unpredictable.
First of all we have a new car that has different aerodynamic properties, and a higher center of gravity than the cars we have seen over the last twenty years or so. There has been a limited preview of what to expect from this car, in the Budweiser Shootout and the Gatorade Duels qualifying heats. The car seems racier than the old car, although the handling appears to be unstable. It seems that the new car can close faster on other cars, and actually has the ability to pass other cars without as much drafting help as the older cars needed. On the other hand, there seems to be more work that needs to be done to find a set up that will allow the car to turn, and not be so tough on the right side tires that tire wear becomes a factor in the survival of the car.
The bottom line is, when it comes to the new car, everybody is a rookie at Daytona.
It seems that, because the car is new, and everyone has about the same amount of experience in it, the best picks to win would be those who have superior car control abilities, and those who are the most adaptable from one type of car to the other. This makes picking a top five fairly easy, but, at the same time, clouds the outlook on who has the best chance to win.
The media is abuzz about Dale Earnhardt, Jr for good reason. He won the Bud Shootout, scoring his first victory in 66 races. He followed that up by winning the first heat of the Gatorade Duels, last Thursday, making it look easy, and racking up the most wins of any current driver in the CoT at Daytona. There is no doubt that he is excellent at car control, which makes him a favorite to win. A car control driver can always beat a driver who depends more on horsepower to get the job done. It doesn't hurt that Earnhardt is the most popular driver, being the favorite of nearly 2/3rds of all NASCAR fans who have a favorite driver. With luck as important as it is in restricter-plate races, all that positive energy has to be beneficial.
Speaking about positive energy, Tony Stewart is fresh from celebrating being the very first Nationwide Series race winner. Denny Hamlin won the second heat of the Gatorade Duels last Thursday, which happened to be Toyota's first Cup win, and Smoke finished second. Joe Gibbs Racing seems to be on a roll, and headed in a direction that will make domination by Hendrick Motorsports very tough indeed. With Coach Joe Gibbs back in the shop, the key phrase is "the team comes first." That could be seen by the exuberance with which the drivers congratulated each other after Hamlin's win, and the comradarie between Stewart and Kyle Busch after they raced one on one to the finish of the Nationwide race. If these three drivers hook up together for the 500, everybody else better watch out. I would at least expect Hamlin and Stewart to finish in the top five, but Kyle, with his all or nothing style, could actually find himself a winner. It just depends on how his luck runs.
That doesn't leave Jeff Gordon out of it. He had a near win in the second of the Gatorade Duels races, and it was only the cooperation of Stewart and Hamlin that beat him. Gordon is one of the smartest drivers out there, as well as one of the most experienced, and if he can find a way to be the first to cross the finish line, he will.
Those are my top five drivers for the Daytona 500, but because of the fact that there are always so many unknowns and unpredictables anybody who starts the race has a chance to win.
Dave Blaney, for instance, stayed with Stewart in the Bud Shootout for the entire race, and finished in the top ten. Again, he teamed up with Tony in the second Gatorade Duels race, and probably would have had another good finish if it weren't for his characteristic bad luck that brought about engine failure. He is a much better driver than his record shows, in my opinion, and with better equipment this year, he just might be a dark horse contender for a Daytona 500 win. Wouldn't that be something, to have his first career Cup win be at the Daytona 500.
I would also watch Brian Vickers, who came back from a spin and a bad pit stop in the first of Thursday's Gatorade Duels to race his way into qualifying for the 500. Now that he is in, he can be hell on wheels, and should be considered as another dark horse pick.
I should also say, don't count out any of the Ford teams. they might not have had the best practice or testing speeds, but they are racy and they include some of the best drivers in the sport. The same can be said for the three Richard Childress teams.
So, before I find it necessary to name every driver in the field, I better bring this to a close so it can be published before the race, which is only a matter of hours away as I write this, No matter who wins, I think we are in for a treat. If the races leading up to this one are any indication, we are going to see some of the best racing at Daytona we have seen since the introduction of the restricter plate. So, enjoy the race, because the best prediction one can make is, it is going to be a Race.

Friday, February 15, 2008

All About Love

Those who have been with me for awhile already know this, so the following disclaimer is for those who may not be familiar with this blog:
This blog is not so much about racing as it is about the love of racing. It presents the views of a fan who does not claim to be an expert, but who has long been bitten by the NASCAR bug. "How bad have you got it" is not a question to me but a statement of fact. I hope to present my views in a way that some may find interesting and entertaining enough to keep coming back, and--by accident usually--find something useful in what is written here. Thank you all for your continued support.
There was much heartbreak in the Daytona 500 qualifying heats known as the Gatorade Duels.
The Wood Brothers Racing team and Bill Elliott did not make the much coveted cut for the Daytona 500. Ken Schrader, after a very valient try--alone against Michael Waltrip Racing--in his own words, "just wasn't fast enough."
Red Bull Racing's AJ Allmendinger also wasn't fast enough, not was two time Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin. Jaques Villeneuve got clipped by John Andretti and nearly made an amazing save, only to be hit by three drivers who found themselves with nowhere to go--Dario Franchitti and Stanton Barrett. Barrett and Villeneuve were trying to race their way into the 500, and the accident put an end to their hopes.
Patrick Carpentier, the only open wheel and sports car newcomer who has had some experience in the tintops, nearly made it into a transfer position, but ended up fighting a loose car and a flat tire, and lost his battle to the wall. Carl Long, underfunded and under-equipped, as usual, never had a chance.
Finally, fan favorite Boris Said, who could have made the Big Race on his qualifying time, if David Reutimann could have finished in a transfer position, saw his dreams go down the tubes as John Andretti found himself in the right place at the right time in the rush to the finish.
But the love was there as well.
Fans loved it as Dale Earnhardt, Jr, won his second straight race, having moved all the way from the back of the pack after an engine change to take the checkers in the first heat. Earnhardt, who has, in the past, proven himself to be one of the best drivers when it comes to car control, and arguably the best at restrictor plate races, made it look easy as he brought his car to victory, without help from team mates.
There was some brotherly love in action as Mike Wallace, who was the fourth place finisher in last year's Daytona 500, spotted for brother Kenny, and successfully guided him to a transfer position. This did give me some personal satisfaction because, with Joe Nemecheck already in on time, Kenny Wallace's qualification means that both cars owned and sponsored by the Denver-based Furniture Row team made the Big Show. I consider this a home team victory.
There was also a lot of love for Brian Vickers, from Toyota, as the Red Bull driver fought his way to a transfer position that gave him a place in the 500. Now that Vickers is in, he is a driver to watch, with a talent that could not be displayed during last year's Toyota growing pains. Personally, I feel that if Vickers gets his car into the top 35 in owner's points, he will stay there for the entire season.
And now he is a very real threat to win the Daytona 500, but that is for a different item on this blog.
The real love was in the second Duel, where two Toyota teams showed not only love for their teams and team mates, but sacrifice as well.
Michael Waltrip had a very good chance at winning the second Duel, but opted instead to drop back and aid his team mate, Dale Jarrett, in getting into a transfer position. This will be Jarrett's last Daytona 500 in his career, and Mikey took one for the team to make sure Dale qualified.
Coach Joe Gibbs sat in a meeting with his three drivers before the Duels, and explained to them the meaning and importance of teamwork. The "Brat Pack" of racing took it to heart with an "all for one, one for all" attitude that showed in the final laps of the race. Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin both knew that one of them had to win the race, and get Toyota's historical first Cup victory, and that to achieve this it would take sacrifice on the part of the other. After Denny Hamlin's victory, the two drivers talked to each other on the radio, agreed that they had done the right thing, and congratulated and thanked each other. Now that is love for the team. Good work, Coach. If JGR can continue the season with this team spirit, HMS will definitely have some competition.
Now the stage is set for the Daytona 500, and our love of racing flows deep.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Today is another day with a good reason to call in sick to work. You may want to spend it with your significant other, since it is Valentine's Day, after all. What better way to spend it than watching the Gatorade Duels at Daytona together?
From what we saw at the Bud Shootout last week, it will have all the elements that will keep you and your lover excited and who knows what will happen afterwards!
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The Gatorade Duels will not be about love and sweetness, it will be about do or die for several teams. They are about making the field of 43 and getting the season off to a good start.
Of the teams outside the top thirty-five in owners points, there are three locked in on time; Michael Waltrip, David Reutimann, and Joe Nemecheck. Other than that, Kurt Busch, Dale Jarrett, and Awesome Bill Elliott can get in on champion's provisionals, but, in order for all three of them to get in, at least one of them has to finish among the top two "go or go homers."
Since neither Dale Jarrett, nor Bill Elliott will be racing full time this year, I have to pull for the guys who have to make it in and who are attempting to race the full season.
The first Duel features several go or go homers who will be attempting a full season run this year, including the Red Bull team of Brian Vickers and AJ Allmendinger. Kurt Busch is also in the first heat, but he is first in line for the champion's provisional, and I can not find myself wishing that he races his way into a transfer position, as he is currently on my "bad guy" list. Now there are other drivers in the first heat who I feel are just as deserving to make the cut, such as Jaques Villeneuve and Regan Smith, but I like Vickers, because he even has a chance to win the 500 if he makes the cut, and Allmendinger, because I really think he deserves a chance. You're right, there is nothing scientific about my picks, except they are both driving Toyotas, and the Toyotas look strong so far.
Since David Reutimann will be taking over from Jarrett after the first five races of the season, I suppose rooting for Dale will be rooting for David.
So with that in mind I will show some love for Dale Jarrett and hope that he transfers in to the 500. He can do that by finishing the second Duel in a transfer position, or, if Kurt Busch races to a transfer position in the first heat. Currently--and temporarily of course--I have no love for Dirty Kurty, so my pick for one transfer position is Dale Jarrett.
The other driver I hope to see race himself into the lineup is Travis Kvapil. Kvapil does have talent, and I feel he did not get a fair shake in his first bid as a Cup level driver. Now, we know that the Fords look underpowered during the practice sessions, but in a racing situation, and as racey as the Formula N car is, he has as good a chance as anyone to race his way into a transfer position.
My picks for the winners of each heat are much easier to make and deserve little or no explanation, so I will go with "no explanation."
I think Dale Earnhardt, Jr will win the first Duel, and Tony Stewart the second.
No matter who wins, I hope you find love this Valentine's Day, if not with another person, at least with the racing!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ravin' about the Humpy Show.

If you like to hear stories of racing, there is a new program on Speed TV that is made for you. The Humpy Show debuted Tuesday night and for me, at least, was an instant hit.
The program features race promotion legend Humpy Wheeler and a driver from NASCAR's past, along with a present star of NASCAR. Humpy's stated goal of the show is to "show the human side of these guys, and to bring the past and present together."
The premier featured Buddy Baker and, ironically, Kurt Busch. The irony is that much of the show's theme was about how the drivers deal with anger issues, and it was recorded before last Friday's altercation between Tony Stewart and the guest star.
The show was excellent, and is worth seeing. The discussion included stories about Buddy and Humpy boxing, Mrs. Lee Petty hitting Tiny Lund with her very heavy purse, and Kurt Busch losing a lap for each time he cussed the NASCAR officials for penalizing him--after he was already down 100 laps. It will be repeated this morning, Feb 13, at 10 AM
Eastern time. Be sure to set your TiVo, DVR, or VCR if you have to go to work, because you do not want to miss it.
Speaking of last Friday's altercation, If you haven't heard, both drivers were put on probation for six races. NASCAR didn't want to make it seem as though they weren't serious about letting drivers show their emotions, yet at the same time they couldn't let the pit road incident go unpunished. Since it was Dirty Kurty who started all the beating on pit road, doesn't this seem like a school suspending both the bully and the guy who got hit by the bully? Doesn't matter, Smoke is at his best when he is on probabtion. I'm not saying that he will win the next six races, but it should be remembered that he has won both of his Cup championships while under probation.
Meanwhile, I think both drivers will behave themselves. If Dirty Kurty wants to win a practice so badly, the other drivers on the track today (if it isn't raining) should let him do so. In fact, I will even predict that the elder Busch Brother will be the first driver in NASCAR history to win practice, just to make sure he doesn't lose his temper again.
Meanwhile, we have the Gatorade Duels to look forward to, and hopefully we will see more of the same kind of racing we saw Saturday at the Bud Shootout. Real racing is back at Daytona, and that is a good thing.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Okay, you can let go of my arm now.

Because I have finally decided to post my pre-season predictions. Everybody else who posts predictions has done so, and I can't read their picks until I pick mine.
So here goes:
Top Twelve (in no particular order):
Tony Stewart
The DeWalt Driver (I promised Babs that I will not mention his name here, because every time I have in the past it seems to jinx him. He is, after all, one of my second favorite drivers.)
Kyle Busch
Denny Hamlin
Carl Edwards
Jeff Gordon
Jimmy Johnson
Dale Earnhardt, Jr
Martin Truex, Jr
Juan Pablo Montoya
Ryan Newman
Kurt Busch
Biggest story of the year:
The return of the manufacturer's rivalry. Toyota and Chevrolet will enter a rivalry reminiscent of the old days, as Toyota ends Chevy's near domination of NASCAR. This will be good, economically, for both manufacturers, and auto sales for both will rise in volume as a result.
Dark Horse story of the year:
Dave Blaney will finally get his first Cup victory.
Rookie of the Year:
There are three viable choices here. Dario Franchitti, Regan Smith, and Michael McDowell. I would love to pick McDowell, as he is relatively unknown among NASCAR fans and press, and he is a very talented driver. However, I think Smith has the talent and drive of Denny Hamlin in his rookie year, and, unlike McDowell, he will be running a full season. So Regan Smith is my pick for this category.
And, finally, my prediction for the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion:
I do not think Jimmy Johnson will threepeat, though he will continue to increase his wins column. This really is Tony Stewart's year, because everything already seems to be going his way. He has already shown a controversial demonstration of his passion, and that passion is what wins him races and championships. Being the top driver for Toyota has also given him incentive to race for a new goal. I think the points race will be close, throughout the first 26 races, and even through the final ten, but I do believe Stewart will prevail.
Yes I am prejudiced, but I did try to be as objective as possible in my choices.
This will be a great season for NASCAR I feel, with the return of old school racing and very close competition. Enjoy!

Knock it off about the hair already.

I have found comments all over the web on Tony Stewart's hair. Not only that, but somebody mentions it every time they interview him on television, and his answer is,"The more people complain about my hair, the longer it will be before I cut it."
Please stop asking about it. I would hate to see something like this happen:

Budweiser Shootout! What a ride!

If you are driving down the interstate between the months of November and February and you see people just standing on the overpass watching traffic, chances are they are NASCAR racing fans.

If you have a neighbor who starts a lawnmower engine every Sunday throughout the Winter, he or she may tell you that they are just letting the oil circulate, but chances are, it is a NASCAR fan who is telling you that.

The person you caught painting numbers on the junkers in your auto salvage yard is a NASCAR fan.

And, if you were sitting in a bar watching the SuperBowl, and a guy asked you, "Who's playing?" that was probably me.

And yes, I am a NASCAR fan.

When the major sports series with the shortest off season goes on break, for a NASCAR fan that is the longest three months in ones life. Happily that three months has come to an end.

Was the much anticipated Budweiser Shootout worth the wait?

Final practice for the Shootout, Friday afternoon, certainly added to the level of anticipation. Newspapers and television broadcasters carried the story of the altercation between Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch to every household in the nation. NASCAR couldn't have paid for such publicity, but the more immediate effect was that the adreneline level of millions of race fans rose drastically at the news. Kurt Busch fans were certain that Stewart had done something to make their driver angry, and cheering him on for "showing Tony Stewart that the other drivers are tired of his crap."

Meanwhile Smoke fans were celebrating. We like our driver because of his passion, and when that passion shows, we love it. This morning there was a headline on a fellow Smoke fan's page that read, "Tony Stewart got in trouble already. That's our Smoke!"

We celebrate his passion because we know that it means that he is ready to win races and championships.

For all that, this morning's news indicated that we would not see a continuation of the battle that began Friday. The new Smoke, who we love as much as we love the old Smoke had this to say about his rival:

Stewart said Busch's fender-slamming wasn't a big deal.
``What Kurt did coming onto pit road ... I've done a lot worse than what he did, so I'm not going to throw stones,'' Stewart said in a statement. ``Kurt's emotion and desire and passion to win are much like mine. The easiest way for us to go out and do what we do is just agree to disagree and go on from there.
``The best thing to do is to go on and move forward and not let this linger between the two of us. We've met in the NASCAR trailer twice now and we're both past it and we're hoping that the media will respect that fact, too, and let us move on from it.''
Stewart called Busch a ``great driver.''
``He got here for a reason -- it's because he's got talent,'' he said in a TV interview. ``That passion is what makes us all as good as we are. That's part of racing. That's what happens. It's no different than going to any Saturday night short track. We both got our cars fixed for tonight and we're ready to go.''

Although that put an end to thoughts we might see more retaliation during the race, that is actually a good thing, because now we knew that it would be a clean race.

And it was a clean race. The new cars were wiggling all over the place and that in itself was nail-biting because of the proximity of the cars. But to our satisfaction, the cars could actually close on the cars in front of them without as much reliance on drafting partners as the older cars had. This meant that there was real wheel to wheel racing, even with restricter plates. There were plenty of lead changes and a lot of good racing throughout the pack. It was reminiscent of the pre-restricter plate races where the slingshot maneuver could be used to its full advantage.
So, the wiggling added to the thrill, as did the lead changes. We will remain interested in the wiggling attribute next week, as we see how it effects the racing when the tire runs are longer.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr fans once again proved that they were the majority of all the NASCAR fans, as their cheers could clearly be heard above the roar of the engines. Junior Nation will ensure another upsurge of NASCAR popularity this year with their interest and enthusiasm for their driver, because, if there really are 75 million NASCAR fans, 49 million of them are Jr. fans. This is bound to influence more markets and new fans.

The Formula N (CoT) car proved to be racier than we would have thought, considering what we saw from it last year. It seems there is more great racing to come as the engineers and crew chiefs from each team get it figured out. The talented drivers who can adapt to the way it drives can also promise us a great season.

So, was the Budweiser Shootout worth the wait? In my opinion, you bet it was!

A new direction for the Nationwide Series? You should read this!

I have been writing about, on and off, the need for the series now known as the Nationwide Series to find its own identity for over a year. I have had my say in what I think about it, but Racedriven has written an excellent proposal. Without any further elaboration, I direct you to his post here.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

And so it begins....

It was only a practice session, and it wasn't even practice for a points race. Before the first competition green flag for the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup session, we saw the "Big One" at Daytona and the first Busch/Stewart altercation of the season.

It only underscores the competition level in the Cup series when, while looking for the perfect setup with which to run Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout, the 23 contestants for that event began racing each other during the final practice session.

The kind of aggressive driving that caused an eight car accident could be justified by the fact that the Formula N car has yet to be raced at Daytona, and the teams were attempting to gather data on their set ups in every possible situation. Thus the drivers were only following orders when they were practicing bump drafting and three-wide passing.

The incident was so spectacular that I first thought that maybe I was watching highlights from a previous Bud Shootout.
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

"But," I ask, "what kind of useful information could a crew chief possibly get from having his driver block a car that is trying to pass him?"
I'm referring to the second incident, which caused a wreck between Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch.

Busch was riding the high groove when Stewart approached from behind and attempted to pass beneath him. For some reason, Busch moved down to block him. When Stewart moved back up the track, Dirty Kurty moved back up with him, and when he did, Stewart clipped him in the rear, and Busch's #2 car turned into the wall.

In my opinion, Kurt should not have moved down to block Tony when he was trying to pass beneath him, and there is no excuse for that, because there wasn't anyone in front of Busch to cause him to move down. When Tony went back up, and Kurt moved up again, there was no reason for that either, even if he says he moved up to let Tony by.

From the on board cameras in the 11, 9, and 96 cars, it really did look like Smoke hit the wall before he hit the 2 car, and may not have been in control at the time he made contact with Dirty Kurty. Denny Hamlin handled the incident very well, even though his car was caught up in the mess, saying it was just two cars going for the same real estate. Afterwards, several teams decided to call it quits for practice for fear that things had gotten out of hand.

But the on track incident isn't what bothered NASCAR, it was what happened on pit road. Stewart had already left the track and had entered the pit lane on his way to the garage. Busch raced his smoking car onto pit road and began running his car repeatedly into the side of the #20 car. Smoke stopped his car in the middle of the road, and prepared to deliver a Jimmy Spencer treatment to the clown in the #2 car, but Greg Zippadelli, Smoke's crew chief appeared near the car to calm him down and talk him into taking the car into the garage.
(AP Photo/Terry Renna)

Kurt Busch not only has a history of using his car as a weapon of retaliation on pit row, but he also has a reputation of carrying a grudge much farther than is practical or rational. You may remember the continuing altercations between Busch and Jimmy Spencer that carried over for twelve races during the 2002 and 2003 racing seasons.

Jim Hunter is quoted as saying that the drivers' histories would not be taken into consideration in taking action for the incident, but Busch was in meeting with the NASCAR officials much longer than Stewart was, which indicates that Dirty Kurty may be in much more trouble than Smoke. If Kurt Busch gets parked, I would not be surprised.
If nothing else, all the excitement during a mere practice session should guarantee an increased viewership of tonight's Bud Shootout. I know my adreniline level is up in anticipation of one heck of a race. The season has begun, and so far, it has not been disappointing.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Jr Fitting in with HMS

Okay, this isn't my fault. Not entirely anyway. All I did was post a thought on a thread in one of the forums I enjoy in which I mentioned "Jr," "I wish I had Photoshop," and "HMS unibrow," and a friend in that forum came up with this:
Sorry folks, I just couldn't resist!
For a very real outlook on what Dale Earnhardt, Jr. may do with Hendrick Motorsports, I refer you to yet another excellent item on the excellent blog "Trouble in Turn 2."