Monday, January 28, 2008

Feeling the New Season Butterflies yet?

I am. I'm just excited to get the season going. My favorite drivers seem to be very happy about testing, and I am too, even though that part doesn't really matter much. I just like seeing the smiles on the drivers' faces when the get out of the car after a testing run.

I'm just excited to get the season going. In a very short time, Speed Weeks at Daytona will start, and I for one can't wait for the action to begin. We become so used to the week by week events in this, the world's longest sports season, that we feel a huge void in the off season. I know I do at least.

I'm not that big of a baseball fan, and the recent doping scandals have made me even less of a fan. I don't really care for the NBA, but I do enjoy an occasional college basketball game. My main substitute in the off season is football, and I enjoyed the college bowl games and the NFL playoffs, but this past weekend there was none of that. Thankfully, the 24 hour Rolex race was on tv.

I'm usually not much of a Grand Am fan, but this year, as with past years, the influx of Nascar drivers trying their hands at sports car racing made it a lot of fun to watch. I didn't get to watch the end of the racing on Sunday, as prior commitments and vehicle problems kept me out of the house most of the day, but when I finally got home last night, I enjoyed watching the highlights on the Speed Channel. Congratulations to Scott Pruett and Juan Pablo Montoya, by the way. Great win for both of them as the other drivers and teams involved.

Watching the action on the track got me really ready for some good old Nascar style stock car racing. I can't wait to hear the roar of the engines in February!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Did you ever think you'd see this?

I know that many of Dale Jr.'s fans, and many of Dale Earnhardt's fans find this pic a little upsetting, but I don't. It's just change, and it's been happening for about 50 years in Nascar.

Drivers change teams. It happens, and this is nothing unprecedented at all. For example, I know that most of you who have followed Nascar for a long time know that Kyle Petty did not drive for the family business for most of the early part of his career. One thing some of you may not know is that the King Daddy of them all at Petty Enterprises, yes, even King Richard himself didn't always drive for Petty Enterprises, and as a matter of fact, wins 199 and 200 came driving for owner Mike Curb in 1984.

Richard left the team his father had built decades before in 1984, after being embarrassed by some bad engineering at Petty. After one of Petty's wins, it was found that his engine exceeded the maximum cubic inch size then allowed by Nascar, and Richard packed up and left the only home he'd had in racing since 1959. He only drove for Curb for two seasons, and eventually finished out his career at Petty, but Richard's last two wins were not won while at Petty Enterprises. That's a fact, folks.

I doubt that many of us ever thought that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would ever leave that house that his Daddy built, and I know I'm one of them. This time last year, if you'd told me that Dale Jr. would be driving for Rick Hendrick in 2008, I'd have told you that you need to get a refund on that stuff your smoking, because it's really made your brains turn into mush.

Truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction, and here we sit, in January of 2008, and Dale Jr. is wearing a white shirt that says Hendrick on it, and amazingly enough, that shirt is tucked in! Dale Jr. will indeed driver the 88 Amp Energy Drink/ National Guard Chevrolet in 2008, and the old number 8 is now decked out in black with the logo of the US Army on the hood, with the primary driver being Mark Martin. Yeah, joined to Ford by the hip Mark Martin. Wow. What a year 2007 was.

Everything that has transpired, which would have seemed like some sort of science fiction movie a year ago, really makes sense now. Dale Jr. was not happy at DEI. Apparently he hasn't been happy for some time now. Mark wanted to retire, but he wasn't able to. I think he still wants to, but he just can't stand being totally out of the action. I can understand that.

The thing is that Dale Jr has really come out on top of this mix up, I think he's now driving for the best team in the business, has the best people behind him, and will almost certainly win races and championships for his new team.

DEI was started by the man that I still consider to be my favorite driver of all time, Dale Earnhardt. I can have respect for Teresa Earnhardt, while still feeling a bit sad over the events that have transpired over the last few years. DEI is no longer a priority for me, as a Dale Jr. fan. Dale is gone. Dale Jr. has left the building.

DEI will survive, but so will Dale Jr. and that's where my loyalty shifts now. Dale Jr. is the man.

I wish Mark and Aric Almirola well in the number 8 Chevy this year. I have a feeling they're going to need it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Beginning to get the Fever!

There is so much to look forward to at the beginning of a new year, but I'm about as excited about the 2008 Nascar season as I've been in a long time. This will be a year of firsts, with all the races run with the new car package.

It was a bit refreshing to read some rare news from Nascar about their concerns about alienating some of the old fans of the sport. I think it's time to just let the racers race again, and if they have a disagreement, take it behind the hauler after the race and settle it there. I think it's time for racing journalists to go back to what they get paid to do: report on the racing, and stop making the sport seem like one big soap opera. I personally don't need to know what restaurant my favorite driver ate in, or who his girlfriend is. I just want to see him race, and when he's off the track, I want him to have some privacy and not be bothered by the media.

I want to see TV networks cover more of the actual races, instead of spending time showing me talking heads try to manufacture drama in the booth, when there's plenty of it happening on the track. I want the networks to show the action on the track, and not just the leaders, or the favorites. It's nice to know how a Ken Shrader or a Kyle Petty is running, not just a Jeff Gordon or a Dale Earnhardt Jr.

I want Nascar to take more of a hands off approach in letting drivers show a little personality. Let's try to keep it at least PG rated, for goodness sakes, but let the drivers speak their minds. Don't put a camera and a microphone in a driver's face the second he climbs out of a wrecked race car though. Let the driver calm down a little before doing the interview. We all have emotions, and sometime we tend to express them at inopportune times and regret it later.

I want the entire sport to get back to racing, not about manufactured for ratings drama. Going around a track at speeds of up to 200 mph, only inches from the cars around you is drama enough in my opinion.

Let the racers race, the reporters report, and the fans will enjoy.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sand Bagging? Bet on it.

It was hard not to notice that in Monday's practice session, the 31 of Jeff Burton and the 29 of Kevin Harvick were consistently near the bottom of the speed charts. Did Kevin or Jeff seem upset by the results? Nope.

Richard Childress has somewhat of a tradition of not showing his full hand during testing. Dale Earnhardt sometimes seemed to just be riding laps when he was testing. I think he was. He made a few charges, at various corners or maybe on a backstretch or two, but usually lifted a little and coasted a while.

It's called sand bagging. It's not letting the competition know what you've got. Last year, Kevin Harvick did not exactly tear up the track during testing, but yet he won the Daytona 500. Kevin really didn't have the fastest car last year either, but he was in the lead when it counted.

Testing is not really a competition at all anyway. No points are awarded for the driver that runs the fastest lap. The only real reward, if you want to call it that, is more interviews from the media. Some drivers will willingly put the car on the edge, just to try to get a feel for true race conditions. Some will just test certain aspects of the car without really pushing it. Some will be just looking at tire wear. Some will be looking at handling. Some will be looking for straight line speed. It varies from driver, and from team to team.

If you're a RCR fan, I wouldn't worry too much. Wait for the green flag to drop, and maybe not even then, but with 10 to 20 laps to go, watch the Chevrolets of Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick. That's when you'll see what they've really got.

News Flash - Hendrick Cars Fast at Daytona Testing!

Ok, that probably isn't really earth shattering news to most of you who follow Nascar at all. But I think it's important to notice a trend that Hendrick Motorsports seems to have nearly perfected over the last year, which is basically dominating a sport that tries very hard to continually level the playing field. I know, it can be said that Chad Knaus cheats, or Steve Letarte cheats, or that Tony Eury Jr. cheats, or that any number of engine builders or fab shop employees cheat. True, they've all been busted for stretching the rules before, but the Car of Tomorrow, now just the car, is supposed to make that harder to do, right?

I'd say right and wrong. Nascar will definitely penalize any team that rolls a car through inspection where all the panels are not completely spec. Nascar is also mandating rear end gears, so a lot of the fun with trying a different gear will be out the window now as well. Chassis setups are more and more stringently policed, but Nascar give the teams a little leeway. Engines? Nascar keeps tightening the limits on those too. So, why does Hendrick seem so tough to beat?

Easy. I think in a manufacturing environment, it's called quality control. Any manufacturing plant, which is basically what a Nascar shop is, constantly tests their materials, their processes, and finally the quality of the end product. In my opinion, nobody does quality control better than Hendrick. Virtually every part that can be made in house is, and that way they're not relying on an outside vendor that might slip them some bad pieces. Taking raw metal and making a race car out of it is no small undertaking. Taking raw metal and making consistently winning race cars is infinitely more difficult.

Another reason for Hendrick's invincibility is the people working for him. From the sheet metal fabricators to the engineers sitting behind their computer screens, Rick Hendrick has managed to assemble an awesome amount of talent. The managers are top notch, and they keep everything organized, and very few mistakes slip through the cracks and makes it out the doors of the shop. Hendrick has constantly tried to recruit the best driving talent in the business, and that makes the conglomerations of raw metal come to life and perform at their best.

Rick Hendrick's folks are constantly testing virtually every aspect of their race cars, and trying to find ways to make them better. Better isn't always faster, in the short term, and longevity sometimes can make up for speed. Finishing first is the goal, obviously, but Hendrick cars and teams have proven time and time again that they can win races without always having the fastest cars on the track.

Testing of course, is just a measuring stick. Fast speeds during testing don't always mean that much. Time and time again we've seen cars that were fast during testing and practice, and even qualifying that didn't have what it took to win or in a lot of cases, finish the race. Many fans will totally discount the results entirely. I don't blame them.

To me the true test of how a team is doing during practice is the expression on the driver's face when he climbs out of the car. I've seen some grins and some grimaces the last week or so. Most the Hendrick guys are smiling though.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ok, I've been lazy long enough!

Ok, enough with the non-racing stuff! I actually do have a few thoughts that have trickled down through my gray matter since the first testing session at Daytona this week. The keywords here will obviously be Car of Tomorrow, engines, and of course, speed!

It seems that pretty much what Nascar wanted is what they will get, at least so far. Yes, Jimmie Johnson was the fastest in the first couple of days, and that's not a big surprise, but I guess what is the most surprising element of this first test session was how competitive all the brands were. Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, and yes, Toyota. All showed some good lap times.

I probably shouldn't really be surprised, since the COT was basically designed to even the playing field, as Nascar has for decades made one of its primary goals. Are test speeds truly indicative of actual racing performance? No, and not by a long shot.

The addition of the Joe Gibbs Racing boys to Toyota is certainly going to give the first foreign owned manufacturer in decades a decided boost though. A program on the caliber of JGR would give any manufacturer a boost. 3 very talented and proven drivers such as Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, and new addition Kyle Busch will bring a ton of talent and skill to Toyota this year. In my humble opinion, Toyota will be a player in 2008. The might not win it all, but they will be right there, getting better and better as the year progresses. I believe that Joe Gibbs Racing will lead the way with engines for Toyota beginning this year.

Ford has virtually all their eggs in one basket once again this year, with Jack Roush being the basket from which all good things Ford will be delivered. Roush continues to have a piece of the pie in virtually every Ford team in Nascar, regardless of the series. Whether it be engines or chassis or entire cars, Roush is the man to see if you're driving anything with a blue oval on it.

Dodge seems to have basically solidified it's dependence on Evernham Motorsports again this year. Ray was instrumental in bringing the Dodge brand back to Nascar, and now he's building engines for just about all the teams running the Dodge brand once again. I'm figuring that if Petty can't build engines better than Ray Evernham, then Ray must have a very good engine shop indeed.

Chevrolet will be mostly left with two dominant powers this year, with the loss of Joe Gibbs, that leaves basically Hendrick and DEI/RCR. The merger between Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Richard Childress Racing will reportedly be overseen by Richie Gilmore, who built the majority of the engines that powered Dale Earnhardt Jr. to his current 17 Cup wins. Richard Childress Racing will probably be the backbone of the operation, after all, they've been building engines for much longer, will probably provide much of the technology. I won't be surprised to see some RCR or DEI cars win some races this year.

What I will be surprised to see, however, is that Hendrick doesn't continue its dominance of the sport. Hendrick engines have scored so many wins in the last year or two that they just defy all descriptions of how great it must be to have one in your car. Let's face it, we're all running basically the same car this year, with the COT. Chassis and handling are still in a crew chief's realm, but not much as far a bodies. The biggest factor is still going to be the engine, and Hendrick would seem to be at a definite advantage going into the 2008 season.

We've got a brand new batch of test cars coming up next week, so we will see if the trend we saw this week still holds going into Speed Weeks.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Another diversion

With the lack of hard new Nascar news during the first week of Daytona testing, I'm going to take yet another diversion. I know, I know, Jimmie Johnson was fastest in individual speed, drafting practice was mixed... Ok... Same old same old.

What I'd like to talk to you about is the paranormal. Things that go bump in the night. Stuff that might potentially scare you.

I've had two potentially paranormal experiences in my life, both as an adult, and both as mostly a skeptic. One was back in my 20's, and the other was just a few weeks ago. I turned 44 years of age in August, 2007, and this happened in December of 2007.

I'm not going to tell ghost stories here. I'm really not willing to talk about the details of what I think I saw and heard. If you want to know the truth, both experiences that I've had I've not been able to debunk, no matter how hard I've tried.

I'm a reasonably educated person. I have 2 associate degrees, one in industrial electronics and the other in computer programming. I've worked in the information technology field most of my adult life. In otherwords, I'm not a backwoods toothless idiot with no knowledge about anything. I've also had a penchant for writing since I was a teenager. I've written a few fictional stories, but I didn't think they were nearly as good as the fiction available at Barnes and Noble.

I believe in the paranormal. Not necessarily in ghosts, per se, but in the paranormal. I think there are things out there that we can't explain. In my heart, I know there are. Just because they can't be explained, I don't know that they are anything other than undiscovered beings in our world. Undiscovered is probably not the correct word... Maybe undocumented or unproven... I don't know.

I've had two experiences in my life that I can't explain. I've not been abducted by space aliens, nor have I seen apparitions wearing white sheets, but I've still had things happen, if not to me, at least in front of me, that I will probably never be able to explain.

Have you ever had anything similar to what I've described happen to you? If so, let me know. If you give me permission, I'll post your experiences. Only with your permission though.

Click Here to post any experiences or stories you might have.

Thanks for bearing with me! Daytona is on the way!