Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ten reasons why I love Richmond International Raceway

10. It's a high speed short track
9, It reminds me of PPIR
8. The drivers like it
7. The fans love it
6. Did I mention it reminds me of PPIR?
5. Saturday night circle burning!
4. It reminds me of PPIR
3. "Home" for Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, and Bootie Barker
2. It reminds me of PPIR
1. "Virginia is for Lovers!"

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Happy Birthday Dale!

Not Your Mother's NASCAR

Monday, April 28, 2008

Moment of the week

The biggest star of the show in Victory Lane after the Aaron's 312 Nationwide Series Race was not race winner Tony Stewart, but this little girl, from Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Racing

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pegging the Wow Meter

Admittedly, I always go into the beginning of a restrictor-plate race with a mixture of anxious anticipation and some skepticism. The skepticism is because the outcome of a restrictor-plate race of depends a lot on luck and hitting the right set-up on the car. Because of the effect of the restrictor-plate on the ability of the car to close or pass, That skepicism seems somewhat justified in the first 28 laps of the Aaron's 499, as the lead pack seems to settle into the dreaded single-file parade. Granted, there is some action in the second pack, but stuck at home in a neighborhood where the AM radio reception is so bad listening to MRN is out of the question, we really can't keep track of that action.

But on lap 29, the Wow Meter starts to rise to the upper end as Denny Hamlin has pushed Jamie McMurray to the front, then drops down in front of Tony Stewart to take the lead. The real racing has only begun.

Ten laps later, just before green flag pit stops are scheduled to begin, the lead pack is three wide, and the lead is constantly changing. The Wow Meter has pegged and we are even wondering if these drivers might be getting too aggressive too early, and the idea of an early Big One looms.
But this is precision driving, folks. There is much more to this kind of racing than going in circles and turning left. The excellence of Earnhardt, Jr and Tony Stewart as drafting partners isn't due to luck, and just mashing the pedal and turning left; these guys are literally running nose to tail, and avoiding wrecks. Formula 1 fans, take note; this may be a different type of skill than it takes to keep a car on the track and hold position at over 200 mph on a Gran Prix cicuit, but it reauires a high level of skill nonetheless. Granted an F1 driver has to be precise--even while running alone, he has to hit his marks and maintain speed to avoid being overtaken or lose position during a pit stop. These NASCAR drivers have to be just as precise running in a pack, or else disaster happens.

With twenty-five laps to go we are beginning to think we may avoid the Big One entirely, but then it happens...almost. Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray make contact and both cars go sideways in the middle of traffic, but there is no wreck. There is no caution, and after that miraculous save, Busch took the lead.

Then, with only fifteen laps to go our hearts break. When you are a competitive driver and there are fifteen laps left at Talladega, you want to start your move to the front aggressively. Tony Stewart, who had cut a tire earlier and ended up in the back of the pack, saw an opportunity and found a hole in which he could advance his position. But, as the pack entered the turn the hole closed, and the result was the Big One, affecting six cars. It was a no-fault accident, just one of those things that happens in these kind of races. The hole was there, then it wasn't.

But the race went on, and Kyle Busch, who had been a lap down early in the race, still lead. We remember that we should never underestimate the Dodges at restrictor-plate races as Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, and Juan Pablo Montoya enter the battle for the lead, which is joined by Michael Waltrip, Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon. The race continues to be exciting, the Wow Meter is still pegged, and, with eight laps to go the bumper panel is forcefully removed from the back of Brian Vickers' car, bringing out a debris caution.

The final restart begins a free for all with every car on the track jockeying for position. There are so many passes and lead changes during the restart lap we can't keep track of it. Plenty of blocking and bump drafting and wild maneuvering keeps the Wow Meter pegged. And out of the fray, Kyle Busch, who has never done well at Talladega, prevails.

The battle continues down to the white flag. The last lap is shaping up to be a great race to the finish there are at least eight cars in position to win. But that race is soon spoiled by the second Big One, this one involving more than ten cars. It doesn't matter what caused it, the race was over. Kyle Busch has won the race. Even before he begins his victory celebration he is thanking Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon, who both contributed to keeping the young superstar in the lead.
The guy who thought the best he could do was to avoid trouble at Talladega found victory lane.

We have declared on several occasions in the past after a Cup race at Talladega, "This was the best restrictor-plate race ever!"

It seems as though we can make that declaration once again, modifying it to "one of the best," along with the realization that the new Sprint Cup car may finally be coming into its own. It could have been better, but the second Big One spoiled what could have been a very exciting finish.

Afterthought: Maybe Dale Earnhardt, Jr didn't have the best car in the field, but throughout the race he performed better than his team mates, who presumably had better setups. Even after having his car damaged in the first Big One, he finished in the top ten. That says a lot about him as a driver. Even those of us who aren't Jr fans should realize that he is one of the best, and that he does have a victory in his near future. Patience, friends, it will happen when the time is right.
It should be that Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch both celebrated their first Talladega win this weekend. Congratulations to both, and to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Talladega: Mysterious and Mystical

Talladega is mysterious. After seventy-eight historic races there, what will happen next is still unknown. It carries a mystical legend with it. It was reportedly built on a Native American burial ground and the restless spirits are said to influence incidents on the track.
That influence could have manifested during the Nationwide Series race Saturday, when Kevin Lepage mysteriously entered the track from pit lane directly in front of the entire field, specifically in front of Carl Edwards, who was travelling 100 mph faster than Lepage. The result was "The Big One," involving fourteen cars.
The Big One is what many fans look forward to when watching the race, and for those who don't enjoy seeing such carnage, it is the fear of the Big One that adds to the excitement. The race fan never knows if it is going to be his or her favorite driver that will have to retire from the race or be removed from reasonable competition because of a wrecked car.
But often, not always, there is some good racing going on at Talladega. Sure, it is restrictor-plate racing, but, unlike Daytona, the other restrictor-plate track, the drivers often go three or four wide, and the cars are packed even closer together. That produces the conditions for the Big One, but, if the cars are set up right, it also means some interesting side by side racing.
The cars weren't set up last October at Talledega, and the race turned out to be a boring single file 200 mph parade, but now that the teams have some more experience with the new car, today's Aaron's 499 should be someshat better. Hopefully.
Earnhardt, Jr should win. We really want him to win, and he deserves a win. So does Tony "Smoke" Stewart, and the way those two worked with each other most of the time during the Nationwide Series race, yesterday was an awesome example of precision driving. Maybe we can see some more of that today.
Until the checkered flag waves, however, we will be mystified by the mysteries of Talladega.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Quote of the day

From Scene Daily:

He (Stewart) said, though, that he has not made a decision about what he is going to do and has not requested to get out of his contract.

“We’re going to do our due diligence and go through looking at every option, looking at the pros and cons to everything and then make a decision,” Stewart said. “The good thing is we have a year left in our contract. We’re not in any rush right now. There is nobody putting any pressure on us to make something happen next week.”

It looks as though Smoke will be staying with Gibbs at least until the end of his contract through 2009. Get over it.

What about the drivers who are at the end of their contract this year? That list includes:

Martin Truex, Jr. Is he happy with what DEI can give him? He has already driven in the Nationwide Series for his good friend, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, and HMS may have an opening if they release Casey Mears. This looks like a good item to toss into the rumor mill.

Ryan Newman seems less than enthusiastic about Dodge's overall performance in the Sprint Cup Series this year. He has yet to sign a countract beyond the end of the 2008 season. Could he be looking for a change?

It is generally accepted that, because Roush-Fenway must pare down to four cars, Jamie McMurray will be without a ride in 2009. But Greg Biffle isn't necessarily happy with his role at RFR, and he has yet to sign a contract that will take him beyond the end of this year with Roush-Fenway. The possibility of a switch between Penske and Roush involving Newman and Biffle seems like a great rumor to toss into the mill.

What will Bobby Labonte do? What will Kevin Harvick do? They are both currently unsigned beyond the end of this year. I don't have any unnamed sources to rely on here, and I can't think of any good unsubstantiated rumors to start about them. Anybody care to help?

None of the rumors mentioned above have any credence to them, but they should still give us some topics for speculation, if that is our bag.

Finally, for those who believe that Tony Stewart may buy into Haas/CNC, Dennis Michelson, of Race Talk Radio's Spin Out Zone, has some very compelling arguments as to why he won't. Please read his article "Haas Bowtie Will Not Fit Stewart."

We leave you with a tantalizing teaser from that article:

Do you know how to tell when a NASCAR rumor is a bunch of buffalo chips? The easiest way to tell is when so many writers and broadcasters jump on the bandwagon to tell you that this driver or that driver is definitely heading to such and such team. If you have a short memory may I try to talk some sense into you this week? DALE EARNHARDT JR HEADED TO RCR. Does anyone remember that headline? The track record of certain writers in breaking stories is pitiful. Even when the next wave of articles with more exclusive sources hit it is just another case of media misdirection NASCAR writing style. The Haas bow tie will not fit Tony Stewart!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Introducing "Not Your Mother's NASCAR"

The first offering of a new comic strip by a NASCAR fan, for, and about, NASCAR fans.
Please forgive the cut and paste graphics, Rev'Jim sucks at drawing.

Not Your Mother's NASCAR

Please click on picture to view full-size.

Pure Speculation

According to unnamed sources, Marty Smith of ESPN and Tom Bowles of Sports Illustratedwere sitting in a Charlotte bar Tuesday night, discussing an editorial by Fox Sports' Lee Spencer. In the article, posted April 12, Spencer speculated that Tony Stewart might be talking to Haas/CNC Racing about his prospects of being a part time driver and part owner of the team.

Stewart, who is under contract to Joe Gibbs Racing through the 2009 season, was in talks regarding his future with Coach Gibbs earlier in the week. When Stewart was asked whether or not he had interest in being an owner in the Cup garage he joked, "I don't think I'm politically correct enough to be an owner in NASCAR"

Anyway Bowles and Smith were allegedly wondering what they could come up with that could top that story. "What if the deal is already being made?" Marty allegedly asked Bowles.
"And what if Stewart decides to get out of his contract early," Tom Bowles allegedly added to the speculation.
They allegedly drank a few more beers and secretly decided what they would write about the next day, Wednesday being a traditionally slow news day for NASCAR.
Tom Bowles woke up early the next morning and allegedly got to work on his story. Citing "unnamed sources" (allegedly Lee Spencer and Marty Smith) he wrote his article about how Tony Stewart would leave Joe Gibbs Racing before his contract was up at the end of next year, and would be driving full time for and be part owner of Haas/CNC Racing. He could find nothing to support his story, so he included the following:
"He's there this year and he's there next year," claimed Arning (Stewart's PR spokesman). "And I know for a fact that JGR is interested in retaining Tony for '10 and beyond. They'd like him to retire at Joe Gibbs Racing. As Tony's said many times, 'Nothings broke. Why change it?'

"Tony's going to have a lot of options in front of him; why wouldn't he? But I don't see [an early out happening] ... everyone is going to live up to the terms of the contract that runs through '09."

Realizing that he didn't really have a story, Bowles dropped the names Jamie McMurray, and Kurt Busch, relating how they left their former contracts early, and went on to tell the story of how Darrel Waltrip left Junior Johnson's team and joined Hendrick Motorsports.

Marty Smith went with something a little more conservative, publishing this story and supporting it this way:
"He definitely has some options," JGR president J.D. Gibbs said. "To me it's no different than any of the the options he's had before. The reality is he's racing here through 2009. There's no ifs, ands or buts about that one. Our stance is he's racing for us through 2009."

Stewart's publicist, Mike Arning, said "Tony's contract is through the 2009 season. When that is up he'll have a lot of options for 2010 and beyond. But in terms of what he's going to do, or might do, for now and in between, as far as JGR is concerned he's their driver for 2009."

Haas GM Joe Custer said he has spoken with several people about the future status of his team, including Stewart's group. He was adamant that his team has reached no deal with Stewart, but would "by all means be interested in discussing a partnership with a driver of his caliber."

He mentioned unnamed sources (allegedly Tom Bowles and Lee Spencer) as a large part of his speculation.

The real story was that it was just a slow news day, after the Sprint Cup had an off week, and there was nothing to report. The week after the Easter break was another off season, and you may remember this story about stolen priority parts, which Geoff Smith, GM of Roush-Fenway dismissed as nothing more than bickering between Roush and Lee White.

To confuse the rumor mill even more, Fox's Lee Spencer updated her original "story" and added two more possibilities:

Behind curtain No. 2: The fourth seat at Richard Childress Racing. With two of RCR's cars on top of the point standings, there's no question that R.C. could provide Smoke with a competitive ride. RCR has a fourth sponsor lined up with General Mills but has not announced who will replace AT&T at the end of 2008. Stewart could be that rock-star driver that draws another eight-figure deal.

Behind curtain No. 3: Stewart remains in the No. 20 Home Depot car, rides off into the sunset with a humongous raise and perhaps a piece of the Gibbs' pie. Stewart loves to gamble. He wouldn't be the first driver to bluff before showing his hand.

That should give Bowles and Smith more stories to "break" the next time the news is slow.

I remain skeptical that Tony Stewart would opt out of his contract early. Certainly it is possible, but he has said many times in the recent past that he would not race without his crew chief, Greg Zippadelli, and that he would probably retire with Joe Gibbs Racing. If he does become co-owner of Haas/CNC it will be after 2009, and he will not be driving a Sprint Cup car, at least not full time. I am basing this on what Stewart has said in the past about his career plans, and if there is anything to what Bowles and Smith have written, I'll believe it when I see it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

One Helluva Book

One Helluva Ride--How NASCAR Swept The Nation
By Liz Clarke (Random House 2008)

Dale Earnhardt called her "Little Higgins," after the veteran NASCAR reporter for the Charlotte Observer, Tom Higgins. As he got to know her better, she became "Liz." As a sports reporter for The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Charlotte Observer, Liz Clarke probably spent more time with The Intimidator than any other journalist.

In this book, she covers Earnhardt's entire career with many pages of anecdotes and racing accomplishments written in a descriptive style reminiscent of the sports writers of the day when NASCAR wasn't readily accessible on television. Her descriptions of notable moments in racing are written in a way that puts you trackside.

While much of the book is written from the point of view of a reporter covering Dale Earnhardt, it is not all about Earnhardt. Using a chronologically linear story line--beginning with Lee and Richard Petty--she effortlessly covers the entire history of NASCAR right up to the end of the 2007 season, segueing smoothly into flashbacks to historical people, events, and places. There is plenty of racing action, and a cornucopia of entertaining stories of drivers from Tim Flock to Carl Edwards. The narrative is as fast paced as the sport itself.

Here is an excerpt from the book describing the impact of both Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon had on NASCAR:

Despite their generational divide, Earnhardt and Gordon gave NASCAR a delicious pair of protagonists once again -- a contemporary Petty vs. Allison -- with starkly contrasting personalities and widely divergent appeal.

Earnhardt, just over six feet, loomed larger when riled. The 145-pound Gordon simply refused to grow. And when he got excited in a racecar, his chirpy voice seemed to jump an octave.

Outside of racing, Earnhardt loved nothing better than hunting and fishing. Gordon favored scuba diving and playing video games.

Earnhardt looked like a modern-day Samson in his open-faced helmet -- his bushy mustache obscuring everything from his nose down to his chin strap. Gordon's baby face totally disappeared behind his brightly painted, closed-faced helmet, which, when paired with his bright red-and-blue racing suit, made him look like a Ninja Turtle

One Helluva Ride is one helluva book, and it doesn't matter if you are a longtime NASCAR fan or a newcomer to the sport, you will find much to enjoy while reading it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Once Upon A Time In Mexico City

When it comes down to the final twenty or so laps of a NASCAR race, it doesn't seem to matter if it is a road course race, or an oval. Nor does it seem to matter if it is a Sprint Cup Series race, or a Nationwide Series race. When it comes down to the closing laps of a race, the excitement, passion, emotion, and suspense levels all seem to max out. The situation may be stressful for the drivers, but that is what they live for, and it certainly makes for entertainment for the fans, as that is why we watch.
After a race that was beginning to seem too long, with five cautions and two red flag stoppages, the race began to get interesting after Marcos Ambrose hooked the rear of Boris Said's car in turn one, shortly after a restart. Said's car was wrecked beyond reasonable repair, and he was a very angry man as he exited the cockpit. For a moment, we thought we might get to see a helmet throw, but it was only a feint.
Boris Said, who is arguably the most popular and most talented of all of NASCAR's part time drivers, went to the infield care center. After he was released, his temper still hadn't cooled, and he stormed over to Ambrose's pit box and "apologized" in advance to Ambrose's crew chief for the car he was going to wreck as soon as he got the opportunity. While doing so, he used a few words that have sent Tony Stewart or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to the NASCAR hauler. So we got enough drama to finally stop ESPN's repetitious and over-done recap of last year's altercation between Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Pruett at Mexico City.
The on track drama began with 22 laps to go. The back to back cautions and restarts ended any speculation about fuel mileage, so it was all up to the racing.
With the exception of Colin Braun, whose car suffered a cut tire late in the race, the cream rose to the top in the final laps. Marcos Ambrose continued his charge to the front, for the second time in the race after having had to start in the back. Patrick Carpentier was also running toward the front, and there was never any doubt that he was a potential winner. Carl Edwards was also charging, and Kyle Busch, posting the fastest lap times, found himself on race leader Pruett's tail.
Busch showed that he does know something about road racing, as he tried to pass Pruett several times, only to be blocked aggressively by the race leader. "Rowdy" Busch wisely backed off, proving that he has somewhat matured since his run in with Mexico City's favorite son, Michael Jourdain, two years ago.
However he did get on the radio to his crew, expressing his, to put it nicely, frustration with Pruett's blocking. "He (Pruett) is going to lose," Busch declared, "I'm going to spin him."
But, the young hot shot managed to maintain some patience, and that threat never came to fruition, as, with nine laps to go, the handling of Pruett's car had deteriorated so much that he had no choice but to let Busch pass him.
With three laps to go, Marcos Ambrose, a man on a mission to prove himself and his underdog team, moved into second place, and seemed to be a threat to Busch, but Kyle kept the lead and took the checkers.
The best part of the victory was Kyle's "smoke trick," where he raises so much tire smoke with his burnout it seems solid, then moves to the top of the car to appear out of the smoke cloud. Awesome! And the cheers of the crowd in appreciation of this display confirmed that he had been forgiven for taking out their favorite two years prior.
To be honest, I took a nap during the first red flag period, and didn't wake up until the second, but it didn't matter because I didn't miss anything. Road course racing in NASCAR does have an advantage over the same in any open wheel series, because the heavier cars seem to be better able to compete for the lead, so the race isn't over after the first lap. But, still, especially with the spacer plates NASCAR uses on the Nationwide cars, theoretically to save the teams money on engines, the race could have done more to keep the spectator watching from the beginning of the race.
But though we may have slept through part of it, we caught the most important part of the race--the finish--and that was well worth it.

The waiting is over!

We knew it was about to happen, and we knew, from the start of the current season, that it would happen soon. Danica Patrick became the first woman to win in a major racing series on a closed racing circuit!
Most of us missed the historical event from Twin Ring Motegi, in Japan. We can't blame it on ABC/ESPN this time, because the race was postponed, and the network had commitments to air time. They could not have foreseen that this would be the time and place for it to happen. At least those who can get ESPN Classic got to witness the event and the historic win.
We who have followed her career know that it has been more important to her to win as a racecar driver than to win as a woman. From the beginning of her IRL career, we could see that she was perfectly capable of "mixing it up with the big boys."
In other words, she never wanted to be known as a good racer "for a woman," but as a great racer overall. We have to believe that her victory in Japan is the first of many, and that she will continue to make her place in history. This win was more than a fluke or an exception to the rule--it will become a way of life.
Danica has earned her place among the ranks of Shirley Muldowny and Julie Krone (the first woman jockey to win a triple crown race), but greater things are sure to come.
I'm still thinking Championship.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

That kid from Canton, Georgia

Imagine you're a young racecar driver, earning your way up through the stock car ranks.
You begain your racing career at the age of four, riding four-wheeler atvs in competition on the dirt tracks of Georgia. From there, you worked your way up through very successful seasons in go-cart racing, winning the Kart-World National championship. At the age of fourteen, you were the Legends cars champion. From there it was on to super late models, again making your mark on the regional level, and winning the Southern All Stars Championship. In the nineteenth year of your life, you are starting to get national attention, as you finish your rookie year in the USAR Hooters Pro Cup series in the top ten in points.
Now you've made it to what is arguably the "make or break" series, the ARCA/Remax. Your competition includes nine time series champion Frank Kimmel, the near-legendary Bobby Gerhart, and several drivers around to your own age whose resumes are as impressive and lengthy as your own. Michael Annet, who saw victory lane in what was only his second ARCA race, less than a year ago, was the winner at Daytona earlier this year, and has yet to finish a race outside the top ten. Scott Speed, being carefully developed on his way to being a NASCAR Sprint Cup star, has big money backing him and is a former Formula One driver. Justin Allgaier has won two of the first three races of the season and is the series leader, and the favorite to win this race. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr, comes from a prestigious racing family, and has the talent and strong backing to carry on the family tradition.
But you are not daunted by any of this. Your name is Matt Hawkins, and you came to win.
Hawkins did exactly what he needed to do in his very first ARCA/Remax Series race, which took place today in Iowa. He stayed on the lead lap and took care of his car. Matt Carter led most of the race at the 7/8 mile oval (which made me melancholy for PPIR, by the way), but his car was used up by the time the race reached its closing laps, and Matt Hawkins overtook him for the lead, after racing fender to fender with him for several laps. Polesitter Justin Allgaier was breathing down his neck in the final three laps, after coming back twice from pit stop mishaps in the last part of the race, but Hawkins held the lead and took the checkers by less than one second.
He was emotional about winning his very first ARCA race, but he held his composure like a pro.
To put things in perspective, at the age of 20 he has sixteen years of racing experience, one more year than Jeff Gordon had when he was 20. Would anyone disagree with me if I predicted that the Kid from Canton will soon be Cup material?
Photo Credit: Matt Hawkins Web Site.

A dissenting opinion

I have taken a week to collect my thoughts on the drug testing issue in NASCAR. Before I begin my rant, I must remind the reader that the opinion expressed here does not neccessarily reflect the opinion of all or any of the associate editors at NASCAR Bloggers FT Digest. It is soley my own. I do not advocate the use of drugs in any manner in any sport, professional or amateur.

My first thought is “what has become of the presumption ‘innocence until proven guilty?’”Any mandantory drug testing is based on the presumption of “guilty until proven innocent.”
Testing a person for drugs without probable cause is the equivalent of giving a person a ticket for jaywalking if he happens to be walking down the sidewalk. The pedestrian hasn’t crossed the street illegally, but he could, if he wanted to, so just fine him for something he didn’t do, but may intend to. A driver in NASCAR may have never, in his or her entire life, used substances that would impair his reactions, attention, or abilities to compete in a race, but because we are talking about a living, breathing, human being, there is always the possibility that the person could use drugs.

Granted, the laws against search and seizure without probable cause are only to protect the citizens of this country from the government, and do not apply to businesses and organizations such as NASCAR, but one would think that the presumption of innocence is more important to the state of freedom and well-being, than the paranoid presumption that everybody is doing something wrong, but just hasn’t been caught yet.

The point has often been made that if you are doing nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about, but that point is made without considering the psychological effect of not being trusted to have a basic knowledge of right and wrong. There is something rebellious in human nature that suggests, “if they think I am doing something wrong, I may as well do something wrong.”

That is not to say that one would react to the accusation of substance abuse by using illicit substances, but one may react by, for instance, running another car into the wall under the auspices of retaliation. Most of us have experienced the feeling of being accused of something that we haven’t done or ever had any intention of doing. It is not a good feeling; in fact, it is an emotionally painful feeling. We all want to be trusted.

The drivers in NASCAR are professionals. Unless they are caught in the emotional heat of the moment after a wreck, they do exercise immaculate personal responsibility. It is not only a matter of being competitive to them, but a matter of self-preservation. If a driver likes to drink beer, for example, he will make it a point to forego beer, beginning Wednesday night, and begin the process of hydrating and working out for the race Sunday. If the driver did not practice this regiman, he would undoubtably get sick, or lose the required attention skills it takes to race competively and safely. That is what personal responsibility is all about.

NASCAR’s present policy of testing only when there is probable cause isn’t only fair, it is safe. Shane Hmeil was caught under that policy, and Tim Richmond, though he had actually stopped using the drugs neccessary to prolong his life, was banned from racing because he was physically unable to race safely, as a result of NASCAR’s probable cause policy.

Tyler Walker and Aaron Fyke seemed to have slipped through the cracks of this policy, because they were caught by the police, and not by NASCAR. But they were caught, and were taken out of the mix before their drug use resulted in tragedy on the track. It will never be proven that either one of them was under the influence of an illicit substance while they were racing.

You could argue that Fyke said that he did take heroin on the same day he raced last year, when he finished in the top ten of a truck race. Yes he said it, but if he had actually done it, he would have been caught. If you have ever been around a heroin addict, you would know what I mean. If he wasn’t nodding off, his speech would have been slurred, his eyes would have been darting constantly, and his stride would have been unsteady, as if he were drunk. If he were allowed to climb, exhibiting those symptoms, into the racecar, he would have fallen on his butt trying to climb in through the window. He would not have made it past the first turn, much less finish in the top ten. Even if he were not under the influence, and was going through withdrawal, he would have been sweating much more profusely than anyone else around him, he would have been showing visible signs of stomach cramps, and there would have been an unmistakable oder about him, even if he hadn’t defecated in his firesuit because of the loss of control of bodily functions. And no, I am not describing Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen, two years ago–Fyke’s symptoms would have raised a red flag for anyone around him if what he said were true.

And I would rather call one person a liar, from what I know, than accepting what he said as the truth, and therefore having to consider everyone else a liar.

NASCAR’s current policy is not broken, so it doesn’t need to be fixed. However, one thing I would like to see encouraged, because over the counter remedies could also cause judgement problems–even if they sponsor a race or a group of teams–is that if a driver is so sick with the flu or a cold that he has to take medication, he should be replaced for the event. This would also be a matter of personal responsibility, and should be voluntary. Hopefully, that idea will catch on.

Cross posted from NASCAR Bloggers FT Digest, by the author

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why watch? I'll tell you why!

To many NASCAR fans, the upcoming Corona Mexico 200 from Mexico City is a non-event, making this weekend an "off weekend" for the average racing fan.
But what should the racing fan do this Sunday, without a NASCAR Sprint Cup Race on the agenda? I would say, open your mind, widen your horizons, and watch the race, you just might like it.
Sure, it is not the oval track racing that you enjoy, but keep in mind that NASCAR road course racing is like no other in North America. Unlike the 2200 lb sports cars of the Rolex Grand Am and the ALMS, or the 1200 lb cars of the IRL and Formula 1, the NASCAR machines are heavy 3400 lb beasts that are not specifically engineered to run on road courses. The usually means the same amount of beating and banging you see at Martinsville or Richmond, with the cars running close as close to each other as they would at a restrictor plate race such as Talladega or Daytona. They often run each other off the course, and there is nothing like the sight of six or seven cars simultaniously spinning in the grass, often described as "synchronized spinning. So, yes, there is something to watch.
Are you worried about not seeing the drivers you are used to seeing? For those of you who hate the idea of Cup drivers invading the realm of the Nationwide drivers, only Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, David Ragan, Carl Edwards, Patrick Carpentier,Sam Hornish, Jr, and David Reutimann will represent that group. For those who want to see Cup drivers in a Nationwide Series road course race, those seven drivers are on the entry list.
Drivers we are used to seeing in the NASCAR road course races, such as Scott Pruitt, and Adrian Fernandez, and Boris Said will be there as well. Max Papis will be making his Nationwide Series debut, as the designated road course hitter for David Stremme. And of course, the Mexican National racing heros, Michael Jourdain, Antonio Perez, and Jose Ruiz Ramirez are on the entry list. Other than that, the majority of the field is made up of Nationwide Series regulars.
In fact, the highly popular, ever smiling, and eternally optimistic Marcos Ambrose has a very good chance of winning the race. He came close to winning at Montreal last year, and would have had it not been for Robby Gordon having a not-so-lucid moment. Robby Gordon is in Europe, participating in the make-up race for the cancelled Dakar Rally, so Ambrose will have no problem there. His experience in the Australian V8 Supercar Series, which uses cars similar to the Ameridan Stock cars, could come in handy in Mexico City. He is considered a favorite to win.
There are many reasons to not watch the race--if you really want to do that to yourself--including not one, but two indycar races taking place over the weekend. But, as a NASCAR fan, wouldn't you have just a hint of a nagging feeling if you missed the Mexico City race?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

This should be a much bigger story

A weekend headline that should have been on the front page of every newspaper in the country:
Summerton wins one for Team USA in Shanghai

In the world of racing this is big news. This is the equivalent to winning a Gold Medal in the Olympics, or winning a match in the World Cup of what we call Soccer.
Unfortunately, the news barely caught the attention of anyone. For the most part, the name "Jonathan Summerton" rings few bells in the memory, and "A1GP" rings even fewer. But to the international racing community, A1GP is "The World Cup of Motorsports."
For those who have no idea of what this is, here is most of the page from "What is A1GP?":

Driving skills and national pride celebrated in the ‘World Cup of Motorsport’
A1GP is the first opportunity in any area of motorsport fornations to compete on a level playing field. It is a series where technology and innovation are deliberately equalised, making success dependent on human bravery and pure driving skill. Team and driver combine to create a performance advantage and the winning nation raises its flag in celebration.

A1GP is more than just another motorsport phenomenon; it's an entirely new concept. Pitting driver against driver and country against country for the first time in history, A1GP brings together 22 nations, representing 80 per cent of the world's population, to compete as equals, without financial or technological advantage.

A1GP has created a new medium for national and international brands and organisations to promote themselves on a global scale. Through the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport, they can join forces with their national teams to become a part of this unique sporting event.

The A1GP World Cup of Motorsport promotes countries and utilises the national patriotism instilled in every person on the planet not only attracting traditional motorsport and sporting fans but exciting anyone who is passionate about their heritage,country and population.

An A1GP event is a fast, exciting, adrenaline fuelled weekend set in a glamorous and exclusive environment, yet affordable and accessible to all.

With three days of on-track action, an A1GP event offers a rare opportunity for fans to interact with teams and drivers. Exclusively inclusive, A1GP brings the thrill of international motorsport to billions of fans across the globe.

Taking in a mix of established world-famous venues, exciting new state-of-the-art facilities and tight twisty street circuits, A1GP promises to deliver high-speed action at every turn.

Practise Sessions - Friday

Two rookie sessions are held each Friday during race weekends to allow drivers under 28 or from developing nations to get to grips with the powerful 550-bhp A1GP cars and challenging race tracks.

Two one-hour general practice sessions are held for all other A1GP drivers one on Friday afternoon and one on Saturday morning.

Qualifying –Saturday

Qualifying takes place on Saturday afternoon across four15-minute sessions, between 14.15 and 15.30.

Each A1GP Team is limited to one ‘flying lap’ per session and at the end of the first two sessions the grid is determined.The teams fastest single lap from either of these first two segments counts towards its Sprint Race grid Slot.

For the Feature the same applies, but for the last two segments, so, the teams' fastest single lap from segments three and four determines its Feature race grid slot.

Sprint Race and Feature Race – Sunday

The A1GP race weekend consists of two separate races.
Sprint Race
The Sprint Race runs from 11.00 local time on the Sunday morning for a maximum of 19 minutes (plus one lap) with a rolling start.
Points are awarded to the top ten finishers as follows.

First Place – 15 Points
Second Place – 12 Points
Third Place – 10 Points
Fourth Place – 8 Points
Fifth Place – 6 Points
Sixth Place – 5 Points
Seventh Place – 4 Points
Eighth Place – 3 Points
Ninth Place – 2 Points
Tenth Place – 1 Points
Feature Race
The Feature race is a maximum of 69 minutes (plus one lap) in duration with standing start and two mandatory pit stops. The Feature Race runs from 15.00 to 16.10 local time on the Sunday afternoon. Points are awarded to the top ten finishers for the Feature race as follows.

First Place – 15 Points
Second Place – 12 Points
Third Place – 10 Points
Fourth Place – 8 Points
Fifth Place – 6 Points
Sixth Place – 5 Points
Seventh Place – 4 Points
Eighth Place – 3 Points
Ninth Place – 2 Points
Tenth Place – 1 Points
A bonus point is awarded to the fastest lap achieved by a team during the Sprint Race and Feature Race.

All points are allocated to the winning Nation and there are no driver points. A1GP is a team effort and a team sport. The winner is the driver, team and most importantly the nation.

Only drivers who take part in at least one of the three practice sessions can take part in the races. Therefore a maximum of three drivers can take part at a race weekend.

The nations technical team who work in the pits cannot exceed more than ten people to maintain the level playing field concept across all participating teams

It makes the series look exciting, doesn't it? I have been following the series the best I can, and accounts of the races I have read do seem exciting. It is a competition of guts and skill, very little like that other Gran Prix series.

Team USA is owned by A1 Team USA Holdings, which is owned by Rick Weidinger, a former IRL team owner. Most of the other 21 countries involved are owned by the State, and supported by each nation's treasury.
After pre-season testing that included Summerton, and Buddy Rice, the team decided to go with Summerton. After the win at Shanghai, Team USA has a chance to finish the current season in the top ten, after the final round at Brand's Hatch, UK, May 4th. Sweden currently leads the series by 29 points, over New Zealand, who could win the championship by sweeping both the sprint race and the feature race and if Sweden finishes out of the points in both races.

One of the reasons why the series has yet to catch on in the United States is that it is very hard to find television coverage here. It has not been promoted on any network that I know of, and we are forced to follow the series much like we were forced to for most of the sixties, seventies, and eighties while following NASCAR--by reading as much as we could about it wherever we could find it.

Another reason is that the majority of the season takes place during the Northern Hemisphere Winter, so the majority of the races take place south of the equator, where it is Summer. That leaves us pretty much out of touch with any chance to experience the action first hand.

Perhaps a top ten finish by A1 Team USA may help get the series more publicity and coverage in the USA. Maybe even another victory would help. If the series could work its way up to having 22 races in 22 different countries, that would certainly help, but one of the goals of A1GP is to keep costs down, for all the teams, so that isn't likely to happen. At any rate, if you like a mixed bag of motorsports racing, and want to find something outside of NASCAR that can match the excitement, A1GP is a good place to look.

Photo credit:

Sunday, April 13, 2008

It finally happened!

After the lackluster Samsung 500, the semi-short track/semi-speedway Subway Fresh 500 was a much needed blast of excitement in Sprint Cup racing. We knew it was going to take some time for the teams to get a handle on the Sprint Cup car this season, and the level of the racing has been inconsistant as the teams have worked on the car. But Phoenix is a different story, as the teams have tested there extensively, have had some previous experience racing the new car there, and thus have extensive notes concerning the behavior of the car at PIR.
And it paid off for both the teams and the fans. We were treated to some excellent racing throughout the field and throughout the race. The race begain with several teams that seemed capable of winning, and the action was as hot as the track itself right from the start. Ryan Newman wanted to make sure he got his bonus points, and held off the competition from Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards for a few laps before dropping back. The lead was never, at any point in the race, given up easily, so the racing was always hard and admirably clean, no matter who the leader was.
Highlights and pitfalls included Carl Edwards taking a penalty in the first half of the race that put him down a lap. He recovered from that, finishing in fourth place. Elliott Sadler, who started the race from the front row, fell back early in the race, but regained postition as high as fourth place as night fell, only to have to retire from the race due to engine failure. Another driver from Dodge, polesitter Ryan Newman, also saw his hopes for a good finish disappear with catastrophic mechanical failure. Mark Martin definitely had the car to beat, but his team, like most of the other race leaders, found it necessary to refuel before the end of the race. The "what if" story here is that if Martin had pitted just a few laps earlier, he more than likely could have made his way back to the front in time to take the checkers. His car was the class of the field, and he even claimed, post race, that he thought he had had enough fuel to make it to the end before the final pit stop. "Coulda, woulda, shoulda," as the saying goes.
Mstt Kenseth seems to be using up all his bad luck early in the season. Once again, he had many problems attributed to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a cut tire pretty much put him out of the running early on in the race. Kenseth is one of the top drivers in the series, so we know his luck is going to get better. The question is, "When?"
So the big story is the gamble that paid off. Chad Knaus decided to keep the #48 car on the track during the final fifteen laps of the race, even after a lengthy green flag run, a strategy that won the race. With the other cars pitting and the closest to the lead, after the pit stops--being the #07 Chevy of Clint Bowyer--nearly ten seconds behind, Johnson had plenty of room to lay off the throttle and conserve fuel. He reportedly ran out of fuel on the backstretch of the final lap, and finished the race a little over eight seconds ahead of Bowyer. Now that's drama!
Oh, by the way, Hendrick Motorsports is back. Who didn't see that coming?

What is this "baseball" thing anyway?

In my most recent item, it was surmised that the reason there weren't more people in the stands was that there was a baseball game in town during the same time period.
Saturday, when Fox waited until the end of the first lap of the Subway Fresh 500 to cut from their coverage of a game that was, for all practical purposes, over, was when some points of wonder came to mind.
This is not to disparage baseball, which is still the "National Passtime" to millions of people, nor is it to suggest that the telecast of the game should have been cut short. For the people in the Northeastern part of the country--those to whom the game was important Fox should have continued coverage until the last out. For the rest of the country, they could have started the telecast of the race in time for the opening ceremonies. After all, they had already started the baseball coverage on their FX cable network.
So, we watched patiently for twenty minutes while men adjusted their hats and belts, and chewed gum. Which brings me to what I was wondering:
Why, when there is a race going on, especially one with the quality of Friday night's Nationwide series race, would anyone want to sit through three hours of watching guys adjust their hats, belts, and athletic cups, chew gum, and scratch their hineys?
Just wondering.
There is this, at least, in favor of baseball:

Now, that must have been an exciting moment!
(Photo from email circulation and unattributed)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Something new

Last year, I formed a group at BlogCatalog called NASCAR Bloggers Full Throttle, and invited several bloggers, many of whom you will find on the sidebar of this blog, under links. The name came to me before I became familiar with the excellent blog Full Throttle, or else I probably would have called it something really lame or pretentious, but that story is not the point of this article.
Our group has launched a new blog called NASCAR Bloggers FT Digest It is where you can find additional commentary by some of your favorite bloggers, and, as a digest, it provides the reader with a short description and a link to some of our favorite posts. Please check it out, and be sure to read the "About" page. If you really feel adventurous, you may also want to read the "Welcome" page. The Digest, as I like to call it, is a work in progress, so what you may see now isn't necessarily what you may see once we get all the particulars worked out. Feel free to leave comments, either here or at the Digest. I hope you find it enjoyable.
I have also added the links to two other blogs on my side bar. Tim Zaegel, who has yet to join our group (please join us, Tim), writes the excellent and thoroughly entertaining blog Do You NASCAR?, and Monte Dutton, the book author, photographer, and writer for the Gaston Gazette has a new blog called NASCAR This Week.
You will also find a fantasy sports site, that includes NASCAR, in Fantasy Sports Outlook, that I have added to the links list. Frank, the owner of that site, is not only a member of the bloggers' group, but has done much to promote this blog, and the blogs of some of the other NASCAR bloggers out there.
Please visit these sites when you have the time.
Once again, I thank my readers for their kindness and patience in their loyalty to Rev'Jim's RantsnRaves. Have a happy race day!

Friday, April 11, 2008

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!

I'm talking about a race that was exciting from start to finish--the Bashas' Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, Friday night. To use the vernacular of the old action/thriller movie trailer, it was "Full of Thrills," and featured "More Action Than Ever Before!"
Indeed, this is what we are talking about when we urge people to forget about the Nationwide Series as being the "Junior League," or the "Feeder Series" for the Sprint Cup. People who feel that way do not know what they are missing.
Friday night, we saw the kind of racing that will help establish the Nationwide Series as a premier racing series on its own.
Nobody took the lead without a fight, even, from the start as Brad Keselowski held off Kyle Busch for several laps. The majority of the race was between Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch, however, and they battled lap after lap.
Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, and Kevin Harvick also threatened to take the lead at various time during the race, but the main battle continued between the two drivers many journalists consider the two best in NASCAR, and they raced each other hard and clean.
As exciting as the race was there were some disappointments (aside from the dyslexia my fingers developed while writing this) There should have been more people in the stands. Phoenix comes out in droves for their NASCAR weekends, but I suppose the baseball game vs "my" Colorado Rockies pretty much competed for attention.
The Nationwide Series offers all the excitement of NASCAR style racing, but shorter races, so those who complain about the Cup races being too long should have been there.
Also, it would have been fun to see what would have happened if the caution hadn't come out with three laps left. Busch and Edwards were racing hard to the finish, and though, Carl may have been able to pass Kyle, we will never know. Thus we finished with a green/white/checker finish which left us without a resolution to the question "Who is better in a head-to-head race, Carl or Kyle?"
Still it was satisfying. It was the kind of racing we should always hope to see.

The race story

Race results.

Ya Gotta Love...

...Junior Nation! In general terms, their loyalty for their driver goes beyond mere fan loyalty. It is what they know to be the truth! Jr is in fourth place in the standings after seven races, so it must be the crew chief's fault. The #88 team is brand new, and has outperformed all the other Hendrick Motorsports teams, but that isn't good enough. Tony Eury, Jr. is letting Junior Nation down. Why not give Jr Alan Gustafsen as a crew chief? Sure, Gustafsen is sitting in 26th place in points, with struggling driver Casey Mears, but he has to be better for Dale Junior's interests because he is not related to Junior, and he never worked for DEI.
If you don't understand that logic, don't worry. You are not part of Junior Nation, and you are not expected to understand it. You don't even need to understand it. That's another thing I love about Junior Nation. They don't try to push their driver on you if you are the fan of another driver. They have a great sense of humor, and their logic is kept secret from outsiders. God Bless them!
I recently posted a satirical piece, and the only people who commented on it were Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans. They generally liked it. To be honest, they saw it in a completely different light than in which it was intended, but that is just a sign of good satire--it can be seen in many different ways, and can be funny to different people for different reasons. To my friends, and I mean that sincerely, thank you for your comments, and for letting me see the joke in a different way.
Ya gotta love night racing. The drivers do, but the crew chiefs often don't. The changing conditions create unique situations for both the driver and the crew chief, and the challenge to both is different. The driver is expected to adjust his driving to the changing conditions, but the crew chief is responsible for making sure that the driver has a car in which he can adjust to the changes. This is even more pronounced in the new car. But that doesn't really matter to the fans, as long as it is fun to watch.
And you have to love night racing at Phoenix. The track layout is crazy--there is nothing remotely like it anywhere on the Sprint Cup circuit.
It is the first Saturday night race of the season, which also gets us excited as fans, and that excitement is enhanced by the atmosphere of a venue at which the entire community gets enthusiastically involved.
While we're on the subject of Phoenix and the community around it, we gotta love Jaynelle Ramon, the enthusiastic NASCAR blogger with journalistic credentials for the Arizona Daily Star, who is blogging from the track this weekend. She makes no secret of the fact that she is a diehard Jeff Gordon fan, but since the beginning of the season, she has become a semi-official Ryan Newman reporter. Fun, and awesome. Congratulations, Jaynelle.
Back to the track, we will probably see better racing Saturday night than we did at TMS last weekend. That is mostly because the camera angles will be better because it is a smaller track. But short track racing, which is what a race on a one mile or shorter track is considered, is almost always better than intermediate-class track racing anyway. At Phoenix, there are as many lines to follow as there are drivers, which always makes for an interesting race. In addition, unlike, TMS, this is not the first race for the new car at Phoenix, and there has been testing earlier this year. If Goodyear brought the same tire to the race as was used in testing, the teams should be better prepared for this race than they have been for any other race so far this season.
If Dale Earnhardt, Jr isn't saving his first win with HMS for Talladega, let's hope he lets his cousin Tony Eury, Jr off the hook by not only winning this one, but by gaining first place in the points. Are you with me, Junior Nation?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Silly stuff

The story goes that Dale Earnhardt's widow was so angered by the attempted takeover of her corporation by her stepchildren, Dale Jr. and Kelly, that she attempted to bring her company to ruin by sabotaging the engines in Dale Jr's racecars so they would fail whenever he came close to winning a race.
Now, it seems that her devious ways have come back to haunt her, as the engine in Martin Truex, Jr's car blew up while he was in contention for at least a top five finish in last Sunday's Samsung 500. Perhaps she forgot to undo all the damage she caused?
Personally, I don't think she is capable of that. She is a former Miss Winston, and her sole purpose in life is to smile and look pretty. In short, she is a born and bred bimbo. That is why Max Seigel is running the business.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


I was wrong. I predicted that there would be some racing at TMS, which isn't even called TMS anymore, but the Great American Speedway. I predicted that the parity brought about by the Sprint Cup car would result in some good fender to fender competition, of which, in reality, we saw very little.
This is not to belittle Carl Edward's victory--the #99 Roush-Fenway Ford team had its act together--something not many of the other teams seemed to have. So it wasn't a case of "the wrong guy" won the race, but that, similar to Atlanta, it was a race of attrition, rather than one of drivers' and crew chiefs' skills.
Jeff Gordon fell off early, with a car that wasn't prepared for the track at all. He ended the race in position 43, for only the second time in his sixteen year NASCAR Cup career. Greg Biffle who had a promising start to the race, and looked good early, also had to drop out of competition, if not the race.
The problem this time wasn't the tires, but all the yet unknown qualities of the new car and how it reacts to differing track conditions. Testing on one intermediate track is not good for all, as there is really no such thing as "cookie cutter" tracks. Therefore, this blogger takes some solace in the fact that he was correct in his original surmise that the refusal of NASCAR to allow testing at Texas would result in actions detrimental to the fans' enjoyment of the race.
We discovered that the era of the phantom caution is not over after all. We saw at least one of those, and if the purpose was to tighten up the field, it was too late. By that time thirty-three of the forty-three cars were a lap or more down.
We expected some lapped cars, especially at GAS (no, I won't call it that, it is still TMS to me), where the high speeds often separate the men from the boys. In addition lapped cars make the restarts exciting and should run some interference for the leaders to allow the rest of the field to catch up. But lapped traffic was overdone at TMS this time, because there were only ten or so cars that came to the race with a competitive set-up.
Still, all this means is that the teams have much more work to do. The more the car is used, the more the engineers and crew chiefs can figure out what they need to make the car more competitive. So there is something positive to take from Texas. After all, the sold out crowd seemed to have a great time at the race--it is better to be there than to watch the race on television, especially with the mediocre race coverage we saw. The teams can take the positive route and put the Samsung 500 behind them as a learning experience. The racing can only get better from here.

Some questions to ponder. If TMS was a track owned by NASCAR's ISC, rather than Bruton Smith's organization, would NASCAR have allowed an extra testing session there?

If Kyle Busch was criticized for not sticking around last year after he wrecked his car, should Jeff Gordon be criticized for quitting when he had a car that didn't handle the way he wanted it to?

If the "core fan" yearn for racing the way it was in "the old days," shouldn't the Samsung 500 have been a reason to celebrate?

And finally, to Jimmy Spencer, who declared that Carl Edwards would have won four races if it hadn't been for mechanical failure at Atlanta, doesn't that mean it would still only be three if Tony Stewart hadn't cut a tire at Las Vegas?

It's Texas Time!

Well, it's time for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to take the green flag at another "cookie cutter" track that really isn't a cookie-cutter copy of anything else on the track. The traction the track at TMS offers makes it one of the fastest tracks on the circuit, and the transition out of turn four makes it treacherous. We had some trepidation about the fact that the Sprint Cup Cars were going to this track with very little previous testing, but, so far, there have been no apparent problems, with the exception of this incident that happened during qualifying:

If you don't see the video, please click here.

There was also the incident of Tony Stewart cutting a tire in the Nationwide Series race on Saturday, but that was more than likely a result of the set up, rather than tire problems such as the ones experienced at Las Vegas earlier this year.
It should also be noted that Goodyear has remedied the problem of the non-competitive tires they brought to Atlanta, by bringing a tire similar to the ones they used at Texas, except with a stiffer sidewall on the right-side tires. These are the tires that Clint Bowyer's team tested earlier this year at TMS, with similar results, so credit should be given to the tire manufacturer for bringing the model they tested to the race, something they apparently haven't done before.

So, we should be in for a better race at TMS than we saw at Atlanta. That is not to say that there won't be more than half the field one or more laps down by the end of the race--that is just one of the characteristics of these "intermediate" tracks--but racing will mean more than just letting the other guy pass.
And, from the looks of the starting lineup, there will be some real racing right from the start. Pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt, Jr, is joined in the top five starting positions by Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, and Jimmie Johnson; all drivers known for being hard racers. This will not only give us some potential fire works from the drop of the green flag, but should keep the field close together for a while. Then we would have to worry about engine durability, because there will be a lot of running at high RPM.
But, if the engines hold up, if the tires stay up, and if nobody does anything immature or stupid (that's a long shot) there should be something to interest every race fan. Jr's going for his first win since 2006, which is almost expected, but there are a lot of strong cars in the race as well. It is a given that Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth (he's beyond any jinx I can put on him, Babs)and Brian Vickers will make their way toward the front. Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, and Jeff Burton are also figured to make a good run for the finish, which shouldn't be surprising to anybody considering the performance of RCR lately. To keep it simple, barring problems, there are going to be a lot of drivers who have a chance to play with the trophy guns in Victory Lane. (The trophy at TMS includes a pair of genuine six shooters, loaded with blanks, and a ten gallon hat.)
Personally, I think it is going to be a Toyota driver who gets to look silly in a cowboy hat.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Safety features pass ultimate test.

At PPIR, in 1999, we were sitting just over the final turn of an AMA motorcycle racing course. Right in front of us a rider accelerating out of that final turn had his motor freeze up and the motorcycle stopped dead, from 110 mph, throwing the rider to the pavement, over the handlebars and face down. He slid like that for nearly 200 feet and lay still. My friends and I, and all those around us were silent and shocked, certain we had just seen someone get killed in front of our very eyes. For at least ten minutes--it seemed longer--we sat trying to deal with it, praying, crying, or just sitting with head in hands. Then the rider--a Japanese guy whose name escapes me--sat up, and was helped to the waiting ambulance, limping but otherwise okay, mostly under his own power. That was on a Friday, during the preliminary heats. He raced on Sunday in the feature.
During NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying, for the Samsung 500 it seemed like Deja-Vu as rookie Michael McDowell lost the handle on his car coming out of turn four, and, while trying to get the car under control, lost the car completely entering turn one. The rear slid around to the left, shooting his car directly into the barrier outside the turn at approximately 180 mph. The car bounced off the SAFER barrier, slid a bit, then violently rolled eight times, on fire and losing pieces all over the track. It was almost certain that the driver would be seriously injured, at least. But, miraculously, McDowell climbed out of his car on his own and walked to the ambulance with only a slight limp.
These "miracles" occurred by virtue of safety features and equipment. The motorcycle racers wear lots of body armor, including a piece that reinforces the spine, and goes from the base of the skull to the tailbone. That is what saved the rider's life in 1999.
For McDowell it was a combination of many safety features that have been implemented since 2001. The SAFER barrier absorbed much of the impact, protecting the the driver from experiencing the full force of the collision. The HANS device prevented his head from snapping forward on impact, preventing serious injury to the spine and spinal cord, even to the point of preventing a fatality.
When the Sprint Cup Car was first conceived, as the "Car of Tomorrow," the main feature the designers wanted to build into it was safety. The "green house," in which the driver sits was made larger, the driver's position was moved closer to the center of the car, and the frame was reinforced in various places in order to protect the cockpit from the force of impact from various directions.
These safety features have been put to the test several times this season. Jeff Gordon hit the inner corner of the emergency vehicle access opening at Las Vegas head on without the benefit of a SAFER barrier and walked away from the wreck with a few bumps and bruises. But Friday, we saw the car put to the ultimate test. We saw a horrifying wreck that undoubtedly would have resulted in serious injury or even fatality in the older car, only to see the driver walk away relatively unharmed. If safety is the main reason in the design of the Sprint Cup car, then the new car has proven itself.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Ramblin' and raving

Just a few thoughts about the past weekend in racing:

The IRL added a last minute rule Wednesday concerning the total weight of the car with the driver. According to the rule, as far as I understand it, weight will be added to cars with lighter drivers to make them more even in total weight with cars that have heavier drivers. Danica (my personal St Patrick) Patrick's temper flared at the news, and she claimed that the rule targeted her and her only, as she weighs in at no more than 100 lbs. This rule is only fair, concerning the cars of the IRL are so light in the first place, and a little weight can make a big difference in the top speed of the car. Danica finished her tirade by declaring that she will overcome the handicapping rule by winning anyway, and we have to believe that she can do that.
This is an issue brought up by Robby Gordon in 2006, when he claimed that women in the IRL had an unfair weight advantage, but we also have to wonder if the weight handicap might have been instituted to lure self-described "fat man" Tony Stewart to the series. Only time will tell if it will be refered to as the "Danica Patrick Rule," the "Robby Gordon Rule," or the "Tony Stewart Rule."
My take is that the rule has been in effect since last year, and was only publicized now to drum up interest in the series, something IRL stars such as Patrick and Tony Kanaan, and rock star Gene Simmons have been working on for a while.

Danica's apparent ability to levitate because of her light weight may have been instrumental in implementing the IRL's weight handicapping rule. Photo credit:

If the IRL really wants to drum up publicity, perhaps they should talk to Jack Roush, who has created the "Partsgate" scandel that has nearly overshadowed every bit of racing news from around the world. Hardly. The accusations, which started last Wednesday on ESPN, began on a mysterious note, with reports that a "propriety part" had been stolen from the Roush-Fenway Racing team by a "Toyota team." While much speculation was going on as to what part it was, and which "Toyota team" was responsible, Jack Roush himself first tried to get NASCAR involved. NASCAR refused, citing that it was between the teams, and therefore was not within their jurisdiction. So the Cat in the Hat threatened to take legal action against Toyota.
While most of us were scratching our heads, wondering what the hell this was all about anyway, Jeff Gordon had a good laugh. while MWR was found to be the "culprit." My thoughts were, the swaybar, which the part turned out to be, wasn't doing anybody any good anyway.
As it turned out, it was no more than an elaborate April Fool's prank, or so it seemed, when Roush-Fenway Racing's President Geoff Smith announced Sunday that Roush-Fenway would not press charges against Michael Waltrip Racing. He blamed the entire incident on Lee White:

Team president Geoff Smith said the issue would not have surfaced at all had Toyota general manager Lee White not insinuated that Roush's team of Carl Edwards intentionally cheated at Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, FIA president Max Mosely, was caught playing NAZI Slave Master with five prostitutes. Talk about one-upmanship!

I have raved about Trouble in Turn 2 before, and in my opinion, that blog's Mike Maruska is one of the best writers on the web. I'm not just saying that because he has featured me in an interview for his "Know your NASCAR Bloggers" series. I feel very honored that he chose me to be included in the very prestigious list of bloggers he has interviewed. But don't go there just to read the interview, for he has many interesting, well thought-out, and well written articles that are entertaining as well as informative. If you haven't read anything on Trouble in Turn 2 before, your first experience will be a good one, and you will probably want to stay there a while.