Thursday, July 31, 2008
The two drivers are teammates this year. The drive the same races, so it's doubtful that either one of the above mentioned drivers get to hear much of the radio conversations that go on throughout the race between driver and crew chief. Of course I mean they don't get to hear what the other guy is doing, most of the time.
Jimmie Johnson is a 2 time Cup winner who has an almost magical relationship with his crew chief, Chad Knaus. Jimmie and Chad almost seem to complete each others sentences on the radio. Chad has the ability to anticipate Jimmie's wishes for making the car run better. Such is not always the same for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Eury Jr.
Dale Jr. has not always been known as the greatest of communicators on the race track. It's little wonder, because he's a very busy man out on the track. Dale Jr. gives feedback on the car, but sometimes it appears to me that Tony Jr. is making an educated guess at best about how to adjust the car the next time Dale Jr. pits. Sometimes Tony Eury Jr.'s decisions help Dale Jr. Sometimes they don't. Chad does much the same thing, but it would appear that most of the time, Chad's adjustments work to the benefit of the 48 team, while somewhat more frequently, Tony Jr.'s adjustments work to the detriment of the 88 car. All racing is a fine line between getting the car right and not quite hitting the mark, but Chad and Jimmie have an advantage here, it would seem, because Chad almost always makes the car better, it would seem.
I'm walking a fine line myself here, because Dale Jr. currently runs 2nd place in points, which is better than Jimmie or Jeff Gordon or the forgotten member of Hendrick Motorsports, Casey Mears. Dale Jr. is certainly running much better this year than he has over the last couple of years at Dale Earnhardt Inc. That is beyond dispute. But I fear that Dale Jr. and Tony Jr. lack the communication to seal the deal with a Cup this year. I hope, desparately, that I am wrong, but I just don't see the cohesiveness on the 88 team that I'm seeing on the 48 team so far. The situation is much improved, but there's a couple of places where they just don't seem to be clicking along on all cylinders.
Driver and crew chief disagree over the number of tires to be taken on a pit stop. Net result, lots of track position lost, and not enough time to make it all up.
Driver and crew chief not clear over what will be done in the pits. Driver expects more time, and subsequently leaves the pit a fraction of a second over when he would have, had he known all the details.
I've seen a little bit of all of this so far this season on the 88 team.
I'm proud of my favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and for the job he's doing at Hendrick Motorsports. They are much improved over last year, and they are still a championship contender. I just think that they need to tighten up the communication a little to make it all come together. It's part driver and it's part crew chief. If they get the kind of chatter over the radio that I've listened to between Jimmie and Chad, I think they'll win it.
But they've got to communicate first. The driver, crew chief, and the entire team all have to be on the same page, every single pitstop. There is virtually no room for errors when it comes to winning the Cup. Every person has to be perfect almost every week.
Dale Jr. can win it, but they need to make sure they all know what's going on in the pits.
Monday, July 28, 2008
When the Chase for the Cup starts after the 2nd Richmond race, The points will be reset, but Kyle Busch will have an obvious advantage, with currently 70 bonus points, 10 each for each race won so far. As we saw yesterday at Indianapolis, Kyle Busch is not invincible. Kyle Busch can be beaten, and there are a lot of drivers that are perfectly capable of beating Kyle at any given race track.
I don't do lists here, or top 10 picks, but in my humble opinion, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Ragan, and Brian Vickers are the most improved drivers in 2008, compared to their 2007 seasons. Kyle obviously has found much success with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota. Dale Jr. has found much in the way of more consistent finishes at Hendrick Motorsports. Brian Vickers and David Ragan are finishing much more consistently than they have in recent years. Jimmie Johnson is moving closer to the top of the standings because he currently has 2 wins for HMS. There are a lot of drivers in play for the championship this year.
I have a personal favorite for the Cup Champion of 2008. It's personal, and it's biased, but I do believe that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is making major progress in getting a handle on the New car and all the troublesome things that have come with it. While Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte were competing for a championship last year, Tony Eury Jr. and Darien Grubb were concentrating on figuring out the new car. It's possible that by concentrating on winning the championship in 2007, the 24 and 48 teams got behind on their strategy of winning in 2008. Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson seem to have caught up, at least somewhat. The disaster that passed for a race yesterday at Indianapolis is hardly a true test of what exactly the 48 Lowe's Chevrolet team has actually accomplished though.
It's pie in the sky time. I believe that Kyle Busch's domination of the top series in Nascar will dwindle as crunch time gets closer. Kyle appears to be a pretty emotional guy, and those emotions will eventually get him in trouble. One of these days, in the heat of the moment, Kyle will do something that even Nascar can't ignore. Dale Earnhardt Jr., in contrast, seems to have a lot of ice water in his veins this year. He doesn't ruffle easily. He gets frustrated, but he takes it out by cursing on the radio, and not by wrecking other cars on the track. In my opinion, Dale Jr. has truly achieved Cool. Let Kyle Busch sew his own curtain of defeat.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a definite shot at the Cup Championship this year. I will be cheering him on, because the guy currently in first place makes me want to vomit.
When Newman heard what his former teammate said, he asked if Rusty was "conscious" when he made those remarks. Ryan also said that he was familiar with Wallace' "plural" personalities. Ouch!
Ryan Newman said that he and Penske had talked about the direction that his #12 Dodge team had been headed, and said that he and Roger mutually agreed that it was time for Ryan to seek other driving opportunities. Ryan said that it was in actuality mostly his decision not to drive for Penske next year.
A case of he said/ he said? Not quite. Roger Penske quickly came to Ryan's defense and stated that Rusty's suggestion that Newman had been fired was false. What exactly transpired between Newman and Penske will probably only be known by the driver and the owner, but it doesn't make Rusty Wallace look too good right now.
Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman were teammates for a few years, and never really got along. The two teams didn't seem to get along, and there were complaints by Rusty that Ryan's team would not share information on the car setups. The two drivers feuded on the track as well as off it would seem. When Rusty became a commentator for ESPN and ABC, I had hoped that he would be man enough to let bygones be bygones. Apparently that hasn't happened.
I may be making it too personal, but I've had a problem with Rusty as an analyst almost from the very beginning of his second career. It began for me last year when he began calling the Nationwide races for ESPN. Besides his broadcasting duties, he is the owner of Rusty Wallace Inc. who's premier driver has been none other than Rusty's son, Steven.
Steven has never won a race in Nationwide. In fact, he seems to have a definite talent for wrecking cars. Sure, not all the wrecks he's involved in are not his fault, but a lot of them are. Rusty doesn't mind expressing his opinions about the causes of some of the wrecks, and some of his opinions appear to be those of a team owner taking the side of his driver and son, rather than the opinions of a color analyst. I don't envy him the task of having to try to act impartial when he's seeing his own money literally go up on the track in front of him, but I've noticed that the rest of the broadcast crew tends to talk very lightly around Rusty when talking about the transgressions of Steven. I believe this has somewhat a chilling effect on the impartiality of the broadcasts.
Former drivers do not necessarily make bad color commentators for race broadcasts. Former driver Dale Jarrett is one of the highlights of the ESPN Cup broadcasts so far. Dale is very knowledgeable as a former driver, and his sense of humor adds something to the broadcasts in my opinion. Plus, Dale does not have a son in any of the races, but I doubt that it would matter much if he did. To me, Dale Jarrett's easy going personality compliments Dr. Jerry Punch and Andy Petree. Rusty Wallace' somewhat confrontational and and competitive demeanor often leads to some uncomfortable silences in the booth.
This isn't a total hit piece on Rusty, and I don't mean it to be. Rusty was a great driver in his own right, and certainly is entitled to his opinions as such they are. I don't know where he got his information regarding the impending split between Roger Penske and Ryan Newman, but maybe he ought to talk to the parties involved before he makes statements that were so quickly refuted by both parties.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
The owners and drivers basically said the only thing that they could, which was that Nascar was doing all they could, they were doing the right thing, and it wasn't Nascar's fault, and it wasn't Goodyear's fault either. All the experts on the situation were waiting for the track to get "rubbered in", which basically means that enough rubber gets laid down by practice and qualifying that the tires wear longer for the actual race.
That obviously did not happen. Instead of pushing rubber into the track surface, the tires just shredded, leaving little piles of rubber everywhere. It got in the grill openings to the cars. It got inside the cars and all over the drivers. It got all over the fans sitting close to the track. As a long time fan of Nascar, I've never seen anything quite like it.
Certain tracks have always been known to be hard on tires. Indianapolis is one of them. So was Darlington. So was the old Rockingham track. Certain tracks have always had reputations as being tracks where tire strategy would be very important.
I remember back in the old days, they used to run 500 miles at Talladega on one set of left side tires, and they might only change right side tires 2 or 3 times during a race. Today, very few of the drivers could get 10 good laps out of a set of tires, and often times they only got 5 or 6 good laps out of them before they began having problems. The boys in the ESPN booth were all but apologizing for the race. Several drivers said that they put on the best show they could, under the circumstances. I felt rather bad for the drivers that had to deal with so many cautions, which made for a very long day for a race that's only 400 miles long.
Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus for their victory today. Jimmie and Chad seemed to be one of the few teams that formulated a tire strategy early on and followed it to success. Other teams such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. gambled by short pitting, and gaining track position. Dale Jr. led laps early in the race, but quickly lost a lot of track position as he wobbled around on a left rear tire that was going flat. Dale Jr. eventually ended up a lap down, and it took several more cautions for him to get back on the lead lap. Though he flirted with the top 10 several times later in the race, he continued to lose positions every time he pitted, and ended up rather unhappy with a 12th place finish. Teammate Jeff Gordon seemed to be attempting to use a similar strategy as was Johnson's team, and managed a respectable 5th place finish. Congratulations to Jimmie and Hendrick Motorsports for their 3rd points victory in 2008, and Jimmie's second of the year.
I'm certainly not going to play the blame game for what happened at Indy today, but It seems to me that with all the millions of dollars that Nascar spends on research and development, and all the money that Goodyear pours into its racing tire program, it just seems to me that somebody, somewhere, dropped the ball. As interesting as it was to see a series of heat races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I hope I don't get to see that ever again.
On a side note, for those of you who might be Jeff Gordon fans, there is a brand new message board devoted specifically to all things Jeff Gordon. I have visited it, and even joined. It's a really nice site, and the lady who is running the board is doing so in order to have a place where Gordon fans can meet and chat. Go check out the Jeff Gordon Pit Board, and you'll meet some very nice people!
Friday, July 25, 2008
Tony Stewart made it official today. He will be driving the #14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas racing in 2009. It's a good looking car, in my opinion. Tony looks extremely happy. He'll be driving the 14, which was his hero, A.J. Foyt's number. But one big question remains, which of course is who will Tony's teammate be next season?
Ryan Newman seems to be the odds on favorite at this point, according to everything I read and hear. Ryan recently announced that he and Penske Racing will be parting ways after 2008, and he has to be at least considering driving the #4 for Stewart-Haas. Other top drivers that might be in the running include Casey Mears, who will not be returning to Hendrick Motorsports next year, and possibly Martin Truex Jr., should he decide to part ways with Dale Earnhardt Inc.
This all means, regardless of where Ryan Newman goes, that the #12 Dodge of Roger Penske is an open slot too. I imagine David Stremme will most likely be in the car, but no one knows for sure. Casey Mears might also have a shot at that ride as well.
Tony Stewart leaving the #20 Toyota at Joe Gibbs racing leaves an empty slot too, but many people believe that the greatest thing since sliced bread, Joey Logano will be in the #20 Home Depot car next year, despite his tender young age of 18. Joey has already won in the Nationwide series though, and from what I've seen of his personality, he would be a perfect teammate for #11 Denny Hamlin and #18, Kyle Busch.
Personally, I'd love to see Casey Mears in the #4 next year. He and Tony share a love for racing all kinds of cars, and winning in them. Casey won at Charlotte last year, and though he and the 5 team just haven't seemed to click this year, I think Casey deserves a chance to redeem himself, and I can see him being a good fit with Tony Stewart. To me, Casey has always been a good, solid driver, who takes care of his equipment, and doesn't have a reputation for being rough on the track.
Ryan Newman would also be a good choice, of course. Ryan is one of the greatest qualifiers in the history of the sport, and if he's got good equipment, he could consistently put a Stewart-Haas car on the pole in roughly at least a quarter of the races each year. He's a race winner as well, but has not had much success since his Daytona 500 victory in February this year. Ryan might arguably be the least noticed Daytona 500 winner in recent years, but the fact that he has that particular race under his belt makes him a very attractive bet as a driver to put in the #4.
I like Ryan Newman, but he remains somewhat of an unknown to me. He is an intellectual, it would seem to me. He doesn't say much to the press, other than the obligatory thanks for his team and sponsors. I know that he and Rusty Wallace had a famous feud while they were teammates a few years ago, and I don't know exactly who was the instigator in that feud, or who might have been at fault. Before Newman drove for Penske, Jeremy Mayfield said a few things about the organization that got him kicked out of the #12 car. Of course, Mayfield said a few things about Ray Evernham that got him kicked out of the #19 car too. Mayfield seems to be contrite about that now, and wants another ride. Jeremy's won some races too, so he might be a viable candidate for one of the open slots next year as well.
But, getting back to Ryan Newman, all I know is that he says very little. I have a hard time reading him, when it comes to teammate potential. I think most of us can agree that Rusty Wallace can be a bit of a jerk at times, but was he, a veritable legend in the sport, such a jerk, that a young driver like Ryan Newman lost all respect for him? Or was Ryan just conceited to begin with, and doesn't have much respect for drivers who have accomplished much more on the track than he has? That remains an unknown to me, because Ryan just doesn't give me much to work with. He seems like a nice enough guy, but what is he like when the cameras and microphones are out of range? I hope that in Ryan's case, it's a matter of what you see is what you get. Maybe he's just a quiet, thoughtful guy, who shuns being the center of attention. If that's so, there's absolutely nothing in the world wrong with that.
I'm not going to make any predictions here. Ryan seems to be very likely to end up in the #4 car next year. Personally, I believe that Stremme might end up in the #12. That might leave a gap at Ganassi Racing, but they've had sponsorship troubles anyway. Rumors have been floated that Juan Pablo Montoya might be leaving Ganassi as well, so there are too many drivers, too few or too many rides, and my feeble brain can't get a handle on much of it.
A part of me would like to see Jeremy Mayfield get back into Cup racing somewhere. If he goes out and charges hard, like he's perfectly capable of doing, he could be a contender to drive for a top team in a year or two. If Jeremy has truly conquered his habit of foot in mouth disease, I think he could be a valuable to asset to any team.
Another high profile open slot is of course the #33 Chevrolet, which will fill the 4th and final Cup slot at Richard Childress Racing. For some reason, which I have no idea how to explain, I see Martin Truex Jr. in that car next year. I guess that because Martin Truex Jr. is a friend of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and knowing how close Richard and Dale Jr. are, I can see Richard giving Martin a ride. I don't know if that will happen, of course, but I can see it possibly happening. David Stremme and Casey Mears have likely been thought of to take that ride as well. If I'm Scott Wimmer, who has been acting as somewhat of a test driver for Richard Childress Racing over the last couple of years, and has seen some success in the Nationwide series in an RCR car, I'd be pulling my hair out, wondering if I were going to get the nod from Richard. If the world were a fair place, Scott probably should get that ride, but since there are considerations such as sponsors and points, and all those other unfair things, I don't know exactly what Scott Wimmer's chances are for that ride. Scott's previous experience as a Cup driver was decidely unglamorous.
Ah, tis summertime, and the Silly Season is in full bloom.
Ain't it grand?
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
It appears that Tony Stewart, who recently became equal partners in Haas CNC Racing, forming Stewart Haas Racing, will be driving the number 14 Chevrolet next year, with Office Depot and Old Spice as sponsors. I'm not sure whether Old Spice will sponsor one car and Office Depot the other, but it appears that sponsorship will be present in 2009 for both Stewart Haas Racing cars.
I am happy for Tony Stewart, for it appears that he has achieved both of his primary goals, which were team ownership and a move back to Chevrolet after driving Toytotas for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008. Tony's cars will be supplied with Hendrick engines and other Hendrick technology. With the right people behind the scenes, there is no reason that Stewart Haas Racing should not be competitive next year.
The number of the car that Tony will be driving is significant as well. A.J. Foyt drove the number 14 from the early 1980's until 1992. A.J. never raced full time in Nascar, but still managed an impressive 7 wins out of only 128 starts. A.J. Foyt's first start in Cup was in 1963 at age 28. His last start was in 1994 at age 59. A.J. Foyt was a winner in virtually every type of racing he ever attempted.
The same can be said for Tony Stewart, a former IRL champion, a former Sprint car champion, and a two time Cup champion with 32 wins to his credit thus far. Like his hero, Tony has won at every level of racing, and he's won races in every type of car he's every attempted to race in. Tony, like his hero A.J. Foyt, is a true champion in every sense of the word. That Tony Stewart picked the number 14 came as no surprise to me. Back when the talk first surfaced that Tony wanted to be a team owner, I thought at that time that the number 14 would be perfect for Tony.
Tony and A.J. Foyt are a lot alike in other ways besides their prowess behind the wheel of a race car. Both are known to be outspoken men who are not afraid to speak their minds. A.J. Foyt was known as somewhat of a brawler, and though we haven't seen Tony in an outright fist fight with anyone, he has been known to lash out, sometimes physically when he's frustrated. Neither of these men appear to have a very high tolerance for nonsense. In a lot of ways, I think Nascar would be a better sport if there was less nonsense and more racing, but I'll discuss that further at a later time.
Both A.J. and Tony are known for being hard chargers on the track as well. Their style could possibly be termed as 'finessed aggressiveness'. Both drivers grew up racing on dirt, where precise car control is a must for success. Both learned early in their careers how to find the limits of their race cars and how to push those limits. Both drivers have had hard wrecks in their careers, but both drivers have also won a ton of races.
I've been a fan of Tony Stewart since he began driving in Nascar back in 1999. Tony is without a doubt the most successful driver to come straight from open wheel racing to the stock cars of Nascar. In his rookie season, Tony won 3 times, which is twice more than did Juan Pablo Montoya in his rookie year in 2007. To me, Tony is somewhat of a throwback to the heydays of Petty, Allison, Yarborough, and Pearson. Tony is a tough guy, not afraid of a fight. He would have fit right in with the tough guys who drove and won a lot back in the 1960's and 1970's, where sometimes on track disputes were settled off the track behind the hauler after the race. Racing at any level has always been a tough business, and in racing, it could be said that the difference between a good driver and a bad driver is the degree of toughness they can achieve, or at least display. It's pretty much survival of the toughest. Tony Stewart is one of the toughest.
I'm happy for Tony Stewart in his new endeavor. I'm glad to see him walk away from Joe Gibbs Racing, because though I've got a lot of respect for Coach Gibbs, I really hate seeing Tony drive in that highly paid kindergarten class made up of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and the greatest thing since sliced bread, Joey Logano.
This week, we're off to Indianapolis, which is probably by far Tony's favorite track. Tony hasn't won the Indy 500, yet, but he has won the Brickyard 400 2 times. I'm going to make an early prediction, which I never do, but I'm going to go out on the limb right now and say that Tony Stewart is my odds on favorite to win at Indy in 2008. If he does, it will be his first win of 2008, and to me there's not a better sight in the world to see than Stewart win at Indianapolis. Well, except maybe seeing an Earnhardt win at Daytona.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
I've also been a fan of drag racing, but not as much. I used to watch Scotty Cannon back in the day when he raced and won a lot at the Greer Dragway, which I believe is in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. Back in those days, they had nights when you could take any car you wanted to down to the track, and drag race. Maybe they still do. I had a friend with a Ford F100 pickup, 1977 model, I think, with a 390 cubic inch engine and an old 3 on the tree transmission. For those of you who don't know what a three on the tree was, that was an old style column shift manual transmission. My friend could drop the clutch in 2nd gear and burn rubber for as long as he kept the gas pedal on the floor. Lot's of smoke, lots of screaming engine sounds, lots of fun. He raced his truck sometimes at the Greer Dragway, and I think he actually won a few. Think about it. A Ford pickup truck beating Camaros and Firebirds on a quarter mile strip. He did it.
My friend doesn't race anymore, to my knowledge. But racing is something that gets into your blood. I watched my first Nascar race when I was about 6 or 7 years old, and I've been hooked ever since. 99.9 per cent of the races I've watched where on TV, and back when I was a kid, you only got to see parts of races on Wide World of Sports, on ABC. In the 1980's, I began to go to some race tracks, such as Darlington and Atlanta and Charlotte. A few years ago, I got to go to Talladega, and that was a real experience. I've been at the track two times when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won, and back in the day, I was at the track as well when his father won. Regardless of anything else going on in my life, those were and still are special moments to me.
I'm an Earnhardt fan. I wasn't always. When I was a kid, I liked Richard Petty a lot, but usually pulled for David Pearson, because he was from the next town over, Spartanburg. In 1979 when Earnhardt came along, I saw him, but didn't really SEE him. It took a few years. Back in those days I probably thought of Dale Earnhardt much like I think of Kyle Busch today. Dale wrecked a lot of cars. He did what I considered to be stupid things on the track. It wasn't until about midway through the 1980's, when Dale was winning everything there was to win, that I began to respect the man. There was a race, one time, and I think it might have been Bristol, but I'm not sure, but Dale was penalized a lap for rough driving, and proceeded to not only race back to make up that lap, but went on and won the race. Dale never needed to be motivated. He had it always inside him. He was born to race, and was always a pure racer. To him, nothing mattered at all except winning.
And win he did. 76 races and 7 championships. Richard Petty also won 7 championships, but he raced in a lot more races, and also back in the day when they used to run 60 or 70 races a year. But to me, race for race, pass for pass, Dale Earnhardt was and will always be the greatest stock car driver that ever lived.
It might surprise you to know that I'm not a fan of his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., just because he's Dale Earnhardt's son. The first time I ever saw Dale Jr. on camera was in 1997, or maybe 1998. He just seemed like a great kid. He had a lot of confidence, but he didn't whine or complain when he wrecked or made a mistake. He respected the old school drivers, and talked to them and learned from them. He grew up watching his dad and other drivers race. He knew a lot about the sport before he ever climbed into a race car. He watched videos of old races, studied driver's styles and moves. It's true that Dale Jr. had resources his father never had. But Dale Jr. approached it from a racer's point of view, just like his dad did. Anything you can do to beat the other guy, or that gives you some advantage, you learn from it. Dale did it, and so did his son.
When Rod Osterlund sold the team to J.D. Stacy, Dale left. He didn't like the situation, so he left. He'd already won a championship, but the main thing was that Dale wanted to race with the best equipment, but also the best people. He worked briefly with Richard Childress, who had been a driver himself. Richard told Dale to go away until he got his shop and cars in order. Dale drove for Bud Moore for a couple of years, but hated the Fords he was driving. He won, but wasn't happy with the way things were working out. Finally, Dale went back to Childress, and history was made. 6 championships with Richard Childress. The 3 car was truly bullet proof.
We all thought so. I cried the day that Dale won the 1998 Daytona 500. To me, that might be the most memorable moment in Nascar history. I also shed some tears when Dale Jr. won the 2001 Pepsi 400 at Daytona, and when he won the 2004 Daytona 500.
I don't really like to talk about February 18, 2001. I didn't even get to see the entire race, because I had other committments that day. When I heard the news, I was totally stunned. I think I walked around in a trance for about 3 months after that. I was happy to see Steve Park win at Rockingham the following week. I was happy to see Kevin Harvick win at Atlanta a couple of weeks later. But everytime I thought about it, tears came to my eyes. I'm not the crying type, either. But the loss of Dale Earnhardt did and still does bring tears to my eyes.
The son doesn't look much like the father. Sometimes he sounds like him, but even his driving style doesn't remind me of his father's. But somehow, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has achieved amazing success on his own, even after his father died. A lot of people like Dale Jr. for a lot of reasons, but I think there is one underlying reason for his amazing popularity. It's really simple. He's a nice guy.
With Dale Earnhardt Jr., you get what you see. He does not try to be a celebrity, but he is. He doesn't try to make the young ladies swoon, but he does. I think if you asked Dale Jr. why he's so popular, he'd probably tell you he has no idea. He appreciates his fans, almost to a fault, and does a lot of things for his fans that other drivers would distain to do. He creates dvd's and TV shows, and does it solely for his fans. He apologizes to his fans when he doesn't run well. Of course he's under tremendous pressure from his sponsors to perform well, and he does. But I think he worries about disapointing his fans more. The same could be said about probably quite a few drivers these days, but Dale Jr. is the one that I notice the most that seems to be trying to make his fans happy.
We've always got the detractors out there, but that's fine. The sport needs detractors. We all have our favorite drivers and the drivers we don't like. Dale Earnhardt Jr. may not win 200 races. He may not win 7 championships. But he'll always be remembered for being the person that he is. He'll eventually be put on the list of the greatest drivers, maybe not because of the number of wins or championships, but for the guy that the majority of the fans pull for.
Dale Jr., You have arrived.
I can assure you all opinions are welcome. I need to know. Call it my midlife crises, if you will. I'm 44 years old and feel like a man without a country. I've got not much of a base anymore. I'm a computer technician by trade, but find myself slipping away sometimes. Technology seems to change faster than I can read about it. I love to write, and feel like that's what I was meant to do. That doesn't mean that it's what I ought to do. I want your honest opinion on that. I've got nearly 200 posts on this blog, and some of them are not as good as I'd want them to be, but some of them were pretty good, in my not so humble opinion.
C'mon, tell me what you think, honestly. You won't hurt my feelings. If you can't post a reply, just go to my e-mail at email@example.com. You won't hurt my feeling at all if you tell me I probably need to be flipping burgers. As a matter of fact, I might be doing that soon.
Thanks for any and all replies.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
There's only 3 days left in this installment of the TireDawg (aka Garz Karz) Victory Junction Gang Camp charity diecast auction. Remember folks, this is a one of a kind, hand painted diecast, done in exquisite detail. Whether you're a collector or not, this is all for a very worthy cause, and I hope you'll give with your heart. All proceeds from this auction will be donated to the Victory Junction Gang Camp, where the money will be put to very good use.
TireDawg has been making custom diecast for a long time, mostly for profit, but he will be turning out approximately one custom per month for auction, and he will make sure the proceeds go to the VJGC. Please remember that this is for a great cause, and chances are your favorite driver contributes to the Camp as well.
You can find the Auction Here!
Here is a list of drivers who contribute to the Victory Junction Gang Camp:
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Dale Jr. so far has had an average starting position of 9.4 in 2008. That's the best of his career. Previously, his best starting position was 10.9, which was 2004. Dale Jr. won 6 races that year, but this year, after only 19 races, Dale Jr. is enjoying the best starting average of his career.
In 2008, Dale Jr.'s finishing average is 11.5, also the best of his career. His next best came also in 2004, with an average finish of 12.1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is truly on track for the best performance of his career, even if he does not achieve 5 or 6 wins.
18 Cup wins, 83 top 5's, and 133 top 10's adds up to a lot for a guy that only has 310 starts in the Cup series. No driver wins every week, and Dale has had a rather phenomenal career, despite his lack, so far, of a Cup championship. Dale Jr. has won 2 Busch Series championships however. In the former Busch series, now named Nationwide, Dale Jr. has also won 22 times out of 104 starts.
For all of you who say that Dale Jr. can't drive a race car, think again. As this year proves, after his move to Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Jr. just gets better and better. He's also going to be harder and harder to beat.
There's a reason other than the statistics why we in the Earnhardt Nation are proud. Despite being the most popular driver since 2002, Dale Jr. has remained a humble driver, and respects other drivers and his fans. Dale Jr. is a whiner? Not hardly. Dale Jr. gets the nod from Nascar? Grow up and examine the facts. Do you really think that 42 other drivers, each with contracts to different owners and sponsors, are just going to lie down for one other driver? Would Lowes lay down for Home Depot? Would Amp lay down for Red Bull? If you think so, then dream on. There's way too much money involved here for that to even be imaginable.
2008 seems to be the year that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has arrived. He's won a points race, and two non-points races, and all I can say is what I remember the great Benny Parsons saying during a race or two. "Boys, he's coming! He's coming!"
Dale Jr. is on his way.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Back in the 1960's, Big Bill France went to great lengths to try to make the racing equal for all manufacturers. His son, Little Bill did much the same thing in the 1970's through the 1990's. Now Brian France has the reigns of Nascar, and he's monkeyed with the sport quite a bit. I'm not so sure I'm a fan of the lucky dog pass. I agree that the cars probably don't need to be racing back to the yellow flag, when a car is sitting helpless, sideways on the track. If it means greater safety for the drivers, I'm all for it. If the head and neck restraint system, commonly known as the HANS device had been mandated before the 2001 racing season started, Dale Earnhardt probably would have grumbled about it, probably a lot. But he might still be alive. Had it been mandated before the 2000 racing season, Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty might still be with us.
The new car, formerly known as the Car Of Tomorrow was meant to be safer, and also level out the playing field. It would appear that the playing field is not, in fact, level however. Kyle Busch won his 7th Cup race of 2008 at Chicagoland last night. I will congratulate him for an astonishing year, and am willing to recognize that the Wild Child does indeed have talent. But I have to ask you, how much talent does it take to run out front, virtually every race, with no competition around to make it interesting? Crew chief Steve Addington is an absolute genius, and Kyle must be the best driver in the history of the sport, or is there something else going on?
Toyota debuted in Nascar's elite series for the first time last year. They had a very dismal year. For 2008, Toyota somehow convinced long time GM race owner Joe Gibbs to switch from Chevrolet to Toyota. Head engine guru Mark Cronquist took charge of the engine program, with a lot of help from Toyota, and he's apparently a genius too. Nobody, from any other automobile manufacturer, with anyone at the wheel can keep up with the 18 car of Kyle Busch.
What's strange about this is that neither can his teammates. Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin are both winless this year in the Cup series. Supposedly they have the same engines, the same chassis as Kyle does, but they can't keep up. Tony is leaving after 2008, going back to Chevrolet with Stewart-Haas Racing, to be an owner and a driver. Why leave when Toyota is so good, so suddenly?
Tony is a 2 time Cup Champion with over 30 wins to his credit, and each victory in Nascar has come in that famous orange number 20 Home Depot car. Tony is known as a late starter, not usually winning until the season is well under way. But Tony looks like a chump when he's trying to chase down his teammate, the next Dale Earnhardt, the next Jeff Gordon, the next, dare I say it? Richard Petty? I've heard all those names used in comparison with Kyle Busch.
Next Dale Earnhardt? Heck no. Richard Petty? Forget about it. Jeff Gordon? Nope. Not enough class. If Kyle Busch would just grow up, I might be able to admire him. But I can't admire a person who consistently acts like a spoiled brat. Even his older brother, Kurt, doesn't seem to want to have anything to do with him. Kyle seems to rejoice in the boos he receives at the track, making his sarcastic bows, and basically irritating fans over virtually every other driver out there.
I'm a Kyle Busch fan. He's not my favorite driver, but I've been watching this sport since about 1971. I've watched the King battle the Silver Fox. I've seen Cale battle Bobby. I've seen Earnhardt battle Jaws. I appreciate people that can drive these cars on a track with 42 other cars. I'm a fan of all of them when it comes right down to it. They've all got way more talent at driving than I will ever have. So I can say I'm a Kyle Busch fan. I never want to see any of these people get hurt. I've seen too many drivers die, both on the track and off. Fireball Roberts. Alan Kulwicki. Davey Allison. Neil Bonnett. Kenny Irwin. Adam Petty. Dale Earnhardt. I've seen a lot of near death experiences too. Bobby Allison. Ernie Irvan. Steve Park.
What these guys do is incredible. The fact that they can do it at all is amazing to me. I never want to see any of these guys carted off on a stretcher. It's happened before, and it will happen again, but I hate to see anyone get hurt in this sport. I wish I could say I like Kyle Busch, but I can't honestly say that.
He started his professional career with Rick Hendrick, and had a decent, but not very distinguished career there. He was let go last year to make room for Dale Earnhardt Jr. This year, apparently is the year of Kyle. He's won in all 3 series this year. He's gathered a few fans, but irritated many more with his sarcasm. If I had to guess, the average Kyle Busch fan is about 13, and likes to sass their parents. Darrell Waltrip is much older, but he probably sassed his parents too.
I hope that in it's infinite wisdom, Nascar will find a way to truly level the playing field. This sport is too important to me to just walk away from it, but I'm afraid if I see many more races like I watched Friday and Saturday night, that might be just what I'll do.
Please don't forget to check out the Tiredawg's auction to benefit the Victory Junction Gang Camp. You can find the auction here! To read more about the Victory Junction Gang Camp, just click Here! This is a very worthy cause folks, and Tiredawg is doing this out of the goodness of his heart. He does great work, as you will see. Please do all you can to support a great charity, started by Kyle and Patty Petty in memory of their son Adam. Own a one of a kind tribute diecast that depicts the famous colors of both Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. All the proceeds will go to the VJGC, and Kyle, Patty, and the King himself will appreciate it!
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Just in case he doesn't win again for a while, why wait until he does his burnout and his sarcastic bow? There's always driver introductions before the race, and we could all pay our respects then. What could please Wild Child more than to be presented with a full moon as tribute for his racing prowess?
It's a lot of fun to think about, but as usual there is a possibly more serious side to this little blog. Kyle literally cruised to victory last night, and as talented a driver as he is, he passed other cars on the track like he was driving a Ferrari through the Boston Marathon. We all get the point. Kyle's good, but is he really that good?
Last night, in the pre race show on ESPN2, analyst and Nationwide team owner Rusty Wallace brought up the point that the Toyota engines that Joe Gibbs Racing are using are making 22 more horsepower than his Chevrolet engines. From the way that Kyle Busch easily passed cars and drove away from the field, I'd say that figure might actually be on the conservative side. But 22 horsepower is plenty enough of an advantage in a sport where specs are checked to the thousandth of an inch.
Not too long ago, Nascar used to regularly review the statistics of each race, and if, say, the Chevrolets were winning a lot of races, they'd give the Fords some small advantage, such as a degree or two of rear spoiler. The new car just as the wing now, at least in the Cup series, but is it really right for Toyota to have such a blatant horspower advantage? I'm willing to give JGR head engine builder Mark Cronquist his due, but does Nascar really want one car manufacturer to flat out dominate the sport? Bill France Jr. would not have liked that very much, were he still with us. Brian France apparently doesn't have much of a problem with the advantage, and nobody is really in a position to tell Brian what to do, except when we as fans vote with our ticket money and TV viewership. I'll still watch all the Cup races, but I'm seriously thinking about skipping the Natiowide races for a while. Watching the 18 or 20 car win practically every race just gets so boring after a while. I watched last night's race, and saw the 18 car obviously in it's own zip code compared to the rest of the field. I'm not saying Kyle isn't a good driver, but as Clint Bowyer said last week, a monkey could win in those cars.
Racing at Chicagoland can be very exciting. I just hope the Cup race tonight is better than the Nationwide race last night.
Please remember to check out Garz Carz and his auction on E-bay! The information is in the post below.
And Kyle? this moon's for you.
Friday, July 11, 2008
I am lucky enough to have a great E-bay auction to help present to you today. Our Pit Board buddy, Tiredawg makes wonderful diecasts. He paints and decals them by hand, and as you can see, he does wonderful work. This is a half and half, 43 and 3, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, the only two drivers who have each one 7 Winston Cup Championships. This beautiful diecast can be yours with a winning bid, and all monies will be contributed to a great cause, Kyle and Patty Petty's Victory Junction Gang Camp. Tiredawg will even ship it to you for free. What a deal! You just can't get anything quite like this anywhere else. It's an one off design, and there's not another one like it in the world. Keep in mind that you are going to be helping some kids who have had a very rough life, if you buy this car.
Victory Junction Gang Camp works wonders for the kids that get to attend. They have fun. The get to have dreams realized. Kyle and Patty and Richard are hands on, and many Nascar drivers donate not only money, but their time to the camp. It's all about helping kids with sometimes terminal illnesses, folks. Sometimes, this experience is a highlight of a young child's life. Tiredawg has offered to donate his considerable talent to help fund this wonderful organization, and I think we all need to get behind the Dawg and help him in his endeavors. Tiredawg is a husband and a father with his own children, plus some very photogenic pets, and he's a good friend to all of us that read the Dale Jr. Pit Stop. Tiredawg did a great job on this car, and he's willing to donate his time and money made to a wonderful cause, and I hope you will join me in supporting him.
Tiredawg's auction link is Here. Bid early, bid often, and remember that your money will go to a very worthy cause. To see more of the Dawg's great work, please click Here.
Friends, please do what you can to support Tiredawg in this endeavor. He works hard, and he manages to create great one off diecasts, and he's willing to donate his time and money to the VJGC. Please help to support a guy who is doing the Lord's work. In my opinion, he's a true saint, and he deserves all our support.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
It's hard to tell. Dale Jr. wants a championship, and that's going to be hard to accomplish with the winning streak that Kyle Busch is currently on. But the facts speak for themselves. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in second place in points.
Kyle Busch has won 6 races, that's true, but Kyle tends to do stupid things too. I don't know that it's just because of his young age, or the fact that he just drives like an idiot.
In 2008, Dale Jr. has not blown an engine during a race. He's not finished badly except when his teammate or the 18 car took him out. The part about the 18 car could be said about a lot of guys though, in 3 different series.
One year after Dale Jr. drove for DEI, he's won 2 non points races, and one points race. His Nationwide driver, Brad Keselowski has also won a race. Things are good at JRM and for Dale Jr. right now. Over rated you say? Has your driver won 18 Cup races and 2 Busch series championships? If not, then shut up until your driver can claim the same trophies. I don't care who you are in Nascar, but Dale Jr. has an enviable record.
One of the great charms about Dale Jr. is that he's down to earth. He is what you see, and he'll tell you the truth. He's just like he was back when he made less than $400 a week changing oil at Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet, in Newton, NC. From all accounts, Dale Jr. learned his job well, and did it to the best of his ability. When he graduated to racing, his first job at DEI paid exactly $400 a week. That allowed the young guy to live in a doublewide trailer, right across from the company his father built, DEI. He eventually built a house there, but he did literally live across the road from the shop.
When his dad died in 2001, Dale Jr. was a lost soul for a while, but not for too long. He managed to win a lot of races, without his dad. He managed to get JR Motorsorts off the ground, without his dad's help. He managed to hook up with a winning team, Hendrick Motorports, and he has won there.
To those haters out there, listen to me. Dale Jr. did exactly what his father would have done: He went to the racing. He didn't wait for the racing to catch up with him. A careful scholar of Dale's career will tell you the same. Dale and Dale Jr. always went where the racing was.
Dale Jr. is a true racer. He's won a lot in both what's now called Nationwide and in the Cup series. He's a two time champ in what's now called the Nationwide Series. He's won 18 times in the Cup Series. He's the real deal. Over Rated? Get over it. Get a life.
Dale Jr. is the real deal.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
I think this might be a very good thing for DEI, and for Teresa. Given the right group of investors, and a return to the company's roots; racing, DEI could become a super team. Teresa is still looked upon with scorn by many in the Nascar community after he falling out with step-son and the sport's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year. She has reportedly said that she just wants to get away from the racing part of the business, and out of the limelight forever. I can't say that I blame her.
The list of possible investors is infinite, but there are a few that might be interested. Dale Jr. might be one of them. Last year during negotiations with DEI, he asked for, but was denied controlling interest in the company that his father and step-mom built. Dale Jr. certainly still is interested in being a part of the company where he got his racing start. His father once said that he started DEI so that all of his children could find a place in racing, if they so wished. Today there are very few faces at DEI named Earnhardt, save Teresa and Kerry, and Jeffrey, who drives with DEI backing in one of Nascar's development series. Kerry did drive a Nationwide car in the Nationwide race last week at Daytona, and ran a good race. Kerry has said that he would like to go back to racing full time, and I hope he can. I hope he can do it for the company that bears his father's name.
My friends, the speculation is flying wild today, as it should be. Speculation is a lot of fun, and they don't call it Silly Season in Nascar for nothing. I want to caution you, dear reader, not to believe everything you read, whether it's here or anywhere else. I don't trust "insiders" any more than I trust the man in the moon when it comes to "done deals." Don't raise your expectations too high until you see the official announcement.
Though the ailing Tony Stewart is supposedly going to buy out or at least into Haas Racing, and take Ryan Newman with him, I'm waiting for an official announcement before I put all my eggs in that basket too. I know that is probably the most likely scenario, but last year most of us thought that Dale Jr. would end up with Richard Childress or Joe Gibbs too. Rick Hendrick and Dale Jr. must have had some good laughs listening to and reading all those rumors that were flying around last year.
I've had the probably silly thought that Tony Stewart might want to be a part of the investment group that buys DEI. Nah, just couldn't happen, could it? Or what about Rick Hendrick? DEI gets Hendrick equipment, Dale Jr. gets a stake in DEI, JRM and DEI work in conjunction in the Nationwide Series and in driver development. Nah, never happen, or could it? If any or all these scenarios turned out to be true, it wouldn't be the most shocking thing I've ever seen in this sport.
Either way, it has been evident that DEI has lost some of their competitiveness over the last few years. Richard Childress partnered with DEI last year on the engine program, but thus far, DEI remains winless, and has only been a serious threat to win in no more than 2 or 3 races. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had about as many blown engines as you can count on two hands last year, and was hardly ever a threat to win. And he didn't win. This year, Dale Jr. has been a threat in nearly every race he's run, and has won a points race at Michigan as well as the Bud Shootout and a qualifier race at Daytona in February. Dale Jr. has not blown an engine in a race all year. He's 2nd in points, and appears to be in serious contention for a championship. If DEI could have given him that kind of equipment and backing, he never would have left.
I'd love to see DEI run strong again, like they did in 2000 through 2004. I'd like to see people named Earnhardt involved in the ownership, whether it be Teresa or Dale Jr. I'd like to see the name stay Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, out of respect for the old man. I hope all this isn't wishful thinking, but I think it's time for a change.
I think it might be time to leave the widow Earnhardt in peace as well. She may not have always made the best business decisions when it came to the racing side of the business, but that was always her husband's job anyway. When Dale died in 2001, she never skipped a beat, and kept the roof on the building, kept the teams running, kept the sponsorship coming, and held it all together. All 3 of DEI's teams won after the death of Dale, and Teresa deserves a lot of credit for making that possible. Dale may have put the right people in the right places, but Teresa kept them there, at least for as long as she could.
Teresa was Dale's life partner, his business manager, the strongest force in the Great One's life.
I think she deserves a little peace.
Saturday, July 5, 2008
Many people have been critical of both Mark and Rick Hendrick for this decision, but I think it opens up some interesting possibilities. Mark wants to make one more championship run, and even though he has been retiring for years now, I suppose the opportunity to drive for one of Nascar's most successful owners was overriding in his decision. Having the opportunity to drive for Hendrick would be incentive for practically any driver. But one has to wonder about Rick's wishes or motives.
Rick could have had anyone jump at the offer to take over the 5 ride, within reason of course. Tony Stewart was rumored to be heading for Hendrick. Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman have been rumored. Some have thought that Brad Keselowski might be in that ride. A part time deal with Mark Martin and Brad was talked about. Why Mark, many would ask.
I'm guessing that Rick and Mark have been friends for years, as many who have been in the garage together for over two decades might be. A few short years ago, Everyone thought Mark Martin would end his driving career in the ride for which he was most famous, the 6 Ford owned by longtime friend Jack Roush. Mark agreed to drive part time and mentor young David Ragan. Then Mark went to Ginn racing to mentor a young Aric Almirola and Ricky Carmichael. Ginn gets swallowed by Dale Earnhardt Inc., and Mark found himself replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 8 car, along with Almirola. DEI decides they want Aric in a full time ride next year, and Mark's options are open. Rick has a ride available, Kelloggs and other sponsors want a driver they can get behind, and if nothing else, sponsors like Mark Martin. 35 wins and almost winning the Cup 2 times probably doesn't hurt either.
I don't know the exact reasons for all this earth shattering news, but Rick Hendrick didn't get to where he is as an owner or as a businessman by making hasty decisions or for that matter, foolish ones. And as for Mark Martin, I'm not really a fan of his, but I can understand wanting one more shot at winning that elusive championship. If I had a chance to possibly get Tony Stewart on my team, I'd probably go for it. But surprisingly enough, Neither Mark nor Rick Hendrick asked for my advice or input on this subject.
I'm guessing what it comes down to is sponsorship and relationships. Mark has driven the JRM/ Hendrick 5 Nationwide car, so he's driven for Rick before. If nothing else, Mark has a reputation for being a clean driver on the track, and a good teammate. He's still competitive as a driver, and he's certainly got the experience and is a proven race winner.
Only time will tell how this new deal will work out, but as a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, I'll welcome Martin to the Hendrick fold, and wish him well.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch got in a bit of a tiff with each other at Loudon, New Hampshire on Sunday. According to eyewitness accounts, Kyle and Juan had been battling each other for several laps. From at least one eyewitness, Kyle repeatedly banged his 18 Toyota into the side of the side of the 42 Dodge. Apparently, under caution, Juan had enough of that and took a drastic left turn and hit the 18 and spun him, and subsequently got taken out by the 18 car.
In post race interviews, Juan Pablo Montoya admitted that he had indeed hit the 18 car intentionally. Nascar decided that they had to step in and administer some harsh punishment. Juan was penalized 2 laps. Kyle acted mystified by the 42 car's driver's actions. Kyle obviously was a victim of a reckless driver's ineptitude.
There's an old saying that goes something like people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. I've watched every single race in which Kyle Busch has participated this season, in all three Nascar series. I've seen Kyle wreck a lot of cars, and I've seen Kyle ruin a lot of other driver's chances to win or to even have a good finish. Kyle hasn't been penalized even once for his idiotic driving style, and remains in the lead in Sprint Cup points. Nascar seems to enjoy having a new villain in the sport, and is likely to let Kyle get away with his destructive driving style.
Nascar has always had it's villains and it's good guys. It's the black hats versus the white hats. There are varying degrees of black hats, but Kyle Busch's hat most assuredly is the blackest of all. I'm not squeamish when it comes to rough driving. I was an Earnhardt fan after all. But Dale drove with a purpose and a set of specialized skills that sometimes meant roughing up another driver to achieve his ultimate purpose, which of course was winning. Kyle just looks like he takes it very personally when another driver races him hard on the track. If he gets bumped, he slams the other car, just on principle, apparently. He would be making more ground up by just ignoring it and going by, but apparently the kid in the glass house thinks he will earn more respect by roughing up everyone on the track.
If that is what Kyle is thinking, he's wrong. Drivers, crew chiefs, and owners become easily offended when their expensive sheet metal is bent by a kid with a chip on his shoulder. Is Kyle really a kid, you might ask? I can call him one. Kyle is 23 years old. I'm 44 years old. This is not my first rodeo, so to speak. Kyle reminds me of a genuine spoiled brat. When caught in some transgression or other, Kyle always has an excuse. He never did it. He has no idea why that other car spun when he hit him. Apparently it's not ok to race hard with certain other drivers.
The truth is, Kyle takes very much offense when ANY other driver races him hard. He doesn't seem to realize that his false accusations fall on deaf ears most of the time. Nascar may be enjoying the bonanza of stories and TV ratings right now, but sooner or later, someone will blatantly put the golden boy from Las Vegas into the wall. It will happen with what used to be called 'extreme prejudice'. It won't be pretty either. Kyle's arrogance and attitude will eventually be his downfall. If he were smart, he'd take a lesson in humility from his older brother Kurt. Kurt had to learn his lessons the hard way, and the hard way seems to be the destiny for the younger Busch to learn his lessons too.
Revenge is a fact in Nascar. Kyle Busch, you'd better watch your back.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Years ago, it was common for drivers and fans to intermingle in the infield before and after races. Richard Petty is famous for signing autographs, sometimes for hours, until the last fan had left with the King's signature on something. Those days obviously are long gone, but Nascar remains the only major sport in the world that gives fans major access to their favorite drivers.
I watched something interesting on Sunday's TNT broadcast of the race at New Hampshire. Patrick Carpentier was walking through the infield, and he passed several fans. Some of the fans looked at Patrick with a faint flicker of recognition, but walked on by. Patrick was looking into almost every face he passed, with a big smile on his face. Patrick had his Sharpie pen in his hand, like virtually every driver does, but no one was asking for his autograph. I imagine a lot of other drivers would envy Patrick's relative anonymity.
Imagine Dale Earnhardt Jr., walking through any place, especially at a race track, and the people walking by ignoring him. Imagine that happening for Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, or even Jason Keller. People recognize their faces, and they react with excitement. Often it's not even a driver that they like, but just the fact that they drive for Nascar often creates chaos in public places. Nascar is a very public forum. We see drivers succeed and we see them fail. It's like one giant soap opera played out weekly on TV and in the news.
I had an interesting experience a couple of years ago. I happened to be in Charlotte in December. In other words, it was the off season in Nascar. I was sitting in a restaurant enjoying dinner, and I looked up and saw Jeff Burton and his wife Kim walk by. I heard a few people say "Hey, Jeff!" I watched with fascination while the pair were seated at a table near me. Jeff smiled and waved, but no one rushed over to ask for his autograph. During his meal, Jeff talked to a few people casually at the tables around him, but there was no swarm for autographs, nor was there a crush of fans that gathered around the table. I found this fascinating. Jeff Burton is a major driver in the Cup series, and has won a lot of races. At first, I kept thinking he would be swarmed, but then it dawned on me that there was no race in Charlotte that weekend, and mostly it was just locals in the restaurant. They accepted Jeff as a local celebrity, but they left him alone to enjoy dinner with his wife. Jeff was in his adopted home town, and Charlotte, being a fairly urban place these days, apparently is willing to give some of the home town stars some space.
Had that have been Dale Jr. and a date, I doubt the same restraint would have been shown by the other diners. That's the price of super stardom, I suppose. I personally don't think that Dale Jr. ever set out to be a super star. Part of his stardom is his easy going personality, his laid back way of talking, and his good looks. Part of it is because of his name and who his daddy was. One of Dale Jr.'s first jobs was changing oil in the service department at his father's dealership, Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet, in Newton, NC. Dale Jr. has since said that he has more than once been afraid that the racing thing just wouldn't work. The most recent time was probably after his father died. Dale Jr. thought his sponsors would leave him, and that he would forever be a nobody without his dad. How wrong that self degradation turned out to be!
Dale Jr. seems to be a rather shy person, but he's learned to handle the media with grace and class. He now understands that it's part of his job. I was once at an autograph signing at the Greenville-Pickens Upstate fair, near Easley, South Carolina Within view was the Greenville-Pickens Speedway, where Ralph and Dale once raced. Dale Jr. was scheduled to be there that day for about and hour and a half, followed by Kevin Harvick. I didn't actually get anything signed that day, but a close friend of mine did. When Dale Jr. arrived, he walked by me, about 2 feet away. He was smiling, nodding to everyone, saying things like "Hey, good to see you."
I watched him his entire autograph session, from about 20 feet away. He had a smile for every fan, but he had learned to sign autographs quickly and keep the line moving. To a few, he spoke a word or two. I saw him shake a 4 year old's hand when it was offered to him.
Late in the session, the announcement came that Kevin Harvick was not going to be able to make it to the event, because weather in North Carolina had his plane grounded. A few minutes later, it was announced that Dale Jr. had graciously agreed to stay and sign more autographs since Kevin couldn't be there.
I don't know how many times Dale Jr. signed his name that day, but he made thousands of fans very, very happy. There were a lot of people decked out in 29 gear, and they were obviously disappointed when Kevin couldn't make it, but they lined up and got some Harvick diecasts and tee-shirts and hats autographed by Dale Jr. To this day, I wonder how many of those Harvick fans are now Dale Jr. fans.
Today, Dale Jr. lives on a large parcel of land, a little ways outside of Mooresville, NC. He's got his toys, his go-cart track, his mini golf course, even his own replica western town. Does he live like that because he's arrogant? No. He lives like that because that's the only way he can have anything approaching a normal life. Let's face it. If Dale Jr. lived on 109 Elm Lane, the press would be camped out in his yard every day and night, just waiting to report on whether he emptied the garbage or not, whether he raked leaves or cut his grass, whether or not he went to bed or not. The price of celebrity, wanted or unwanted, has not made life easy for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jeff Gordon maintains an apartment in Manhattan, and probably uses it often, because New York City is probably one of the few places on earth that he can walk up and down the street without being mobbed by adoring fans.
Think about it. Most of us wish to achieve fame, fortune, or maybe both. If you were swarmed with autograph seekers one time for some feat you had accomplished, you'd probably be both flattered and very happy. Maybe even twice or even three times.
But imagine every time you went out in public you got swarmed by adoring fans. You love your fans, but maybe you just want to sit down and have a quiet dinner with your spouse or your family. Maybe you want to walk into a 7-11 and buy a soft drink. Would you really want to spend and hour in a convenience store signing autographs every time you wanted a Mountain Dew?
How would you like to have people in the news reporting your choice of meals in a restaurant or even your bathroom habits and schedule? I'm not kidding. If you read any news at all about Nascar, you know it pretty much gets this detailed.
Drivers are people just like you and me. We all have our wants and desires. Drivers with families naturally don't want reporters talking to their kids, and for the most part, that desire is met with respect from the media. Wives seem to be somewhat fair game, but I doubt that a lot of them enjoy all the media attention as well. With a growing sport like Nascar, it seems to be a necessary evil though. As the sport grows, so does the celebrity status of the drivers and their families.
I say give them their space. When drivers agree to sign autographs, then show up, stand in line, wait your turn, and then get out of the way. If a driver has to leave before he's signed an autograph for you, don't jump on the Internet and say what a jerk that guy is. Drivers make a lot of appearances and sometimes more fans show up than they have time for. Don't blame the driver for that. Drivers often have very tight schedules.
Nascar fans, with the advent of new technology on the Internet, it's become easier than ever to find out where your driver is at any particular moment. Please, don't climb fences, attempt to embrace your favorite driver, or anything else out of the rules of polite society. Drivers are people too, and please, give them your respect, even when you meet them personally.