Saturday, March 29, 2008

Kyle Petty misses Martinsville

Being 40th in owners points was bound to hurt eventually, but the pain began almost immediately going into the 6th race of the Sprint Cup season. Kyle Petty has missed his first race of the year. This being the first race where 2008 points are taken into consideration, Kyle Petty's dismal start to the season has caused him to miss the Goody's Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville.

Whispers have been going around saying that Kyle might step out of the car a little early, since he was planning to step out of the 45 Dodge anyway later in the season, when TNT takes over the television broadcasts of the races. Kyle might have to leave the ride even earlier just to try to get his car into the race.

Current rumors concern the possibility of Terry Labonte driving a few races in the car. There are a couple of advantages to this. Terry is a past champion, so would have 5 provisionals if needed. The other major, well, not sure if it's an advantage, but it would be a really cool thing, would be this: Terry would be teammates with his brother Bobby. I don't know if there is any truth to this, and what limited sources I have keep telling me that it won't happen, but I'm not sure that we can rule that out entirely.

Another possibility would be to bring in former Petty driver John Andretti for a few races. If John can qualify the car and make races, it will at least keep the sponsors happy. Another possibility is another driver, who has actually driven the car before as well. His name is Chad McCumbee, and he currently drives in the Craftsman Truck series. Chad stepped into the 45 car for 2 races last year while Kyle was doing TV duties, and did a pretty decent job. Petty has openly discussed having Chad eventually replace him in the 45, so why not let him get some races in sooner than expected?

Kyle has had problems qualifying in the past for races. In 2003, Kyle missed 3 races. In 2004, Kyle missed 1. Missing this race at Martinsville will just put him deeper into the hole, and trying to dig his way out of such a deficit could be disaster for the 45 team.

To be quite honest, I think Kyle lost a lot of his passion for the sport after his son Adam was killed while practicing at New Hampshire in 2000. Kyle, then the driver of the 44 car, switched numbers and drove the 45 in honor of Adam's memory. I don't know that Kyle ever truly had the passion for racing that his famous father Richard did, or for that matter his grandfather Lee. Kyle has raced hard all his life, but he's always had a lot of other interests. He's one of the nicest drivers in the garage, and I always enjoy listening to him on Trading Paint and when he's in the booth on TNT. Kyle has done remarkable things in his career, both on and off the track. He created the Kyle Petty Charity Ride, which has raised money for charities for years. Along with wife Patti, he started the Victory Junction Gang Camp which helps hundreds of sick children every year. Kyle Petty is a great race car driver, but more importantly, he is a great man. His efforts have touched the lives of countless kids and their families.

Kyle Petty has won 8 races and 8 poles in 819 Cup starts. He ran his first race in 1979 at age 19, and on June 2, he will be 48 years old. His greatest legacy will not be what he has done on the track, but what he has done off the track. Kyle has long been more than a driver at Petty Enterprises. He's basically tried to do every job there was to be done, and has helped propel Petty teams from a bottom tier team to a team that features veteran Bobby Labonte getting closer and closer to Petty's first win in almost 10 years. As sad as I will be to see Kyle finally hang up his helmet, I feel some pain, as a long time fan of the sport, memories of watching his dad struggling the last few years of his driving career to stay competitive in the sport.

Petty is a team that technology and innovation left behind. After Richard's day as the winningest driver in the history of the sport, the Petty operation just seemed to almost implode upon itself. Adam's death just about sealed the deal.

Kyle fought back, and along with Bobby Labonte, they have helped bring the team back from the brink. I hope to see them come full circle with a visit to Victory Lane soon.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

What can be done to make Nascar coverage Better?

I'm revisiting an old topic, and one that has been debated for many years now. No matter which network broadcasts the races, or who is in the booth or in the pits, there will never be a perfect team that everyone likes. I personally think that Fox and Speed do the best coverage, but that of course is open for debate. Some people hate Darrell Waltrip's "Boogity, Boogity, Boogity", but others enjoy it. Some can't stand Larry McReynolds or Jeff Hammond, just to take a sampling, for a variety of reasons.

There is a reason that non broadcast professionals populate the TV media in this sport. These are racers, tried and true, and have all achieved high levels of success in the sport. They are obviously not broadcast professionals, and don't have the slick skills that professionals have. The racers are there because they lend a certain color and technical expertise to the broadcasts. Like them or not, they bring something to the show that a professional broadcaster can't.

The hosts on Fox and Speed tend to let the racers just run with it. They don't really try to reign people like DW or Jeff Hammond in, because it creates more of a humorous environment. Racing, big business that it is, is grounded on the principle of having fun. To the fans, the racers provide an element of knowledge and humor that we would not otherwise get.

ESPN and ABC have taken a different approach, which requires the racers to be a little more buttoned up. Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett provide color to the broadcasts, but one gets the impression that ESPN is a little more buttoned up than Fox and Speed. Professionalism is a quality to be desired, but sometimes ESPN pushes professionalism to the point that a lot of the fun of the sport is lost.

As for the actual race coverage, I see a lot of weak points. I feel that all the networks that cover Nascar are guilty of focusing on one driver or team, and pretty much ignoring the rest of the field. Drivers mysteriously leave the track, and go to the garage, but no mention of them is ever made. I think all the networks should realize that there are fans of every driver watching the race, and should at least attempt to find out why even the most obscure driver in the field has left the track. That's just not happening, and the trend seems to be getting worse every week. The folks in the booth will spend an inordinate amount of time discussing Kyle Busch or Dale Earnhardt Jr., but will barely mention a Bobby Labonte, or a Kyle Petty, or a David Stremme who has been quietly working his way to a top 10 finish. Often times I am astonished to read that Bobby Labonte had a great finish, but no one talked about him all day, nor was his car every on camera, except in just a passing glance. All of the networks need to show more of the actual field, not just the leaders or the objects of the commentator's affection.

Accurately reporting on everything that happens to all 43 cars during a race is basically an impossibility. One thing that I do often notice while watching the races on TV is that even if the leader is out to a second and a half lead, the cameras will only quickly show shots going back through the field, where often some really good racing is going on. Racing is happening all over the track, not just for 1st place. Anyone who has ever been to a race in person knows that. Some of the directors at all the networks just don't seem to get that. In a 500 mile race, the winning only happens on the last lap. The racing takes place every lap. My advice to the networks would be to forget the non race for the lead and go back and show us more of the actual racing in the field, whether it be for 4th place of for 42nd place. When a lead change happens, show it to us, but don't spend a lot of time on it if it just takes 10 seconds and the new leader is driving off again.

I will also say something in Kyle Busch' defense. When you have time to let a driver cool off after a disappointing finish, let him cool off. Sometimes waiting a few minutes before pushing a microphone in his face will net the average pit reporter a much more interesting interview than the one we got yesterday with Kyle after the Nationwide race at Nashville. Heat of the moment interviews with hot drivers can sometimes lead to disastrous results. Let them cool out for a few minutes, and most of them will be glad to actually answer questions without a grunt.

Nascar is a very emotional sport. The drivers get emotional. The fans get emotional. The crew chiefs get emotional. The owners get emotional. Interviews done in the heat of emotion are probably great for stories, but not much good for the sport itself, when you get right down to it. These people are professionals. Let them do their jobs.

Overall, I'd say that TV coverage of Nascar is probably going downhill. It seems that the people in the booth pick their favorites before the races, and then talk non stop about them until the race is over. What I'd give to have people like Ned Jarrett, Neil Bonnett, and Benny Parsons back in the booth.

As always, this is my opinion. Feel free to agree or disagree with me!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The New Dale Earnhardt?

I read an article this morning that compared Kyle Busch to the late Dale Earnhardt. On the surface of it, I had to laugh, but one of the things that amazed me was the readers comments that followed the story. Some of them scoffed at the notion, of course, but many agreed, and said that Kyle was the legitimate 2008 version of the Intimidator.

I think it's a bit early to compare a driver who has 5 Cup wins in 5 seasons of driving to a man who won 76 races and 7 Cup championships. Kyle has a pretty wild driving style that is impressive when it results in a pass for position, but looks pretty silly when it results in a spin or worse yet, takes out other drivers. The talking heads on Fox and ESPN have not been able to pay enough compliments to the 22 year old younger brother of 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch. To anyone but a Kyle Busch fan, the accolades have ranged from being simply overdone, to nauseating. Kyle appears to be very immature, and generally goes storming off when he finishes poorly. Kyle seems to not be in control of his emotions to the point that he can't realize that the reporters are only doing their jobs when they ask for a post race interview. His answers are short, snide, and usually very sarcastic.

On the face of it, 22 years old seems very young for a driver with the responsibilities that your average Nascar driver has. He's responsible for keeping his sponsors happy, for helping his team build better cars, and for trying to build a fan base which provides an outlet for merchandise. It's a tough job, but Kyle makes millions of dollars doing it. When you think about it, 22 years old isn't too young to accept responsibility, such as giving a short interview to reporters after a race. Kyle is not required to say nice things, but being accessible to the media is an important part of his job. Blow off enough interviews, and Nascar will have a serious talk with you. In some ways, media management is as important a skill for a driver to have as the ability to drive the race car. Don't believe me? Ask any team owner who's trying to attract and keep sponsorship.

22 years old is old enough for men and women to serve in combat. Many non commissioned officers and junior officers serve in this country's military. The average 2nd lieutenant in the US Army is about 22 years old. That's an officer that is deemed old and mature enough to lead a platoon of soldiers into battle. A 2nd lieutenant also does his job for a heck of a lot less money per year than Kyle Busch makes in just one race.

Kyle Busch' background is completely different from Dale Earnhardt. Kyle has been racing competitively from a very early age. Dale didn't get started racing until he was in his late teens. Kyle was a multi millionaire when he was 20 years old. Dale didn't even start racing full time in the Cup series until he was about 28 years old. Dale supported his racing habit when he was Kyle's age by working in cotton mills and tire shops.

Does Kyle Busch has as much talent as Dale Earnhardt? Only history will tell. Right now, Kyle Busch is a young driver with a ton of talent, but also a ton of immaturity.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Who will be the odd man out at Roush in 2010?

Beginning in 2010, no Nascar owner will be allowed to have more than 4 teams, and that presents an obvious problem for Ford owner Jack Roush, who currently fields 5 cars every Sunday. It is apparent to me, that unless something drastic happens between no and the end of 2009, Jamie McMurray and David Ragan will be the most likely drivers to be dropped from the house of Roush. Not that they won't have a job, but just not driving under the Roush banner any more.

A lot of things can happen between now and then, of course. Both drivers could win races and make the Chase, and possibly even a championship. If that happened, the decision as to which team to ax will be much tougher. As it stands now, though, McMurray has 1 win driving a Cup car for Roush, and Ragan has none.

I'm guessing arrangements are already underway to hand off which ever team Jack decides he'll have to get rid of. I'm guessing most likely, Doug Yates or the Wood Brothers will get the team, more or less intact. Both are already heavily dependent on Roush engines and engineering. With the continuing sponsor situation, I'm wondering if Yates will even be running 2 teams full time next year. I don't know what's on the horizon for the Wood Brothers either, but hope Little Debbie and the US Air Force will hang on for a few more years at least. Right now, the Wood Brothers have only made one race in 2008, with Bill Elliot driving at Daytona. Bill is scheduled to be in the car again in Martinsville, so the 21 car should get it's second start of the year next week.

Another Wood Brothers driver is waiting in the wings, of course. Actually there are 2. Jon Wood is working on a comeback to racing full time, after suffering problems last year. The other driver is everybody's favorite Aussie, Marcos Ambrose, who is scheduled to run a 2nd car for some races this year. Personally, I think that Marcos might be the future of the Wood Brothers for the next few years. The young Australian is one of the most likable drivers in the garage, always smiling, and he gives fantastic interviews. Marcos Ambrose seems to be a very talented driver, a former champion in Australia, and when he has a few wins under his belt, I think the sponsors will come in droves.

Jamie McMurray is a very likable young driver as well, and won his first Cup race in only his second start, filling for an injured Sterling Marlin at Charlotte in 2002. Since then, he has been winless at both Ganassi and Roush until he won the July race at Daytona last year. Winning was a major breakthrough for Jamie, but he's currently 36th in Cup points after 5 races in 2008, and will have to qualify his way in on time in Martinsville. David Ragan will not, being currently in 21st place in points.

It's still very early, and who knows what will happen, but as 2010 comes closer, these drivers have to be wondering about their futures.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stick to the facts, Jack!

I'm fully aware that this is old news by now, but some of Jack Roush' statements regarding the penalty issued by Nascar after Carl Edwards' win at Las Vegas are just..., well, strange.

He's saying that he will submit his crew people to lie detector tests, if necessary. He's claiming there was no intent to do anything wrong. My question is this: Why do you only secure an oil tank cover with one bolt, if you can lose 100 points for having the cover come off?

Jack Roush used to be engineer at Ford. One bolt? That's secure? Give me a break. If you can save weight, why not run one lug nut per wheel to hold the wheels on? Paint some fake lug nuts on the wheels to fool the Nascar officials.

Instead of heavy welds, why not tape the fenders on the car? Why not glue the engine mounts? Why not make the driver's helmet out of cardboard?

Jack, you, or Bob Osborne got caught cheating. Just take your medicine and shut up, why don't you? Other drivers and crew chiefs get fined all the time. Now you're wiring your tank lids on? Why not just use a few more bolts? Even to a nontechnical person, you sound like the spoiled brat kid caught with your hand in the cookie jar. Take your punishment, and move on.

Some thoughts on an off weekend.

I'm actually glad we've got an off weekend here. It's not that I'm getting burned out, or that I don't look forward to the next race, but the Nascar community as a whole really could use the break. As many of you know, I read a lot of message boards. I've seem emotions and tempers run high this past weekend, particularly between Tony Stewart fans and Kevin Harvick fans. Long story short: Kevin was trying to pass Tony late in the Bristol race Sunday. Kevin hooked the apron of the track and got up into Tony. Tony hit the wall.

Kevin apologized. After the race, even Tony apologized. Havoc ensued on Harvick's message board. I found it all very amusing, but it made me think that now is an excellent time to take a break from Nascar.

Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick have been friends for a long time. Tony used to drive cars for KHI in the Busch series. When Joe Gibbs Racing switched from Chevrolet to Toyota, that pretty much ended that relationship, and now Tony is driving some Nationwide races in a JGR Toyota. That's racing, and that's the business. I doubt seriously that Tony and Kevin are worst enemies by any stretch of the imagination.

Only 1 day after the dust up at Bristol, Kevin appeared on Tony's Sirius radio show to wax Smoke. I don't get Sirius radio, but from reading the accounts online, it was hilarious. Imagine Tony Stewart in a Speedo. I don't even want to, but it's obvious that these two guys are friends, on and off the track, and that the fans just need to grow up a little. If the drivers can let bygones be bygones, why can't the fans?

Operation Wax Smoke began almost a year ago, with the premise that if Harvick fans could raise enough money, or $100,000, Tony would agree to have his back waxed. The fans contributed, and finally Harvick himself wrote the check that put the total over $100,000. Tony lived up to his promise, and he got waxed. The proceeds go to Kyle and Patty Petty's Victory Junction Gang Camp, which is a most worthy cause.

I actually read what appeared to be a death threat against Kevin Harvick, on his own message board Sunday evening. What is the average age of these fans? 12? It really makes me wonder.

Some other thoughts: TV ratings are up, for the most part for the Nascar races. What has changed since last year? Toyota winning races? Dale Earnhardt Jr. being competitive again? I have a theory, but I'll let you mull it over before I talk about it.

Will there every be any more big teams in Nascar besides the established few? I'm beginning to wonder. It was sad to see Bill Davis Racing have to close down the 27 team this past week for lack of sponsorship. Doug Yates is having a tough time finding sponsorship as well. DEI is still looking for sponsorship for the 01 car of Regan Smith. What's going to happen to Jeff Burton's team after AT&T is run out of the sport? Will Sprint even last long enough to make that happen? A small team that I've been personally watching is the 08 Dodge owned by John Carter. Burney Lamar has tried to make races, but has either been rained out or has not qualified fast enough to race. I noticed this past week that the 08 was not even on the entry list at Bristol. To me, that's sad.

What's going on with Kyle Petty? Kyle is off to maybe his worst start ever, and there's been talk of swapping the points between the 45 of Kyle and the 43 of Bobby Labonte. I doubt that it will happen, because General Mills, who is the principle sponsor on Bobby's car, probably won't put up with that. There is now talk that Kyle may step out of the car for some races, and they might bring back big brother Terry Labonte, who after all does have a champion's provisional. Bobby and Terry as teammates? Both driving for Petty! Wow, there's a thought.

I've liked some of the new commercials this year so far. Kasey Kahne doing his dance, etc. for Allstate is hilarious. So is the interview with him talking about showing up to do a commercial and having no idea he was going to have to dress up in that suit! Jimmie Johnson's Kobalt Tools commercial is hilarious too. "Jimmie, what are you doing?" "Welding, Chad." That is so funny.

I think one of the basic things we forget about in this new era of Nascar is that the drivers are all human beings. Most of them never really wanted to be as popular as rock stars or movie stars. All they want to do is race, and win races. Shows such as Nascar 360 and others show the drivers in their homes, with their families, or show them hunting or fishing, or playing with their toys off the track. I think these kinds of shows are vital to keep the drivers human, at least to the fans. The drivers make a ton of money, most of them have their own jets, and some of them even fly them. When you get right down to it though, most of them would be happy working on their late model car, getting it ready for the Saturday night fight at the local bullring.

And finally, what's up with the weather this year? California, Atlanta and Bristol have all been touched by the weather woes this year. I absolutely hate it when qualifying is rained out, for any of the series. It just hurts so bad to see a team haul 2 race cars across the country, just to haul them back home, with the cars never even seeing the track, as happened in California. I know it's just the luck of the draw, but that really hurts the small teams.

Here's to sunny, 70 degree temperatures at Martinsville! Oh, and I'll have 2 of those famous hot dogs too, please.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Great Day for Richard Childress

Roll back in time to the middle of March, 2001. Richard Childress was still reeling with the aftermath of losing his best friend and long time driver, Dale Earnhardt. Richard was still struggling with the idea of racing again after the shocking loss of Earnhardt. He had put a new driver in the old 3 car, painted it white, and put the number 29 on it. Kevin Harvick went out and won Atlanta in only his 3rd Winston Cup start. But Richard had to be wondering what his future would be 7 years ago.

Scroll ahead to March 16, 2008, and we see Richard Childress standing triumphantly in Victory Lane with his driver Jeff Burton, who has just won the Bristol race. What's better than standing with your driver in Victory Lane? Knowing that all 3 of your drivers finished the race 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. That has to be a dream come true for any owner in the business.

Congratulations to Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, and Clint Bowyer as well. Bristol is always a great place to get a good finish, and standing with your teammates in the top 3 spots is an awesome achievement. It appears that the DEI/Childress engines are working well, and that has to be pleasing to everyone involved.

Strangely, DEI did not fare as well as the Richard Childress Racing drivers did, but there was one very pleasant surprise. Aric Almirola finished 8th in his very first race in the 8 Army Chevrolet. He was the best finishing DEI driver, and what a birthday present that must have been for the young Almirola.

Once again, Rick Hendrick Motorsports stuggled. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson finished 11th and 18th respectively. Casey Mears had a tough day and finished in 42nd place. By sheer will or brute force, or possibly both, Dale Earnhardt Jr. once again managed another top 5, finishing in 5th place. HMS' newest driver once again finished ahead of his teammates.

There was some talk last night, mostly begun by a caller to Dave Despain's Wind Tunnel show on the Speed channel, that obviously was meant to stir up some controversy. The caller insisted that Hendrick was giving all the "good stuff" to Earnhardt Jr., and that Jeff and Jimmie were taking a fall in order to make Dale Jr. look good. Basically, Jeff in Jimmie are being given inferior equipment in order for Dale Jr. to appear to be a better driver than he actually is. The insinuation once again is that Dale Jr. has no talent, whatsoever, and the only way he's getting decent finishes is either because he cheats, or Nascar and Hendrick give Dale Jr. much better equipment than anyone else.

Such sheer lunacy as this is almost beyond belief, but sadly, there are a lot of fans of Nascar out there who believe that any time their favorite driver loses a race, it's because the drivers that beat him cheated or Nascar gave the infamous 'nod'. Any serious fan who has watched the sport for longer than a couple of years realizes just how ludicrous and idiotic this is.

Nascar is driven by sponsorship. Crew chiefs and sometimes drivers do try to cheat, but in the end they get caught and docked points. Sooner or later, the cheaters get caught. The penalties are stiffer now then they've ever been. Just ask Carl Edwards what happens when the tank comes off of your oil tank. I imagine that Office Depot and other sponsors of Carl Edwards were happy with his win, but probably not very happy with the 100 point penalty.

Sponsors invest money in Nascar for one reason, and one reason only. The want to get people to notice them. It's called advertising. The average sponsor shells out millions and millions of dollars every year to have their names plastered across the hoods or quarter panels of the race cars. If Nascar were to attempt to throw a race, it would be impossible. Other drivers and teams will not simply lay down to let a competitor win. Sponsors would riot. They would also leave the sport. People would also talk. The only place I ever hear talk of Nascar throwing a race is from the most predictable place: The fans.

Consider the sponsorships involved at Hendrick Motorsports. Do you really think it's possible that DuPont and Lowes would idly stand by while Rick Hendrick gave all the good equipment to Dale Jr.? There is absolutely no way, I repeat no way, that anything of the sort would ever happen. Racing is a business, and sponsors drive this business. When a driver is having a bad season, the sponsor starts getting nervous. They start asking themselves if their money is being well spent, or should the go find another car to sponsor? Or, should they just forget putting their money in to racing at all?

There is too much at stake for Rick Hendrick here. He cannot afford to throw 2 teams with 6 championships between them under the bus. Rick did not get to where he is by being stupid. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s drive and determination to win are very easy to see. He's got the longest drought going for winning points races among the 4 HMS drivers. He wants to win, and he wants to win badly. He's already won the Bud Shootout, and his Daytona qualifying race, but they were non-points events.

For some fans, the truth could be stranger than the fiction they've been dreaming up. It's possible that Dale Jr. is actually a good driver, with a ton of motivation, backed up by a competent crew chief and a good team. I know that is the last possibly theory that the Dale Jr. haters will accept, but sometimes, you've just got to take the blinders off and look at the truth.

Congratulations to Richard Childress. Yesterday was a long time coming, but you deserve it. You've got some great drivers, and yesterday, you put them in the cars that were the best when it counted. My hat's off to you, RC.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

To Err on the Side of Safety

"To err is human, to forgive, divine." - Alexander Pope.

If there is one new catch phrase in Nascar this week, it is the "Goodyear decided to err on the side of safety." I've heard this phrase about a dozen times at least since Friday, and I imagine we'll hear it a few more times at least today. This phrase has been used in conjunction with Goodyear's decision to bring the tire that they brought to Atlanta.

As has been mentioned, ad nauseum, Tony Stewart led the charge of criticism against Goodyear for last week's choice of tire. The tires had no grip, and according to Jeff Gordon, there was not one single lap he drove where the car felt comfortable. It was truly white knuckles driving all day, according to Jeff.

Racing is supposed to be exciting, not just for the fans, but for the drivers as well, isn't it? Well, there's exciting, and then there's exciting and equally frustrating.

As long as race cars have run around tracks, tires have been a major consideration. Some tires are more suited to a particular track than others. Since the dawn of racing, tires have blown out, lost grip, simply lost air, or just completely exploded. That is always an issue with any tire, whether on a race car or not.

It was just about unanimous among the talking heads this week: The tires that had no grip whatsoever made the drivers safer. I have to admit, I'm not sure I'm buying this theory. First of all, sliding around the track with very little control just plain sounds dangerous to me. Drivers were hitting the walls, wrecking cars. Many of the drivers complained that the tires were so hard, they felt very much like they were driving on ice. That's supposed to be safe?

Softer tires with more grip would have allowed the drivers to at least control the sliding, and give them at least an illusion of being in control. Tires with more grip would have worn out faster, but very few drivers get to stock car racing's most elite series without being able to tell when his tires are about to go away. Accidents do happen, and sometimes a tire blows without much warning, such as what happens when a tire runs over an errant piece of metal or other debris on the track. The result is usually a spin, and sometimes a crash into a wall or another car.

On these 'safe' tires, much the same thing was happening. Drivers simply couldn't control the cars going into the corners at Atlanta. Cars got wrecked. The end result comes out the same: Cars got wrecked.

To err on the side of safety is surely a noble goal, but I think many of the drivers would rather have a tire that wears out than one that's just about impossible to race with. I'm just not seeing where skating around on the automotive equivalent of ice skates is safer than just giving them tires that actually gripped the track a little better. Wrecks are going to happen in racing. That's just a fact. Why put the race in the tire maker's hands instead of the race driver's?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

So,What's up with the Tires?

As pretty much anyone knows who watches Nascar racing, Tony Stewart has been very vocal over the last couple of weeks about his extreme displeasure with the tires on his race car. He said that the tires on his car last Sunday at Atlanta were the worst in his career. That's saying something. Tony has driven pretty much every kind of race car there is, and has won doing it. When Tony's upset with the tires, Nascar and Goodyear should listen.

Tony wasn't the only one upset with the tires. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon also expressed their disappointment in the tires. Goodyear seemed not to be impressed.

Goodyear's answer to the accusations made by the various drivers, was, basically, "So What? We did the best we could!"

Strangely enough, I actually feel for Goodyear. They are caught between a rock, and a, well, hard tire. Tires are alway a concern for the Nascar teams, and there is a very important reason why.

The racing tires provide a relatively tiny 4 patches of contact between the hugely expensive race cars and the surface of the race track. A team that builds a race car can make an engine that produces enormous amounts of horse power and torque, but none of that matters if the car is sliding all over the track. You can have the best engine in the field, but you won't win a race if you can't put all that horse power and torque to use where it matters. If you can't make the wheels spin faster, and put your car ahead of the other guy, none of that great technology under the hood or anywhere else on the car really matters. It's all about where the rubber meets the pavement.

One of the problems that Stewart and others had was supposedly Goodyear brought a different tire to the track than the tire the teams tested with. There seems to be some confusion on this issue. If, indeed, Goodyear did bring a different tire than the teams tested, then the drivers have every right to be extremely upset. Their cars were built around those tires, and then they have to put on something totally different? If so, bad show, Goodyear. I've read stories that told it both ways, so I really don't know the true story.

Would it be better to let the teams find their own tires to race with? That has been tried before. Back in the early 1990's Hoosier and Goodyear had a bit of a war. Some teams took one tire, and other teams took others. The final straw that ended the war was when Neil Bonnett crashed in turn 4 practicing for the Daytona 500 in 1994. Bonnett was running Hoosier tires. Most folks blame the tires for the crash. In truth, we'll probably never know. All we know for sure is that Neil Bonnett lost his life in that accident.

In truth, I don't want to see another tire war. I think it would be interesting to see what would happen if the teams researched and bought their own tires to run in the races though. I'm a firm believer in capitalism and the free market anyway. I say let the tire makers compete for the teams' business. It would be cheaper, and eventually much safer in the long run. The present dictatorship that Nascar and Goodyear holds right now seems rather ridiculous anyway, since basically the cars are now all the same. Give the teams some creativity and let them use whatever tires they want to. Let Goodyear, Hoosier, Firestone, and what ever tire company get into the business of making racing tires. I bet a lot of innovations will be found, and though I sincerely hope that Neil Bonnett didn't lose his life testing inferior tires, I feel that competition is always a good thing in racing, and in business.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

So Long, Dale Jarrett

Sunday, we will say "So Long" to a driver that has been driving since before many of us even began watching Nascar. His last race, as was his first, is at Bristol. It's a very fitting place to end a legendary career. I'm speaking of course about Dale Jarrett, or DJ as he is often called.

Dale came into the sport with a racing pedigree. His father is Ned Jarrett, a 2 time Grand National champion, which is what today's Sprint Cup was way back in the day, before Winston came along. Dale is a champion as well, winning the Winston Cup in 1999. Ned and Dale are one of those extremely rare father and son combinations that can claim the highest award in Nascar's most elite series. As a matter of fact, the only other such father/son combination to do so is Lee and Richard Petty.

DJ has won the Daytona 500 3 times in his career. He has 32 total wins in the Cup series, as well as 11 wins in the Busch series and even has 2 IROC wins to his credit. Sunday will mark his 668th and final start in the Cup series. Dale will then follow his father again in a new career: Broadcasting.

Dale has already called some races for ESPN, and has done an extraordinary job so far. So well, in fact, that he has replaced former driver Rusty Wallace in the booth for the Nationwide races this year. I like Rusty, but in my humble opinion, Dale Jarrett is a vast improvement.

Dale has long had a reputation among his fellow drivers as a clean driver. In his career, he has seldom charged to the front early in a race and fought off the challengers. Dale's style has usually been to hang back around the back of the pack, and let the others do the wrecking. When the time is right, he's still got a strong car and is ready for his push to the front. As was seen at Atlanta last week, he may be on the verge of retiring, but he's not afraid to fight to protect his track position. On the white flag lap at Atlanta last week, Dale tried gamely to fight off being lapped by Kyle Busch. This 'old man' has still got a lot of fight left in him.

Dale did not even have to be a racer to make a living. He is and was a great golfer, and before he got behind the wheel, he actually considered a career in the PGA. I imagine he would have been a champion there, if he had pursued professional golf.

Dale has always been a tenacious racer, but he's also always been known as a gentleman. For those of us who were watching Nascar at the time, I doubt any of us will forget his dad calling him home to the checkered flag in the 1993 Daytona 500. Ned was in the booth, and his son won racing's greatest race. What a moment that was. A lot of people actually thought that Ned was acting as his son's spotter during the last lap of that race. In truth, Dale couldn't hear his dad, but he had learned so much from Ned that he did virtually everything that his proud poppa was saying he should do. That was one of my favorite moments in Nascar history.

Dale has always been a gentleman doing interviews, but he has never been afraid to express his opinion. Even right before his last race, he has been critical of the Goodyear tires used at the Atlanta race. Jumping on the bandwagon of Stewart, Earnhardt Jr., etc.? Not at all. Dale didn't think the tire worked well, so when asked about the issue, he expressed his honest opinion.

Dale Jarrett has won in both Ford and Chevrolet, but the bulk of his wins were with Robert Yates Racing. First in the famed 28 Texaco/Havoline Ford, and then later in the Quality Care/ Ford Credit #88. Finally he won several races in the 88 UPS Ford. DJ has also won in the 21 Wood Brothers Ford, which was actually his first win, and in the 18 Joe Gibbs Interstate Batteries Chevrolet, one of which was his first Daytona 500 win.

Dale Jarrett, I want to congratulate you on your fantastic driving career. You are a true winner and champion. I'm looking forward to hearing you in the booth at ESPN and ABC this year, and far into the future. Your dad was a favorite of mine as a broadcaster, and you, no doubt, will be too.

As a matter of fact, you already are a favorite of mine, DJ. Go with God on Sunday, Dale. I will be pulling for you.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A few Bristol Notes

Historically, Bristol has been one of the most exciting tracks to see a race. The fall race last year, after being resurfaced, may have been one of the more disappointing races in recent memory there, but even not so good racing at Bristol is still pretty darn good racing.

Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch each have 5 wins at Bristol. This track has always seemed to suit certain drivers' driving styles more than others. Mark Martin and his old teammate Matt Kenseth have each one at Bristol 2 times. Quite a few drivers have won at Thunder Valley 1 time, including Elliot Sadler, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Jarrett. Bill Elliot has also won a race here.

This being Dale Jarrett's last race, I imagine this is as good a place to end one's career as any. I'll be writing more about Dale later this week.

Of all active drivers, Jeff Gordon easily leads in average starting position, at an incredible 5.5th place start out of 30 total races run. Greg Biffle actually has the best finishing average, with 10.3rd place average of all finishes he's attempted, followed closely by Kevin Harvick, and 10.5th place. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. tie at 11.7th as an average finish.

Another interesting statistic: Kyle Petty will be starting his 49th Bristol race this season. Will he make it an even 50 or more? The odds look very good that he will. Richard Petty started an incredible 60 races at Bristol during his career, followed by Ricky Rudd with 58 starts. Petty only won at Bristol 3 times in his career however. Seems like Bristol was not a track that treated the King kindly sometimes.

Who is the driver with the most wins ever at Bristol? Why Ole DW, of course. Darrell Waltrip won here 12 times. 3 drivers are tied for 2nd place in all time wins at Bristol. Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough, and Rusty Wallace all won 9 races here during their careers.

Bristol is an amazing place, with a lot of history. It's Nascar's toughest ticket to get, with seats often being handed down from parents to children. Tickets can be obtained, but they are expensive. Bristol has a seating capacity of 160,000, and there is virtually never an empty seat on race day. In an era where Nascar insists it needs to build 1.5 mile cookie cutter tracks near major metropolitan areas in order to expand, Bristol is the exception to the rule. The Tri-Cities region of Northeastern Tennessee and Southwest Virginia is anything but a major population center. The Tri-Cities region made up of Bristol, TN and Bristol VA (The two Bristols are twin cities, with the state line running down the middle of the towns) and Johnson City and Kingsport TN have roughly a population of 480,000 to 500,000. That population would put the Bristol region in roughly 95th place in the most populous regions of the country. That's a very far cry from New York City.

What makes this place so special, year after year then? Why do people flock from virtually every state and nearly every province to watch a race in Bristol? The track is only slightly over a half mile long, but Bristol's banking is unique. 36 degree in the banking is some very serious banking! It's also the steepest in all of Nascar. The cars achieve incredible speed here. Not like at Atlanta, or Daytona, or Talladega, or California, but these cars are screaming around the banking, and there is a lot of beating and banging going on. In a way it's a return to the true roots of stock car racing. Little half mile bullrings where the drivers aren't afraid to use the old chrome horn, or fender, or anything else that is available to move over the guy in front of them. It's old style racing at it's best, and the fans love it.

Very few drivers leave the track in a great mood after the race. There are a lot of wrecks at Bristol, and a lot of them are just racing accidents, but some consider Bristol a good place to pay another driver back for a perceived injustice that may have occurred at another track like say, Atlanta. With all the contact being made just from normal racing, why not nudge that other fellow a little harder than necessary?

In fact, there is only one driver generally guaranteed to be in a good mood after a race at Bristol. The winner.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Tempering Raw Emotion with Cool Reasoning

Now that I've time to reflect on it, and had a night's rest, I'm going to devote even more precious space here to one of my least favorite drivers; Kyle Busch. This time, I'm going to be a little more composed, and I will use my head, and not my heart.

For those of you who didn't see yesterday's Nationwide race, here's what happened in a nutshell. Kyle Busch led nearly every lap of the race, until he blew a tire and hit the wall late in the race. Kyle didn't just lead, but absolutely dominated the field. Every restart, he basically just drove away, and kept driving away. It was as if his car had about 50 more horse power than any other car did. Was Kyle upset when he crashed out of the race? You bet. Should he have been upset? Of course. I don't blame him for the fact that he was upset. I don't really blame the pit reporters for trying to get a short interview with him too, knowing it was probably going to make for some good TV. Kyle had two options at that point. He could either grant going on live TV or he could have declined to have the interview.

Kyle did the foolish thing. Without stopping, Kyle gave ESPN pit reporter Shannon Spake a couple of very snotty, short answers. I was immediately reminded of a spoiled 10 year old, who had just been sent to his room for the rest of the day.

I watched the race live, and was somewhat perturbed over Kyle's behavior. Later, last night, I replayed that portion of the race, and this time I just went ballistic over Kyle's behavior. I don't know why I went off after seeing it the second time, but I did. I went to my favorite place on the Internet, The Dale Jr. Pit Board, and made a post in which I basically insulted Kyle Busch. And now I realize I am guilty of the same childish behavior that I accused Kyle of. I opened my mouth before I had my emotions fully under control

In retrospect, Kyle probably should have declined the interview. People would have said he was a baby anyway, me included probably. But at least he wouldn't have proven that yes, a 23 year old man can show that he is as emotionally mature as a spoiled brat 10 year old. I'm not saying that Kyle is a spoiled brat, but he, like me, tends to shoot off his mouth when he's upset.

In retrospect, I should have watched the replay of Kyle's interview without a dangerous weapon literally in front of me. That weapon is of course my computer. I'm in control of this puppy. I can use it for good things, or I can use it for bad things. Last night, I made a poor choice, and went to the Pit Board and did something that I shouldn't have done. I made a very negative post about another driver. The Pit Board doesn't ban such talk per se, but they do try to discourage it. I'm on of the people on the Pit Board who tries very hard to keep peace there, but last night I failed miserably. Like a 23 year old driver, this 44 year old fan lost his cool, and said things he shouldn't have said. For those whom I offended, I am deeply sorry and ashamed.

I'm also somewhat ashamed of some of the things I wrote on this very blog last night, but I will not delete what I wrote. I will leave it there so that people will maybe see what I'm talking about.

To Kyle Busch, and his fans I say this. Kyle, you are a fantastic driver. You might just be the best talent out there. Your car control abilities are just out of this world. To some of us, you rub us the wrong way, but you are the real deal, my young friend. You deserve all the accolades you get in this sport. You are truly a great driver. When you have problems, I would suggest that maybe you decline an interview for a while next time. I'm saying that because I know you, like me get emotional about things. Your fans love you because you are such a great driver. I'm sorry for irritating any of your fans by doing things that I shouldn't. I am old enough to know better. When I was 23, I was probably very much like you. At nearly double your age, I should know better.

To all my friends on the Pit Board, I'll be back. I just need to take a little break, but I'll be reading every day. Thanks to those who have had so many kind words for me. I hope this blog will help explain why I was upset with myself last night, and in a lot of ways, I still am.

The Atlanta race is always one of my favorites. I've been to several races there, and as a matter of fact, Atlanta is the only track that I saw two of my favorite drivers win at: Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr. Two of the best days in my life. I wouldn't take a million bucks for either experience.

Thanks for playing along, folks. I'll see you around the next corner!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Here's to you, you big Baby.

Nascar drivers used to be all grown up. I guess Kyle Busch isn't very grown up. He gave some very snotty answers to an ESPN pit reporter today.

Kyle, grow up, It's only a Nationwide race. Tomorrow, when you butt gets stomped in a Cup race, I suppose you'll have a whole new list of people to blame.

Kyle's attitude is very similar to what Tony Stewart has been criticized for for years. I'm thinking putting these two together has not produced stellar results. Tony is not known for enthusiastically seeking out a microphone after a crash out. In Tony's defense, I can say that Tony needs a cooling off period after a crash. Like maybe 20 minutes. Kyle needs to have a cooling off period after a crash too, it would seem. Either a couple of months or a burping.

Kyle, you big baby, you're in the big leagues now. You drive better than just about anyone out there, but you act like such a baby when you blow a tire. If you can ever learn to control that baby temper of yours, you will win a ton of races and championships. You have so much talent that it's shameful to blow off interviews like you did today. You are a baby, and you need to grow up.

Time to back away.

I've been a member on a certain message board for a long time, and today, I let my feelings run away. I said something bad about another driver. I'm sorry, other driver. You big baby. Oops, there I go again.

We live and die by the word, and I posted some stuff that really made 1 person mad. So I'm removing myself from the board for a while. It's never my intent to irritate people. I do it, somehow instinctively, but I never do so purposely.

I write almost on instinct. I think a thought, and my fingers move whether they are on a keyboard or not. I'm not pleasant company on a date because of that sometimes.

Anyone who watched the Nationwide race today probably knows whom the driver is of whom I'm speaking. The big baby. OOps, sorry.

Racing happens. So does my big mouth. Sorry folks. I'm going to be quiet for a while, except on this forum. You are always free to stuff your sock in my mouth here as well.

Racing, and Nascar? I'm here to stay. You can poke me, and you can prod me, but I will talk. It's what my big yap knows how to do best.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Reliable Sources

What is objectivity? What is bias? Is one more important than the other? These are questions being asked by people everywhere today, and of course not just in the racing world. Racing being the emphasis of this blog, however, I shall concentrate on information and misinformation in racing.

Is it possible for a journalist or TV analyst to be totally objective? Lately, a lot of fans have been complaining about Fox commentator Darrell Waltrip's seeming 'love affair' with Kyle Busch. Darrell has even joked about it. To those of us who are not Kyle Busch fans, it can be quite annoying. I think one thing we are forgetting here is that Darrell Waltrip was hired by Fox Sports because he is a former driver and past champion in Nascar. He was hired because he is not afraid to open his mouth and give his opinion. And that's the word: "Opinion". We don't really expect Darrell to be objective, but we at least hope he'll talk about more than one driver.

The same goes with the other former racing professionals, drivers, crew chiefs, or whatever. Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds are former crew chiefs, and all probably have soft spots in their hearts for certain teams, especially the ones they used to work for. The same goes for Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett, Ray Evernham and pretty much anyone else that I left out. I never really expect to hear an unbiased opinion from any of them, because they are not journalists by trade. The are racers, with all the passion that racers have to bring to the track to be winners in this sport. All have been winners too.

When it comes to the journalists, or in other words, the people that went to college and majored in journalism, or media, or broadcasting, I do have a problem with quite a few of them. It's not my intention to name any names here, but I have seen quite a few instances of bias over the years by the "professionals".

I have seen pit reporters on TV who continually harped on a particular driver's "failure" to win or to qualify well, or to sometimes just be uncooperative. Do the journalists that cover this sport have favorites and non-favorites? Of course they do, but they should be professional enough to not allow their personal biases to cloud their judgment on how to report on a certain driver or team or even an event.

For instance: A few years ago, a certain pit reporter made a very big deal about how a certain driver's team set up their tires, and caused quite a stir in the rest of the media. If the pit reporter had actually caught the team cheating, this would have been news, but at that time, what the team was doing was perfectly legal. Furthermore, they were probably not the only team doing this. What happened was the predictable outrage and led to Nascar banning the practice that the team was using. This is where the pit reporter was making news, not reporting it. I feel that Nascar has the right, under their own rules to police the sport, but should not be taking the word of a TV pit reporter as gospel truth. Had I been in the pits that day and had observed the supposed wrongdoing, Nascar wouldn't have listened to me had I complained about it. The pit reporter was using his status and celebrity to make a scene. The reporter was manufacturing the news, not reporting it.

For instance: A certain Associated Press reporter seems to have a bias against a driver that I truly admire. This person has repeatedly reported basically only the negative aspects of this driver's career. A few years ago, this reporter openly questioned the validity of this driver even having a career. The driver in question has won races, and has actually raced in the now defunct IROC series, which gives an indication of the driver's true credentials. Personal bias in a news story? Isn't that best saved for commentary? That isn't what this reporter has done, however. The reporter has presented the news as objective, and as fact. It is in fact personal opinion, and to me that is not acceptable.

Certain Internet sources are very unreliable as well. A couple of years ago, I was working in a classroom full of sixth graders who were asked to write a report about their favorite sport, and who they admired and didn't admire within that sport. I was in the classroom doing my other job, which means I was repairing equipment, as quietly as possible in the back of the room. I was pleased to hear that several of the students chose Nascar as their favorite sport, but was dismayed to hear some of the "facts" that they found on the Internet. For instance, I learned that Jeff Gordon was gay, that Tony Stewart was an alcoholic, that Jimmie Johnson was gay, that Dale Earnhardt once shot a man, that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was gay, etc. The teacher was not knowledgeable about Nascar in the least, and after class, I asked the teacher if I could see some of the Nascar reports that the students had written. She complied, and I noticed that the students were required to cite sources for the facts in their reports. Most of the "gay" sources cited Wikipedia. The source for Dale Earnhardt's "shooting" was a blogger. The source for Tony being an alcoholic was a site called "".

Wikipedia is a great idea that never really worked. Anyone can sign on and edit just about anything. Most of the unsubstantiated stuff is removed, eventually. But I have looked up a lot of drivers on Wiki, and have found comments such as "Dale Jr. is over rated, because he can't drive, has never won a race that he hasn't cheated in, and his daddy paid off Nascar to let him win." I once read a year or so ago that Jeff Gordon once had a homosexual relationship with Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush. I once read that Kevin Harvick beat his wife Delana so badly that she had to be taken to the emergency room. In other words, your child can click on a Wikipedia article and read just about anything as outrageous. If I had kids, I would discourage them from using Wikipedia as a resource for school work.

If you want cold, hard statistics on Nascar, I would recommend Racing Reference Info.
You will find complete stats here, with no opinion at all, unless you read the comments on the individual races themselves. Remember, blogs, such as this, and message boards are pretty much totally opinionated. I'm certainly guilty of that, but I'm not here to report the news. You can get that elsewhere, and I'm not at the track every Sunday, and I'm not in the shops during the week. I've only had in depth conversations with one current Cup driver, and I'm a fan of his. My opinion of him will be clouded because of the personal nature of our conversations, so I'm not qualified to write objectively about him, and on this particular forum, I don't. I do write elsewhere about him, but that's where my bias is welcomed, because I'm writing to fans of this driver. I make no bones about being a Dale Jr. fan on this blog, and that is NOT with whom I have had conversations. (Just wanted to head that off at the pass!)

If you've taken the time to read all of the above outpourings of drivel, I hope you will come away with one conclusion. Be careful what you read, recognize opinion as what it is, and let the statistics speak for themselves.

And I unabashedly say, in a totally objective way, Go Dale Jr! Heh heh heh.

In drought stricken Georgia, Rain is a mixed blessing today

Lord only knows Georgia needs the rain, and it looks like they're getting plenty of it this morning, but it's not exactly what racing fans want to see.

Georgia's lakes have been drying up, and rain is a blessed sight to see, but it's too bad the rain couldn't have waited until next week. It appears that the Trucks and Nationwide practice will be effected today, but there appears to be a good chance that the Cup qualifying and the Trucks race will likely run as scheduled tonight. As of 5:45 AM, Eastern Time, a wide band of rain stretched over much of the Peach State, from central Alabama well into North and South Carolina.

As needed as is the rain, the several Go-or-go-home teams are sweating it out in the early morning showers in Hampton, Ga.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Back to our Roots: Atlanta

Sorry Westerners! You've had your chance, now here we come back to the Southeast, and some of the best stock car racing known to man. Atlanta Motor Speedway isn't actually in Atlanta, but a few miles south in Hampton, Ga. Atlanta has nary a bad seat in the stands, in my experience at least. Atlanta is a 1.5 mile high banked tri-oval, and the speeds that race cars run here is just off the hook.

In recent history, One driver has dominated here, and for a change it's not Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon. It's Bobby Labonte, who has won here 6 times, with all of his wins coming in the 18 Interstate Batteries car. Bill Elliot has won here 5 times, and Jeff has won 4 times, followed by Jimmie with 3 wins here. Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, and Mark Martin have all won here 2 times. Among the drivers with 1 win each are Kurt Busch, Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, Ken Schrader, Kasey Kahne, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Probably the most remembered win from the last few years was Kevin Harvick's dramatic win at Atlanta only in his 3rd race driving the cup car for Richard Childress. Kevin is a true winner, and he celebrated the life of the driver whom he replaced, Dale Earnhardt.

Atlanta is almost always an exciting race, and I doubt that this week will be any different. Dale Jr. has been running good, and all the Hendrick cars are vowing for vengeance this week. Rouch driver has won 2 in a row, and he will certainly be in the mix. Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch and all of the Evernham drivers want to represent Dodge well also. And don't forget Toyota drivers Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin. All of these boys are hungry for a win.

Don't forget Bobby Labonte back there in a Petty Dodge. Bobby knows how to win here too.

Here's to good racing, good times, and good friends.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Why do I like Dale Jr.?

It's easy. He never gave up today. Not even once.

Dale Jr. drove his best race of the year in my opinion today. He didn't wreck, but was almost in one. He kept positive. He was even telling his crew chief to calm down. Dale was the quarterback on his team today.

Congratulations to Carl Edwards, by the way. I would have posted a picture, but once you've seen one flip, you've seen them all anyway.

People are trying to give me grief and telling me that Dale Jr. is the same guy as last year. No wins. I say, in points races, true. But Dale did win the Bud Shootout and his qualifying race. Dale Jr. came out of the chute winning races when it mattered.

Dale Jr. didn't win the Daytona 500. Dale basically had no drafting help, and that hurt a lot. Dale didn't win at California either, but that was because he got wrecked through no fault of his own, by his own teammate, no less, who hit a wet spot on the track and spun. Just bad luck.

Dale Jr. didn't win tonight at Las Vegas either, but he sure tried. He once again was the top finishing Hendrick car, finishing 2nd behind Carl Edwards. He did not have the best car all day, but he drove a better race than his car should have finished.

Dale Jr. has heart. He's got courage. He can drive a bad race car fast and he can drive a good race car wicked fast. When Dale Jr. makes a mistake, he's the first to admit it. He confesses to 'mistakes' that he didn't even make. In other words, Dale Jr. is humble.

Dale Jr. is the son of a 7 time champion, and he will likely not ever win as many races or as many champions as his father did. I don't care. Does he ever do wrong? Sure he does. He's human, just like you and me. Is he really a good driver? Try getting a 5 year contract with Rick Hendrick Racing if you think you could driver better.

I'm a fan of Dale Earnhardt Jr. He's truly a man in his own right now.

I miss Neil Bonnett

Neil is mostly known now as Dale Earnhardt's hunting buddy, and best friend. Neil was a great man in his own right though. Neil was born in 1946 in Bessemer, Alabama. He grew up and became a pipe fitter, working on what construction workers called "high steel", helping to build the towers and skyscrapers that dot Birmingham's skyline. At nights and on weekends, Neil raced. Neil said later that though there was a line of people that wanted to take away his day job, nobody wanted his job behind the steering wheel of a race car.

Neil eventually became one of the famed Alabama Gang, with fellow Hueytown drivers Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, Red Farmer, and later, Davey Allison.

Neil won 18 Cup races, one Busch race, and an incredible 4 IROC wins in only 10 starts. At one point in Neil's career, he was in a bad accident, and actually asked a doctor to bolt his broken sternum together so he could drive the next race.

Earnhardt and Bonnett loved fishing and hunting together. They basically were much the same man. A true story from Leigh Montville's book At the Alter of Speed:

Bonnett is driving a 110 MPH bass boat on a river in Alabama one afternoon. He was driving somewhere around the maximum, 110 mph speed. He decided to pull into a small marina for something to eat, finishing the move with a fine fantail spray.A fish-and-game policeman, a ranger, was waiting for him. The ranger wanted to give Bonnett a ticket for excessive speed on the river.

"Do you know who I am?" Bonnett asked as the ranger began to write.

"No, I don't," the ranger replied. "And I don't care."

"No, really, do you know who I am?"

"No, and look, I don't care if you're the King of Siam. You're getting a ticket."

"You don't understand," Bonnett finally said. "You really don't know who I am?"

"No!" the policeman grunted.

"Fine," Neil Bonnett said as he gunned the 110 mph bass boat and escaped down river. "That's all I wanted to know."

In 1994, Neil Bonnett lost his life when he hit the wall in turn 4 while practicing at Daytona. In 2001, His best friend lost his life in the same place. They both lost their lives doing what they loved the most. Racing.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Some Las Vegas Notes

Kyle Busch won the pole at Las Vegas on Friday, which basically surprised no one. Kyle was fastest in Cup practice, and had a nice, late draw, going out 34th when track conditions were about as good as they got. Carl Edwards is still flying high from Monday's win at California, and will start on the outside of Kyle in 2nd place. Mark Martin in the 8 Chevy will start 3rd, best by far of all the DEI cars. Mark also had the benefit of the late draw. Jeff Gordon had a relatively early draw, but will start in 4th, the fastest of the Hendrick Motorsports cars in qualifying. One of the biggest surprises of the day was Mike Skinner, now in his 2nd race in the 27 Toyota for Bill Davis Racing, who will start 5th. Greg Biffle went out 2nd in qualifying, and held the pole for a long time, and will still start in 6th.

Scott Riggs was surprising as well, starting in 7th place in the 66 car owned by Gene Haas. Dale Earnhardt Jr. went out 5th, and will start 8th.

The most remarkable thing to me was just how much the track conditions changed from the beginning through the end of qualifying. The track obviously picked up a lot of speed as the 3rd and 4th turns went from sunlight to shade at Las Vegas.

Friday was the first time that Nascar implemented the policy of having the go-or-go-home cars all qualify together after the top 35 drivers qualify. This seems like the best of all worlds really, for all involved. It allows the drivers with the most at stake to have the best of qualifying conditions, and for there not to be obvious advantages or disadvantages from just the draw for qualifying order itself. The new rule allows small teams extra time after practice to work on the cars in the garage as well. By qualifying under cooler track conditions, the go-or-go-home guys are hopefully less likely to have a spin or a crash on the track during qualifying, and automatically be excluded from the race. Obviously that is not always the case, as we saw on Friday when Johnny Sauter crashed the 21 Wood Brothers Ford on the exit of turn 2 on his 1st qualifying lap.

The premise behind the new rule is that it is more fair to the small teams with fewer resources by have them all qualify under virtually the same track conditions. If a top 35 car crashes during qualifying, they will have to bring out the backup car, but they are still in the race, starting from the back of the field. If that happens to a go-or-go-home car, they are done. They go home and watch the race on TV. This may be one of the best rules I've seen Nascar produce in quite a while.

I've read some arguments against the rule, namely what happens if a 1 car show qualifies dead last in the order and wins the pole because the track is so much faster? What happens if say, AJ Allmendinger beats out Kyle Busch for the pole just because he went out and qualified so late? I say this: So be it. Points are not awarded for qualifying. There are pole awards, and you get to be in next year's Bud Shootout, but what's wrong with that? The pole winner gets a little extra money. That's not a bad thing for these small teams. Some of these cars are driving with little or now sponsorship at all, and money is very precious to just survival, not glamor or fame.

I have an acquaintance with whom I've had a debate over the last few weeks with over the above mentioned qualifying rule. He is not in favor of it for the aforementioned reason, namely it's not right seeing a relatively unknown driver on the pole just by benefit of qualifying order. "It's the Bud Shootout", he says. "It's an important race!"

I have replied by pointing out that the Bud Shootout is basically an exhibition race, and there are no points awarded. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Bud Shootout this February. His detractors are still saying that Jr. hasn't won a real race yet. I say the Bud Shootout is an important race, in that it's a lot of fun to watch, and the winner gets a nice paycheck, but the race itself awards no points to any of the drivers.

My acquaintance has also pointed out that Dale Jr. still has not won a real race. I reply by saying he won, as you said, an important race, and in his very first race, by the way in his brand new car.

The bottom line is that maybe some of the small teams might win a pole from time to time, but in the over all scheme of things, it just makes it more possible for small teams to make races than they've had in recent years. Nascar has always been a sport that has shown that if a driver wants to win bad enough, he can achieve success in the sport. Big teams have the majority of the sponsorship and the resources. Let's give the little teams a chance too.

As for my acquaintance? It's all good. Racing should be racing. You can't have it both ways. though.