Saturday, February 28, 2009

How not to win at NASCAR fantasy games

The Rev loves NASCAR racing and loves to play as many NASCAR fantasy games as he can remember to enter each week, but he is not very good at it. We offer this item as a general "What not to do" guide for fantasy racing, compiled from personal failure experience.

Our reader may have noticed that Rev' Jim's RantsnRaves discontinued posting our weekly race previews during last season. This wasn't because we were lazy, but because we were so disappointed in how consistently wrong we were it was becoming embarrassing. Here are some of the methods of picking drivers for our weekly pick five/six/ten games that we have used (or not) to achieve such great mediocrity:

The Favorite Driver Method: Certainly our favorite driver has to be a good driver. If we keep picking him every week, he has to win and pay off sometime, right? Using this method, our pick five picks for the Shelby 427 at Las Vega Motor Speedway this weekend would be as follows:

Tony Stewart
Matt Kenseth
Elliott Sadler
David Stremme
Kyle Busch

Considering the track, this may actually be a good pick, if we are lucky.

The He Looks Good Method: This is similar to the "Favorite Driver" method, except it is based on the driver's appearance. It utilizes the same principle as "Dierks Bentley is a country music singer" or "Bruce Springsteen kicked a$$ at the Super Bowl Half-time." For example, Bentley sings a mixed style of Southern Rock/Popular Rock music with a barely discernible twang.But he looks good and we like country music, so he must be a country music singer. Or, as in the other example, Bruce Springsteen's half-time show consisted of him shouting out the lyrics to some of his greatest hits in a flat monotone--which, frankly, was very depressing to some of us who remembered seeing him perform when he was at his peak. But, he looked good, so his show was a smashing success.

Using this principle, the top five (for some fans) should be:

Kasey Kahne
Dale Earnhardt, Jr
Jeff Gordon
Elliott Sadler
Bobby Labonte

The Reverse Jinx Method:

This one always works for The Rev when he wants to score very low for a certain week. It is based on the premise that whoever you pick in your pick five, will have some kind of mechanical failure, accident, or penalty that will put him out of the race. This method should only be used if you want to see one or more of your favorite drivers have a better chance at winning, due to the fact that the least favorite drivers you picked didn't finish the race, and you really don't care about your fantasy racing results. Using this method, Rev' Jim's picks this week would be:

Carl Edwards
Paul Menard
Jimmie Johnson
Michael Waltrip
Joe Nemecheck

Of course, as always, when you expect the reverse jinx factor to come into play, it doesn't, so this could be exactly the way the top five turns out Sunday.

The Thinking Man's Method:

This is the most widely used method. You read what the "experts" think (Rev' Jim is a fanatical fan, not an expert), study the stats for each driver at the particular venue; find a trend in a driver's luck and experience that may prove favorable to his at the track in question; and try to form your own opinion based on what everybody else is saying. Using this method, The Rev's picks would be:

Jimmie Johnson
Matt Kenseth
Tony Stewart
Kyle Busch
Carl Edwards.

Note, this method hardly ever works for The Rev, and is the method he was using last year before he quit featuring the weekly race previews.

Last, but not least, The Astrological Predictions Method:
Clance' McClannahan makes astrological predictions on her blog "The Church of the Great Oval. Whether you believe Astrology or not, her predictions are often eerily accurate. Rev' Jim has not, however, posted his picks based on Clance's predictions for fear of the reverse jinx factor setting in and really screwing up the Multiverse. Instead we will follow the advice she gives, as quoted from this post at COTGO:

"Fantasy players, just close your eyes and pick a driver this week
It's anyone's dance in Vegas"

Here are some fun free weekly NASCAR fantasy games in which The Rev participates:

Driving Cash Racing--pays the winners at the end of the season. Not a big purse, but what do you want for free? Pick one driver in each of the top three series--Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series--who you think will win each race. Even if your driver doesn't win but leads the most laps, you will get a good score.

One and Done Pick one driver to win each week, and score the driver's points for that race. Once you pick a driver, you may not use him for the rest of the game segment. Simple and fun, just like Steve and Charlie, the owners of the blog. Great prizes, especially for a free game. Heck, the prizes are better than some games you have to pay to join.

NASCAR Challenge (Facebook url, but also available on Myspace) A pick five game. Choose your line-up. You may keep the same line-up or change it every week. No declared prizes, for bragging rights and fun.

NASCAR Tipping A pick 6 game on Facebook. For bragging rights only, but lots of fun.

Whether you play or not, this weekend should give us some great racing. The track is fast, the tires are good, for once, and there are 43 drivers who are out to win. Enjoy the races and good luck!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Live on Type Delay: 2009 Auto Club 500

Nine miles from the famed Irwindale Speedway, near Los Angeles California, is the Auto Club Raceway in Panoma. Realizing you are at the wrong track, you continue east on I 210 until for another nineteen miles, and you find Auto Club Speedway. That is where today's NASCAR Sprint Cup race takes place.

The Star Spangled Banner was not sung by an Adam Sandler impersonater, as was the case at Daytona, and everyone agrees that we must put Daytona behind us and move forward. It is green flag time in California, and that flag is waved by an enthusiastic and pretty young Brunette woman.

Pole winner Brian Vickers had to go to the back of the field due to an engine change after qualifying, so Jamie McMurray starts on the pole. He doesn't stay there long, as Jimmie Johnson leaps into the lead. Five laps later Johnson has gained one second on the rest of the field, Kyle Busch has moved from tenth to fifth position, Brian Vickers has moved up to thirty-fourth, and it is raining, so the caution flag flies.

Ryan Newman, who was Rev' Jim's pick to win this race, has to pit to replace the transponder he uses for team communications, then has to pit again because the end plate for his spoiler has fallen off. The light sprinkle, and the caution, continues until twenty-two laps are complete.

At the restart, Johnson does not get away so easily, as McMurray stays on his tail. Kyle Busch takes fourth place from his brother, Kurt, but Kurt gets it back. Now Greg Biffle takes fifth from Kyle Busch, and the top five now runs with Johnson in the lead, McMurray second, Jeff Gordon third, Kurt Busch fourth and Biffle fifth. On the next lap, Kurt Busch challenges Gordon for third, then takes that spot and gets second place from McMurray.

Thank you Darrell Waltrip for giving us a very good explanation as to why restrictor plates would be not good for racing at California. He saw the truck and Nationwide series races yesterday, too.

But the cars are pretty much spread out now, anyway, as the drivers and crew chiefs figure out what they need to do to make their cars more competitive., sponsor for Bobby Labonte is making their driver the new Kasey Kahne, featuring a desparate housewife who seems to have quite a bit of a "thing" for Labonte. We even get a glimpse into the blonde's filthy mind as she admits to having a "dream about a seven post machine and Bobby Labonte."

It doesn't seem as though offers links to porn sites, as their commercial suggests they might. That will have to be investigated in the near future.

The top five remain Johnson, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, and Jamie McMurray. Kyle Busch lurks in sixth, and we get another sprinkle caution on lap 43.

Kurt Busch takes the lead from the pit stops, and restarts in first on lap 48. Johnson is second, Jeff Gordon is third, Greg Biffle fourth, and McMurray fifth. Johnson retakes the lead before the lap is over. David Ragan has moved up to sixth, and Tony Stewart to seventh.

Jeff Gordon is racing Kurt Busch hard for second, going into the turns low while Busch goes high. This race for position will continue for a while. There is excitement further back in the field as Vickers is steadily making his way to the front. Matt Kenseth has made is way to the front and is now in fifth place. Four Roush cars--Biffle, Kenseth, McMurray, and Ragan--in the top ten at California. Why doesn't that seem unusual?

On lap 71, Jeff Gordon's persistence pays off, and he finally gets by Kurt Busch, while Johnson, the leader seems to be falling off some. Gordon gains on Johnson and cuts the two second lead in half. As they negotiate lapped traffic, Gordon is right behind Johnson and challenging for the lead. Jeff is using the entire track now, and literally runs between the wall and the grass. This is the wild driving Jeff Gordon of the good ol' days, and it is exciting. He takes the lead on lap 79.

Now all five of the Roush-Fenway cars are in the top ten, as Carl Edwards joins the party. Edwards has been moving up steadily through the field, from his starting spot of thirty-fifth. Again, no surprise.

Tony Stewart is happy with his car and is running steadily in sixth place.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 83. Johnson pits on lap 85, and Gordon gives up the lead to pit on lap 86 and asked for no adjustments. He knows his car the way it is, and loves it. Biffle gets five bonus points for leading a lap and pits on lap 88. Edwards leads a lap and pits, so, with 90 laps gone, Jeff Gordon retakes the lead.

After the pit stops cycle through, its Jeff Gordon ahead of Jimmie Johnson by two seconds. Greg Biffle is third, Kurt Busch is fourth, and Matt Kenseth is fifth. Tony Stewart is still hangin' in sixth, enjoying the ride. Biffle passes Johnson for second, and Kenseth takes fourth from Dirty Kurty Busch. Meanwhile, we are still having visions of that woman and a seven post shaker rig.

Digger is multiplying, as we now see several animated gophers at the same time. Don't look, kids, bad things could happen.

Those of us who watch South Park know that cute animated wild animals can be much more dangerous than they appear.

Lap 111 and Jeff Gordon is more than two seconds ahead of Biffle. Johnson is still holding third, unchallenged. Kenseth is fourth, and Kurt Busch is fifth. Tony Stewart, in sixth is more than five seconds behind that group, followed by the other Busch, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, and Mark Martin.

At lap 126, as the time for pit stops approaches, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch are battling for seventh. They are racing as racers, something that is always exciting to see, especially among racers of this quality. They are racing cleanly, but with no sign of giving the other an inch.

Carl prevails on lap 129 and takes seventh, as many more cars begin to pit under the green flag. Jeff Gordon gives up the lead with 123 laps to go, and Biffle pits with him this time. Biffle takes the lead out of the pits, and holds the lead while the pit stops cycle through. It's a whole new ballgame, but the same old Jack Roush show at California.

116 laps to go, and Jeff Gordon is catching Biffle, as Biffle works his way through lapped traffic, and that lapped traffic is fighting hard to stay on the lead lap. Johnson is still in third, but way back, Matt Kenseth is fourth, Kurt Busch is fifth, and the other Busch has made it back to sixth, past Stewart, who is in seventh. We believe that Carl Edwards must have lost some time in the pits.

Now we get a caution for rain and the back runners on the lead lap--Juan Pablo Montoya, David Stremme, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr breathe sighs of relief as they are now able to stay on the lead lap. All the leaders pit. Now Matt Kenseth is the first off of the pit lane.

Blogger's note. There are probably some fans out there who think this race is "boring." Writing the play by play as the race unfolds makes it fun, and the race is anything but "boring." The lesson here is to get as involved in the race as you can, just as many of you would watching the Super Bowl or the college basketball playoffs that pre-empt so many of our favorite programs.

148 laps into the race, we are still under caution. There has been some attrition due to mechanical problems, but all the cars that started are still on the track. There have been no accidents, and it's been a clean race so far.

Matt Kenseth leads the field to the restart, Greg Biffle is second, Jeff Gordon is third, Kurt Busch fourth, and Jimmie Johnson is fifth. Kasey Kahne drives the first car one lap down and is in front of the inside lane. As the green flag waves, Kenseth drops to the bottom and maintains the lead, while Gordon makes a move on Biffle, and takes second place. Johnson is now back in form, and quickly makes his way up to challenge Biffle for third, takes it, and is now racing his team mate and mentor, Darth, er, Jeff Gordon. Jeff races him hard, and maintains second for a lap or two, then on the next lap, with 94 to go, Johson goes high and passes Gordon.

Now Kyle Busch is still lurking in sixth, and is stealthfully sneaking up on the top five. Tony Stewart has fallen back to tenth.

As the predictable engine problems begin for some of the teams, another caution flies for rain, and the leaders pit again. Tony Stewart stays out and takes the lead. Here we go with the fuel strategy again, coupled with the uncertainty of finishing the 500 miles due to rain. Kenseth is, once again the first off of pit road.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Mark Martin also stayed out during the pit stops. Earnhardt, Jr was one of the cars reporting engine problems, and changing the spark plug wires didn't seem to fix anything.

Now, with two to go until restart, Stewart, Montoya, Martin, and the other cars that stayed out earlier pit, and Kenseth gets the lead back.

At the restart with 71 laps to go, it's Kenseth, Johnson, Gordon, Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle. Kyle Busch restarts in sixth and quickly takes fifth place form Biffle, but Da Biff just as quickly takes that position back, then grabs fourth place from Kurt Busch for good measure.

62 laps to go, and Biffle is about to take third from Johnson. The Busch brothers are racing for fifth, and the younger Busch takes it. Fun stuff there.

With 55 laps to go, Jeff Gordon is seriously racing Kenseth for the lead, and Biffle is in their as well. With 54 to go, Gordon takes the lead on the inside,but Kenseth doesn't give it up that easily, and passes Gordon high. Then Gordon goes high and retakes the lead, and holds it, while Biffle takes second from Kenseth. Three seconds back, Kyle Busch is racing Jimmie Johnson hard, and this is some great racing. Johnson is driving the heck out of his car, nearly going sideways in the turns and holding his spot. Busch goes low, then high, and takes fourth.

Meanwhile, Mark Martin's engine finally gives out. Bad luck for other drivers, too, as Kevin Harvick's streak of finishing races is ended when the right front tire on the 29 car blows, and he hits the wall, bringing out a caution. Dale Jr takes his car to the garage as his engine has expired.

Kenseth takes the lead again coming out of the pits. David Stremme leads a lap while the others pit. With one lap to restart, Stremme pits.

With 33 laps to go, Kenseth restarts in the lead, with Jeff Gordon second, Kyle Busch third, Denny Hamlin fourth, and Kurt Busch fifth. Matt gets another great restart, but Gordon is right on his tail. If Kenseth wins the race, it will be attributed to his pit stops and restarts, as well as his overall driving expertise. Or because Gordon couldn't pass him.

With 19 laps to go, Gordon is making a move. He pulls up along side Kenseth, but Kenseth holds on for the lap. Gordon tries again, going high, but coming out of turn four, he gives up ground, and Kenseth increases his lead to nearly a second. Nobody else in this race matters--third placed Kyle Busch is four seconds behind them, and everyone else is way behind Busch.

We have to remark that it was great watching Gordon and Kenseth racing for the lead. We also have to admit that Auto Club California Speedway is for the experienced driver, because that is who has performed the best today.

Gordon isn't finished yet. With six laps to go he is gaining on Kenseth. This could be a very exciting finish. With four to go, lapped cars may make it more interesting. But now it looks as though Gordon has used up his tires, as he is falling back again.

Matt Kenseth takes the white flag, and it looks like he will make it two in a row. Great work for the Daytona 500 driver. This is one way to prove that he wasn't just lucky to win the 500.

Jeff Gordon finished second, Kyle Busch third, Greg Biffle fourth. Kurt Busch finished fifth, followed by Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Jimmy Johnson, and Brian Vickers.

California doesn't feature the greatest racing in the world, but it does offer a challenge to the drivers, and when there is racing, it is good racing. We had fun covering this race today, and it was anything but boring.

Even though they don't sponsor us, we would like to thank and Budweiser for some very entertaining commercials.

Anything but that

Kyle Busch has achieved what no other driver in the upper tier of NASCAR has done--that is to win two races in the same day. He didn't just win them, he dominated, leading ninety-five of 100 laps in the Camping World Truck Series (CWTS) race, and most of the laps in the Nationwide Series race as well, leading all but seven of the 150 laps around the 2 mile long "D"-oval.

The Nationwide race featured plenty of racing behind the leader, so there was some action in racing for position. The only threat to Busch's lead, however came at the restart with sixteen laps to go. Carl Edwards had beaten Kyle Busch out of the pits, and restarted in the lead. Busch, however had the faster car, and before the lap was over, he had given Edwards a sound of his chrome horn and retaken the lead. It was bye bye Busch after that, and Carl, fell all the way back to sixth place. As Kyle extended his lead, Kevin Harvick took second, and Carl Edwards made his way back to fourth. That is as far as he got. Joey Logano was running in third, and wasn't about to give that spot up. That race for third was one of the most exciting battles of the race, with Edwards making a move, and Logano countering it like a professional with many more years of experience than he has. Logano was soon able to put Edwards behind him and focus his sights on Harvick, providing us with even more racing excitement. Kevin Harvick held his spot, though, as Kyle Busch crossed the finish line nearly four seconds ahead of the combatants.

The truck race, earlier in the day did not have much to offer as far as excitement. Kyle Busch took a huge lead from the start and never lost it. Driving a truck that was set up so perfectly that Gabi DeCarlo--competing in her first truck race--could have won in it, the race was a Sunday drive for Busch, while the field became strung out so far that nobody was challenged for position by anyone.

Which brings us to our rant. If NASCAR has to make changes in the series that usually features the most exciting racing among the top three divisions, why do they want to change it to make it less exciting. The tapered spacers that have been required in all trucks in all races since last year, may make the racing safer and save fuel, but on long tracks like the Auto Club (California) Speedway, it limits what drivers can do during the race. To make matters worse, the rear end gear required by NASCAR for the race was high enough to hamper the ability of the trucks to close on other trucks and be able to race them properly. Racing should be about racing, not how long the trucks can go around the track without crashing.

The effect of the spacer is hardly noticeable in short track races, but not good at all on a long track like California. It is hard enough for the Sprint Cup cars to keep up with each other, so making the trucks so that they can't race is a very bad idea.

One suggestion would be to not have the trucks race at Auto Club. Nobody was there to watch the race, anyway, so why not move it to a smaller venue, nearby. Perhaps nearby Irwindale would be an idea date for the trucks for the second race of the year. After all, the series got its start on the short tracks, and the series seems to race best on short tracks. It may even be easier to sell tickets to the smaller venue, while the truck series as it should be promoted.

Another suggestion would be to allow lower gearing while switching to a smaller engine, without the spacers. The speeds would be below the danger limit for the trucks, as NASCAR sees it, and they would have a better ability to close on each other, and thus, race each other. The problem with this would be that none of the manufacturers want to admit to having a smaller engine that would be appropriate for NASCAR style racing, and the switch could mean added expenses for some teams.

But why has NASCAR turned away from competition in the truck series? With the economic downturn of late, the organization is worried that the field of entrants would be too small, because of expenses, so, they decided to forget about competition, forget about promoting the series as "racing the way it ought to be," and try to "help" the teams to better afford the costs of racing.

One way they saw fit to do so was to limit the number of over-the-wall pit crew members to five, and to limit each pit stop to be for either tires or fuel, but not both. In practice, as seen during the Stater Brothers 200 truck race, Saturday, it is hard to see how this saves teams much money at all. In fact, as we have seen in many of NASCAR's money saving schemes, it may end up costing the teams more money.

When faced with a "tires or fuel" situation at a point in the race where position is crucial, most teams will go with fuel only. The tires could be worn, and ready to blow, but it is better to take that chance, in the mind of the competitive racer, than to run out of fuel while leading the second-to-last lap. We could easily see an increase in late race accidents, thus creating added costs to the teams in repairing wrecked equipment.

The pit rule also creates a situation in which added opportunities for pit road accidents occur. We saw this during Saturday's race, as three trucks got tangled up on the second stop of a caution period. To increase the number of pit stops for each team during a single caution increases the risks of having pit road incidents.

In response to the announcement of the new rules, veteran truck racer/team principal Rick Crawford had this to say, "If it doesn't save me $250,000 there is no point to the rule."

He is right, there is no point to the new pit stop rule. The teams are already limited to three sets of tires--including practice, qualifying, and the race--per event. That was a money saving scheme. Furthermore, the amount of fuel a team uses during each event is going to remain the same, even if the number of fuel pit stops are limited. Although there may be some fans who would find a gigantic crash near the end of the race due to bad tires exciting, it really doesn't mean that the racing would be better.

What NASCAR does need to do is promote the Truck Series as a unique series featuring the best in short track racing. They should limit the venues to tracks that are 1.25 miles or less in length, with the exception, perhaps, of Darlington. A way could be found to bring in more fans, and thus, more revenue. They could also bring in some more sponsors for a higher purse--admittedly difficult in these times, but possible--to make the race more attractive to more participants. They could do anything but what they have done to make the racing less exciting. It would probably be better for the teams in the long run.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Live on Type Delay: The Daytona 500

The Daytona 500 is touted as the biggest race of the year for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Indeed, it kicks off the season, it shows us what the teams have, and what they've been doing during the off-season, and it does have a prestigious history. And after two weeks of preliminaries and media hype, it's Day has arrived.

A few unimportant questions about the pre-race programming, first. Do we really need a "Digger" weekly animated series? What is "country" about "country music" these days? Was the guy singing the "Star Spangled Banner" trying to sound like Adam Sandler?

Anyway, it hasn't rained yet, the cars are rolling off of pit road, and the crowd is going wild. So is Rev Jim. The thrills are about to begin.

One more question before the start, though. Does anybody get the impression that they are going to "let" Mark Martin win? I would certainly hate to be the Kyle Busch who takes away the win if Mark is leading in turn four of lap 199.

Martin Truex, Jr, from the pole, led the first lap, with Jeff Gordon in second, running around the track in the inside lane. On lap 2, Mark Martin takes the lead, passing on the outside with help from Kyle Busch. By Lap 5, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth have both moved up nearly twenty positions, after starting in the back of the field, and Kyle Busch soon takes the lead.

On lap 8, Aric Almirola spins out, and the first caution of the day flies. On the restart, it's Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, and Carl Edwards in the top 5. The green flag flies on lap eleven.

Since we are stuck with TV only this week, it's commercial break time. The AFLAC commercial wasn't too bad, but the UPS ad with David Regan driving the car into the building and riding the elevator, in the car, was awesome.

Two minutes of racing and another commercial break.

Competition caution on lap 25 to check tires. The restart is on lap 30 with Kyle Busch, Dale Jr, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon in the top five. Edwards falters at the restart, Gordon moves all the way up to third, and Johnson moves into the top five. The field splits into two rows, with Tony Stewart, who had restarted in ninth, after starting the race in the rear of the field, leading Carl Edwards on the inside, and everyone else on the outside, with Kyle Busch still leading.

Wow lap 35 and we have already had a lot of racing. Earnhardt is now leading the outside line, but drops back a little. The inside line consists of race leader Kyle Busch, and the rest of the top three Jeff Burton, and Matt Kenseth. Earnhardt is in fourth place, racing on the outside with help from Jeff Gordon.

Lap 39 now, and Earnhardt and Busch are racing wheel to wheel, with Kenseth behind Busch, and Denny Hamlin behind Junior. Exciting stuff going on. Does Dale Jr have the lead for lap 40? It was close, but Kyle Busch is scored with the lead. Now on lap 41, Busch moves up in front of Earnhardt, Jr, to give the outside line a try, but Kenseth is moving up, so Busch moves back down.

Busch is the wild one, so far. He moves up the track and down, switching lanes as each line becomes faster than the other. This is crazy, but it sure is fun to watch.

Finally, on lap 45, Kyle Busch and Dale Jr pull away from the rest of the pack, with Busch in first, and Jr in second. A few car lengths behind them, Tony Stewart has taken third place, leading the rest of the pack.

With Stewart in the lead of the rest of the pack, they catch Jr and Kyle on lap 50 and fall into single file. On lap 52 it's Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Carl Edwards, and Jeff Gordon. Now things seem to have settled down a bit. Lap 54, and the front four have checked out on the rest of the field, and Tony Stewart follows Jr on the outside, as he takes the lead from Busch, and then Stewart drops down to the bottom in front of Busch and takes the lead from Jr. Caution, as Travis Kvapil hits the wall. It looks like Kvapil is going to the garage. Sam Hornish pits, his car is overheating and tajpe and debris are removed. Pit stops on lap 56, and the cleanup crew is on the track.

The running order has changed in the pits. Jr missed his pit stall on the first try, and had to take another lap and return to the pit lane. Hornish takes the lead, having exited the pits while the rest of the field was entering. Stewart is second, being the first one out of the pits after Hornish, Kyle Busch is third, followed by Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards. Hornish had to drop back, and Stewart takes the lead, running on the outside. Kyle Busch is threatening on the inside line. Allmendinger moves up to third, behind Gordon. Allmendinger falls back. Jamie McMurray and Denny Hamlin have hooked up on the outside, and McMurray moves into third.

Lap 56 and everybody is two by two. Gordon leads the outside line, while Stewart maintains the lead on the inside. Gordon makes a move on the outside in turn four, with help from Kyle Busch, but Stewart, with Hamlin right behind him, maintains the lead. The next lap features nearly identical action, and neither Gordon not Stewart show any sign of giving up the race for the lead. Now both the radio and television have simultanious commercial breaks.

Normally, we would expect the race to be tame at this point. If the action continues the way it has been, this could be a long post. When the commercial is over, Gordon has the lead, Kyle Busch is second, Jamie McMurray is third, Denny Hamlin in fourth, and Stewart fifth, in single file. Then Stewart tries to lead a charge in the inside lane, but doesn't have enough drafting help, and falls back to seventh. These guys are racing as though it was only three laps to go, and we are still 25 laps away from the halfway point. Ryan Newman had to pit for a loose wheel. Good idea to pit before something bad happened.

The front four have moved ahead of the rest of the field, with Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Jamie McMurray in the top four. Caution, as Joey Logano and Scott Speed contact each other on lap 88, just beyond the exit of turn four. It has been a horrible week for Joey, but we cut him slack, as this is his first superspeedway race in a Sprint Cup car. For that matter, it's Speed's first superspeedway race in a Sprint Cup car. Now, as they return from the commercial and show the replay, it looks like Scott Speed had brushed the wall and rebounded into Logano, which shot the kid down the track and into the inside wall.

Simultaneous commercials again, and the radio broadcast seems to be fading, which is why we were TV only at the beginning of the race.

Kyle Busch left the pits first, and takes the lead. Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray, and Matt Kenseth will follow him to the restart at lap 86.

Busch and Gordon momentarily step out by a few lengths, and the top five are single file, as Stewart tries to lead a charge on the inside lane, further back. Three wide now, and it is hard to tell who is where.

By lap 89, Gordon has fallen back to fourth, and they are going three wide for that position. That's nothing, around Jimmie Johnson, back around twelfth place, they are going four wide through the trioval. They settle down a bit, then four wide again coming out of turn 2. Johnson almost loses it, and makes a great save.

After everything gets somewhat sorted out, on lap 92, the top five are Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, AJ Allmendinger, Matt Kenseth, and Martin Truex, Jr.

Lap 95, and Gordon has led a charge to second place. We have to be wondering now, if this race is so wild before half way, what will the last lap be like? Lap 97 is when Gordon tries to take the lead, but Busch blocks him and maintains the lead, followed by Gordon, Hamlin, Edwards, and Stewart.

Stewart takes fourth from Edwards at the halfway mark. Things still haven't settled down behind them. On lap 102, that wild bunch is now racing for fifth. Simultanious commercials again, so we miss whatever action ensues from that.

On lap 109, the front twelve are in single file. Kyle Busch is still leading, followed by Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, and Jeff Gordon. Dale Earnhardt, Jr is challenging Gordon for fifth. Now the top four make some distance ahead of the field. Jr and Gordon are still racing, Gordon gets hung out, and Earnhardt, Jr takes his position. Gordon continues to fall back. Gordon seems to be having problems, and takes to the pits on lap 114. Jimmie Johnson also pits, so if Gordon needs drafting help, it is on its way. Both the 24 and the 48 cars seem to be having handling problems.

Hornish, Jr pits with steam issuing heavily from under the hood. Juan Pablo Montoya, and Brian Vickers also make green flag pit stops, now.

David Stremme's right rear tire went flat, and his right rear quarter panel has been destroyed, and the fifth caution comes out, on lap 118. The tire exploded while Stremme was in front of a very heavily populated group of cars, and, miracalously, everybody gets by him without incident.

Oh, man, Dale Earnhardt, Jr has to take a penalty for working on the car while the tires were outside the box. At Daytona, all four wheels have to be inside the line of the pit box, before the car can be serviced, and Junior had the front right tire barely over the line. They are being held in the pits by NASCAR. It wasn't Kyle Busch's fault. Just thought that should be mentioned.

After the pits, Elliott Sadler is first, his teammate Reed Sorenson is second, Kyle Busch is third, Matt Kenseth is fourth. After the restart, Vickers falls in line on the inside lane, in front of Dale Jr, because both of them are trying to race back to the lead lap. Jr has to drop down below the yellow line to avoid Vickers, then, as he comes onto the track, he runs into the back of Vickers, Vickers shoots up the track, and IT'S THE BIG ONE, ELIZABETH!

Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Scott Speed, Jamie McMurray, and Carl Edwards all take damage. There are cars spinning in the infield everywhere. Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Robby Gordon were also involved in the carnage. .

Hamlin's, Johnson's, Junior's, and Edward's teams are able to effect repairs in the pits, so they are still in the race, so to speak. Just watch, this will probably turn into a victory for the #48 team.

Now it looks as though there will be a rain delay. Only a short delay, and restart after 132 laps. Sadler in the lead, Sorenson is second, then Kenseth, Burton and Allmendinger. Dale Earnhardt, Jr starts in 31st place, the first car one lap down.

On lap 139, Paul Menard (surprised?) makes contact with Jeff Burton, and then richochet's off of several cars like a pinball caught between bumpers, and another caution comes out. Hey, Dale Jr fans, Junior gets the free pass. McMurray's team has completed repairs, and the #26 car is back on the track.

Elliott Sadler is in the lead and wishing for rain. Matt Kenseth is second. While the caution is still out, however, more cars pit.

Restart with 58 cars to go, and the top five are now Sadler, Kenseth, Sorenson, Allmendinger, and Stewart. I believe, with one more pit stop neccessary, they should be setting up for the finish. I was wrong. Matt "Kensiss" Kenseth hooks up with Kevin "Out of Nowhere" Harvick to challenge for the lead. Kensiss takes the lead with Harvick right behind him, and another caution flies as Almirola and Hornish make contact further back in the field, and Almirola careens into the infield. Those cars were packed close, and it could have been much worse, but somehow, mass carnage was avoided. Johnson gets the free pass.

It is irritating when DW says "Kensiss" for "Kenseth." It is just as bad as Rusty saying "Kennifs."

52 laps is still outside the pit window, barely, so nobody on the lead lap pits. The Fox crew is attributing that strategy to the possibility of rain, as well, and now it is raining. The top five are now Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, and Elliott Sadler. If the race restarts, it is still anybody's race.

The red flag is being displayed. Rain delay. It is still early, we may get to see the race continue.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr, interview. He is not happy. He has had a very bad day. Even Jeff Burton is mad at him.

The race has been called, and Matt Kenseth is the winner! It is always good to see another first time winner at the 500. We would have liked to see a shootout to the end, but Nature didn't agree.

It was an adrenaline-pumping race anyway, and perhaps we couldn't have taken any more excitement, so Nature was just looking after us. The Daytona 500 has always had some very wild moments, but this was one of the wildest.

Somehow, because the race was called early, we still feel robbed. Congratulations to Matt Kenseth, and his crew. We should also offer congratulations to AJ Allmendinger for his third place finish, and to Tony Stewart for getting a top ten finish (eighth) in his first points race as an owner/driver.

A fallen Star

Matt Hawkins lost his life Friday after an incident involving the accidental discharge of a firearm. He was a true rising star, with a loving family, friends, and the respect of racers much older than he. He was 21 years of age.

The following is republished from April 19, 2008, in tribute to this young man who was lost to this world way too soon.

That Kid From Canton, Georgia
Imagine you're a young racecar driver, earning your way up through the stock car ranks.
You began 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.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Duel of Dreams

Thirty-seven days ago, legendary NASCAR crew chief Tommy Baldwin saw an opportunity and siezed it. Team owner Bill Davis had liquidated his interest in the team that bore his name, and left behind a Toyota racing chassis or two and a seasoned race team. Baldwin decided the time was right to have another go at fielding his own team. He had a sponsor, and his driver would be Scott Riggs, who was displaced by the Stewart-Haas deal.

Jeremy Mayfield had gone all of 2008 without a ride. He was left out of the unprecedented silly season action that took place throughout all of 2008 and the first month of 2009. With 23 days to go until the Daytona 500, Mayfield decided to take the bull by the horns and start his own team. He gathered what he could of the recently unemployed victims of cutbacks from other teams, squared his shoulders, and entered the fray.

AJ Allmendinger had a ride, then he didn't, then he did, and then things became unsure. Nobody in the garage area can argue that the former Champ car star isn't Cup material. Even the King, Richard Petty, has declared that Allmendinger "gets it."

Allmendinger's agreement to drive for Richard Petty Motorsports didn't even become official until February 2, when it was announced that he would drive the #44 car for RPM for at least eight races, with hopes that a full sponsorship would come with whatever successes the team can produce. Making the starting lineup for the Daytona 500 would be an important success, but AJ would have to race his way in.

The Daytona 500 is the only race on the Cup schedule that has preliminary qualifying races. The Gatorade Duels are two 150 mile races that place the drivers in their starting grid positions (outside the front row, which is determined by time trials) and give those who didn't qualify on time a chance to race their way into the race. After the top 35 cars in owners points,. and the four drivers who qualified on time filled the grid to 39 drivers, there were still fourteen drivers who had to race for the final four spots in the field. It would take not only skill to overcome the odds of missing the race, but also some luck and a lot of guts and determination.

In the first race of the Duels, Tony Stewart and Bill Elliott were the "Go or Go Homers" who had guaranteed themselves a spot in the Big Show on qualifying time. If one or both of them were to finish the race ahead of the other go or go homers, then one or two other drivers would be moved in on their times. Scott Riggs was not one of the drivers who would have made the race in that manner--he had no way to the Big Show other than racing his way in.

The #36 Tommy Baldwin team for which Riggs was driving had no regular team members. All of the pit crew and support team were working without pay. Joe Nemecheck was in a similar situation, racing in the #87 Toyota with his own team, and just as determined as Riggs to make the show.

Nemecheck did have a better chance of making the race if both Elliott and Stewart finished in the transfer positions, but Elliott fell back and out of the race for transmission failure, and the rest of the race was pretty much between Nemecheck and Riggs for that final transfer position. Nemecheck had a decent car, and though Riggs would progress as far toward the front as fifth place, at times, he almost always fell back, putting Nemecheck in the transfer position.

At one point during the race, Tony Stewart, who had no actual team mates with whom to partner in the first Duel, dropped back to team with Riggs, perhaps as a gesture of thanks for putting the car that is now Ryan Newman's #39 in the top 35 in owner points. Perhaps it was to make up for replacing him as a driver on the new Stewart-Haas team, or a combination of the two. At any rate, Stewart helped Riggs get back toward the front of the field, where he needed to be. With four laps to go, Riggs restarted in fifth, but fell back toward Nemecheck's car, which was showing improvement after adjustments. Nemecheck found himself poised to pass Riggs in the final laps, but Jamie McMurray, driving to the left of Nemecheck, got loose going into turn one and caused Nemecheck to falter and fall off the pace. Riggs finished in eighth place, giving him, and Tommy Baldwin, his team owner, a spot on Sunday's starting grid.

Tony Stewart's second place finish gave Ragan Smith, who would drive the Furniture Row car in the second Duel, a starting position on qualifying time for Sunday's race. Nemecheck was left hoping and praying that Smith or Travis Kvapil would finish in a transfer position in the second race.

The second Duel was even more dramatic for the go or go homers. Jeremy Mayfield had put his team together using the former BDR "sister" Toyota to the one that Riggs drove in the first Duel. Like Baldwin's team, the crew that had prepared his car and worked his pit were unpaid volunteers from among those who had been laid off from other teams. Mayfield's jack man, working in Kirk Shelmerdine's pit during the first duel, was involved in a pit road accident and had to be taken to the hospital.

Mike Wallace, by all accounts, is one of the hardest drivers to pass in a restrictor plate race, and Boris Said looked like he had one of the transfer spots sewn up, running towards the front for much of the second race. But Said had tire issues later in the race, and the transfer positions were opened to anyone. During pit stops under what would be the final caution of the race, Mayfield's Crew Chief, Tony Furr made the gutsy call of changing two tires rather than four. Mayfield restarted with eight laps to go in the top five, and fell back no further than ninth, giving him a spot on the Daytona 500 grid.

AJ Allmendinger didn't have a deal until February 2, when he signed with Richard Petty Motorsports to drive the #44 car, which, at the time of this writing, is sponsored for only eight races this season. It was very important for Allmendinger to make the Big Show, in hopes of being able to attract more sponsorship in these difficult economic times. But his team could not seem to get the car to handle well, and Allmendinger had troubles for most of the race. Toward the end of the race, his RPM team mates, Reed Sorenson and Elliott Sadler, dropped back in a magnanimous show of teamwork to pick up the #44 car in the draft and help him towards the front, past a hard driving Mike Wallace. A relieved Allmendinger finished tenth, just behind Mayfield, thus making the starting grid for Sunday's Daytona 500.

For Nemecheck, Said, and Wallace, it was unfortunate heartbreak to not make the show in which they have been mainstays in the past. But for Riggs, Mayfield, and Allmendinger, it was the kind of stuff of which dreams are made.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

'09 should be a wild ride

Rev' Jim's RantsnRaves always tends to be late for the party at the beginning of each season, and we have yet to change that habit. However, rather than missing the pre-season picks party altogether this year, we decided that we will be fashionably late.

2009 will bring many surprises to those who expect the expected. With all the team mergers and partnerships, and with some of the driver changes, more drivers and teams are actually in a position to win races than before. And, because of the heightened level of competition, some drivers and teams who are expected to have a successful season, may not even make the Chase for the Championship.

This year, we may see as many as 23 different race winners over the entire season, so consistency will be more important than ever in making the Chase. Though the ban on testing at NASCAR sanctioned tracks will not improve the racing at the 1.5 mile venues, there will be no one team that dominates at the type of track that makes up the majority of venues on the schedule. This will hurt some teams that have been powerful on the intermediate class tracks, and will help others.

Scott Speed should take Rookie of The Year honors, hands down this year. He not only has a year and a half of ARCA experience, but made a respectable showing in the Truck Series last year with one win, four top fives and nine top tens in sixteen starts. He should be a quick study in the Sprint Cup Series, with more previous racing experience than some two or three year drivers in that series. We may even expect him to win a race or two during the regular season, and may even make the Chase for the Championship. He should also replace Kyle Busch as "The Most Hated Driver" in NASCAR.

Joey "Sliced Bread" Logano, on the other hand, will falter. He may get some top tens, and some top fives, but the Joe Gibbs Racing wonder boy has been moved up way too quickly, with little experience in NASCAR. That will lead to some anxiety, and some frustration. Logano may earn some respect from other drivers, but he will end the season knowing that he will still have a lot of work to do.

Other Surprises

Bobby Labonte, in the #96 Hall of Fame Racing entry under the Yates Racing banner, will be the comeback story of the year. Driving in substandard equipment for the past few years does not mean he is not a top-notch driver. The 2000 Winston Cup Champion will be the same kind of "Kick in the Behind" for Yates Racing that Jeff Burton was for Childress in 2006. He will get a win or two, and with Roush-Yates Ford power, he will be able to show the same consistency that awarded him his first Championship. Expect Labonte to make the Chase.

An early season surprise will be Tony Stewart. Many writers, including the one writing this post, expressed strong doubts of the wisdom of Stewart leaving Gibbs at this point in his career. We doubted that he could be successful, at least in the near future, as an owner-driver. Smoke took that as a challenge, and, as is usually the case when Stewart accepts a challenge, seems to be up to it. Assailing Daytona Speed Weeks with a brand new car and a brand new team, Smoke showed us all that his Stewart Haas Racing team is ready to run for the lead right out of the box. This should also mean a good season for his team mate, Ryan Newman. We gladly eat our earlier words of doom and gloom for NASCAR's newest owner-driver.

David Stremme is back. He was showing some remarkable improvement during the last full Sprint Cup season he ran in 2007. In spite of his reputation for crashing, he was involved in only four wrecks that year, and could not be faulted for three of those. He will be Penske Racing's Ace in the Hole this year, coming back to show that he is, indeed Championship material.

Who won't make the Chase?

Thirty-one drivers won't make the Chase for the Championship, but under this banner, here are a few who may be expected to make the cut-off, but probably won't.

If reigning three-time champion Jimmie Johnson's team follows the same path that has been successful, the #48 team will not even make the Chase. "Peaking at the right time" may be peaking too late for "Knaus and Kompany" and they will fail to make the Chase by just a few points.

As much as we love Matt Kenseth, it will be a stretch to expect him to make the Chase this year. In the era of heightened competition, he will have to be more aggressive than we are used to seeing him to make the cut to the final twelve. Though he did show some uncharacteristic aggression last year, he would have to sustain that level, something he may not have the heart to do.

Denny Hamlin's lack of self confidence will plague him this season, and he won't even be an also-ran when it comes down to race 26. It isn't that he isn't a great driver, because he is. Rather his penchant for folding under pressure will bite him this season.

Others we may expect to see in the Chase

Mark Martin, now driving the #5 car for Hendrick Motorsports, should be able to take advantage of this opportunity by winning at least one race, and perhaps even making the Chase. He has always been a skilled driver, and is one of the most dangerous to pass, in spite of his reputation for being a "clean" driver. He will win some races at intermediate tracks, most likely Charlotte (Lowe's) and Texas, and may even get a win at Richmond or Darlington. He will be one of the top contenders for the Championship this year.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr will make the Chase this year, by sheer will and determination on his own part, not on the part of his fans. He is a racer, and he will use his equipment to the maximum of its endurance. Hopefully, the Hendrick shop has figured out how to build a car that will stand up to his abuse, and he will have his best season yet.

Kyle Busch will once again be the top winner during the regular season. When he is on, he is unbeatable, and his ability to drive a car that doesn't feel or look right, will remain his signature, even as he matures. He will again be the points leader entering the Chase, but will once again fade towards the end of the season.

Carl Edwards will continue to show off his exceptional talent, as well as his driving skills. He will enter the Chase right behind Kyle Busch in the points standings.

It has to be Kevin Harvick's turn. Things are going well for him--with some very strong showings in '08, and a hard fought Bud Shootout victory--and he seems to be poised to be a multiple race winner this year. His team is known for its consistency, and, as noted earlier, consistency will be very important in 2009.

In spite of appearances, those of us who follow the drama of The House That Jack Built, know that Jamie McMurray is not the proverbial "red-headed step child." of the Roush-Fenway organization. That honor falls to Greg Biffle. If Da Biff can overcome the handicap of driving Roush's second rate equipment--something he did with authority toward the end of the '08 season--he will be in the Chase. This could very well be his final year with Roush, but there will be no problem for him in getting a ride for 2010, especially if he finishes the season in the top ten.

And your 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion

That would be no other than Jeff Gordon. He will not only make up for his unproductive season last year, but will be out to kick the proverbial donkey this year. We know he is not letting '08 get him down, and will use that as a learning experience. Remember, the greatest drivers never stop learning, and we will not see Gordon stagnate. During last Saturday's Bud Shootout, he seemed to have the COT--that has caused him problems up to now--under control. He not only expertly threaded his way through a mess of spinning and wrecking cars untouched--a feat that required pure instinct--but controlled what other drivers on the track did. He put at least three drivers into the wall, for example, and it was the other drivers' fault that they ended up there.

This is the Jeff Gordon of the old days, the one we haven't seen since 2001. If he can continue to drive like he did Saturday, for the entire season, he will be a Jeff Gordon to fear. The drive for five is definitely still alive.

In recap, our picks for the Chase drivers at the end of the season are, in no particular order:

Tony Stewart
Ryan Newman
Scott Speed
Kevin Harvick
Mark Martin
Dale Earnhardt, Jr
Bobby Labonte
Greg Biffle
Carl Edwards
Kyle Busch
David Stremme
Jeff Gordon*

*Projected Champion.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Diversion is necessary

A blog that had become important to us during the regular NASCAR season is no more. John Daly's The Daly Planet, which served as a fixture among our weekly internet stops, said good bye last Wednesday, Feb 4.

The Daly Planet was dedicated to covering the coverage, and was read by fans and by the media types--which made it not only an interesting and informative read, but a great discussion forum in the comments section.

John explains:

The Daly Planet is ending operations on Wednesday, February 4th. This was an online project originally created to watch the new NASCAR TV partners get through their first season back in 2007. There were certainly some memorable moments that year.

We decided to continue for year two and the story was tremendous growth through fan interaction and the cooperation of those same TV partners.

We can understand that. He produced the blog as long as he felt he could serve the purpose and original intent of the site. But, as I read on, something caught my attention and made me think about our own purpose and intent:

Priorities are rapidly changing in the world right now. This includes professional sports from top-to-bottom. NASCAR is deeply affected and talking about the pros and cons of TV broadcasts suddenly has much less meaning.

It seems to me that John was saying that diversions are not important in these difficult economic times.

I would argue to the contrary--it is in tough times that diversions and entertainment are needed the most. It is alright to worry, and there are certainly many things we should worry about, but, to prevent mass psychosis, a society needs to have something with which to take a break from the worries of daily life.

That has been true about civilization from the very beginning. The Greeks had their drama, public discourses, and athletic competition. The Romans had their orgies, gladiators, and lions(okay, not all diversions were a good thing) and also some public discourse. During the Great Depression, movie theaters thrived, because people needed to get away from the worries of daily life and be entertained. And the latest movie always made for good conversation.

Today, we have all different sorts of diversions, and we need them now more than ever. Sure, we can worry about what is going to happen to the workers who get a job repairing government buildings after the job is complete and the money runs out, but, one can only spend so much time worrying. We should be happy we have our blogs and forums, and other sites available for public discourse, and the sports and other entertainment we enjoy to relax a bit.

Rather than being an excuse to stop talking about the things that entertain us and keep us occupied in our non-worry time, the economic woes we are experiencing should be an excuse to continue our discourses on the sports and entertainment we love.

NASCAR racing always gives us something to talk or write about, so let's celebrate it. We can worry about what the government is going to do to us, but the government will do what it will do, no matter how much or how little we worry about it. We need the time to spend not worrying, so we might as well enjoy it.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The first sign of Spring

Winter is over. The sight of racing cars on the track at Daytona, the smells of fuel and tire smoke, the roar of powerful engines and excited crowd, and the announcement, "Gentlemen, start your engines!" are all sure signs that Spring has officially arrived.

What is it about cars turning left that gives us so much a thrill? It that's all you see when you watch a race, then you will probably never be a race fan. Go ahead and watch guys standing in a field and knocking each other down, for two hours, or bounce a ball on a wooden floor for an hour, or watch men stand in a ball park and scratch their private parts for three hours, if that is your thing. You'll never understand auto racing, because your idea of auto racing is as accurate as those desciptions of football, basketball, and baseball.

Race fans don't watch cars going in circles. We watch our favorite driver thread the needle to suddenly gain three or for positions. We watch our team beat another team out of the pits during green flag pit stops. We watch our driver miraculously wend his way through a mess of spinning and crashing cars without a scratch on his own car.

We like to see a team and driver gradually improve the handling of a car throughout the race, so that near the end of a race which began with the car running near the back, our driver has a chance to win. The feeling one has everytime his or her favorite driver wins a race is as exhilerating as when a football fan's favorite team wins the Super Bowl. The difference is that a race fan's Super Bowl can happen several times during a season, rather than just once at the end of a season.

Saturday night's Bud Shootout featured a good example of what we race fans like to watch. On the final lap, twelve drivers in their cars all moved up to try to take the lead and the win at the same time. And at the end, there was only one winner.

There is always something exciting to watch during a race. For instance, I was watching to see how my favorite driver's new team performed during their racing debut. They did much better than I thought they would, when I was believing it would take a long time for that team to show any promise of success. I was wrong, and I am happy for that. Tony Stewart finished third in a very hard fought battle, showing a lot of promise at the beginning of the season for a team that was formally a perpetual back marker.

Springtime is wonderful!