Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Changes in the new car may happen, but when?

A few weeks ago, NASCAR officials held a meeting with the drivers and "asked" that they refrain from dissing the new Sprint Cup car in front of the press. It was widely known as the "shut up and drive" meeting. As we saw from Sunday's race, the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, "shut up and drive" didn't seem to help the car at all, and may have hurt NASCAR's image some.

Now it isn't the drivers that are complaining about the car, having dutifully conformed to the sanctioning body's wishes, but it is the fans and the sports journalists who see the car as a disaster.

The 2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard woke somebody up, it seems. According to reports on ESPN's NASCAR Now, both Mike Helton and Competition Director Robin Pemberton seemed to indicate Tuesday that they would consider a wider tire for the Sprint Cup Car. The wider tire would require a change in the body style of the new car, something NASCAR has previously said wouldn't happen.

Wider wheels on the car would help, as it would give the tires a bigger footprint on the track, which would mean more traction with a harder compound, and it would reduce the "billowing" effect on the sidewalls.

A New York Times article seems to confirm that NASCAR officials are considering changes:

“The fans didn’t get what they exactly wanted, and we’ll do everything in our power and it won’t happen again, I can tell you that much,” Pemberton said in a conference call. “So we’re going to put a lot of effort towards it and get a better plan moving forward.” (read entire article)

On this blog, we have suggested before that NASCAR should allow the teams a little more leeway in adjustments, and in finding ways to make the car work better with the tires they are given. More testing is needed, and Pemberton has indicated that there would be more testing in the future. However, NASCAR has also said that they will not add any additional open testing to the schedule this year.

So, it seems, things will get better, and nothing like what happened at IMS Sunday will happen again. We will just have to wait until the off season to get a view of what changes will be made for next year.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Not quite live on type delay: Allstate 400 at the Brickyard

This is a different kind of "live on type delay," because the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard was a kind of race we have never seen before. Although it wasn't the greatest event for the fans to watch--for that matter it could be compared to the 2005 Formula 1 USGP in terms of disappointment--it was a race, and there was racing happening.

We can thank NASCAR and the teams for the fact that it wasn't the disaster the 2005 USGP was. The teams that were using Michelin tires for the Formula 1 event had serious safety issues with the tires at Indianapolis that year. They eventually refused to participate in the race, leaving only the teams that were using Bridgestones--a total of six cars in all--to compete in the event. That was a disaster.

The 2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard was also affected by tire issues. Montoya lost a tire on lap nine and spun out. After the caution on lap fourteen--involving Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch--the teams found out what kind of tire wear they were getting. The answer was complete tire wear, for there was very little rubber left on the tires used by all the teams during the first stint.

Excessive tire wear was expected during the first part of the race, until the surface was tempered by ground-in rubber during the course of the race. Except some of this surface tempering should have occurred during the practice sessions. It didn't happen. So problematic was the tire wear issue during the four practice sessions that NASCAR allowed the teams extra tire sets for practice.

So what was happening to the rubber that was supposed to be grinding into the track surface? It was turning into a fine powder, or dust that accumulated on the outer side of the track, and on the cars themselves. During the final practice session, Greg Biffle even experienced a fire in his car caused by the tire dust igniting.

So, by the time the second caution of the race occurred, just before a scheduled competition caution around lap 28, it was seen that tire wear would be a significant problem for the entire race. It did not seem that the surface was ever going to pick up the rubber it needed to create a better surface. NASCAR decided to run the remainder of the race in approximately ten lap stints. The race was restarted on lap 34, and the next scheduled caution was to be on lap 44. On lap 43, Matt Kenseth's car lost the right rear tire, which literally exploded, destroying the body work on the right rear of the car.

So the remainder of the race was run with a competition caution every ten laps, taking away any chance for pit strategy for fuel mileage, but allowing some teams to make the choice of two or four tire stops for position. Still, there was a race to be had, and it became obvious that the team that would win would be the team that had the best car to begin with, along with the best pit stops and whatever tire strategy there still was to be found.

In this type of race, there really wasn't much happening that could be described in play by play, which is why this "live on type delay" is more of an opinion and commentary piece rather than a description of the action.

Denny Hamlin took the lead during the second to last stint, which restarted with 19 laps to go. With fourteen laps to go, NASCAR closed the pit road, so no one could try to take an early pit to try to gain a position advantage by staying out for the final competition caution. It was the pole sitter, Jimmie Johnson who took the lead after that final pit stop. When we saw his pit crew congratulating each other after that stop, we almost knew what the outcome of the race would be at that point.

There was no question of overtaking, because the outside line that the drivers usually like at the Brickyard was coated with that fine tire dust, and there was no traction there at all.

As it was, it was a real race, considering that the best driver for the day, with the best car and the best pit crew for the day won. That's the bottom line. We have to agree with Dale Earnhardt, Jr and Kasey Kahne in saying that NASCAR did what they had to do to keep the race safe and to run the race in its entirety, because, as Dale Jr. said, "The only alternative would have been to pack up and go home."

Waiting until after NASCAR Now before posting this turned out to be a personal good thing, because we were treated to an excellent explanation for the excessive right side tire wear by Ray Evernham. It seems that the old car was built with the majority of the weight of the car on the left side, allowing the weight to transfer to the right side in the turns, and from the right side as the car straightened out, thus relieving the pressure on the outside tires. With the new car, the weight is evenly distributed to all four tires, so additional pressure is put on the right sides in the turns. However, nobody could explain why the track never "rubbered in."

There is no reason to explain what could have been done, because it wasn't, so what if has no effect on the outcome of the race. However, it would have been wise to allow all the teams open test sessions at IMS prior to the race weekend, so, perhaps something may have been changed for the race. There is no point in dwelling on that however. What's done is done, what isn't done isn't done and is therefore irrelevant.

Notables of the race, besides Jimmie Johnson's win:
AJ Allmendinger finished tenth, and even led some laps, his best finish and best run of his NASCAR career. His teammate, Brian Vickers, did not fair so well. Vickers is pretty much the NASCAR bloggers' consensus pick of the drivers currently not in the Chase for the Championship to make the Chase. His problem, a blown engine, was the only problem during the entire race not related to tire issues.
Tony Stewart, who was expected to do well at Indianapolis, fought loose all day long. In other words, he had a twenty-fifth place car and was lucky to bring it home in twenty-fourth place.

As for the other good cars, Jeff Gordon managed to pull off a fifth place finish, while Denny Hamlin finished third. Dale Jr and Kyle Busch were forced to drive conservatively due to trying to make the tires last ten laps, which is uncharacteristic for either one of them.

Final thoughts:

The question that was asked back in 2005, after the USGP disaster was "what would NASCAR have done?" We got our answer.

At least there was a race, because it could have been worse, as in no race at all. From a fan's point of view it wasn't much of a race. There really wasn't much to get excited about, as there really wasn't much to watch. The race at Indianapolis made the race earlier this year at Texas seem exciting. The problem, however probably won't happen again, as NASCAR has promised much more open testing as of next year, something they announced long before the Indianapolis weekend. We have to take the bad with the good, and, hopefully, we won't see something this bad for the rest of the season. One caution to NASCAR, however--they might do well to allow open testing later this year at Homestead. That could save some embarrassment for the last race of the season.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Nothing boring about this weekend at Indy

Until 2006, this was always an exciting weekend for me because it meant it was time for the NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) Series race at PPIR. That excitement stays with me to this day, as a matter of habit, for there is no more race at PPIR*.

There is, however, still reason to get excited, because it is now Indianapolis weekend. With the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, and the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series races at O'Reilly Raceway Park, there is plenty of exciting racing in store.

O'RP is a 0.687 mile oval that is home to some of the most exciting short track racing we have seen in the Nationwide and Truck series. It seems to breed a lot of cautions, because the drivers feel like they have to go for broke here, maybe because it's near Indianapolis, or because it is just that kind of track. That kind of track is the classic Saturday night circle burner, where it's every man, or woman, for him or herself. With a tight championsip points competition between the CTS drivers, we can expect Friday night's race to feature plenty of action and drama.

Last year's Busch (Nationwide) Series race was an absolute wreckfest, to the point of frustration for both the fans and the drivers. If we want to see a demolition derby, as that "race" was, we would go to a demolition derby. But many of the drivers in the race last year had little experience at O'RP. Most of those drivers are back this year, and, hopefully, they remember from last year what not to do. If you want parity, there will be parity here, because on a short track like this, horsepower doesn't matter.

Every driver has had a period in their career racing at tracks similar to O'RP, but there are some who are masters at such racing. Joey Logano comes to mind, as do Denny Hamilton, Jason Keller, and Clint Bowyer. Kyle Busch will also be on hand, which will likely mean plenty of action and drama for Saturday's Nationwide Series race as well. July isn't over yet, and there should be plenty of fireworks on the track.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is arguably the most well-known American racing venue in the world. The 2.5 mile rectangular speedway provides a special challenge for the Sprint Cup cars. Only for teams tested at IMS earlier this year, other than that the new car has not seen the track.

Even in the older car, the track was a challenge for stock cars. Nearly twice as heavy as the open wheel cars, and not nearly as responsive in handling, NASCAR's machines do not seem fit for the for separate ninety degree turns on the track. To this day, drivers and crew chiefs alike wonder how it is even possible for the heavy cars to make the turns. And that is the challenge of the track. If a driver and car negotiate the corners as near perfectly as possible, they can hit the long straightaways at speed. A missed set up, a bad pit stop, or taking the wrong line through a turn can spell the end of the day for a team, or, at least, a very long day.

That is why there is so much preparation for this one race. Most of the teams build a special car for the Brickyard. This has never been a race known for a lot of passing and position changes--old car or new car, it is very difficult for the stock cars to pass one another. This is a race about pit stops and adjustments, as well as perfection of the driver in hitting his marks. That by no means indicates a boring race. The competition is stepped up for the Brickyard, because of the sheer prestige of winning at IMS. The broadcast crew at Speed TV brought up an interesting statistic indicating what it takes in talent to win a race at IMS--every winner, with the exception of Kevin Harvick in 2003 and Ricky Rudd in 1997, has been a NASCAR Cup series champion. That says a lot.

Tony Stewart is by no means a "lame duck." In spite of what we have written here previously--for which we apologize, because that was a purely emotional reaction--the #20 team has had a winning attitude all season long. The races at Daytona, Las Vegas, Bristol, Lowe's, Loudon, and Talledega were all wins for Tony Stewart had it not been for misfortune. We also apologize for forgetting about Jimmie Johnson's 2006 Brickyard win, but if Smoke can pull off a victory it will be three out of the last four, not three in a row as previously written here. This blogger has never claimed to be perfect, but mistakes make us seem human. We only regret that we are so darn human.

The competition at an especially high level here this year, because some of the drivers who have performed the best at IMS have yet to win a race in 2008. Jeff Gordon's team has been improving all year, and he is every bit as poised to win at the Brickyard as are Stewart and Ryan Newman. Newman, who did win the first points race of the season at the Daytona, is an Indiana native who has yet to win at the famed speedway.

However, and please don't shoot the messenger, since this is the first race at IMS for the Sprint Cup car, don't rule out a win by Kyle Busch. He seems to be the one driver who can consistantly take the car to its first win at any venue. It would not be surprising if he were to win Sunday. We hope the fans can remember that it is very wrong to throw beer at the Hallowed Grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

*As I was getting ready to post this, I received news that PPIR will be reopening, and will be running a National Automobile Sports Association (NASA) event on Labor Day weekend. ISC decided to relax the requirement that the buyer not use the facility to host automobile racing, and reworded that stipulation to mean no NASCAR events. However that doesn't mean we won't see ARCA/Remax back here in the future. Why ISC is so certain that they will be able to build a track near Denver, and why I think they are wrong is subject for a whole new post, but for right now, I am doing a happy dance at the news that PPIR will have racing again.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dealing with it, and TickCo joins Rev'Jim's RantsnRaves

First of all, in no way was the fear expressed on this blog meant to imply that Tony Stewart was washed up. The intent of my posts on the subject of Stewart joining Stewart Haas racing next year was to express how it will feel as Smoke works to get his new team to the top, not a prediction that he would perform poorly.

It will be difficult for those of us who are Tony Stewart fans to accept that he will be driving as a back marker for a while, but that doesn't mean the team won't get better. He has already had some meetings with his new team to try to figure out why they haven't been able to be more successful with all the resources they have available to them (it isn't for lack of money, Haas Automation has thrown all kinds of financial support at the team, and has recently built a $40,000,000 wind tunnel that is supposed to be able to simulate different track conditions and features).

Stewart is a winner, and though we will have to fret as he tries to qualify the #14 car as a go or go home team, or will scream in frustration as he just can't seem to get his car to work the way he wants, those times will pass. He will turn that team into a winner. Eventually.

Now for a little plug. I have agreed to feature a Sports ticket broker, TickCo Premium Seating, on this blog, for reasons that may come to light in the near future. If you are looking for NASCAR tickets, or tickets for any sporting event, please follow the appropriate link listed below:

Nascar tickets

TickCo Premium Seating


TickCo also buys tickets, if you find yourself with tickets you can't use. Good deal.

You're correct if you think this is strictly commercial. I'm still trying to figure out this blogging thing, and going strictly commercial once in a while doesn't hurt.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Nationwide Series says "goodbye" to competition, "hello" to mediocrity

In an unprecedented rule change, effective immediately, NASCAR has decided to encourage mediocrity and give a horsepower advantage to Roush-Fenway Racing in the Nationwide Series.

According to discussion on ESPN 2's NASCAR Now, of the engines siezed by NASCAR after the Nationwide race at Chicagoland, July 12, David Reutimann's Toyota showed the highest horsepower production in dynomometer testing, 2 horsepower over the JGR #18. The Roush Fords that were tested followed with a close third and fourth. According to ESPN reporter Marty Smith, the #20 JGR Toyota, which was the reason for the siezure and dynomometer testing of the engines, had the fifth highest hosrepower production in dynamometer testing.

Since the engine used by Toyota is a new engine, while the other manufacturers have been running older engine models in the series, NASCAR evened things down for the non-Toyota teams by implementing a rule change requiring tapered spacers on the Toyota engines. This will take away about sixteen horsepower from the Toyotas, giving the Ford engines roughly a fourteen horsepower advantage over the rest of the field.

NASCAR has said that the new rule would apply to all new engine models regardless of the manufacturer. Toyota is the only manufacturer that has introduced a new engine to the series at this point in time.

This is just the opposite of what we expected. Racing has always been about advancing engine technology, among other things. Having to come up with a new engine that fell within the specs for Nationwide Series racing required much engineering and research, and the engine that Toyota came up with this year required a willingness to spend money for the development of their engine. Nobody accused Toyota of cheating, just that they had a better engine program than the other teams. In fact, with the exception of Roush, the other drivers and teams were pressuring their manufacturers to do more with the engines they had.

In other words, Ford, Chevy, and Dodge were not willing to spend the money and resources Toyota spent on engine development. NASCAR could have evened things up, rather than down by allowing the other manufacturers a few more tools in souping up the engines they had, but, instead put a damper on all new engine development.

The new rule isn't likely to make much of a difference at the short tracks, such as Richmond, or O'Reilly Motorsports Park, but at tracks with long straightaways and at the intermediate tracks, Roush-Fenway will have a noticeable advantage. Carl Edwards undoubtably has the most talent of any full-time driver in the Nationwide Series, and, coupled with the horsepower advantage NASCAR has handed his team, he has been given his second championship in a row in the series. The season may as well be over now.

This is unfortunate for the Nationwide Series, especially for Brad Keselowski, who drives the #88 Chevy for JR-Hendrick Motorsports. Keselowski is within a stone's throw from taking the championship lead, and, if he had been able to win the championship, could have been the first non-Cup series regular to win the championship since Martin Truex, Jr did it in 2005. The series was shaping up to having its own brand of competition and its own identity, but now that trend has hit a concrete wall.

This is not a conspriacy theory, because NASCAR has taken the action above board and in full view of the public. To be fair, the conspiracy theory that NASCAR was allowing Toyota a more powerful engine than the other manufacturers was bad PR for the organization, so they rectified it by openly giving the advantage to the team that complained the most. As the old saying goes, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease."

Congratulations to the 2008 Nationwide Series Champion, Carl Edwards.

Monday, July 21, 2008


While Johnny Benson was a regular in what is now the Sprint Cup Series, we often noted that he did not seem aggressive enough to be competitive in the top series of NASCAR. It may have been equipment, but Benson never seemed to want to even try to make a pass when the opportunity presented itself. It may have been the equipment, but Benson seemed to be unable to adapt to the changes in the car that were made between 1997 and 2001.

Needless to say, when he joined the Craftsman Truck Series in 2004, we doubted that he would be successful there. Most of the regular drivers in the series failed in the Cup series because they were too aggressive. Unless the driver's name is Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, or Jeff Gordon, over aggressiveness usually results in more problems for the driver than for the competition.

But the aggressive style of drivers like Ron Hornaday, Jack Spraque, Mike Skinner, and Ted Musgrave fits right in to the relatively short races of the CTS. There is no pit strategy in CTS; it is all about mashing the pedal and turning left from the first wave of the green flag. And you do not want to be the driver of a truck that gets in the way of faster traffic. It is not the kind of racing one would expect a laid back, let-things-happen type driver like Benson to be successful.

But we were wrong about Benson. In 2004, his first season in Trucks with Bill Davis Racing, he ran in only thirteen races, but finished in the top ten eight times, with five of those eight being in the top five. He went on to win 5 races in 2006, with 13top fives out of 17 top tens, and four wins in 2007 wit 12 top fives. And now, with the Truck season barely over the half-way mark, he has two wins and leads the series in drivers' points. Benson seems to be having the time of his life.

We have written before that the CTS is the closest to Saturday night circle burners NASCAR has in its top tier.This is the kind of racing with which Benson and the others feel most comfortable. It is what they have been doing their entire lives. It is the kind of racing in which any driver who starts the race has a chance to win.

The tightness of the competition can be seen in the points standings among the top five drivers. There is a difference of only 108 points between the lead and fifth place, after thirteen races. The points lead has changed three times in the last three races. No Chase for the Championship is needed here, the points championship looks to remain tight for the rest of the season.

Personally speaking, my favorite driver in the Truck Series has long been Ron Hornaday. But I like it when Johnny Benson wins. It could be because he looks a little bit like Shemp Howard of the Three Stooges, but it is probably just because it feels good to see a driver find his place doing what he loves.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Observations on NASCAR and my other passion

The Sprint Cup is taking a week off. There is still something to get excited about this weekend, and that would be the Truck Series race at Kentucky this weekend. Randy Moss Motorsports will be making its debut in the series with the #81 Chevrolet, driven by last year's Truck Series Rookie of the Year, Willie Allen.

Moss is playing it smart, having purchased an established team that has had some success in the series. Morgan-Dollar, the team in which Randy Moss bought controlling interest, has proven itself competitive with the likes of Kevin Harvick Incorporated, Roush-Fenway Racing, and Bill Davis Racing. Moss plans to eventially move the team to the Cup level, but he acknowledges that it will be a hard road. Still, citing his passion for the sport, and for winning, he is optimistic, and confident that he will reach his goals with his new team. We wish him success in his endeavors.

Yesterday, Ryan Newman reportedly announced that he and Penske South Racing will be parting ways after the end of the current season. We expect him to be joining Tony Stewart next year in the newly-formed Stewart-Haas Motorsports organization, which would make it the Team from Indiana. However, there are rumors that he may be the driver for RCR's fourth car next year. Since we were left embarrassed by our insistance that Smoke would not be leaving JGR before 2010,. we have decided to believe any and all rumors we hear or read about. However, we will offer our opinion that Casey Mears would probably be a better fit in the RCR car. Mediocre record aside, Mears is a driving talent looking for the right surroundings. RCR did just that for Jeff Burton, and it stands to reason they could do it for Mears.

With the NASCAR Sprint Cup series being off for the week, we can explore our other passion, and that would be music. For me, amazing musical feats in concert are every bit as exciting of the sound of the engines fireing up after the command to "start your engines."

We understand that not many NASCAR fans are fans of what we call "Jam Music," but there are similarities that should be explored. At a NASCAR event, the crowd is generally happy, friendly,. helpful, excited about what they are seeing and hearing on the track, and drinks a lot of beer. At the Grateful Dead events we attended, and at other concerts we have attended since then, the crowd is generally happy, friendly, helpful, excited about what they are seeing and hearing on the stage, and drinks a lot of beer.

To me, hearing a band go off in different directions during a jam, then pulling it back together for a reprise of a song they began earlier is just as exciting as watching Dale Earnhardt, Jr threading the needle to advance through traffic, Kyle Busch beating a block and going hard into a turn and making it stick, or Tony Stewart outsmarting Jeff Gordon on exiting a turn.

Some of the music we listen to is an acquired taste. You won't hear much of it on the radio, as it isn't music that is meant for radio. But NASCAR is an acquired taste as well. But the truth is, a Redneck can be a Deadhead and live a balanced, well-ordered life.

To celebrate and share my passion for Jam Music, I have started a social network called "Eclectic Jammys" That is a pun, but "Jammy" is meant as a title for a person who loves to listen to Jam Music. It doesn't have to be a Deadhead--a Jammy could be a fan of Phish, Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, or countless other bands that are ignored by radio but fill theatres, arenas, ampitheatres, and stadiums with their amazing musical acrobatics.

"Eclectic Jammys" features a built in music player on every profile page that allows loading from either your computer or from another site. It also features forums, blogs, photo and video uploaders that every member can use. It is a MySpace lite, for a specific group of people. Those who join the group will be able to share and enjoy their favorite music. There will be conversations about our favorite bands and memories of our favorite concerts.

I have just begun building the site, but it can't be a social network without people, so, if you think you may be a Jammy, or are interested or curious about Jam Music, please visit and join us at Eclectic Jammys

NASCAR Technical Director was responsible for safety initiatives

Thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Steve Peterson, who passed away at his home in Concord, North Carolina, Tuesday at the age of 58.

Peterson was NASCAR's technical director, who oversaw the implimentation of SAFER Barriers, the CoT, and the HANS device.

From Sports Illustrated.com:

Peterson joined NASCAR in 1995 and spearheaded several safety initiatives, including installation of the SAFER Barriers and the implementation of safety features in the Car of Tomorrow. He also helped the circuit get approval for head and neck restraints and improved seat belts.

Peterson won the 2006 Society of Automotive Engineers Motorsports Achievement Award. He previously served as crew chief for Sprint Cup Series driver Mark Martin in 1982.

Needless to say, Peterson's mark has been made in history.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Live on Type Delay: Chicagoland

"Gentlemen start your engines!" as shouted by Brenden Frasier, was the most enthusiastic we have heard since Kevin James did it last year. The race starts just as enthusiastically, and JJ Yeley is black flagged for dumping weight!?! Wow, we haven't seen that since the seventies. Did he have sand in the roll bar, like they used to do in the old days? Maybe it's only me, but the mere fact that someone actually tried that in this day and age is exciting.

Before the third lap, Michael McDowell and Jason Leffler illustrate the hazards of running near the back and McDowell gets the worst of it. The laps are passing quickly, and Kyle Busch is way out in front by lap 24 and is nearly three seconds ahead of Carl Edwards. Jimmie Johnson is third, and the front three cars are way spread out in single file. As can be expected at a night race, all the teams have started the race with a loose set-up, and this will be worked on during the competition caution on lap 35. Kyle Busch loves loose, and Tony Stewart doesn't seem to have a problem with it either, as he has gained six spots since the start of the race.

Planned competition caution after lap 35, and everybody pits, as expected. Jeff Burton comes out first, and Kyle is second. But Burton is penalized for exiting too fast. You don't want to make that kind of mistake here. Stewart takes some adjustments and looses two spots. Dale Earnhardt, Jr, who was in fifth, gains one spot. Carl Edwards is in second, Earnhardt Jr restarts third, because of the Burton penalty. Jimmy Johnson is fourth.

The front two, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards quickly move away from the field, and they are racing hard for the lead. And clean. After about a lap locked in battle, Edwards takes the lead. There has been a lot of racing going on behind the leaders, and as things clear up, Johnson is in third, Matt Kenseth is fourth, and Tony Stewart is fifth. Dale Jr and Denny Hamlin seem to be having trouble, and Hamlin's car looks like the trouble is serious. He has no electrical power at all. A Gibbs Toyota with electrical problems is not unprecedented. Caution, to get the eleven car off the track. I do not think Denny stopped on purpose this time.

I missed the restart, but it looks like Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle stayed out, and are racing each other for the lead. Brian Vickers is up there as well, and when I get back to the keyboard, there is a good race between Gordon and Vickers for second. It is some exciting racing that goes on for two or three laps, and Vickers takes the spot. But these guys are still racing. Vickers makes the bottom work, then the top works for him. Further back Stewart in fifth is challenging Kyle Busch in fourth, and Carl Edwards is in that mix. There is some great racing going on in the top five or six spots. We are actually getting some good excitement early in the race.

Johnson, Harvick, and Truex, Jr are also racing hard further back. Jr's problems continue, though, and he is back in 29th spot because of a slow pit stop, taking four tires and adjustments, while everyone else took fuel and two during that last caution. This race is actually pretty good so far, and we have a long way to go.

Biffle seems to have a car that can stay out front, and he has pulled away from the rest of the field while they have been racing each other. Kyle has lost more ground to Johnson, Truex, and Kenseth, and this tells us how much clean air means to these cars. By the time the commercials on both the TV and radio are over, Vickers is in second and gaining on Biffle. Stewart is running in third. Edwards is in fourth, and Jeff Gordon has fallen back to fifth. The last pit strategy has worked so far for Biffle, who stayed out, but not so well for Gordon.

Vickers is still gaining on the leader, and, by lap 86, Truex has entered the top five. It still seems the race is going by fast.

When the commercials are over, Vickers is only .4 seconds behind Biffle, who is negotiating lapped traffic. Stewart is over seven seconds behind Biffle. Truex passes Edwards for fourth, using the top of the track. Biffle reports that he is too loose, but remember, he did not pit when most of the other cars did. TNT is playing catch up on commercials, since this is their last week of coverage, interrupting the race coverage every three minutes, or so it seems.

Biffle makes a green flag pit stop, as expected. Vickers pits as well and Stewart takes the lead on lap 94. Jeff Gordon makes a very good pit stop. Stewart and Truex haven't pitted yet, and are running first and second. Lap 99, and Smoke still hasn't pitted. He likes that lead. Johnson and some of the others in the lead pack begin pitting around lap 102 or 103. Stewart finally pits on lap 105 or thereabouts, as does Kevin Harvick. It seems that everybody is out of pit stop sequence with everybody else. This is interesting.

Biffle is back in the lead after the pit stops cycle through, by lap 108, and Gordon is second. Stewart comes out of the green flag pit stops in fourth, and if there weren't commercials, I could tell you the rest of the top five line-up.

Michael Waltrip spins and brings out the third caution of the race around lap 112, while MRN is interviewing Brendan Frasier, and TNT is showing commercials. This is Frasier's first experience at a NASCAR race, and he is very impressed and very excited. "This is my first race," he says, "but it is definitely not my last."

Everybody takes to the pits again, and Tony Stewart is the first off this time. Biffle and Gordon take four tires, everyone else seems to take two. Truex has to come back into the pits for too fast exiting the pit lane.

Yeley's penalty at the beginning of the race was for changing the driver's water bag, it is now revealed.

Matt Kenseth, Kyle and Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger, David Ragan, and Reid Sorenson stayed out, and after the green flag waves, Kenseth and Kyle are racing hard for the lead, as Tony Stewart closes in. We have a three way race for the lead now. Stewart watches them race for a while, then sees an opening and takes second place. As he stalks Kyle Busch for the lead, they face Jeff Burton who is at the end of the lead lap. Kyle uses the 31 car for a pick and keeps Stewart behind him, but it looks like Stewart may have the faster car.

Kenseth has to pit because of a tire going down. And Kyle Busch is now putting some distance between his car and Stewart's. Simultaneous commercials again! But we can't complain, because, surprise, surprise, surprise, this is the latest I ever remember my local MRN radio station staying on the air after seven PM.

At the halfway point of the race, Busch leads, Stewart second, David Ragan third, AJ Allmendinger with his new crew chief Jimmy Elledge is fourth, and Brian Vickers is fifth. A great run for the Red Bull.

One of the things Kyle Busch's crew chief has attributed to the success of the #18 team is the fact that his driver is never happy with the car, even when the car is in the lead. "He is always pushing us to do better, no matter what," Addington said, "so we just keep getting better."

I never should have mentioned MRN, as the station that carries it here is now off the air. Meanwhile, we are watching Larry Mac sawing a guy in half. I feel like I have been blinded.

I still like the Montoya Juicy Fruit commercials. They really emphasize racing, and that is a good thing.

I am really wondering what is going on in the race. It seems like it has been about ten minutes since the last time we had race coverage. I don't know if it has actually been that long, but it just seems that long. Now we are watching action from 2006.

Okay, caution for debris. Kyle Busch will restart in the lead. Tony Stewart is second, Kevin Harvick is third. Don't wreck Tony, Kevin, he is your friend. Stewart gets hung up in lapped traffic, and Busch takes off. They may have over-adjusted the 20 car, because it looks very loose.

Edwards is fourth and Vickers is fifth. The sunset is very orange, so we can take that as a sign that Stewart will win. I really hope I haven't jinxed my favorite driver. Yes, there is a bunch of BS here now, because TNT still refuses to give us a clue as to what is happening on the race track. I still think the Coors Light commercials are pretty awesome, but that won't make me drink Coors.

The only thing that has changed is that David Ragan is in fifth and Vickers is in sixth.

Does anyone else wonder what Jeff Burton would look like with a Mullet? "Business in the front, party in the back" sounds like a good assessment of JB, doesn't it?

Don't know what happened during the commercials, but Tony Stewart has caught Kyle Busch. Busch has mentioned that he felt like his right rear tire had low air pressure, and he is fighting tight. Stewart is about to engage in a race for the lead, when the caution comes out for a spring rubber on the track. The leaders all pit.

They come off pit road with Busch in first, Stewart in second, and Carl Edwards in third. Harvick and Ragan fill out the top five.

Does anybody else get the impression that TNT is actually trying to leave the fans with the affirmation that TNT really does suck at race coverage? I do like their camera coverage, usually, and they did a good job at explaining why Kyle Busch won last week at Daytona, so there was no mistake that he was in the lead when the caution came out. But other than that, this race coverage really does suck. No wonder people think the races are boring.

Stewart, starting in second, gets a good restart this time, but not quite good enough, and Kyle Busch again takes off.

Wally Dallenbach is thought of as being from Colorado, so I don't say anything bad about him. We watched for years as he and his father tackled the Pike's Peak Hill Climb. They are part of what is left of the racing identity of Colorado Springs. Sad, isn't it?

Carl Edwards takes second from Stewart, but Stewart is better on the long runs, so he will probably gain that spot back, later.

I'm tired of Loren Wallace, and the Toyota fan controllers. I think there might be an over-abundance of commercials tonight. This is very frustrating.

Something is wrong with Stewart's car, it seems. Harvick has taken third. Stewart has said he is too loose, but he feels it will come back to him. I think the car is just the way he wants it, and we will see that toward the end of the race. Carl Edwards takes the lead, but both Edwards and Busch are increasing their lead over the rest of the field.

Kyle Busch retakes the lead with 55 laps to go, as Carl Edwards has to pit due to handling problems. It seems that the front splitter has broken, and the car is very tight as a result. Jimmie Johnson takes second from Kevin Harvick, as Tony Stewart continues to have no problem and has now fallen back to fourth.

Caution for debris. Ryan Newman does two tires and fuel, and comes off the pits second, after Kyle Busch, but that strategy gains him twelve positions. I wonder if it is supposed to rain?

Restart with 37 laps to go. Everybody has enough fuel to make it to the end. Johnson is in third. He may be a contender. If he doesn't wreck while trying to get through lapped traffic. Busch is pulling away. Stewart and Biffle almost wreck, as Stewart gets loose and moves up the track. Stewart loses momentum Johnson has taken second from Newman, and Harvick has taken third. Paul Menard, whose daddy bought and sponsored a car for him so he could wreck the big boys, removes the rear panel from the #70 car in front of him and brings out another caution.

Restart with 27 laps left. Johnson gets a good restart and stays close behind Busch. This could turn into a good race here. I like this, the 48 is using the track to beat Kyle Busch, but is still studying a way to get the lead. He makes a move, but falls back. This is good racing, and smart at that. Personally, I like Kyle Busch better than I like Jimmy Johnson, but that doesn't mean I don't want to see Johnson try to beat him. Bobby Labonte spins and brings out yet another caution.

This race doesn't have the intensity that the Coca Cola 600 had, but it does hold our interest a little better than the Michigan race did. But TNT really is playing catch up with the ads and is showing six weeks worth of commercials during this broadcast. That is a shame. We should be enjoying this race more than we have been.

Still good racing up front, and Jimmy Johnson is racing hard for the lead. He catches Kyle this time and takes the lead. Yeah, I guess that means another commercial. David Gilliland's blown engine brings out a caution. Two laps to go at the restart. It will be a shootout between Johnson and Kyle Busch. This is the stuff. Whoo hoo is right. Kyle Busch goes deep in turn three and takes the lead. A very intense final lap, where Jimmie Johnson almost wrecks three times trying to beat Busch, but Busch takes the lead. Kyle Busch gets stuck in the mud trying to celebrate and the crowd goes wild.

This is Kyle's seventh Sprint Cup win this season, and, I believe, his fourteenth NASCAR win for 2008. Those last two laps were wonderfully wild. Johnson is known for driving hard into the turns, and Kyle had to go even harder. It was good hard racing, and the adrenaline level was high for the finish. Good job, guys.

Horsepower in the Windy City

The pre-race programming for the Nationwide Series races has the recurring theme of Nationwide teams complaining about the alleged Toyota horsepower advantage. Previous dynamometer tests on the engines have shown that the Gibbs Nationwide engines produce about twenty-two more horsepower than does the team's engine with the lowest horsepower. Rusty Wallace whose team runs Chevy engines, wants NASCAR to restrict the Gibbs team so they can't build powerful engines, while the rest of the Chevy and Ford teams want their manufacturers to step up their engine development programs in the series. The Dodge teams, notably Evernham and Ganassi, have remained strangely quite about the issue, perhaps not wanting to publicize the fact that they have as much horsepower as Toyota, something alluded to by one of the Dodge drivers early in the season (I attributed the blurted out information to Ryan Newman, but it may have been Elliot Sadler who said that).

Chevy plans to introduce the RO-7 engine that they use in the Cup Series to the Nationwide Series in 2009, while Ford and Dodge currently have no new engine program to compete with the Toyota.

NASCAR has said they will look into the difference in horsepower and see if they have to take any action to even things up (Rusty wants to even things down, but "up" is what the rest of the teams are looking for). That could include larger openings in the spacer plates NASCAR uses in the Nationwide and Truck Series for the Chevy and Ford engines.

Anyway, after the race at Chicagoland Friday night, NASCAR confiscated engines from nine different teams to ship to their R&D lab in Charlotte for dynamometer testing. They will see if there is a need to do anything to help the teams with the lower horsepower engines become more competitive with the teams that get more output from their engines.

As far as the race itself went, it was a clean race with only three cautions for the entire 300 miles. There wasn't much racing to talk about, and Kyle Busch won in the JGR #18 car, making it his fifth win in the Nationwide Series this season. The margin of victory was by a little more than three seconds over second place Denny Hamlin, who was driving the #32 Toyota for Todd Braun Racing. During the last part of the race, Hamlin had the fastest car on the track but all he could do in twenty laps was to turn a nine second deficit into a three second deficit. Brad Keselowski, who was ill, did not wimp out and brought his car to a third place finish, the highest finish among the Nationwide regulars.

The #20 team experienced its first missed set-up of the season, fighting a tight condition all evening long. Tony Stewart was able to "trick the car" into making the turns by driving harder than usual into the corners, and ended up with a ninth place finish.

The race should serve to remind us that Chicagoland is a boring track, even with the conventional cars. Still, there is no telling what could happen with the Sprint Cup cars Saturday night until it happens.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Chicago and Crisis Management

One thing that could help us to handle our grief over the loss of our favorite driver's will to win would be a good race. We may just get to see one Saturday night in the first night race at Chicagoland Speedway.

In the past, the races at Chicagoland have not been all that exciting, but that has been par for the course at most of the intermediate class speedways. But things change. Some races that we have expected to be somewhat boring have been exciting this year. The Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's earlier this year is a good example of that.

We can reasonably expect Saturday night's race to be different from other races from Chicagoland we have seen. Because it is the first night race at that venue, we can expect the track surface to be cooler than it would be on Sunday afternoon, thus providing more traction. More traction usually means faster cars.

Faster cars could mean a better race, but not necessarily. Chicagoland is unknown to the new Sprint Cup car, and to the tire combination Goodyear has been providing this year. These unknowns were disasterous earlier this year at Atlanta and Texas Motor Speedway, where the teams didn't get a chance to test, and there was very little racing at those tracks.

On the other hand, the Sprint Cup teams have been learning how they can better adjust the car, and that may make a difference Saturday. We are more than halfway through the season, and, hopefully, Chicagoland will not mean unpleasant surprises for the teams, as they may be better prepared by experience.

If the race Saturday night turns into a follow the leader event, we can probably expect Kyle Busch to win yet another one, as he seems to be the only driver who is willing to go for broke to get to the front. If the teams have their cars ready to race, however, there are two drivers who are poised to present a challenge to the likely winner.

David Ragan has come a long way from the time his driving style was described as being like "a dart without feathers." He has shown himself to be a quick learner, and has been able to put what he has learned to good use with his talent. His performance has been outstanding this year, and there have been several races where he looked like he could have won had it not been for pit strategy, pit performance, or the bad luck of being caught up in someone else's accident. We could see him get his first career Sprint Cup win Saturday night.

We have been impressed, as well, by Brian Vickers. This is another driver who has shown that he can overcome a lot of adversity to get a good finish. He has long established himself as a fast driver who can really get on the wheel of a fast car, and his talent may be rewarded Saturday night. If he does win the second Life Lock 400 of the season, it will be his second career Sprint Cup win, and his first since Talladega in 2006.

We can't rule out Smoke. This is traditionally Tony Stewart's time of the year, we know he likes night races, and he has always performed well at Chicagoland. The pressure of having to inform his friends and his team that he would be leaving them next year is off, and his attitude seems positive. Even though we are still in the anger stage of coping with grief, and are still puzzled about him getting out of a car that could have won--it wasn't long ago that "flu-like" symptoms wouldn't stop him even if it meant soiling his driver's suit--he is still Smoke, and we hope he still has a competitive edge. Personally, we are hoping to see him in Victory Lane.

Speaking of Smoke, could it be he has already made a choice for his Stewart-Haas team beginning next year? During an interview during Nationwide Series qualifying, Stewart used some words describing crew chief Dave Rogers that raised a few flags, such as "leadership," and "team builder."

Now these are words that have been used to describe Rogers all season long, but in context of what Stewart was saying, and the way he said it, Rogers would be a great choice for Stewart in building his new team. Would Gibbs release him? We would speculate that he would, because we know that JGR will not be running four cars next year after all, as the #20 will be driven by an unnamed driver who will share the ride with a developing Joey Logano. This would not leave room for Rogers to move up to Cup within the Gibbs organization, and no organization has ever stopped a crew chief from moving to Cup even if it meant he was going to another organization. We can also safely speculate that Rogers would jump at the chance to be a crew chief for a Cup team.

Of course, my record for believing rumors that turn out to be true is very bad, and my speculation has even been worse, but I don't think the idea of Dave Rogers going to Stewart-Haas is all that far-fetched.

So I have moved through the denial stage, passed the guilt stage, and seem to be getting through the anger phase. This would be the bargaining stage, thinking that it would be a good thing if Smoke can get a good crew chief right away. I hope my readers continue to follow me as I deal with this crisis, and can find my progress interesting and entertaining, if not informative.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


This was to be a special "Live on Type Delay" installment featuring the Tony Stewart-Joe Custer press conference announcing the establishment of Stewart-Haas Racing, but technical difficulties on the feed made the part of the press conference we got to see very short.
The main points managed to get from the conference are as follows:

  • Tony Stewart recieves 50% equity in the organization for signing with Haas. This is unprecidented in NASCAR, and Stewart admits that's what caught his attention. The deal is potentially worth up to $66.5 million, which makes him the highest paid driver in NASCAR. That isn't even close to what the stars of the NFL, the NBA, and MLB get paid, but it is very high for a NASCAR driver.

  • Joe Custer, the general manager of Haas CNC, believes that Stewart's presence alone will turn the chronic back marker into a winning team. You have to give some credit for that kind of faith and optimism.

  • Tony Stewart believes that "it isn't the equipment that makes a winning team, it is the people. If you put the right people in the right place, you will have a winning team." We wonder where and how Stewart is going to get the right people to put in the right places.

  • Tony also declared that he believes "we can win at Daytona in February."

The bottom line is that the new Stewart-Haas team is going into business with an abundance of optimism and enthusiasm. Maybe they know something we don't. Perhaps Haas Engineering, the multi-million dollar corporation that owns Stewart-Haas is willing to pour unlimited funds into the team to make sure they get what they need.
Since Stewart is my favorite driver, I wish I could share that optimism and enthusiasm. I want to believe that Stewart is that much better a driver than Scott Riggs that he can make a difference in the team's performance. I do think he is better than Riggs, but only by about five or six positions. I say this because I have seen Riggs race Greg Biffle wheel to wheel in both the CTS and what was then the NASCAR Busch Series, at various races I attended at PPIR. I have to say, based on the performance I saw there and then, that Riggs is probably a better driver than Biffle, and Biffle is definitely one of the best. Therefore,I have reached the conclusion that the only reason Scott Riggs has not been a championship contender in the Sprint Cup is that he is not with a team that can win.
I really do want to see Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing succeed, and succeed quickly, but I remain skeptical and fear that Stewart may be entering the realm of Kyle Petty. I certainly hope I am proven wrong.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

It will be Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009

I'm going to have to add anger management counseling to my weekly reginmen. I've always seen Tony Stewart as an honest man, and that steadfast image was shot down when it was confirmed that he will leave Joe Gibbs Racing after this year to be co-owner and driver of Stewart-Haas Racing.

Back in 2004, Stewart announced that he would retire from NASCAR after what is now his current contract. He lied. He said he had other things he wanted to do in his life that didn't involve NASCAR, and now it seems that he has given up on his dreams and will stay with NASCAR until he is an old man. He will probably die a bachelor, as we know that NASCAR and a wife can not exist simultaneously in Stewart's life.

The only satisfaction that we can find in this news is that, although Marty Smith took the credit for breaking the news, it was actually Lee Spencer who did so, so we won't have to apologize to Smith or David Newton or Tom Bowles.

I'm not worried about my credibility, because at Rev' Jim's RantsnRaves, we have always made sure that the reader knows that what is written here is strictly opinion and observation, and is not meant to be factual news. However, it would have been nice if Stewart had stuck to his word, and maybe we would have had some credibility here with which to work. But that would have changed the tone of this blog, and I don't know if that can be done.

Anyway, we can't expect any wins from Stewart-Haas next year, unless maybe they stay out on a gamble and it rains while their car in the lead. It isn't that Stewart or Newman aren't that good as drivers, they are, but without equipment, they will be back-markers, and until the time that is needed to build a winning team has passed, that is the only kind of equipment they will get. But that is only my opinion, and we all know now what my opinion is worth.

First of all, Stewart will need a crew chief with whom he can communicate. This is not to say Bootie Barker isn't a good crew chief, because he has proven himself on several occasions to be one of the best. But how would he get along with Stewart. As long as he was with Gibbs, Stewart had Greg "Zippy" Zippadelli to keep him focused, and to try to keep his temper in check. Since Barker has quite a temper himself, we could only imagine the following radio chatter between Smoke and Bootie:

Smoke: $%&*!
Bootie: $%#! @#$% &*#@ !!!
Smoke: I'm gonna get him
Bootie: Get the #$%@&*@&%#, we can't win now anyway. Make sure they can never drive that car again!
Smoke: $%&*@#*%$#@*&%@!!!!!

And so on. Perhaps sometime around 2011, Stewart-Haas could start negotiations with Hendrick for Chad Knaus. Perhaps they will dangle ownership of the other half of the team, and it could be Stewart-Knaus Racing. Wouldn't that be a dream team?

But we digress into the world of fantasy while in the denial stage of grief. Stewart may actually have to retire before he wins another race in NASCAR.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Live on type delay: The Firecracker (Coke Zero) 400

It is fitting that Dale Jarrett is the Grand Marshall for the "First Coke Zero 400" because he was the original member of the Coca Cola racing family. And he is still good at plugging his sponsors. We just expected a more enthusiastic "Gentlemen, start your engines!" from him.

The cars that qualified from outside the top thirty five in owners points dropped to the back of the field before the start, though they aren't required to by NASCAR. They will need to pit as soon as possible to put the belts on their engines that they ran without for qualifying.

And here's the start. Pole sitter Paul Menard maintains the lead for the first lap, and the lead pack settles in to single file.

By lap 2, as predicted the 21 car driven by Jon Wood has entered the garage to switch the car from qualifying trim to race trim. Jeff Burton's car is the last one in single file, and the cars behind him are running side by side. A few more laps and they are running side by side from Tony Stewart's ninth place and back.

The first six cars are still in single file, with Menard in first and Dale Earnhardt Jr just behind him. Stewart leads the second pack in seventh place. I still don't have a lap counter visible on my television screen. but this is an older set with issues. That creates an issue for me.

Back in thirteenth place, with ten laps gone, Jeff Gordon is in the middle of three wide racing, he gets out of that dangerous situation and takes the spot. He says his car is loose, but so is everyone else at this point.

Cool moment of the race part 1: Mark Martin bump drafting Tony Stewart. If only some of the other drivers in the race could see how the real pros do it. Actually something else that raises the Wow Meter is Dale Earnhardt, Jr's camo paint job. Awesome.

Dale Jr takes the lead on lap 18, and then Allmendinger cuts a tire and the first caution comes out. Pit road is open on lap 20, and everybody takes it. No fancy strategies here, it is just a matter of who is the fastest on this pit stop. Kyle Busch takes the lead from the pits.

Paul Menard is in second, Robby Gordon is third, but he will pit, and, get this, Dave Blaney is in fourth. Jr had some problems in the pits David Ragan restarts third.

Jr and Travis Kvapil team up and gain a bunch of spots shortly after the restart. There are a bunch of cars including Vickers, David Ragan, Jr, Regan Smith, and now Tony Stewart, all racing hard for the top five spots. Now we are seeing two wide racing. and play by play becomes difficult as so much is happening. After all this chaos, settles a bit, around lap 32, Kyle Busch is first, Jr is back in second, Dave Blaney is third, Brian Vickers in fourth, and Mark Martin in fifth. That was some wild racing for a while.

Lap 34 and Tony Stewart is making a move for the top five, with the help of Jeff Gordon, it looks like. He has been working with Jeff Gordon, but now Gordon is in the inside line, and Stewart on the outside, so they will change sixth position back and forth for a while. After a while Smoke moves into forth, and Dale Jr takes the lead.

Stewart and Martin are working together again, and Stewart moves into third. We are impressed by the racing that is going on back at the fifth position this is pretty wild. Mark Martin has settled for fourth place, but doesn't want to stay there, and races Stewart for the third position at every turn. The #20 car looks to be a bit stronger than the #8, but it is fun watching two of the best drivers ever race each other for position at Daytona. This doesn't look all that much like the restrictor-plate racing we have seen before. Martin and Stewart are racing hard without much drafting help.

Ryan Newman spins out and brings out the second caution of the race at lap 44. It looks like a one car incident.

Kyle Busch beats them out of the pits again, and takes first place, with Juneyah in second and Stewart in third. Again, the pit stops are all four tires and fuel, with no radical strategies. Boris Said was the only car one lap down, so he gets the free pass. Jon Wood is seven laps down after his car's readjustments. Allmendinger is out of the race.

Mark Martin restarts in fourth and Jeff Gordon is fifth. That line of Stewart/Martin/J Gordon should be formidable if it stays together.

It doesn't stay together long. Earnhardt, Smoke, and Martin move to the outside and leave Kyle hanging dry. Earnhardt takes the lead, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin stay in line with Jr, and take third and second, while Stewart tries to hook up with his team mate. the eighteen and the twenty cars fall back, though, so on lap 58, it's Earnhardt, Martin, and Jeff Gordon in the top three. Now Stewart can't find a friend and has fallen back to fifteenth. Johnson started in thirtieth and is now in the 11th position. After things settle down again, Kyle Busch makes it up to eighth place, Johnson is around ninth, and Sam Hornish is in tenth, and Stewart is in eleventh. Clint Bowyer is somewhere in that mix as well.

Behind the lead pack of three, there is still plenty of hard racing going on. Matt Kenseth and Elliott Sadler are battling for fourth, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson have also joined that mix. Stewart takes tenth from Bowyer, Hornish falls back to twelfth, and Kasey Kahne is also in the race for the top ten. By the time the commercial is over, Kahne has moved into ninth, Jimmie Johnson into seventh, and Tony Stewart is eighth.

A caution comes out as Greg Biffle and last week's hero, Juan Pablo Montoya get into each other. It looks like the contact came because Biffle didn't see Montoya and moved up on him, pinching him into the wall. Montoya's hero status is safe. At the time of the caution, Jr is first, Martin second, Jeff Gordon is third.

Earnhardt maintains the lead coming out of the pits, Jimmie Johnson crowds Jeff Gordon off of pit road and takes second, and Kyle Busch takes third. Tony Stewart is out of his car, replaced by JJ Yeley. We don't know what this means at this time.

Johnson, in the lead, is blocking aggressively as he does at Daytona, but Matt Kenseth gives Jeff Gordon a good shove on the outside, and now it is a close race for the lead between the three HMS team mates. Hamlin and Kyle Busch are right behind him.

Now there is some really wild stuff going on up front. Denny Hamlin lives up to his Daytona reputation and forces Kyle Busch to make an incredible save. Kyle finally gets his car under control and moves down to the apron. He comes out by himself in thirty-seventh way at the rear of the pack. No caution.

Things have settled down a bit, and Jeff Gordon leads, Dale Jr is in second, Jimmie Johnson third and Mark Martin is in fourth. After some more movement around fifth place, a different black car moves into fourth, and it turns out to be David Gilliland. He looks fast, and tries to move around Jimmie Johnson, and does, without drafting help. Now Gilliland is going for second, and passes Dale Jr on his own.

It turns out that Tony Stewart is being treated for "flu-like symptoms." It is probably better that he get out of the car than risk passing out in the middle of the race. We can remember what happened when Dale Earnhardt passed out in the car at Darlington, if we remember correctly, in 1997.

Montoya has rejoined the race, and Biffle has now joined Allmendinger in the "out of the race" list.

Elliot Sadler cuts a tire and brings out a caution on whatever lap this is. It seems to be just in time for Jeff Gordon, whose engine is acting up. Gordon once again has problems getting off of pit road, and Gilliland almost missed his pit box and had to be pushed back, so the top three will change after this all gets settled down. Kyle Busch took responsibility for the run in he had with Hamlin earlier, and Hamlin also took responsibility, because they have forgiven each other.

It looks like Earnhardt, Jr takes the lead with forty-six laps left to go. This is another wild and exciting restart. Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman team up on the inside to challenge Earnhardt's lead, But Jr is in line with Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin takes the lead. David Ragan, who has been very impressive in every race this year, has moved into second.

Jr gets back to the bottom and gets the lead back. Kyle Busch has made it all the way up to seventh place and is in the mix for the top five. Hamlin takes the lead again with the help of Jeff Gordon, but the 88 car is fast, and takes the lead before the lap is over, also with the help of Jeff Gordon. That fast #38 car with David Gilliland at the wheel has also made up some position after the pit stops, and he is influencing the lead pack. Good news for Yates. I bet somebody wishes they were sponsoring that car now. They would have had about $2 million worth of advertising just today if they had.

The race for the lead is still active, and Jr retakes the lead. With less than forty laps to go, we are talking fuel mileage now. Another caution, and all fuel mileage calculations are out the window. Gilliland got hung up on the outside, there was some contact with Ryan Newman, and, as cars checked up behind them, Jeff Burton gets turned. Newman and Burton's cars look as if they didn't get too much damage, so this could go down as more great saves.

Hamlin comes out of the pits first, and his team mate Kyle Busch comes out in fifth. Does anyone doubt the "Rowdy" kid's driving ability now? Probably, but we won't dwell on that, as we have officially declared Jr Nation off the hook over in the comments section at Do You NASCAR?

Michael Waltrip and Boris Said didn't pit and are scored in first and second places. David Ragan is penalized due to a refueling safety violation. Waltrip pits and Said restarts in the lead.

After the restart, Earnhardt emerges as the leader, Jeff Gordon is second, and before we get a run down, McMurray and Vickers back in twentieth spot get tangled up and another caution flies. Before the caution, we see that JJ Yeley, in Tony Stewart's car has make it up to sixteenth. That should help protect Stewart's points position, if nothing bad happens. We know the real racing is about to begin.

Kyle Busch will restart in third, Hamlin is in fifth, so that must mean Jimmie Johnson is in fourth. After some very tight racing in the front of the pack, Jeff Gordon comes out in the lead, with Kyle Busch in second. Johnson is in third, and none of these guys want to give anything up. Junior got shuffled all the way back to tenth. But now Johnson got shuffled back further. Hamlin gets turned and Ryan Newman found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they make contact and bring out another caution. We are doing a happy dance, because now we are certain there will not be a fuel mileage race now. Johnson has to pit, and will restart deeper in the field, but with fresh tires.

Good for JJ Yeley, he will hold twelfth position at the restart. Hang in there, Palindrome Guy.

21 laps to go, and it's Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Mark Martin, and before the lap is even done, there is another wreck caused by another chain reaction. Ragan got Yeley loose, but Yeley saves it. Behind them, cars get checked up and Jeff Burton and Casey Mears are the victims.

No matter, Yeley is restarting in eleventh. He has to stay out of trouble.

Seventeen laps to go. Gordon is still in the lead, Kyle Busch in second and Martin in third. Earnhardt is moving up with help from a big hit from behind. Kahne is trying to wreck Yeley who is trying to get away from him because the #9 car is about to lose a tire. Yeley is making me nervous, but it is not his fault, there are a lot of crazies around him.

Jr has moved into third, behind Kyle Busch, but I am still watching Yeley, hoping he can get a good finish in that 20 car. We catch our breath as another caution comes out, but this will mean another wild restart. That restart will be with less than ten laps to go. The Wow Meter is jumpin'. To paraphrase one of Tracy Morgan's Saturday Night Live characters, "This is crazy!"

Can we go eight laps without another caution? I wouldn't bet on it. There are about eleven drivers that can and want to win up front. I have to agree with Kyle Petty on that camera shot. Yeley is dirt tracking on the pavement, turning right to go left. Kyle Busch takes the lead with four laps to go but J Gordon is challenging him and on the outside. Jimmie Johnson spins, Yeley narrowly avoids trouble but does, and this looks like it could have been the big one, but wasn't. It looks like four cars got in trouble, but we don't count it as the big one unless at least seven cars are involved. It looks like Johnson got the worst of it. Yeley spun, but avoided serious damage. It will be a Green/White/Checker finish.

Kyle Busch starts in first, Jeff Gordon is second, Carl Edwards is third, Kenseth fourth, Gordon gets turned by Edwards. still green. door to door racing between Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards and cars are wrecking like crazy behind the leaders, It will be close between Busch and Edwards to see who won. Wow.

They have to check the scoring loops to see who was in the lead at the time of the caution. Kyle Busch wins. Wow again!

The people sitting in the front row of the grandstands once again get pelted with beer and beer cans, but there seem to be more cheers for the most hated driver in the sport than there have been in the past, not counting Sears Point. In fact, the boos and cheers seem to be about equal. I just wonder how long it will be before all the tracks on the Cup circuit ban coolers and canned beverages.

I can see why people like restrictor-plate races now. There was a lot of excitement here. It has taken me a long time to warm up to it, but Talladega caught my interest because it was a very good race. The entire final lap could be counted as The Big One, as just about everybody from eighth place back wrecked.

Unofficially, JJ Yeley finished twentieth, which drops Tony Stewart back to twelfth place in the championship point standings. Kurt Busch, who had so much trouble during Thursday's practice finished fourth. Matt Kenseth moves into ninth place with his top five finish.

Although we don't like to see races won under caution, which seem to be happening a lot lately, this was a pretty good finish. There was a high amount of drama as we were waiting on the scoring loop decision. The race could have been better, but for Daytona, it was great.

Oh, by the way, even though a Coke Racing Family driver didn't win, Kyle Petty announced that you can still get a coupon for a free 20 oz bottle of Coke Zero by logging on to www.cokezero.com before July 13th.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

A short rant and a long preview

I hope everyone had a great Independence Day. It is a day in which we remember that our nation was born in freedom and that we still enjoy that freedom to this day. We know that no society which is dependent on a government in order to exist can be free, and we celebrate that we are allowed to take personal responsibility, and to be individuals without depending on our government. Independence Day is a day of celebrating freedom, of the ability to do what we wish as long as we don't interfere with the freedom of others. Theoretically of course.

We can tell our politicians, whose very existence depends on our dependence on the government, to go jump in a lake, but we can't make them do it.

Political statement aside, Independence Day is our midsummer holiday, and we always find something fun to do; watch the local fireworks display, listen to a free live concert in the park, or patriotic music being played by the local orchestra, cook-outs with friends and family, an extended fishing trip, the list of things to do on the Fourth of July holiday is long.

For many years, the holiday has meant, for race fans, the Firecracker 400. As sponsorship became necessary to cover the costs of running a NASCAR event, the name has changed, but it will always remain, in our minds, the Firecracker 400, whether the sponsor is Pepsi or Coca-Cola.

Since the early 1980's, the Firecracker 400 has been run with restrictor-plates on the engines, as speeds on the 2.5 mile superspeedway at Daytona began to reach heights that presented danger to life and limb. The racing itself suffered as the restricted horsepower did not allow the cars to catch the lead car by themselves, and it did away with the ability to slingshot around a car in front. It also created the dangerous situation of cars racing near 200mph mere inches apart, and the terrifying "big one" that results from the slightest slip-up or mechanical failure.

Still, there are positives to that sort of racing, as we have been able to see just how skilled the NASCAR drivers really are, driving with precision to prevent those big accidents. We see the importance of co-operation as drivers team up to become drafting partners, to gain an advantage to make their way to the front. And, to be fair, the restrictor-plate racing at both Daytona and Talladega has become better as the teams have used years of experience to make their cars more competitive.

With the introduction of the new Sprint Cup car, we have also seen the return of the slingshot pass, which has brought some excitement back to racing at the Superspeedways. That is, one car can accelerate in the draft of another and pass the lead car by breaking out of the draft while it is accelerating.

We never know what to expect at a restrictor plate race these days as the mechanical characteristics of the cars are always changing as the teams try to make the best they can of the "flying brick," a reference to the handling attributes of the new car. The most recent restrictor-plate race at Talladega was not only one of the most exciting races of this type, but one of the most exciting all season, for example.

We won't see the kind of racing we saw at Talladega. Daytona is narrower and has an older, bumpier, and more slippery surface than the Alabama track. But that doesn't mean it won't be exciting.

There should be plenty of excitement near the beginning of the race, as many teams didn't really get a chance to check out their set-ups, due to the brevity of the first practice session and cancellation of the second, because of rain. This means that some teams will be entering the race with little idea of what they have for the competition, which can always lead to some excitement on the track.

We know that, at Daytona, a driver can start in the back of the field and make his way quickly to the front, and just as quickly to the back. We also know that there will not be one car break away from the pack with the lead, as we have seen at the intermediate class tracks. A car running by itself at Daytona is never a fast car.

In a way, the first 140 laps resemble a Formula 1 Gran Prix, in the matter that each team uses that time to plan and adjust to make their driver the one who leads the last lap, which is the most important one. It doesn't really matter who leads the rest of the laps. In fact, the leader at the beginning of lap 160 isn't necessarily the leader at the end of that lap.

The race should be fairly tame until the last twenty laps, the time at which individual drivers get aggressive, and partnerships begin to dissolve. By the last ten laps, there are very few partnerships left, as "give and take" becomes "take and take."

We will once again forego any attempt to predict the winner of Saturday night's Firecracker (Coke Zero) 400. Every time we have tried to do that on this blog, it looks like our favorite driver is about to win only to make a bad move to the inside on the last lap, or cut a tire, or get rained out while in the lead or having the best car in which to take the lead. But we be celebrating our freedom and enjoying the race.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

How Silly is Silly Season?

Dario Franchitti has found himself without a ride. This was something that was predicted by many in the media, but it wasn't entirely because of non-performance. According to Chip Ganassi the costs of running the team without a primary sponsor was too high.

This will undoubtedly generate even more grist for the rumor mill. Certainly, there will be stories about Tony Stewart finding a sponsor and getting a ride in the #40 car. His relationship with Chip Ganassi is well known, as it is Ganassi who has provided Smoke a car for the Indianapolis 500 in the past, when Stewart was doing double duty on Memorial Day weekend.

Stewart is already rumored to be signing with Haas/CNC, where he will be part owner and drive a car for the chronic backmarker, and wave some kind of magic wand that will suddenly make a top forty team a top ten team. While he is doing that, he is also rumored to be driving for Hendrick Motorsports in the number 5 car, since it has been announced that Casey Mears will no longer be driving the car next year. That alone should generate more rumors concerning Mears in the #40 car next year, even if Stewart is supposed to be in that car next year, according to rumor mongers, who have yet to explain how Smoke will be in the #5 car if that is where Mark Martin is supposed to be for 2009.

If Tony Stewart isn't driving the #33 car for Richard Childress next year, that may be the ride for Ryan Newman, who is reportedly unhappy with his Penske South team and is looking for a better offer before he renews his contract. Of course, everybody knows that Newman will be driving for the miserable #77 team for Haas CNC after Tony Stewart buys it and turns it around with his amazing powers. Or, perhaps Newman may want to stay with Dodge and drive the #40 car for Chip Ganassi.

There are those who would argue that Stewart could make a winner out of Haas. They say that he would have a better chance of winning a championship because he wouldn't be competing with Kyle Busch. What would happen to Busch if Stewart was with Haas that would keep him from being competitive is unknown at this time. They say that support for the team from Hendrick Motorsports would provide Haas with better cars. Hendrick is already providing as much support for Haas as they can without violating the four car limit, building their cars and engines. The only way they could do more would be to release Chad Knaus from the #48 team so Stewart could hire him.

Stewart would also need to find other personnel, such as chassis specialists, engine tuners, and car chiefs, since Haas is presently lacking in talent in those areas. Since Haas Industrial Systems sponsors the Haas cars, there may be enough money to get the best talent away from the teams that have it, but that is doubtful, as Stewart is also rumored to be looking for other sponsors.

But wouldn't Chevrolet Racing Division provide a lot of support, as they want Stewart back in their stable so badly they would lay off all the workers left in their North American operations to afford it?
Or maybe they would opt out of their support contracts with Hendrick, DEI, or Childress in order to give Stewart all the support he would need to turn Haas around. They wouldn't be likely to put more money into a new team, as GM has reported a fiscal loss for the third year in a row, and is rumored to be considering the withdrawal of support from NASCAR.

Of course, there is the often forgotten rumor that Stewart may stay with Gibbs to finish his contract through 2009, and then retire. Or he could still sign for three more years with Gibbs, but that is only if he can put up with "that punk Kyle Busch."

Is all this confusing? Of course. Obviously, not all of these rumors can be true, but we would like to think that if Tony Stewart has enough power to turn Haas CNC around, he could also drive for Hendrick, Ganassi, Childress and Gibbs all at the same time.

"Silly Season" has truly earned its name this year.