Tuesday, April 28, 2009

David Poole will be missed

David Poole was an important element in satisfying our fix for daily NASCAR news. He was the NASCAR writer for the Charlotte Observer, as well as an active participant on That's Racing.com. He also hosted the Sirius Satellite Radio program The Morning Drive.

He made himself accessible to his readers and fans, often participating in the That's Racing fan forums, and presenting his views in his own blog "Life in The Turn Lane," allowing comments even from those who strongly disagreed with him and were wont to insult him. We feel that a piece of our passion for the sport is missing with his passing. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family.

For more information, please read the item on NASCAR.Com

Image credit: The Charlotte Observer

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Live on Type Delay: The Aaron's 499

Love it or not, restrictor-plate racing is here to stay. Certainly, we don't see the racing at Talladega as being the same thing as we see at the 1.5 mile intermediate tracks, which isn't the same as what we see at the short tracks, which isn't the same as we see on road courses, which isn't the same as we see at Talladega and Daytona (thank-you "Scooters" Scooters, by the way, is no relation to Digger).

Indeed, to many of us mashing the pedal and waiting for something to happen isn't even what many of us consider racing. It really is racing, however, of the sort that requires a different set of skills from both the drivers and their teams, and in that sense, it is a facet in the myriad of accomplishments the drivers and their teams have to master in order to be the best at what they do.

What we can usually expect is anything. The restrictor-plates cause the cars to run at nearly 200 mph while only inches apart. The slightest driver error, the most minute mechanical fail, or any other element that could cause the car to get out of line could result in a very big wreck.

Note, to save time for those who may not want to read the entire post, there is some text in bold script to mark the highlights.

The green flag waves, and Juan Pablo Montoya leads the field to the start. Before the first lap is complete the cars are going three wide as they form lines. Montoya leads the first lap with his team mate Martin Truex, Jr. in his draft. Dale Earnhardt, Jr takes the lead on lap 5, with drafting help from Denny Hamlin. Then, on lap 8, shortly after Montoya has retaken the lead, only to be passed by David Ragan, that wreck we mentioned before the race started happens.

Jeff Gordon tries to move down to avoid David Gilliland, who is making a fourth lane on the outside. At the same time Matt Kenseth is moving up to avoid a car that is moving up on his inside. The two make contact, and many, many cars are unable to avoid the accident.

Gordon, Gilliland, Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Scott Riggs, Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, and Casey Mears are all involved in the wreck. We think that Digger may possibly have been a casualty, as we haven't seen him yet. No matter, there have to be a lot of fans out there who are as disappointed and frusterated as the drivers with the "Big One" happening so early in the race.

The race restarts on lap 14. Some of the cars that were involved in the wreck were able to make some repairs during the caution and join the restart. Because of the nature of the type of racing, where the lead and the top five positions are usually in a constant state of flux, it is almost pointless to list the top five at the green, but Joey Logano is on the point. He is soon overtaken by Martin Truex, Jr., who is overtaken by Juan Montoya on lap 18, who is overtaken by Kurt Busch--who was, remember, involved in that wreck. Denny Hamlin takes the lead on lap 20.

It's futile to try to keep up with the lead changes and try to watch the race, so while Live on Type Delay tries to catch up with the action, we will try to stick with the most significant events.

Jeff Burton leads on lap 24, and then reports alternator problems, and Kurt Busch retakes the lead on lap 27, and we get a caution for debris on lap 28. Kyle Busch takes the lead out of the pits and the restart is on lap 34, with Elliott Sadler in second, Michael Waltrip third, Matt Kenseth--another crash survivor--in fourth, and Martin Truex, Jr in fifth.

Lap 42 features a heroic and terrific save by Michael Waltrip, as he cuts in front of Marcos Ambrose, who taps Waltrip's behind in a show of man love for his team mate and boss. Waltrip misses the outside wall, then shoots into the infield and misses the inside wall as well. With a show of some uncharacteristically great driving, Waltrip hits nothing, and his car comes out unscathed.

On lap 46 Kyle Busch leads the field at the restart, followed by Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears--who recovered nicely from the Big One--and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Jeff Burton's crew changed his alternator, and he is scored two laps down. Joonyer takes the lead on lap 48, and Matt Kenseth takes the lead on lap 50. Kevin Harvick returned to the race on lap 49, but returns to the pits on lap 54, being unable to maintain a reasonable speed. Dale Jr retakes the lead on lap 53, and by lap 57 everyone has settled into single file behind him. That relatively safe condition lasts only a short while, however, as Kurt Busch loses control and takes an excursion through the infield that is very similar to the one taken by Waltrip earlier. The caution flies on lap 60.

The restart is on lap 64, with Martin Truex, Jr leading, Sadler second, Dale Jr third, and Kyle Busch fourth. Those four cars break away from the field, and the field is mostly single file. Hamlin and Kenthis--DW has taken elocution lessons from Rusty Wallace, and has learned not to call Matt Kenseth "Kensis"--form a line of four cars on the inside.

Hamlin takes the lead on lap 75, then loses it as Montoya moves out of his draft, and gets bumped to the lead by Dale Earnhardt, Jr on lap 77. Earnhardt, Hamlin, and Montoya all trade the lead,.with Hamlin prevailing on lap 80. On lap 82, while the field is going four wide, Dale Jr and Brad Keselowski avoid disaster, as both fall below the yellow line, trying to avoid each other. Jr makes it back in the same general position he held, but Keselowski falls to the rear of the pack. On lap 83 Sam "How 'Bout That?" Hornish takes the lead. How 'bout that?

On lap 86, there is a caution for debris on the backstretch. Paul Menard takes the lead by staying out while everyone else pits, and leads the restart on lap 88. He is followed by Denny Hamlin, Elliott Sadler, Joey Logano, and David Reutimann. Hamlin takes the lead on the next lap.

At the halfway point, things have settled down a bit. Jeff Burton got the free pass on the last caution and is now only one lap down. Since he is the only car one lap down, the next caution will put him back on the lead lap. On lap 103 the top five are Hamlin, Reutimann, Stremme, Vickers, and Sorenson. There are 33 cars on the lead lap, with Carl Edwards and John Andretti bringing up the rear of the field. 49 laps back, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon are racing for the 37th position.

On lap 111, the inside line is formed by Dale Jr, Jeff Burton, and Matt Kensis, Kenthis, or Kenseth. Jr takes the lead with Burton in his draft. They gain a gap on the rest of the field. On lap 114, disaster is narrowly avoided by Reed Sorenson as he cuts a tire and makes it safely to the pits, with no accidents and no caution. Martin Truex, Jr takes the lead. Joey Logano momentarily takes the lead on lap 117, but Truex gets it back. Vickers gets the lead on lap 121, and it looks like we may have a green flag pit cycle for the first time in the race. Caution on lap 124, and Burton is back on the lead lap. He raced his way back to that lap, so Paul Menard gets a lap back.

Kyle Busch gets out of the pits ahead of Jimmie Johnson, while Carl Edwards leads a lap by staying out. Jeremy Mayfield also stays out and is in second. Hey, we almost forgot the #41 car was in the race, but there he is and he has stayed on the lead lap the entire time, so far. Those guys pit, and on lap 127, Kyle Busch leads the field at the restart, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex, Jr, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, and Brian Vickers.

Man it is fun to watch The Most Hated Driver in the lead at a restrictor plate race. He is constantly moving up and down the track to keep the others behind him. Then they settle into three wide. Michael Waltrip has made it into fifth. Kyle Busch is on the inside line, and Denny Hamlin is on the outside, with David Ragan in the middle. Busch thrills us with some more three-wide driving, and Keselowski pushes Elliott Sadler into the lead on lap 134. That three wide racing that Kyle Busch does by himself never seems to work out well in the long run. At some point, he has to let someone by, as he is elsewhere.

Kurt Busch takes the lead on lap 137, Denny Hamlin on lap 140, Casey Mears on lap 141. Jeff Burton--who, remember, was three laps down after electrical problems--takes the lead on lap 143, with help from Dale Jr, then Jr passes him in the middle and takes the lead. Kurt Busch momentarily takes the lead, but Jr gets it back as a caution for debris flies on lap 146.

During what could be "The Money Stop," there were several different strategies in play. The restart is on lap 150, with Kurt Busch in the lead, Sam Hornish, Jr. second, Casey Mears third, Montoya fourth, and--check this out--Da Biff is fifth.

On lap 151, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr move the inside line from mid-pack to the front, and on lap 154, Dale Earnhardt, Jr pushes Kyle Busch to the lead. Did you see that, Junior Nation? Don't panic, Jr knows what he is doing.

On lap 157, as if to let the tension and expectations grow slowly, the entire field is in single file. The top five is Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Jimmie Johnson, and Brian Vickers.

Kenseth is making a move on lap 168, on the inside, with Dale Earnhardt, Jr in his draft. He takes the lead on lap 169, then Kyle gets it back, much to his detriment. You know how Jeff Burton would never spin someone on purpose? Kyle must have really made him mad, as he spins from a bump by Burton. It took a long time for him to spin--he almost saved it, while Truex spun while the cars in front of him checked up, but, Busch finally spun out in turn three, bringing out the caution on lap 172.

Kenseth leads the restart on lap 175, with Earnhardt, Jr second, Burton third, Kurt Busch fourth, and Joey Logano. On lap 177, Denny Hamlin pushes Ryan Newman to the front of the field. They speed into the lead, and build a gap. As we know, gaps close quickly in restrictor plate racing.

Just when you think things might be over, it isn't. In the fashion of a classic horror film, action in the midfield of the pack results in Denny Hamlin making contact with Juan Montoya, Montoya making contact with Robby Gordon, and the Big One--Part Deaux happens. Jimmie Johnson's car is one of the ones that gets taken out of the race because of the wreck. "It sucks racing here," the disappointed reigning champion declares. For him, certainly, he had a chance to take the points lead, and that chance got brutally taken away.

The most important restart in the race comes with four laps to go. We have to stop typing to watch. We will stop to groan as Tony Stewart's #14 car, trying to restart in eighth, fails to restart.

With two laps to go, it is almost exactly like the finish of yesterday's race, with Newman leading and Jr pushing him around the track. But on turn one of the white flag lap, Carl Edwards, with Brad Keselowski's help takes the lead on the outside. Newman and Jr can't catch them. Going into the tri-oval, Keselowski fakes to the outside, and Edwards moves up to block. Keselowski takes the inside, and is moving forward as Edwards tries to come back to the inside. Keselowski is already there, and Edwards makes contact with the '09 car with his left rear quarter panel. This sends Edwards spinning and airborne. The flying #99 car flies across the hood of Newman's car, taking all the body work off the front of the #39. Edwards car hits the catchfence, spewing debris in all directions, and falls back to the track.

Thankfully, Edwards isn't hurt, and he gets out of his car and runs across the finish line to finish the race. But Keselowski is the winner, the eighth driver in NASCAR history to get his first career victory at Talladega.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr finished second, after an incredibly good race, and Newman managed to get his wrecked car across the finish line in third. Marcos Ambrose finished fourth, and Scott Speed got his first Sprint Cup top five finish in fifth. Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers, Joey Logano, and Jeff Burton round out the top ten.

Kyle Busch negates any good will he may have gained recently by bumping Keselowski while he is performing his victory celebration. He couldn't find Jeff Burton, so he went for the first black painted car he could find. Actually, according to the Fox Sports Booth Bunnies, Keselowski drove up to Kyle's car in celebration and got bumped. I was busy typing, and didn't see what happened, so I will leave it up to the reader to decide what happened, if it is really that important.

This was truley a unique race with an amazing finish. There was no way we could have guessed the outcome of the race until the final 100 feet. Wow.

Update: Reports are that 8 fans in the grandstands were injured by flying debris, but none were seriously injured.

Kyle Busch was minding his own business on the cool down lap, when the victorious Keselowski spun into him while doing donuts.

And Digger seems to be okay.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Can't get enough of The Kid

Mark Martin deserves every bit of the respect and accolades he has recieved. Even though he has not won a single championship in the top tiers of NASCAR racing, he has truly earned the title of "Legend." It is always good to see a legend in action, and especially good when that legend wins a race.

Martin's first full time Cup season was in 1983, when he raced for car owner Bud Reeder, alternating between Pontiacs and Buicks. For most of the season, his sponsor was Apache Stove, but, after having to sponsor his car at Dover that year, he picked up Jolly Rancher as a sponsor. He had 8 top tens out of 30 races, with 2 of those being in the top 5. After 1983, he raced limited schedules in Cup with various owners, including Morgan-McClure. In 1987, Martin completed only 83 laps at Charlotte, in the Cup series, but raced full time in the Busch series for Bruce Lawmaster. In 27 races he had 3 wins, 5 top fives, and 13 top tens. His Cup career probably would have been finished had his performance in the Busch Series--as well as his performance in the ASA--not caught the attention of Jack Roush.

In 1988, his first full Cup season with Roush, he had 10 top ten finishes, with three top fives and one pole. He won his first Cup victory in 1989, at Rockhingham. Since then , he has won a total of 36 Cup races, including last Saturday's race. Add to that his record setting 48 victories in the Nationwide aka Busch series and his 7 wins in the truck series, and he as a total of 91 wins in the top tier divisions of NASCAR. That is legendary by any definition.

On Saturday, April 18, 2009 Mark Martin became the oldest man to win a race in a major racing series. We can be sure that won't stop him from winning more.

Stats via Racing Reference.info

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Racing Weekend in Review--NASCAR Phoenix Weekend

The NASCAR racing all took place on Friday and Saturday last weekend, but that didn't mean the racing weekend was over.

The new rules in Formula 1 are turning things upside down. With a new car design, new tire design, and a slower top speed, all the teams in the world's most prestigious racing series have to start from square one. Gone is the dominance by team Ferrari and team McClaren/Mercedes. Now we see the start up team of Brawn Racing--created from the ashes of Team Honda, and racing with Mercedes power--and their driver Jenson Button dominating. I remember many F-1 fans claiming that Button wasn't good enough to be racing in Formula One.

Early Sunday morning, when most of us were asleep, the Bejing Gran Prix was run in wet weather in China. Sebastion Vettle, who surprised everyone in his first win last year with Toro Rosso, took the victory. This was the first victory for Team Red Bull, the "big brother" of Toro Rosso, which is. of course, Italian for "Red Bull."

Mark Webber, Vettle's Red Bull team mate, finished second. Points leader Jenson Button finished third, keeping his podium percentage at 100%.

Add to that, the Formula One "COT" if that is what we may call it, has put the racing more in the hands of the drivers. Hmmm, that sounds familiar.

Yesterday the ALMS Gran Prix was held at Long Beach, California. ESPN/ABC decided to broadcast the race today. Although we already knew that racing legend Gil de Ferran won the race--his first since coming out of retirement--we had to watch anyway. ALMS can give us some of the most exciting street course racing there is, and Saturday's race on Sunday was no exception. With around sixteen laps to go, Boris Said, driving a Corvette in the GT 2 class, was blind-sided by a BMW driver trying to make a heroic, but ill-advised pass on the inside, after Said had already made his commitment. Both cars spun, but continued the race. With six laps to go, Said's Corvette burst into flames. Boris exited the car safely, but the race ended under caution.

Team Corvette, running their final US race in the GT 1 class, took the awesome and dominating C6.R to victory one last time. Although they will still have a presence in the GT-2 class of ALMS, and will race in GT 1 at Le Mans, this feels like the beginning of the end for the last American factory team in motorsports.

Many race fans claim outrage that NASCAR dropped Rockingham from its schedule nine years ago, and that the new Sprint Cup car has ruined racing as they knew it. So, one would expect that when Andy Hillenberg bought the race track at Rockingham, and landed the ARCA Carolina 200 as the main attraction, that these disgruntled fans would flock to that track to watch the aero-cars race. One would think that they would congregate to watch racing untainted by the competition, publicity, and high dollar sponsorships that they complain about in NASCAR. One would apparently be wrong. Less than 10,000 people showed up for last years event, and there were only about a thousand this year. If there was an ARCA race today at PPIR, I bet there would be at least 20,000 people there. I could almost guarantee it.

Anyway, most of the young ARCA stars from last year have moved up to the NASCAR developmental programs, or elswhere. Michael Annett and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr have moved to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and Annett is still making a good showing in the Rolex Grand American Series. Justin Allgiaer is the new Next Great Racer in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. We did see Ken Schrader dominate most of the race, until he ran out of fuel with less than one lap to go.

All of the cautions during the race came in the first 100 laps, and apparantly that was just sorting out the chaff, because the final 100 laps were caution free, which actually caused more problems than Schrader running out of gas. Tires aren't supposed to last that long, especially at Rockingham.

The drivers who hung in there, so to speak, for that final 100 laps were race winner Sean Caisse, Up and coming NASCAR Star and fourteen time AMA Supercross champion Ricky Carmichael--who had tire problems in the closing laps of the race, and finished three laps down--and Brian Ickler, who is Kyle Busch's developmental driver. Ickler stayed on the lead lap for most of the race, but tire and fuel problems forced him to make a pit stop late in the race, after he was lapped. Only six cars finished on the lead lap.

If there isn't more enthusiasm for this race in South Carolina, I don't think it will be there much longer, and race fans will once again lose Rockingham. This time the only fingers they can point will be at themselves.

The street course at Long Beach, CA is the oldest active street course in the USA, at the age of 35. Sunday marked the first time the IRL held a race there. It also marked the return of Helio Castroneves to racing, after he was acquitted of six counts related to tax evasion. Claiming that he was out of shape and out of practiced, he still managed to finish seventh in the difficult race.

Risky pit strategy and full course cautions combined to help Dario Franchitti take the victory, as well as earning Danica a fourth place, after starting at the back of the field. It was almost as if their teams could predict the full course cautions, because the strategy of "pitting just before the caution" worked. It was an interesting race, and watching the long, low slung racing machines go around the infamous hairpin nose to tail was fascinating. We knew that was a recipe for disaster if one of the leading cars were to slip up, and at one point of the race, it did happen, collecting 5 cars whose drivers were unable to avoid the big one.

Also interesting was watching Danica hold her own against road ace Will Power (love that name!). Street racing has not been a strong point for Danica, but she has obviously been practicing. She actually gained time on Power, in some of the most difficult parts of the course. A great racer never stops learning, and although she is not yet a great racer, Danica Patrick will not stop learning. Say what you will about the temperamental, titillating, and tiny bundle of eye candy, but, if Danica continues to improve her racing skills, she will one day be an IRL Champion.

Before we finish this post, we have to remark some more on Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 500 from PIR. Night racing is fun to watch, and the drivers, for the most part, like it. It provides a challenge for the crew chiefs in keeping up the car set up with the changing track conditions. The racing always seems better at night.

However, we would not recommend that NASCAR add even more night races to the schedule. For one thing, the folks on the East Coast can not, or perhaps should not, stay up that late. Night racing in NASCAR is fun as long as it remains somewhat of a novelty in the top series. Otherwise, we may find that too much of a good thing is just too much.

Besides Mark Martin's outstanding domination of the race, Tony Stewart, David Reutimann, and Sam Hornish, Jr all had notable performances. Tony Stewart finished in the runner up spot, scoring his third consecutive top five finish, and making his top ten score 6 out of 8 races. This is with a team we believed would be slow in building to success, but, so for, Smoke has proven us wrong. We are very happy that we have been proven wrong.

David Reutimann is showing up these days as "The Franchise" for MWR. That nickname is more than just a lark. Racing for a team that is definitely thought of as an underdog, he has 2 top tens and one top five so far this season. He finished eighth Saturday, and currently sits ninth in the points standings.

In the "Where did that guy come from?" category, Sam Hornish, Jr finished ninth, scoring his first top ten in his Sprint Cup career. Hornish, a three time IRL series Champion, reportedly turned down a chance to return to the IRL in favor of continuing his education in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. His learning curve has risen much slower than AJ Allmendinger's, but he has been plugging along, learning little by little. Who knows? Along with Allmendinger, Gilliland, Martin, Stewart, and Smith, he could become one of the feel good stories of the year.

And with all the turmoil in our world, we can use as many feel good stories as we can get.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Live on Type Delay: The Subway Fresh Fit race at Phoenix

The Digger cartoons are already running repeats. Perhaps they need a sponsor. We would suggest Riddex. Digger would be a great spokesrodent for a pest control company.

The guy who doesn't need a sponsor now is AJ Allmendinger. His ride is now sponsored to the Fall Richmond race. We have confidence that if Allmendinger makes it into the top twelve by then, sponsorship will be no problem.

Things are tough for up and coming drivers these days. Drivers like Joey Logano and Aric Almirola do not have the luxury of testing at NASCAR sanctioned tracks, as have others before them. Almirola's Earnhardt/Ganassi Incorporated ride has been suspended indefinitely, due to lack of sponsorship. Rumors are flying that Joey Logano may not finish the season in the JGR #20 car. Both of these drivers have a lot of potential--they just need a chance to get acclimated to the Sprint Cup level of competition.

JGR has insisted that they are sticking with Logano, and that his ride is safe. In fact, things are looking up for "Sliced Bread," as he gained his second career Nationwide Series race last week at Nashville, in impressive fashion.

Today's economic atmosphere in NASCAR would be a great reason to advocate that the Nationwide Series regulars stay in that series for a minimum of four years. Of course, that would be up to the teams owners, and not NASCAR. NASCAR's official description of the NNS is "A series in which up and coming NASCAR stars of the future match up against veteran NASCAR stars from the Sprint Cup Series."

Oh yeah, the race has started.

Mark Martin starts on the pole, with Kyle Busch on the outside. Right behind them are Kurt Busch in third, and Jeff Gordon in fourth, while Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart are in row three. Martin gets a good jump on the start and holds the lead.

By lap 37 Kyle Busch has fallen back to eighth place, while Mark Martin has led every lap. On lap 42, Tony Stewart threads the needle between the lapped Elliott Sadler and the third placed #24 car. This move requires a lot of trust, and this time it pays off, as Sadler moves up the track to give him room, and Gordon lets him by. DW remarks that Jeff Gordon wouldn't put a bumper into Stewart at this point of the race, forgetting that he said, during the Martinsville race three weeks ago, "Gordon doesn't race other drivers that way."

Caution on lap 54, as Sterling Marlin hits the wall and damages the right side of his car. Everybody pits, except Michael Waltrip stays out to lead a lap and get five points.

The restart is on lap 61, with Martin in first, Kurt Busch second, Denny Hamlin in third, Tony Stewart fourth, and Jeff Gordon is fifth. Stewart gets third from Hamlin a few laps later, but almost loses control of his car in doing so. He saves it, and pulls in line in front of his former team mate. Jimmie Johnson enters the top ten on lap 66, and is on the move. Six laps later, he is in eighth place. Martin Truex, Jr, who started in the 26th position, moves into ninth place on lap 78.

Kurt Busch is creeping up on the race leader, Mark Martin, on lap 92, and Tony Stewart joins the fray. Martin does some great blocking, forgetting that his fans believe that he doesn't race that way, and holds the lead, while Stewart takes second on lap 95. Kurt Busch takes second back on lap 102, and there is a caution for debris. Bobby Labonte stays out to gain 5 ponts for leading a lap, and Kurt Busch gets out of the pits first to take the lead. Martin will restart in second. Greg Biffle moves up to third, Denny Hamlin is fourth, and Jimmie Johnson is fifth, and Jeff Gordon is sixth. Tony Stewart will restart in seventh, having had a little trouble during the tire change in the pits. Restart is on lap 109.

The graphics going into the commercial, with Kurt Busch in the lead, plays up the "class clown" image Dirty Kurty has made for himself. Whether that is the real Kyle Busch or not, we really don't know. It just seems forced sometimes. It seems forced most of the time. But it's okay for one to reinvent one's self, and more power to him.

On lap 112, we have some wild stuff going on in a race for eleventh position, with Martin Truex, Jr, Kasey Kahne, and Johnny Montoya going three wide through lapped traffic. Exciting stuff there. Meanwhile Dale Earnhardt, Jr is having handling problems with his car and is losing positions. But the sun is setting, and handling characteristics are going to change. We will not give up on Jr, yet.

Stewart moves back into the top five on lap 124, and the top five are now Kurt Busch first, Mark Martin second, Greg Biffle third, Jimmie Johnson fourth, and Tony Stewart fifth.

Mark Martin is closing in on race leader Kurt Busch, but then, on lap 138, we get a caution as David Stremme loses it in turn two, and spins into the infield. Some drivers, especially the ones with the initials "D E J" really needed this caution.

Jimmie Johnson loses eight positions in the pits. That is uncharacteristic for the 48 team, but we are certain they will recover.

Kurt Busch and Mark Martin want no changes, Tony Stewart gets air pressure adjustments, Martin Truex Jr takes two tires only and gets off the pit road in second. Restart on lap 144 with Kurt Busch in first, Truex, second, Mark Martin third, David Reutimann fourth, and Tony Stewart fifth.

On lap 150, Jeff Gordon's car has developed a tire rub under the left front fender, after contact with Denny Hamlin. His prayers are answered on lap 152, as AJ Allmendinger spins and hits the wall.

Restart on lap 156, with Kurt Busch first, Mark Martin second, Martin Truex, Jr third, Tony Stewart fourth, and David Reutimann in fifth. Stewart takes third from Truex on lap 165. Kyle Busch has moved into the top 5, and takes fourth. On lap 167, Michael Waltrip gets loose in turn four, and collects Robby Gordon, who hits the wall and brings out a caution. Dale Earnhardt, Jr stays out and takes the lead. He will restart in the lead. Of the cars that pit, Mark Martin takes four tires, most of the others take two.

Green flag on lap 171, with Dale Earnhardt, Jr in the lead, Marcos Ambrose second, Jeff Gordon third, David Stremme fourth, and Bobby Labonte fifth. These cars stayed out during the caution. Lots of action going on. Kyle Busch takes third from Jeff Gordon, then second from Ambrose. Gordon takes third from Ambrose, and Earnhardt, Jr increases his lead to three seconds. Tony Stewart has the fastest lap time on lap 189 and has moved into fourth. On lap 212, Stewart battles Kyle Busch for second, and takes that position after a short, but exciting contest. Mark Martin takes third on lap 214. The Booth Bunnies say this is because Stewart and Martin have fresher tires than Kyle does. I thought Stewart only took two that last pit stop, but what do I or the NASCAR.com lap by lap reporter know?

The "Toyota Driver Seeker" commercial still makes me laugh, no matter how many times I have seen it. So does the Tony Stewart Old Spice commercial. My mind must be turning to mush. The aliens are winning.

Wow the live leaderboard on NASCAR.com has finally loaded. Those of you who may, like Rev' Jim, be stuck with a dial up connection know what an accomplishment this is. I started loading it at the beginning of the race. I had to refresh the page several times, and finally, two hours and one minute later, it is updating. Yaaaaaay!

Meanwhile Tony Stewart has been cutting steadily into Dale Jr's lead, and is about to become NASCAR's most hated driver, at least for now. The fans will get over it and go back to hating Kyle Busch before the race is over. By lap 219, Stewart is three-tenths of a second behind the leader, and Driver 88 is reporting that he has used up his tires.

Still we finally get to see some of Junior's ability as he holds off the hard-charging Stewart for several laps. Stewart begins the pass for the lead on lap 218, and finally closes the deal on lap 220. Mark Martin takes second right after that, and Jr begins the green flag pit cycle by pitting on lap 226.

On lap 230, it is Stewart first, Martin second, Kurt Busch third, Reutimann fourth, and Biffle fifth.

Greg Biffle gives up fifth to pit with 76 laps to go, and Jeff Gordon has to enter the pits again because of a penalty due to missing lug nut. Again, this is something very uncharacteristic for that crew.

Oh fun, just before they pit, Martin is racing Stewart for the lead. We know this is for funsies, as both cars will pit soon, but we know these guys have a mutual admiration for each other, and it is fun to watch them race, even though both cars are wildly loose.

Stewart and Martin both pit on lap 242. Johnson takes the lead, then pits on the next lap, letting Vickers lead a lap. With the green flag pit stops completed, on lap 246, it is Earnhardt, Jr, back in the lead, but with not enough fuel to make it to the end of the race. Don't worry, there will likely be a caution.

Greg Biffle is four seconds behind Jr in second, Mark Martin third, Tony Stewart fourth, and Kyle Busch is fifth, with Kurty The Klown, his brother, right behind him. On lap 251, Martin takes second, then takes the lead on lap 257. Tony Stewart has moved into third. Greg Biffle is fourth, and Kurty The Klown has moved into fifth, while Kyle, the other Busch, is in sixth. In the seventh position, Jimmie Johnson is running identical in time with the leader. Dale Jr has developed handling trouble, and is now running in eighth.

Tony Stewart has moved into second by lap 267, Kurt Busch is third, Kyle is fourth, and Da Biff is fifth. It still sounds funny when it is spoken out loud.No one can say "Da Biff is Fifth" twice real fast, let alone three times. The Rev' says "Da Biff ith fifth" on the first try.

Talk about being good on long runs, Mark Martin has posted the fastest times on laps 275, 276, and 277. He was two seconds ahead of Stewart on lap 274, and is now three and a half seconds ahead.

On lap 280, Reutimann has the fastest car, and has passed Da Biff for fifth. This is shaping up to be a great finish. Lap 282 and Jimmie Johnson is on the move in sixth.

If either Mark Martin or Tony Stewart wins this race, we will have tears in our eyes. It would be Mark's first win since 2005, or it would be Stewart's first win as an owner/driver, at the same track Alan Kulwicki got his first win as an owner/driver.

Caution with twelve laps to go, while Martin had a four second lead over Sterwart. Dale Jr, having been lapped by the leader on lap 297, loses control with the help of Casey Mears. I can't wait to hear the conspiracy rumors on this one.

All the leaders pit, and Mark Martin exits the pit road barely ahead of Kyle Busch, but the younger Busch got caught speeding exiting the pits, and has to serve a penalty.

Ryan Newman stayed out and will lead at the restart. There is some controversy about why he didn't pit. Did he have radio problems, or did he pretend to have radio problems? Anyway, restart with six laps to go is Newman first, Martin second, Stewart third. What a great restart by Martin. He passes Newman as if he is standing still, and immediately gains five car lengths on Stewart. Johnson moves into the top five, and takes fourth with three laps to go. Tony Stewart and Mark Martin are running at the exact same speed as Martin takes the white flag. Stewart will not catch Martin. I am crying, Martin wins, Stewart second, Mark Martin is third, Jimmie Johnson, who almost caught third place, and Da Biff ith Fifth.

Wow, a historic moment, and a great race for the old man. For some, life begins at fifty. Or maybe The Kid is only twenty five years old for the second time around.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Live on Type Delay: The Samsung 500

Texas Motor Speedway is a fast track with wide progressively banked turns, a long, sweeping frontstretch, and a shorter backstretch. It has been both loved and loathed by racers, and has a history of surprises. It is one of only two tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit at which Jeff Gordon has never won. There just seems to be some kind of jinx for him. If he starts well he ends up poorly. If he starts poorly, he ends up poorly. This is not a Cup car characteristic, because Gordon had the same problem at Texas with the aero-car.

It should be noted that TMS is also where Dale Earnhardt, Jr got both his first Nationwide Series win and his first Cup Series win. That wasn't last year, though, because Carl Edwards won both Sprint Cup TMS races in 2008.

Jeff Gordon starts on the front row, outside of David Reutimann. They both get a good start and race for the lead all the way around the first lap. Gordon gets the edge on the first lap, but only leads for about ten laps until Reutimann passes him back. Jeff's car seems to be fading. Reutimann leads all the way to the time green flag pit stops begin on lap 51.

After the pit stops cycle through, Matt Kenseth has the lead, with Reutimann in second and Tony Stewart in third. Stewart battles hard with Reutinann, and takes second place, but Reutimann doesn't give up easily and races him back. But Stewart races him back again, and gets second place back. By lap 75, he is gaining on Kenseth, who had stretched his lead to almost three seconds, while lapping a lot of cars. By lap 83, Stewart has closed that gap to seven-tenths of a second. During the commercial, Stewart takes the lead, which proves this isn't the WWE, where the action seems to pause during the commercials. There is a caution on lap 98 for debris blown on to the racing surface by the high winds that are prevailing in Texas.

Matt Kenseth retakes the lead during the pit stops, Greg Biffle comes out second, and Tony Stewart is third. David Reutimann stays in the top five and will restart in fourth on lap 105, while last year's broom man at TMS, Carl Edwards comes out fifth. Just behind him is another Roush-Fenway driver, David Ragan, and Jeff Gordon has hung in there in seventh.

At the restart, Kenseth, Biffle, and Stewart all get on a good start, but only Kenseth gets away, as the other two get boxed in by the lapped traffic, where the drivers are racing to hold their positions. Kyle Busch shows that he still has a lot to learn as he bumps another driver in retaliation for something or other, and puts himself against the wall, cutting a tire. He makes it around, without bringing out a caution, but goes nearly two laps down, having to pit because of his own bad judgement.

Greg Biffle takes the lead during a commercial, around lap 117 or 118. By lap 122, Jeff Gordon has moved up into fourth. He takes third from Stewart during yet another commercial, somewhere around lap 138. During that last commercial, we noticed that Mom and Dad Ask.com have reconciled and are back together closer than ever. You may have noticed that Mom was nowhere around the family, after Las Vegas, when Dad, the Kid, and Gramps took off in an RV. It turns out that Mom had traveled to Atlanta alone, where she was seern on television in the background while Bobby Labonte was conducting a post race interview. She had a small part in the commercials during Bristol and Martinsville, but seemed to still be in the background. We are happy, for the sake of Gramps and the Kid, to see Mom and Dad Ask.com together again. We really miss having the MRN/PRN radio broadcasts here.

Green flag pit stops begin during another commercial, around lap 152, and Da Biff pits on lap 154. Oh my, speeding penalty for Kyle Busch during green flag stops. This could be bad, but it isn't, because Elliott Sadler spins out right in front of him, bringing out a caution. And David Reutimann picked up a penalty, as well, for pitting outside of the pit box, and taking that penalty puts him a lap down.

On lap 161, it's Biffle, Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and David Ragan in the top five. Kurt Busch has moved into sixth. By lap 179, Da Biff has a lead of three and a half seconds over second place, Matt Kenseth.

Tony Stewart takes second from Kenseth with about 135 laps to go, and the green flag pit stops begin with Kenseth with 130 laps to go. After the pit stops cycle through, Da Biff is back in the lead, Kenseth is second, Stewart third, and Jeff Gordon is fourth. Then there is another caution during another commercial, as the engine in the car of Marcos Ambrose gives up the ghost, or oil, as it is.

Jeff Gordon stayed out during the caution, while the leaders pitted again, and so did Mark Martin, so they hold positions one and two at the restart. Kenseth and Ragan are third and fourth, and Tony Stewart is fifth, being the first three out of the pits during the caution. Gordon gets a good restart and broadens his lead.

Sam Hornish spins with 101 laps to go and brings out the caution, and it was not during the commercial. The 96 car gets caught up in the action and forces Bobby Labonte to take that car to the garage. The leaders stay out this time, but several cars, from eighth on back, pit.

You know what there is not to like about high definition television broadcasts? When the signal power drops for any reason, we get a message that says, "Bad Signal" and a blue screen, instead of a fuzzy picture of the action. Or, in this case, a Fox Television Network logo. Speaking of which, Foxes do burrow, at least to dig a den. Why couldn't they have a fox ground cam instead of a gopher cam. Foxes are the foxes of the animal kingdom. Gophers aren't cute, they are ugly little rats.

There was an interesting effect of the sun reflecting off the windshields of the cars from one camera angle. It really looked like all the cars had the old fashioned radio antennas cars used to have, except they were on the drivers' side.

Caution again during the commercial, with 83 laps to go. Robby Gordon's engine blew up, the second Toyota to do so. Dale Earnhardt, Jr, who was in eleventh place, takes the lead by taking two tires during the caution. It is still early to say if this will become a fuel strategy race, as there will be too many laps to go without a fuel stop, unless you are Carl Edwards, who last year went 94 laps without a stop for fuel. It doesn't matter, "Jooooooonyer!" will restart in the lead!

The restart is with 76 laps to go. Brian Vickers is second, also having taken only two tires, Jeff Gordon is third, Edwards fourth, and Stewart is fifth. On turn one, Kyle busch on the inside lane is trying to get one of his laps back, gets into the sta-dri, and into Jr, probably endangering himself to the possibility of being hated to death, but he does get one of his laps back. This gives Gordon the lead, and Jr drops back to seventh before he recovers. With 67 laps to go, Edwards has moved into second, and Tony Stewart is third.

Great racing between the 48 and the 88 for sixth place with 61 laps to go. Jr and Johnson keep changing positions racing each other high and low. Johnson seems to have the advantage on the straightaways, but Jr beats him in the corners. This is fun, the two drivers have two completely different styles, and they are battling hard.

With 51 laps to go, it's Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, and David Ragan in the top five. Johnson is now in sixth, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr is seventh, but Da Biff is on the run and overtakes the most popular driver. Biffle likely won't be hated to death for that, but we do remember when "the Bug-eyed Monster" was one of the least popular drivers.

Now, with 42 laps to go, Ragan has to make a green flag pit stop with an over-heated engine. Also, bad news for Junior Nation as Dale Earnhardt, Jr gets too close to the wall while trying to make a run on Da Biff. He has to pit for repairs, losing a lap.

Meanwhile, Carl Edwards has taken the lead from Jeff Gordon with 40 laps to go. With 36 laps to go, Stewart takes second from Gordon. With 31 laps to go, David Stremme, running in twelfth spins in turn four while trying to get to the pits with a flat tire, and brings out the caution. Still, we get to see some of Stremme's oft overlooked skill as he makes a great save.

Jeff Gordon gets out of the pits first, Tony Stewart second, and Jimmie Johnson third, while Carl Edwards apparently had some trouble and does not exit the pits among the top ten. This should be one heck of a restart with 26 laps to go. Gordon gets a clean start and keeps the lead, while Johnson is racing Stewart for second. Matt Kenseth is fourth, and Da Biff is fifth. Da Biff is fifth. Say that out loud, it sounds wierd. Now try it without lisping the "s" in "is"

With seven laps to go, Jeff Gordon is far enough ahead of Johnson that it is almost safe to say he might win this race. The Booth Bunnies have already given him the race. But with four laps to go, lapped traffic named Max Papis, who really is lovable, has slowed Gordon down, and Johnson has closed the gap to half a second. Biffle is still charging and passes Stewart for third. White flag, Gordon holds the lead through more lapped traffic, and wins his first ever victory at TMS, and his first points race win since October of 2007. What a special moment. Seriously.

In spite of all the side trips we took during our recounting of this event, this was one of the better races we have seen on a 1.5 mile track. That was a big difference from the first Texas race last year, which was a 500 mile snooze fest because no one could pass anybody. We hope to see the racing keep getting better as the teams finally grow into the Sprint Cup car. Jeff Gordon was one of the last of the top drivers to get the hang of this car, but it was worth the wait.

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Capitalist Pig's View on Why NASCAR Sponsorship is a Good Thing

It is disturbing that there are some good teams with good drivers in NASCAR that are still unsponsored for the season. Disturbing because it seems to be due to a reluctance to invest money in what is an efficient, and effective, marketing system. The reason for such reluctance is that, in this day and age, investing money in a form of entertainment is looked down upon by the mob mentality that our society has acquired which makes us think that we know best how to run and market a business. Money is now evil, and making money is even worse. Now we have the equivalent of Hitler's Brown Shirters storming AIG shouting "Death to the Rich"

Granted, there should never have been a bailout, but isn't it silly to complain about 18 million dollars when we should be worried about getting back the 180 billion that we shouldn't have had to pay in the first place? Put that in perspective--18 million dollars to 180 billion is the same as one penny to 1000 dollars. If you can't pay the people who are capable of rebuilding the business to a point where it can pay us back, how do you expect to get the money back? Bear with me, I will tie this into NASCAR eventually.

Before you call me a "NASCAR shill" or a "Capitalist pig," you must first understand that, due to a debilitating condition, I am unable to work, and make less than $15,000 a year. Ironically, this has helped me to understand the importance of having a job and making money in the overall view of the economy. It also helps me to understand the importance of those who sign the paychecks, and do the marketing.

So, yes, you may call me a "Capitalist pig." It is true that con artists like Bernie Madoff, and bad players in the banking and financial industries who ran their businesses into the ground for their own personal gain, play a big role in the current economic crisis, but they make up a very small percentage of the people who keep the capital flowing. The person who makes over $500,000 a year is at least as important as the person who makes $9.00 an hour in making and keeping the economy healthy.

There was some backlash over GM's participation in motor sports, particularly in NASCAR, while they were accepting a bailout of taxpayer money. Why should taxpayers' money go to supporting the already wealthy Brian France, when there are over a hundred thousand North American jobs at stake? First of all, the premise that the money, between six and seven million dollars per car, goes to NASCAR is wrong. The money goes to the Chevrolet teams--Earnhardt/Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, and Richard Childress Racing. Since GM is in the process of restructuring, the high return for a relatively low annual payout is a good idea. Ninety-eight million dollars buys hundreds of hours a year of brand publicity for nine months. It costs more than fifty million dollars for one thirty second commercial during the Super Bowl, and over $100,000 for each fifteen second spot during any prime time program on any given night. The NASCAR route is the most efficient way of getting the brand out to the public. Now that the Federal Government is in charge of General Motors, even they--who have yet to figure out that if they don't build the Camero, they have to pay back the tens of thousands of buyers who pre-ordered it--understand that.

Okay, I got a little off track. What I was trying to illustrate was the advantages per advertising dollar a sponsorship of AJ Allmendinger, for example, would present. Allmendinger gets mentioned several times during a race, and often during the NASCAR news and entertainment programs such as Trackside and NASCAR Now That is about seven hours a week of advertising for thirty-six weeks, reaching at least 50 million potential customers, a great bargain as advertising dollars go. Instead of "AJ Allmendinger, who needs a sponsor to compete for the entire season," the message could be "AJ Allmendinger, driving the Food City car..."

I am purposefully using Food City as an example, because if they can shell out the estimated $47 million it costs to sponsor one race, they can certainly afford $10 million for 26 weeks of sponsorship for a potential NASCAR champion. Especially when the team has the Petty name tacked to it.

It is not corporate greed that requires sponsorship, it is the need to pay the workers on the teams, and the workers who make the parts the teams need. When these workers get paid, they can go to Best Buy, or Target, or Walmart, or even The Gap, and pay money that eventually gets to the employees of those companies. With that money in their pockets, these employees can go to Safeway, Food City, Best Buy, or Walmart, or maybe even be able to buy tickets to go to a race. That's how the economy is supposed to work, and it has nothing to do with corporate greed or government interference.

I'm not pretending to be an economist, but this is just common sense. Surely there is a need to spend three million dollars in advertising for nine fifteen second spots on each of four networks every night, in order to reach a wider market, but to me, common sense says that it is a much more effective use of the money to sponsor a team in NASCAR.

NASCAR was founded as a marketing tool. If Bill France hadn't thought of it, someone else, like Bruton Smith, would have. It is still, today, an effective marketing tool, not only because it puts the best "tin top" drivers in the world in competition with each other, bringing the entire show on a nationwide tour, but it gives every sponsor the advantage of a partnership, of sorts, with every other sponsor. This is the "Business to Business (B2B)" model developed by Bill France, Jr. These businesses offer discounts and other perks to each other by association in NASCAR. They help each other out.

Then there is Action Sports, the collectable souvenir business owned jointly by ISC (NASCAR) and SMI (Bruton Smith). I know there are some who grumble that every retro paint scheme is just another deal to make and sell another diecast car. Even though these car models are made in China, the paint, detailing and packaging is done in the United States. This means more circulation of capital in the economy. But the real reason for special paint schemes is for the sponsor, and that is where the attention goes. That is the idea of the special paint--to draw attention to the sponsor. It doesn't hurt to have the sponsor's name on the diecast, though. .

Again, this is not corporate greed, it is running a business the smart way. Running business the smart way avoids loss of jobs, bankruptcy, and government interference. This is why it is so hard for me to understand, even in tough economic times, why more businesses do not take advantage of the benefits of sponsorship.

Tony Stewart is a smart man. Rather than trying to get one or two sponsors to cover the two cars in his team for the entire season, he offered joint sponsorship, which is less costly to the sponsor, while being more beneficial to the team. Perhaps this is what could work out for the teams that are hurting, such as Yates and Petty. Granted, they have probably already tried that, but just haven't had the offer accepted for a satisfactory arrangement.

I know I sound like a NASCAR shill, and I expect to be called that by some, but the point of this post is not so much to sell NASCAR as it is to note how strange it is that the smartest way to get the brand name out to the public is being ignored. I would, if I were in such a position, be trying to sell drivers such as Johnny Benson, the current reigning champion in the Truck Series, Todd Bodine, a former Trucks champion, and Allmendinger, the fastest rising star in the Sprint Cup Series, to the potential sponsors. There is no reason why these drivers shouldn't already have sponsorship for the entire season. Perhaps it is the way the teams are going about trying to get sponsors, or maybe potential sponsors just don't appreciate the value of a sponsorship, but either way somebody needs to think of something.

Postscript: There are exceptions to every rule, however, and GM wasn't running business the smart way. They were building cars they couldn't sell, and spending money they didn't have to spend. They offered outrageous legacy plans to their employees that couldn't be covered by any amount of money they could make. . The worst, and the least smartest thing they did was ask the government for money, rather than going the more traditional route of bankruptcy and restructuring. But that is a different subject for a different blog.