Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Missing Dale Earnhardt

Today, April 29, would have been Dale Earnhardt's 57th birthday, and I've had a difficult time thinking about what might be different about Nascar today, had Dale survived February 18, 2001. Ever since Dale entered the Cup series full time in the 1979 season, the sport changed radically, and a lot of the credit for that can be laid squarely on Earnhardt's shoulders.

Dale went from a hungry, wide eyed, total disaster at times on the race track to becoming Nascar's first international star. He saw the sport through some of the most important changes that the sport has ever seen, and when he left, suddenly, on a Sunday afternoon in February, not only did the sport change for ever, but for some, the entire world changed as well.

We will never know exactly what the Nascar would look like had Dale lived. We can only speculate, and as fun or as sad, depending on your point of view, that might be, we're still only guessing. One thing we do know is that Dale Earnhardt was very instrumental in the exploding popularity of Nascar in the 1990's. Had Dale lived beyond the first race of 2001, Nascar might be the most watched sport in America, by far. Dale was 49 years old when he died, but he still provided the Nascar world specifically, and the entire sporting world as a whole, a ton of excitement every time he climbed into his race car.

Dale Earnhardt electrified Nascar, starting back in 1979, when he won Rookie of the Year awards, followed by his first Winston Cup Championship in 1980, the first time in Nascar history, which is still a record unequaled, even by superstars of today, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Dale Jr. didn't do it either, and neither did Tony Stewart or Kyle Busch. Some might say that the Nascar world is more competitive now than it was in Dale's early years, but back then, the cars were a lot harder to drive, with no air conditioning for the drivers, and with no power steering. If you look closely, most of today's crop of Nascar drivers are relatively small men. The drivers are certainly in good physical shape, but back when Earnhardt started in Nascar, most of the drivers were big, burly men. They had to be just to take the physical punishment that a 400 or 500, or even a 600 mile race exacted from their bodies. Earnhardt was a pretty big guy, compared to most of today's drivers.

No matter what his physical stature was, he soon became the driver that seemingly stood ten feet tall and bullet proof. Earnhardt endured horrible pain in his racing career, but never complained about it. Dale defied doctor's orders, and swore them to secrecy after bad crashes, just so he could get back into his race car the next weekend. I don't think he ever considered taking a week off, unless he physically couldn't walk out of the hospital. He never considered it, because racing was what he did. It's all he ever wanted to do.

Dale Earnhardt never finished high school, a shortcoming that he regretted for the rest of his life. He went sometimes to extremes with his children, trying to make sure they got the best education they could get. Dale seemed to regret very much that he disappointed his father by not graduating, and he was determined to see that his father Ralph's grandchildren did get a good education.

Dale came up hard, as we say here in the south. At times, he practically starved to support his racing. It was often said that if Dale had enough money to pay the power bill or to buy a new set of tires for his race car, the decision was a no brainer for him. He bought the tires. Dale's overwhelming desire to race eventually cost him 2 marriages, and custody of 3 of his 4 children, at least for a time. Dale lived to race, early in his life, but on the day he died, he was a content family man.

It's pretty much assured that had Dale lived, he would be retired by now. Knowing Dale, he might still have run an All Star race or a Shootout, just for fun, or he might be running a few races in the Trucks series even. We'll never know, obviously, but we do know he would probably have been a very successful team owner, at the very least.

Dale was called the Intimidator, because many drivers lost their poise when they saw the black number 3 Chevrolet on their back bumper, especially late in the race. Dale never drove for consistency, he always drove to win. His steely eyes could back down the pushiest reporter, when he didn't like the questions they were asking. Dale also could be very friendly and open, giving up a lot of his time to try to satisfy the growing craving for all things Earnhardt, allowing camera crews onto his private property, to allow himself being photographed hunting and fishing. I know first hand that Dale was very gracious when it came to contacting with his fans. When he signed autographs, which was often, he would meet his fans with eye contact and his famous smile. Dale Earnhardt always knew on which side his bread was buttered. He raced hard, because he was great at doing it, and he was very appreciative of his fans, because he always knew that his fans helped to make him what he was.

Dale Earnhardt had an extremely good head for business, basically inventing the modern Nascar marketing phenomena that we experience today. Dale very quickly understood the demand that tee shirts and die cast cars might become, and he capitalized on it, making a fortune in the process. Dale went from being the guy that couldn't pay his bills to a multimillionaire, but he never really changed as a person. He lived in nice houses, drove nice cars, bought a private jet, but Dale never really changed from the kid who grew up in Kannapolis, NC. He never lived more than a few miles from the home he grew up in.

Dale Earnhardt was many things to many people, but to me he was more than a race car driver. Dale was a hero, in the truest sense. Dale beat the odds, succeeded on levels that are difficult to comprehend, and did most of it by sheer determination and will. That's a hero in my mind, and as long as I live, I'll never forget Dale Earnhardt.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Possible to like Nascar drivers but dislike their fans?

You bet. I joined the Harvick Online site a few years ago, but quit posting much, because even though I was a Harvick fan, I got ripped every time I posted there. I could say Harvick was the best driver ever, and there appeared some poster that had a problem with everything I said. Today, on the eve of the Talladega race, some poor soul admitted feeling sorry for Dale Jr.'s winless streak. She was invited to leave the site, and not very politely.

What was funny, was that about 2 posts above the Dale Jr. comment, someone thought it wise to post about Ferarri winning a Formula One race. There was not problem with that, but mention Dale Jr. and the entire board has a veritable hissy fit.

I joined the HOL board in good faith a few years ago, and have never, ever run Dale Jr. up the flag pole, but I could say that Harvick was the greatest driver out there, and I would find some poster who basically said the sky was green. You can't win on HOL. You either belong to the clique, or you don't. Lately, it appears that most of the HOL posters are of an emotional age of around 8 or so. Slash. Burn. It's what the HOL folks do. That's their right., I suppose, but even though I like Kevin Harvick, as a driver and as a team owner, his fans seem like absolute dweebs.

Why the problem with Dale Jr., you might ask. Good question. It's pure jealousy. HOL members will never admit it, but they are so jealous of the media attention that Dale Jr. garners, they just can't stand it, and they do the usual posts, Dale Jr. has no talent, he's a traitor, etc.

Kevin Harvick is a great driver in the Nationwide series. Until he puts up some numbers like Dale Jr. has in the Cup series, Kevin is a has-been. Kevin is a second tier driver, and will remain that way until he produces a lot more wins. Kevin Harvick, I like you, but you seriously need to torch your pathetic message board and start a new one.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

And the Silly Season is in full force now

Rumors today are predicting that Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. are leaving their respective teams after the 2008 season. Stewart is rumored to be buying up to 50 per cent of Gene Haas' operation, and running a car there, possibly taking Home Depot sponsorship with him. Haas teams, both the 66 and the 70 Chevrolets are powered by Rick Hendrick engines, and supposedly, Tony wants to return to Chevrolet in the near future.

Martin Truex Jr. has had a couple of engine problems so far this year, and that might be leading to the rumor that he will be leaving Dale Earnhardt, Inc. after the 2008 season. Martin definitely has more than a few possibilities to pursue, namely the 4th Richard Childress team, or possibly Tony's old ride at Joe Gibbs Racing. Possibly a Roush driver or even two might be leaving after this year, and Martin could end up driving a Ford for Jack Roush. All of this is purely speculation at this point.

Bobby Labonte appears to be heavily favored to get the Childress team's 4th ride, since they will be carrying his General Mills colors next year. That's still entirely possible, but rumors also state that Bobby will remain with Petty Enterprises until he retires. Bobby's not saying, and neither is Robby Loomis, who is currently in negotiations with Labonte on behalf of Petty.

Richard Childress my just decide to chuck it, and put Scott Wimmer in the 33 next year. Or he could put a former Roush driver in the car. The fact is that we just don't know right now.

And we probably won't know until much later in the racing season. This is why the Silly Season is so much fun, because we can all speculate, and even if we are entirely wrong, so are probably at least half the other fans out there.

Last year, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he would leave Dale Earnhardt Inc. after the 2007 season, I predicted that Dale would end up at either Richard Childress Racing or Joe Gibbs Racing, but that was before I knew that Gibbs would be switching brands to Toyota for 2008. The rumors began to grow that Dale Jr. would eventually go to Rick Hendrick, but I dismissed many of those. As it turns out, I was 100 per cent wrong on that one. Dale Jr. has revealed in the past year that Hendrick was really the only place he wanted to go, since his relationship with Rick had been a strong one, since Dale Jr. was just a boy. Personal relationships mean a lot in Nascar, and Jr. went where his heart told him to go.

I will be following the news about Stewart, Truex Jr., and Labonte with interest over the next few months, and I'm not making any predictions this time. For all I know, Labonte may end up at DEI, Truex Jr. might end up at Roush, and Tony Stewart might just decide to go open wheel racing again, in the new IRL/Champ series. I have no idea.

My instincts tell me that Bobby Labonte doesn't want to retire, he wants to win again. RCR could be the place that he does that. Truex Jr. obviously wants to win, but he's probably frustrated with DEI's engine woes, even though they seem to have improved much over last year. It's been rumored before that Stewart wanted to buy into a team, and that he wants to go back to Chevrolet, so Haas makes sense to me. That might be a totally wrong guess, but unless I'm missing something, Haas is probably in a position to be bought into, and soon. Tony's got the money, and I would not be surprised to see him make a transaction with Haas before the season is over. Whether the Home Depot will follow Tony is debatable, but I think that Home Depot would be crazy for not following Tony.

If all these changes happen, who would fill the voids left by these drivers? JGR, DEI, and Petty would have some vacancies to fill. Martin Truex Jr. could go to Gibbs. I could see that. Who would go to DEI and Petty though? Probably drivers that are just trying to prove themselves, either fired Cup drivers that need a job, or some Nationwide talent. Bobby could probably have the job at RCR if he wants it. Whether he does or not will have to be revealed at a later date.

If DEI or Petty hires Jeremy Mayfield, we will all know they are scraping the bottom of the barrel, not because Jeremy is a bad driver, but he's had some problems with authority, in the past. Personally I like Jeremy, but he's burned a bridge or two in the past. Bill Elliot seems to be the driver that never retires, so he might be a fill in for a while. Personally, I'd like to see Kenny Wallace get a shot at one of the open jobs, if they become available. Jason Keller is another driver I'd like to see in a Cup car again. Chad McCumbee appears to be waiting in the wings to replace Kyle Petty or Bobby Labonte, but I wouldn't mind seeing him in a DEI ride either. Stephen Leicht might be another viable driver.

The point is, who knows? I certainly don't, and neither do you, I would suspect. Silly Season is just what it is, guesses and speculation, and it's fun.

What we tend to forget, as Nascar fans, is that fun is what it's supposed to be for us. It is fun.

Have fun, will ya?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A fan's point of view of Nascar racing

I've been a racing fan since the early 1970's, and I've watched Nascar and open wheel racing.  Back in the early '70's, there was not much racing on TV except for the Indy 500, and an occasional open wheel race over seas.  ABC's Wide World of Sports would sometimes show some Nascar highlights, but there was not that much racing on television back in those days.  In February, 1979, all that changed, when the Daytona 500 was carried live on TV, and the great fight broke out after the race that is still familiar to this day for Nascar fans.  With the cable revolution, Nascar became available for more and more viewers.  

In just a few years, Nascar became a venue that was familiar to people from all over the country, not just in the Southeast, where the sport began.  Petty was winning races, but not as many as he did back in the early part of his career.  The King was starting to show some age, and there were a lot of hot drivers out there challenging Richard for the crown.  Waltrip, Yarborough, Allison, Pearson, Parsons, Rudd, Labonte, Bodine, Earnhardt.  Yes, Earnhardt.  1979 was Dale Earnhardt's first full season in Nascar, and he won Rookie of the Year.  In 1980, Earnhardt went on to win the championship, the Winston Cup, and is still the only driver to accomplish that incredible feat.  

The 1980's saw moderate growth in fans for the sport.  In the 1990's, the sport exploded.  A young driver named Jeff Gordon began winning everything there was to win, and Dale Earnhardt basically invented the modern business of sports marketing, selling tee shirts, hats, diecasts, and every other imaginable collectable.  By the end of the 1990's decade, Nascar had become a huge sport, with tons of money being exchanged.  In 2000, another Earnhardt came along, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and his easy manner and party style garnered him lots of fans from the very beginning.  In many of the fan's minds, a dynasty was born, with Dale Jr. driving for the company that his old man started, Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.  Drivers no longer drove to the track in their cars, or hauled their race cars behind their pickup trucks as they had in the 1970's.  Drivers now flew by private jets, the cars were hauled by professional truck drivers in high tech 18 wheelers to the tracks.  The drivers didn't stay in cheap motels anymore near the track.  They stayed in comfortable motor coaches in the infield at the track.  Nascar was booming.  This is business, baby!

In 2001, Nascar and the broadcasting networks made their moves.  FOX and NBC bought the rights to broadcast the races, paying multiple millions of dollars for the right to broadcast the races.  FOX hired veteran driver Darrell Waltrip, and crew chiefs Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond to provide color for the races.  NBC hired Benny Parsons and Wally Dallenbach for the same reasons.  This was the big show now, and Nascar was destined to become America's most watched sport.

The 2001 Daytona 500 was huge even for FOX, and everyone was ready to see racing on prime time TV.  Bill Elliot started on the pole, and many people were watching Dale and Dale Jr., the Master of Restrictor Plate Racing and his son, and DEI did very well, with DEI driver Michael Waltrip winning his first race ever in the Winston Cup, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. pushing him to victory.  But on that last lap of the Daytona 500, history was made, and the sport changed forever.  Dale Earnhardt hit the Turn 4 wall slightly off center, and died instantly.  Driver Kenny Schrader was involved in the accident, and stopped down in the infield near Dale's car.  Kenny was worried about his old friend, and jumped out of his car to check on Dale.  Kenny looked in the window of the GM Goodwrench Chevy, and turned away, shocked.  Kenny had lost a good friend, and the Nascar world had just lost it's biggest hero.

In the aftermath of Dale Earnhardt's death, Nascar implemented numerous safety requirements.  New inspections of seat belts, new crash bars, and the requirement that all drivers wear head and neck restraint devices.  Nascar soon began thinking about softer walls, and the end result was the SAFER barrier, a little bit of a cushion between the car and the hard concrete wall.  For some reason, the safety craze didn't really hit Nascar until Dale Earnhardt died, even though the year before, drivers Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty had died of similar injuries.  Dale Earnhardt's death was the event that forced Nascar to change, though.  Within a year, Nascar became much safer.  Unfortunately, the measures that Nascar took were much like shutting the barn door after the horse has escaped.  The damage was done, and Nascar was changed forever.

In the years following Dale Earnhardt's death, Nascar changed the system around.  They implemented the Free Pass, or what is commonly called the Lucky Dog pass, for the first car one lap down.  Nascar implemented the Chase for the Cup, which still has many mixed reviews among fans.  The actual racing became more orchestrated, or more of a pageant.  Networks covering the sport spent more time on the nuts and bolts of racing, and talking up the current favorites than they did actually showing the racing, the true racing on the track.  A leader leading by 3 seconds is exciting for the fans of that particular race car driver, but what about the cars mired back in the pack?  That's actually where the majority of the racing occurs, but many of the TV networks don't show much of that these days.

When I go to my local short track, Anderson (SC) Motor Speedway,   I can pick and choose which driver to watch.  If watching the leader gets boring, I can just go back through the pack and pick the particular battle I want to watch.  TV doesn't give you that option, and I can sympathize with the TV crews, because some of them are not really race fans, and think we just want to see the leader or the booth's favorite driver drive endless circles around the track by himself.  Racing is about competition, and they all compete at some point, but having a camera follow lap after lap of a driver who's just keeping time and not really racing anyone is just plain boring.

Today's racing world is all about money, and that's not likely to change soon.  Nascar today is all about packing in the most fans, selling the most tee shirts, making the best TV ratings.  Nascar today has not much in common with the racing of the past, where the drivers raced, and the cameras covered the action.  Nascar today is all about the money, and the racing is a by product, it would seem.

If you want to see what racing is really all about, go to your local short track and watch the people with names you probably don't know do what they do best:  Race.

I wish Nascar would get back to racing.  If they don't, one of these days, people will be comparing stock car racing to the WWE. 

Oh what?  Really?  Guess what, they already are.

Message to Nascar:  Do what you do best.  Go racing again.  In my opinion, IRL broadcasts are much better than the current overhyped Nascar broadcasts.  In IRL, you can actually see the racing happen on the track, not the drama of a Kyle Busch blowing his top after doing something stupid.  I mean, we want to see it all, but really, why waste time with Kyle when you know he's going to say something stupid when you could be showing racing on the track?

Maybe Nascar should change it's name.  What used to be the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing has become the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Marketing.  

NASCAM.  Kinda has a ring to it, don't you think?

Talladega Dreaming

This weekend Nascar goes to Talladega, the 2.66 mile super speedway that is all about restrictor plates and drafting.  Talladega is the longest oval in all of Nascar, and before the days of the restrictor plate, the highest speeds ever achieved in the sport happened at this track.  The track has good, high banking, and nice soft turns, and this is the track that all the drivers keep the gas pedal pegged all day long.  Aerodynamics are really more important here than horsepower, and drafting skill is the major difference among the drivers, because most of the cars will be just about equal.

Jeff Gordon is the current active driver with the most wins at 6 total.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 2nd with 5 wins at the monster track.  The late, great Dale Earnhardt holds to most wins ever at this track, at 10.  The fact that Jeff and Dale Jr. are now teammates could be very important at 'Dega this weekend.  In the past, they've always been on different teams, but this year, they are teammates.  That will all go out the window with about 4 laps to go, but the Hendrick cars have the opportunity to draft together and work their way to the front if they indeed have that opportunity.  Racing being what it is, there's not guarantee that they will be able to run together at all.  I'm guessing that Jeff, Jimmie, and Dale Jr. will find their way to the front, and if the Hendrick invisible driver, Casey Mears can get in that mix, it's all good for them.

Talladega has always been a very unique race track.  The fans that regularly attend the race are among the most hard core in all of Nascar.  There will be partying in the infield, and there will be a few fights amongst drunken fans, but Talladega is a track that almost defies description.  I've been there, and looking down the track is like looking at a small airport, without the airplanes.  You just cannot believe the size of this track until you've seen it in person.  Remember, you're looking at cars, not jumbo jets out there.  Without binoculars, you will miss a lot of the race, if you are in the stands.

My one and only race at Talladega was in 2004, and I was sitting in the Turn 1 stands.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the race, and I saw a cloud of smoke over around the start/finish line, but I never actually saw the burnout.  Like I said, I was in Turn 1, and I couldn't see anything but smoke.  If I were to go back to Dega, which I surely would, I'd sit up high in the front stretch stands, and I'd have some good binoculars.

When you look at a track like Talladega, it's easy to see why the 1.5 mile tracks have gained a lot of popularity over the last few years.  At Atlanta, you can sit just about anywhere and see everything, without magnification.  I've never been to Pocono, but I imagine there is much the same feeling as I had at Talladega.  I never really saw the race, or at least most of it, until I came home and watched the video.

In my opinion, all racing is good, and I would be interested in seeing what Cup cars could do on a 3 or even a 5 mile oval, if given the opportunity.  I suppose it's not much different from watching a road course race in person, because you never get to see everything when you are there.

Personally, as much as I love Talladega, I'd rather see more Darlington or Rockingham style race tracks, where the fans can see everything, all the way around the track.  Shorter tracks mean often lower speeds, because of the restrictor plates on the really big tracks, but if Nascar could created drafting on a 1 to 1.5 mile track, I'd be interested.

Nascar needs the 2.5 plus mile race tracks.  It's good for the sport, because it challenges the teams and the drivers, just as much as running a couple of road course races per year does.  It's all different strokes, and I love Daytona and Talladega, but sometimes I think the best racing happens on the short tracks.

This weekend we'll get to see if Chevy has got the groove back, or if Toyota and Dodge still rule the restrictor plate tracks.  Or will Ford make make another run?  We won't know until we get there, and I can't wait!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Danica Patrick wins in IRL

On Saturday, Indy Racing League driver Danica Patrick made history, becoming the first woman driver to win in a IRL race. Danica has been probably the most talked about driver in open wheel racing in the USA since her debut at Indianapolis in 2005, but now there are a lot more reasons for her to be the buzz of the racing world.

Traditionally, women have been racing since the very beginning, but very few have reached the top levels, and even fewer have actually won at the highest levels. Nascar has had several women racers since it's beginnings, but none have scored wins at the very highest level.

It's not uncommon to see women racing at short tracks all over the country, with varying levels of success. Some are track champions, and are highly respected among their male peers. Some just struggle to get a decent ride, and struggle even harder to be competitive on a weekly basis.

Danica's historic win in IRL proves what I've been certain of for many years; that women can win at the very highest levels of auto racing. Shirley Muldowney has been doing it for years in drag racing, and now Danica Patrick has proven that it can be done in open wheel racing. When will Nascar have a Danica Patrick moment?

A female winner in a Cup Series race may still be a few years away, but Danica's feat should give all women racers hope. Years ago, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. and brother Kerry were first getting into racing, sister Kelley wanted to go racing too, so their father helped her set up a car as well, and the 3 young Earnhardts went racing at short tracks around the Carolinas. Kelley gave it up after a few years, but father Dale Earnhardt once said that he thought Kelley had the most talent out of his 3 racing kids. Who knows what might have happened if Kelley had stayed with racing? She is still certainly involved, overseeing the operations at JR Motorsports and acting as her brother Dale Jr.'s business manager.

Danica Patrick's win in Japan Saturday showed that women can compete at racing's highest levels, and hopefully soon we will be celebrating our first female Cup winner or maybe even Cup champion.

It's just a matter of time now!

Friday, April 18, 2008

And as we used to say back in Old Mexico City

AMF. For those of you who live in the DC area, your probably know what I'm talking about. The Greaseman Show is still on, and let's all drink one more martini to that guy. Funniest guy on the radio, EVER! I used to hear him in Atlanta years ago, and I still wish I still could. For those of you not in the DC area, or for that matter, back in Old Mexico, AMF means Adios.... My Friend. Or something like that. Use your imagination, this is a family oriented blog here!

Mexico is basically a marathon for the Nationwide Series teams, as they travel tremendous miles to drive even more miles at a race track that is higher than Denver, Colorado. I like watching the races at Mexico City though, because that's one of the more competitive road courses on the circuit. There is always a great turn out for the race, and that's all good for Nascar. More than a couple Cup drivers will be making the trip down to Mexico City to compete on the Corona Mexico 200. Clint Bowyer will be there. So will Carl Edwards, and Kyle Busch. Stan Barrett will drive Stanton's car for him. Interesting stuff.

I have no idea how many Mexican TV viewers watch Nascar on a regular basis. There appears to be a fan base there, and I know that Nascar will try to use it. If any of you Canadian residents would like to see a full blown Nascar race, I wouldn't mind seeing that, though we already do see one in Montreal. Want to see a circle track? Canada has some good tracks, and quite a few of them would be perfect for a Cup Series race, and I think Canadians should unite and demand a race in Canada. The drivers will come, but will Nascar?

Nascar in Mexico City is great, but I'd love to see more Nascar in Canada, or even the U.K. because I feel like there is a fan base there. Let's go to where the fans are, instead of where the population centers are. Mexico City was a major coup for Nascar, but let's see what we can do in Alberta, or Quebec.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A word of Thanks

I just wanted to thank each and every one of you who have taken time out of your busy day to read my blog. The hits are up, both here and on my web site, which is somewhat surprising, because those of you who have visited my site know that I am much more a writer than I am a web designer. I continue to work on the site, and am coming up with some ideas to re do parts of it, and hopefully make it a more entertaining place.

My blog is my passion, and it's hopefully getting better as time goes by. I'm somewhat overwhelmed by the range of locations represented by the readers of this blog. My recent visitors have ranged from California to Maine, from Miami to Alberta, Canada, and even Spain, Poland, Germany, and Korea. I'm still trying to get a hit from North Dakota, or Idaho, but I'm not going to give up until I've got a few! I've had several readers from the U.K., and I know one or two of them are transplanted Yankees, but at least a couple are natives to England. It's exciting to know that people who have never smelled the fumes of a Nascar race are still fans and read something as insignificant as my blog. I hope one day Nascar will run an exhibition race in the U.K., as they did years ago in Japan. For some strange reason, I would pay money to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Elliot Sadler wear a traditional 'Bobby' helmet. (For those of you who haven't heard that term, that's a policeman's helmet)

While giving thanks, I'd also like to say thank you to Mike Helton. Mike has had a tough job over the years, but he is basically the guy that keeps the wheels on Nascar. Mike has been a friend and mentor to many drivers over the years, has always been there to pray with a friend, or to give a little much needed stern advice. I don't know how much Nascar pays Mike Helton, but it's probably not enough. Mike has seen this sport go through a lot of changes, some of them very tough changes. I'll never forget the moment, back in the evening of February 18, 2001, when Mike had to do the toughest job he's ever done, which was announce to the world the death of a good friend and hero to many, Dale Earnhardt. God Bless you, Mike Helton.

There are so many others within the Nascar organization who deserve our praise, and also frequently our scorn. Racing fans are a tough crowd to please, but these people do their best.

April 29th would have been Dale Earnhardt's 57th birthday. DEI will be having it's annual Dale Earnhardt Day, and I went to the first one, in 2002. As a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, I've certainly got my differences with DEI, but I'm willing to put them aside and go up that day and celebrate the life of a man that has made an impact upon my life. DEI was started by Dale Earnhardt, and whether or not we agree on how Teresa Earnhardt has run the place since then, I'm going to go and pay my respects to the man I consider to be the greatest race car driver ever.

Thank you, the readers of this site. I will try to improve my skills and hopefully provide more interesting columns as time goes by. I'm flattered that you are willing to visit this site, and I hope to give you much more as time goes by. I originally started this blog with some advertising, but I removed it, because I didn't like they way the ads fit with what I was doing. This site, as will my website, will remain ad free.

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or just want to rip me a new one, go ahead. This is a work in progress, and all comments will be read. You folks are great, but I warn you! If you keep reading, I'll keep writing!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Is Nascar facing a drug problem?

The recent news that Craftsman Trucks Series and Nationwide Series driver Aaron Fike had been arrested for heroin use and his confession that he had injected himself with the drug prior to racing is very disturbing news for the world of Nascar. Aaron's problems raise questions about just how wide spread is drug use in Nascar. As disturbing as Aaron's confession is, I'm guessing that illegal drug use in Nascar is not that big of a problem, but it is certainly a concern.

Nascar instituted a policy that allows random drug testing of basically any driver, at any time. We will never know just how often Nascar implements this policy, but the supposition would be that Nascar does random drug testing. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, a couple of years ago, that he had never been tested for anything. I've worked for companies before that also had random drug testing policies, and I was never tested either, except for preemployment screening. Once, I sustained an injury on the job, and had to take a drug test prior to a visit to the doctor, but that was a Workman's Comp case, and from what I understand, that is standard procedure. I'm fortunate in that I've never had a problem with using illegal drugs, and the random testing policy was always enough to keep me from wanting to experiment.

But what about people who do have drug problems, for one reason or another? Apparently, Aaron Fike started taking pain killers following a racing accident, and became addicted. That addiction eventually led to heroin use. I don't think anyone reading this would dispute that Aaron should not be allowed on the race track after taking a pop of heroin. One of my best friends is on a narcotics squad for a state law enforcement agency, and his take on heroin is this: Give a guy a little heroin, and he'll go to sleep. Give him a little more, and he'll die. Obviously, Aaron wasn't taking enough heroin to put him to sleep, but the thought of him on the track with other drivers, racing at high speeds, with heroin in his system is enough to make me shudder. In a way, I'm glad Aaron got arrested. I'm also glad he confessed to the pre race drug use. The first step in recovering from an addiction is admitting you have a problem. I think Aaron's got a long road ahead of him, and his racing career is certainly in danger. But I'd rather see Aaron live a long healthy life off the track than I would to see him kill himself with heroin.

Shane Hmiel is currently under a lifetime ban by Nascar, after being suspended for failing a drug test in 2003, testing positive for marijuana. Shane was reinstated in 2004, but failed a drug tests again in 2005 and 2006, this time showing positive not only for marijuana, but also cocaine. It is not known if Shane was actually under the influence of either of these drugs while racing, but the residue can be picked up weeks later after use by most drug testing methods. Nascar apparently has a 2 strikes policy for drugs, at least it did in Shane Hmiel's case. Will Nascar give Aaron Fike another chance, since Shane had another chance? Who can say, since this is Nascar we're talking about.

To me, there is a big difference between smoking a joint on your day off or showing up at the race track and puffing away in the hauler before the race. I don't know that Shane was doing either the first, or the latter, or both. Virtually everyone knows somebody that smokes pot on a casual basis. If you don't think you do, then you're most likely wrong. I'm not talking about everyday use, but maybe a little hit on the weekend, or maybe just a few puffs while on vacation. Personally, I don't have much of a problem with that. I don't use marijuana, but when I was about 18 or 19 years old, I tried it. It made me paranoid, so I quit, and I haven't used it in well over 20 years now. Back in those days, I would smoke a little, and suddenly feel like the SWAT team was about to take down the door and take me away in shackles. For me, that was all the reason I needed to quit. I've had good friends who have smoked a little though, and most of them have led perfectly normal lives. I certainly would not want to see a race car driver take a couple of last tokes and then climb into the race car though. I know of a few drivers that could probably benefit by mellowing out a little, but that's probably not the best way to do it.

I'm going to make some dangerous assumptions here, and I know, it's always dangerous to assume. I have no idea how Nascar implements it's random drug testing policy, but let's assume that roughly half of the drivers have been tested at least once since the policy came into existence back in the late 1980's. If only 2 drivers have had problems in all that time, I'm guessing that Nascar does not have a drug problem. Think about it. I'm only talking half here. Or if it was only a quarter of all drivers since the late 1980's. That's a lot of drivers. That's not much drug abuse found. Compare that with virtually any other major sport, and Nascar looks pretty good.

Nobody gets into any of Nascar's top 3 series without racing a lot of hard races to get there. Every one of these drivers have had crashes, some of them very painful, and have been administered drugs to help with the pain. Most of them eventually heal, and stop having to use the painkillers. But as happens in life, a few get addicted and continue to take the drug, often acquiring it illegally. It's a shame, because promising careers can be ruined, but it happens in every occupation, every day.

Nascar does need to step up it's testing policies though. I think all the drivers should be tested at least once in a while, if not for fairness, then at least for safety.

I don't believe Nascar has a drug problem, but they need to be sure they catch anyone who does before he or she causes big problems on the track, and ultimately, for the sport itself.

As for Aaron Fike, I hope he can beat the drugs and will race again. I hope the same for Shane Hmiel.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Finally, a win for Hendrick

Jimmie Johnson basically coasted to his first win Saturday, after a wild gas mileage race at Phoenix. Dale Earnhardt Jr. led many laps, but finally just couldn't come up with the late speeds he needed to stay in front during the long green flag runs. All in all, it was a very good day for Team Hendrick.

The early dominance of the Toyotas and Dodges and even Fords was not in evidence at Phoenix. Chevrolet led by far the most laps, and produced the eventual winner. Phoenix is a 1 mile track, however, and it will be interesting to see if Chevrolet can keep up the speed at tracks like Charlotte in May.

The night races at West Coast tracks such as Phoenix can be a real challenge for those of us here in the East. For night owls like me, it's not such a problem, but I feel sorry for the folks that are used to going to bed at 9:00 pm Eastern time. I'm a big fan of night races, but maybe if we had more of them in the Central time zone, more people could actually watch the races without losing sleep.

Fox has received much harsh criticism this weekend from Nascar fans, as well as I'm sure, a lot of baseball fans. Nascar fans missed nearly all of the pre race festivities, and were about half way through the first lap when Fox decided to dump the Red Sox - Yankees game for the "start" of the race. Baseball fans that only could watch Fox, missed the last out of the game, which occurred about a minute after Fox cut away. Until Fox switched to the race, they were simulcasting the race on Fox's sister network, FX. My question is why couldn't Fox have had the pre race on one network, and the baseball game on the other? FX would have been better than nothing at all. I understand Fox' commitment to broadcast both events, and Fox certainly couldn't be blamed for the weather causing a 2 plus hour rain delay in Boston, but showing only the baseball game on both networks seems a little foolish.

We've got an off weekend in the Cup series this week, and then it's back to restrictor plate racing at Talladega. I will be very interested to see how the various teams and manufacturers have progressed with their plate programs since Daytona in February.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Should Tony Eury Jr. be shot at dawn?

I recently ran a poll on a Dale Earnhardt Jr. friendly message board. I mean VERY Dale Earnhardt Jr. friendly. I asked the following questions: Dale Jr. will not do well, Dale Jr. will win the race, Dale Jr. will get a top 5, Dale Jr. will get a top 10, Dale Jr. will get another top 15, and Dale Jr. will never with with Tony Jr. as crew chief. The results are not scientific. People can vote more than once, and surely, some of them do. This poll was posted about the upcoming Phoenix race.

The answers went this way: Dale Jr. will not do well. - 2 voted that way.

Dale Jr. will win the race. - 23 voted for that.

Dale Jr. will get at top 5. - 46 voted that way.

Dale Jr. will get a top 10. - 9 votes.

Dale Jr. will get a top 15. - 3 votes.

Dale Jr. will never win with with Tony Eury Jr. as crew chief. - 7 votes.

I was a bit intrigued by the last response. I know it could be one person who voted 7 time, or 7 different people, or any combination. Tony Eury Jr. was there for every single Cup, Busch, and non points win. He wasn't always in the capacity of crew chief, but he was there in some capacity. I'm guessing there are possibly better crew chiefs out there, but there are some that are a lot worse. So far, in 2008, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has 3 top 5's, 5 top 10's and a pole. He's 4th overall in points, and in this season of uncertainty, that's not totally by accident, or because a crew chief is screwing up.

A lot of arm chair crew chiefs watch the races on Sundays, and it's easy to second guess when you're watching on TV. 2 tires or 4? Gas only? Wedge in or out? Up or down on the tire pressure? There are a lot of things that can happen in the pits, and some of them aren't good. Does that happen only to mediocre teams? Not at all. Jeff Gordon has won 4 Cup championships, and 81 Cup races. He finished dead last at Texas last week. Dead last. Jeff didn't blow an engine. He got in a spin that caused some damage, but mostly Steve Letart, Jeff's crew chief just could not figure out how to get the handling right on the car. Neither could Jeff. Even championship teams have bad days.

Dale Jr. finished 12th in the Samsung 500 at Texas. He started on the pole, and eventually finished in 12th, one lap down. As bad as that sounds, there were 30 other cars out there having worse problems than Dale Jr.

There are no really easy answers for how to win races. If the car is a piece of crap when it comes off the hauler, it either remains a piece of crap all weekend or the crew gets it fixed. If the 24 crew of Jeff Gordon can't turn crap into diamonds, then I don't know who can. None of the Hendrick Motorsports cars have won a points race this year, but so far, Dale Jr. is the best of the Hendrick drivers in points.

A large part of a successful relationship between a driver and his crew chief is trust. Dale Jr. and Tony Eury Jr. are cousins, and they grew up together. The are basically like brothers, and always have been. Dale Jr. trusts Tony Jr. with his life, every week, and it was his decision to have his cousin and friend on the pit box every week.

If Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants Tony Jr. on the pit box, that's good enough for me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Can Kyle Petty dig himself out of the hole?

Kyle Petty, who drives the 45 Wells Fargo Dodge has a new crew chief, Stewart Cooper, formerly of the 38 Ford team. Billy Wilburn, Kyle's former crew chief will now head up the test team for Petty Enterprises.

Bandages keep being applied, but will the bleeding stop? Last week, Kyle Petty stepped aside for Craftsman Truck series regular Chad McCumbee to step into the 45 and try to qualify for the race at Texas. Chad wasn't any more successful at Texas at getting the 45 Dodge into the race than Kyle Petty was at Martinsville.

Changing crew chiefs during a season is always a risky task, but it would appear that Kyle Petty has little to lose at this point. So far, Kyle is on the entry list for Phoenix, and with his new crew chief, who knows? Miracles can happen, and frequently do in Nascar.

As far as I have been able to determine, Chad McCumbee will return later in the season when Kyle steps aside to perform his TNT broadcast duties. Regardless of whether he qualified or not at Texas, Chad got some very valuable time behind the wheel of a Nascar Sprint Cup car. Chad practiced and attempted to qualify the car, but as it turned out, the car didn't perform any etter for Chad than it has for Kyle.

The pressures for any Nascar team is tremendous. Not only do they have to qualify, they have to perform on the track in order to keep and attract sponsors. In a lot of cases the driver is crucial to team performance, but he or she is only one cog in the wheel. The team has to perform well, both in the shop and in the garage to prepare the car for competition. The engine tuner has to adjust the engine to it's maximum performance, riding a razor's edge between maximum horsepower and torque and destruction of the engine itself. The crew chief is a crucial cog, as he or she makes all the important decisions as to how the car itself is set up. Too much wedge or too little? Harder springs or softer? Tire pressures.... what about tire pressures? Tire pressure in today's Nascar can make the difference between a winning car and a losing car. It can also make the difference between a car that makes the race and a car that goes home. A car that goes home means a team goes home. Money is lost, and the pressure just builds more for the next race.

While I'm not a huge fan of the new Cup car, it does provide some interesting challenges for the drivers and the teams. Jeff Gordon had an absolutely awful day at Texas, with a very ill handling car causing an early crash. Jeff basically said after the race that he's never driven anything quite that bad, and this is the guy who's won 4 Cup championships and 81 Cup races. That's saying something. When Jeff Gordon has this many problems during a race weekend, what do smaller teams experience? In some cases, such as Kyle Petty's team, they experience grief.

A lot of other small teams know the feeling. John Carter's 08 team has not made a race yet this year. How much longer the small teams can stay competitive is a question I'm not willing to speculate upon, because the stakes for all of these people are just too high to contemplate.

Nascar's new car was supposed to make racing more equal, and in a way it has. The new car has basically made racing more equal among the big teams, but has left many of the smaller teams out in the cold. I don't see this as a solution, but just an added problem to teams like Petty.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Just a few thoughts after Texas

Looking ahead toward Phoenix. I notice that the Gene Haas organization has kicked Jeremy Mayfield out of the 70 Chevrolet, in order to bring back Johnny Sauter. I'm thinking that Mayfield probably deserved more of a chance, but that's just me. Jeremy has actually been to Victory Lane in the Cup series, not lately, but he's been there.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't get a top 10 finish this week, but after finishing 12th at the Samsung 500 at Texas, Jr. remains in 4th place in points. Jeff Gordon had a terrible weekend, spinning early and basically using the rest of the race as a test session. Jeff's day didn't get any better, even after trying a lot of different setups. When a 4 time champion and 81 race winner is having problems getting a handle on the new car, I take notice. Something is happening here, and whatever it is, it's not very pretty. Jimmie Johnson finally got a good finish with 2nd place in the race, but only Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson are in the top 12 in points after last weeks race for Rick Hendrick Motorsports.

Petty's situation seems to be up in the air still, but at least the rumors have subsided a little. I think Petty is playing to keep Bobby Labonte as the driver in the 43 for not just 2009, but the rest of his driving career. Kyle Petty's name is on the entry list for Phoenix, so I assume that unless some last changes are made, Chad McCumbee is out of the 45 for now. I wish Kyle luck.

2008 bodes not so well for great racing so far. The new car just doesn't seem to competitive, at least in some teams' hands at some track. Better competition has not been a goal that Nascar has realized so far with the new car. So far, Nascar doesn't seem very inclined to change the rules to allow the car to be more competitive. So much for racing, but I guess this is just part of the politics of Nascar.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Was that a boring race at Texas or was that just Me?

I watched virtually every moment of the Samsung 500 from Texas Motor Speedway today, and I yawned a few times. I got an average night's sleep last night. I wasn't particularly tired. I was actually pretty jacked up about watching the race.

But I yawned a few times.

Edwards and Busch leading by 6 seconds makes for a little bit of a .... excuse me, yawning again... boring race.

Congratulations to Carl Edwards for winning yet another race, and this time his oil tank cover was on tight! I enjoy the back flips, but that was one boring race.

Nascar, in creating the car of tomorrow, has the created the car of boredom. The car just won't handle. The drivers hate driving it, for the most part. Kyle Busch won the first COT race last year at Bristol. When asked about the car? "It sucks." Kyle informed us.

Maybe Nascar needs to pay attention to comments such as those. The new car does indeed "suck", as Kyle so eloquently puts it. The drivers don't like them, and they don't handle very well.

Nascar seems to want to play with and tweak the system on a yearly basis. First the Chase, then the Lucky Dog, or the free pass, if you prefer, now the Car of Today, which used to be the Car of Tomorrow. Most of this began when Brian France, the grandson of Bill France Sr., took the reigns of this nations second most popular sport. Brian, the free pass is probably a good idea, if not very fair. I don't like 40 something cars coming at a sitting duck stalled sideways in the backstretch of any track any more than, well, the duck for instance. The Chase? keep tweaking, you're not there yet. The COT? to use Kyle Busch's words, "It sucks."

Take the fenders off these cars if you want to really get people's attention. Put supercharged I-4 engines in the car if you want to make a statement. Why not? Mr. France, with all due respect, you've already made a lot of old time Nascar fans pretty mad.

Mr. France? Quit tampering with a product that your grandfather and your father made great. You've had about 1 good idea out of every 10, that I can see. Just leave the sport alone, and the fans will flock to it.

I would like to add to this post, if I may. Under the Brian France administration, safety has increased exponentially in Nascar. My hat is definitely off to Mr. France for making the sport safer. The Hans device, and safer barriers have made the sport much safer, and I salute Brian France for making sure that these rules are in place now.

One has to wonder though. If Hans devices had been mandated by Nascar in 2000, or even 1999, would Kenny Irwin still be with us? Would Adam Petty? Would Dale Earnhardt be sitting on top of a DEI pit box? I guess we'll never know, but the newest France administration in Nascar has stressed safety, over all else. I applaud Mr. France for that.

Friday, April 4, 2008

What makes a Nascar fan?

Fans of any sport are as diverse as is the world itself. On another site, I recently conducted a poll, and the responses were fascinating.

From casual watchers of races to folks that eat, breathe, and dream Nascar, the spectrum is full. Allen B. from Pennsylvania says he reads the TV schedule, so he will know when to tune in for the races. He doesn't watch Speed Channel, or any of the pre race shows. Allen just loves to watch the races. He rarely reads the racing news sites between races. Allen's favorite driver is Matt Kenseth, but years ago he was a Davey Allison fan.

Susan L. of Wyoming is a stay at home mom of 4. She reads all the sites, watches all the shows, and participates on about 5 message boards. Susan has downloaded over 4000 pictures of drivers, cars, and other racing related stuff. She collects diecasts, shirts, hats, and even a helmet or two. Her husband could not care less about racing, he prefers football. On Sundays, she and usually 2 of her kids are in her bedroom, cheering on their favorite driver, Jeff Gordon, while her husband watches a game in the living room. Susan says she didn't become a fan until 2000, when she was having a difficult pregnancy which meant she basically could do little for a couple of months but lie around and watch TV. She started watching races just for something to do. "After about 4 races, I was hooked" Susan said. She brought home her youngest daughter from the hospital wrapped in a Jeff Gordon blanket. "My husband says I'm a total fanatic, and it's true. I just can't get enough Nascar now. In the off season, I watch tapes of races that I've taped over the years, just to get by."

Jason W. of Alabama goes to as many races as he can. He's been to Talladega 12 times, Atlanta 10 times, and Darlington 6 times. He's been to Daytona once, and plans on going again in 2009. This year, Jason and his buddies are planning a road trip to Indianapolis. "I've always wanted to go to Indy" Jason says. "I always watch the Indy 500 on TV, but I'd rather see the Brickyard 400." Jason says he scans the Nascar headlines pretty much every day. He likes going to the races with his friends, who are all recovering alcoholics. "I've been in the infield at Dega quite a few times, and it's kinda scary, but it's funny. Sometimes me and my buddies are the only sober people within about a mile." Jason is a part time youth pastor, and says he never goes to the track without his Bible. "I've probably saved a few souls over the years at the race track," Jason explains. "It's just a part of my faith. I don't preach to anyone, but sometimes people are looking for help, even at the track. I'm there." Jason's favorite driver is Dale Earnhardt Jr. "I was a fan of his dad, until he died, and now I'm a Junior fan. He's the real deal, and I'm proud to be a Dale Jr. fan."

Carrie N. is in the US Army, and stationed in Europe. She doesn't get to watch all the races, but says she watches as many as she can. In the evenings, she logs onto her laptop and checks out all the racing sites and many message boards. Her husband is also stationed overseas, and Carrie says he got her watching Nascar in 2001. "My husband, who is a Master Sergeant, cried the only tears I've ever seen him cry the day Dale Earnhardt died. I was shocked, and I didn't know what could possibly hurt him so badly. I started watching the races, and now I understand" Carrie told me. "The emotions run deep with the drivers as well as the fans." Carrie is a Kevin Harvick fan. Her husband is a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan. "We pull for each other's drivers, it's all really friendly" Carrie says. "Sometimes we'll bet each other a dollar on who finishes better."

Jill H. is a college student in Oregon. She's been watching Nascar for only a couple of years, and has never been to a race. "I hope to get down to Cali sometime and see a race there. Either that or Vegas" she said. "I post on a couple of boards, and read Jayski every day. I can't believe I never knew about Nascar until I got into college. A lot of my friends kept talking about it, so I watched a race, and I was hooked." Jill's favorite driver is Kasey Kahne, but she's got a soft spot in her heart for Kyle Busch. "He's just so misunderstood. I think he's a good guy, but he just rubs people the wrong way."

Zack R. lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He says he does construction work, and every year for the last 4 years, he's saved up his money and his vacation time to make the trip to Chicago for the Nascar race. "This is my vacation every year. This is when I let my hair down and party a little. It's just a way to decompress. I love racing, and watch all the races when I can. One day, I'd like to go to Indianapolis for the Brickyard," Zack tells us. He reads ESPN and Nascar's site every day, and Jayski a couple of times a day, before he goes to work and when he gets home. His favorite driver is Tony Stewart. "Tony's just real. He's a hard charging race car driver, and I like his style."

Annette was born and lived in Kenya until she was 6, and then her parents migrated to New Jersey. Annette is not her birth name, but her Americanized name. She didn't learn to speak English until she was about 7. Annette now lives in California. "I have been to every single race at Fontana," she says. "I don't know how I got into racing, but it's an important part of my life now." Annette follows all the races, and reads all the news. "I'm a mother of 4, and a grandmother of 11, and every single one of my children and grandchildren hear more than they want to about Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr." Annette tells me. "Two of my children are Nascar fans, and about half of my grandchildren are as well. People turn their heads when they see an old black woman wearing her Dale Earnhardt Jr. jacket and hat. This year, I took one of my sons and 4 of my grandchildren to Fontana for the race. The rain was terrible, but we stayed and saw the entire race. I was not happy about Dale getting wrecked, but we all had a wonderful time."


Jimmy C. lives in South Carolina. He watches all the races, and is a Dale Jr. fan. He writes a blog. He reads all the sites every day, and goes to as many races as he can, which isn't nearly enough. He lives with 3 cats, who frequently drive him crazy, but he loves them all the same.

Jimmy C can be reached at jimcinsc@gmail.com

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Dreaming of pointy toed boots and ten gallon hats

This week the Nascar circus moves on out to Fort Worth, Texas. Good old beef barbeque and Lone Star beer. Texas has seen some very exciting races over the years, and Sunday's race promises no less than in the past.

Texas is a special place, for a lot of people. One Nascar Sprint Cup driver that will always have a special place in his heart for the Great State of Texas is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Texas Motor Speedway is the track where Dale Jr. finally hit the big time, first in the Busch series and then in the Winston Cup series. Texas is the site of Dale Jr.'s first wins in both series.

Junior hasn't won at Texas since 2000, but he's got to be taken into consideration. Anyone who has won any race there must know their way around the track. Jeff Burton won the very first race there in 1997. Matt Kenseth has won there. Greg Biffle has won there. Ryan Newman has won there, as have Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Elliot Sadler, and Carl Edwards.

Jeff Burton won again at Texas in the spring race last year. The only driver ever to win driving Hendrick equipment is Jimmie Johnson, who won in November last year. Will this be the race that a Hendrick team finally breaks through and wins in 2008? Interestingly enough, this is one of the few tracks at which Jeff Gordon has never won a race.

This weekend provides the promise for a full load of Nascar fun. We've got Trucks, we've got cars, we'll have triple duty drivers, we'll have double duty drivers. Can anyone finally complete the 3 race sweep this time?

Texas would be a great place to do it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What do the recent changes mean for Petty Enterprises?

This has to be a week where the lights are on late at night at Petty Enterprises' new shop in Mooresville, NC. First came the possible addition of a business partner that will change the way that the Pettys have always done business. Now we find that Kyle will step out of the 45 car for Sunday's race at Texas in favor of Chad McCumbee. Today we find out that the Petty operation has suffered an even bigger blow, the loss of General Mills as a sponsor to the 43 car, and the possibility that Bobby Labonte might be leaving the team after 2008.

Medallion Financial Group, who makes it's bread and butter business model financing medallions for taxi's, and making business loans, has confirmed that the company might partner with Petty Enterprises to build a hopefully winning racing team and a lucrative business. It's not a secret that Petty has been struggling to keep up with the mega teams over the last few years. With and influx of cash, it's possible that Petty Enterprises might become a winning racing operation again. Unfortunately, within a day or two of that announcement, we find out that General Mills, a long time sponsor for Petty, is leaving after 2008 in order to sponsor a new team for Richard Childress Racing.

Add to the mix the failure of Kyle Petty to qualify for the Martinsville race last week, and times appear to be changing for the Pettys. Throw in the possibility that Bobby Labonte may leave PE for Childress or another team, and this could spell disaster for the organization in Nascar with the most wins ever.

I don't doubt that the 43 team will be able to find sponsorship for 2009, no matter who's in the car. Having a champion in the car would help though. Just having the name Petty attached to the race car is not a sure bet for sponsorship. The 45 Dodge of Kyle Petty has had to really scramble over the last few years to keep the car sponsored for a full season. The 43 has the Petty fame behind it, but can it last forever?

A lot of fans today don't remember watching Richard Petty race, especially back when he was winning every other race every week. Unfortunately, the same is also true of prospective sponsors. The influx of cash that a possible business partner will surely help, at least in the short term, but how long can Petty Enterprises survive?

PE runs a two car team, and has for several years. Another legendary Nascar team, the Wood Brothers, has for most of it's existence run a 1 car team. 20 years ago, 1 and 2 car teams won a lot of races and championships, but that day is long gone now. It's becoming increasingly rare for a team without the fully allotted 4 cars to win races anymore. I think that's a shame, but that's another column. Facts being what they are, I would hate to see a team with all the tradition of Petty Enterprises fall to the status of "strokers." Backing the the 1970's, a "stroker" was a car that never really had a chance of winning. They just filled the field. Ask Richard Childress what a stroker was. He can tell you, because he was one practically his entire driving career.

The Wood Brothers have already fared worse. With generally only one entry per week, they have already missed a lot of races this season. They keep bringing in drivers like Bill Elliot, who has been trying to retire for years, just to make races. To a fan who watched David Pearson win a lot of races in the famed 21 car, as well as Neil Bonnett, and yes, even Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett, the demise of the Wood Brothers over recent years has been not pleasant for me to watch.

I hope we see the Petty operation survive. We need all the tradition we can, because basically that's what Nascar has always been: Tradition. Traditions have been falling by the wayside like clear cut lumber over the last few years, so that makes it even more important to keep true traditions like Petty Enterprises around and involved in Nascar.

Bobby Labonte to RCR in 2009?

Right now it's a rumor, but apparently a strong one. General Mills, long time sponsor of the 43 Petty Dodge announced it's new affiliation with Richard Childress Racing beginning in 2009. Bobby Labonte has long been rumored to be moving with the sponsor, but that has not been confirmed. Yahoo and ESPN are basically saying it's a done deal, but RCR says that the driver for the 33 General Mills Chevy will be named at a later date.

I would not make any assumptions until Richard Childress makes it official. Scott Wimmer, who runs for RCR in the Nationwide series, and now has a win for RCR in that series, has long been rumored to be headed for the 4th RCR Cup team. Whether that's the plan that Richard Childress has in mind, I don't know. On the face of it, it would make sense to announce the sponsor change so early in the season if the driver was one that was not already under contract until the end of 2008 with another team.

Bobby Labonte brings some obvious pluses to the table as well. He's won quite a few races, and is the 2000 Winston Cup champion, so he will have provisionals to use if need be. Bobby also has a relationship with Richard Childress, having been driving Busch and Nationwide races for RCR for a couple of years now. Bobby Labonte makes sense in a 4th Childress ride.

One question that arose when I read today's news about the sponsorship change was this: Jeff Burton's 31 RCR Chevrolet currently has AT&T as a sponsor through the end of the year. If Sprint is still the series sponsor in 2008, that's going to be a problem once again, just as it was last year. There is going to have to be a new sponsor for the 31 car if Sprint is still the series sponsor, or we will get to see another ugly court case between AT&T, Nascar and Sprint for the right to use the logo on the car and team uniforms.

We know that General Mills will be with the 33 car next year, but remember, there's nothing official about the driver yet, no matter what Yahoo says.