Thursday, August 28, 2008

Is it really Panic Time for the 88 Team?

There has been a lot of buzz in the media and on the message boards over the last few weeks about the lackluster performance of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the 88 team. Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. has received much of the blame for the team's performance. Some of that blame can certainly be justified, but there have been many factors that have caused problems lately with the 88 team.

Earnhardt Jr. is desperately seeking a return to the early days of the season, where consistency was a hallmark of his on track performance. These days, it's not even so much about getting a win, but finishing in the top 10. Though a win at any time is a welcome event, right now the team needs to regain the consistency that it had earlier this season.

This week, the NASCAR traveling road show once again rolls into Fontana, California for the second race date at this 2 mile track. California was the site of one of Dale Jr.'s rare early season disasters. Caught up in a spin that started with teammate Casey Mears' spin, Earnhardt crashed, and had to eventually finish a many times red flagged race many laps down. Earnhardt hopes to break the trend of what has become a series of heartbreaks at California. Historically, California is not a track at which one would expect Dale Jr. to make a comeback.

Though there are problems with the 88 program, all is not lost. Though he's had only one top 10 finish since his win at Michigan, Dale Jr. has finished every race this season. Before any driver can win races, he has to finish them, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been finishing them. Even with the disappointing finishes, Dale Jr. remains in 3rd place in points. In order to clinch a spot in the Chase for the Cup, Dale Jr. only has to finish 40th or better on Sunday at California.

So far this year, Dale Jr. has not lost an engine during a race, a problem which basically doomed his chances of making the Chase last year. Dale Jr. is definitely racing with better equipment and better engineering this year than was available at Dale Earnhardt Inc. last year. Though many question his decision to bring in Tony Eury Jr. to be his crew chief, that decision was Dale Jr.'s and so far, their track record at Hendrick Motorsports is not really a bad one, with all things considered. Being 3rd in points, 24 races into the season, is a position that many other drivers would very much like to be in.

There basically is no reason for the doom and gloom, Dale Jr. fans. Yes, there have been missed opportunities, but we should all remember the high points that this season has shown us as well. A pole at Texas, a win at Michigan, and many, many laps led at other tracks is a huge improvement for Dale Jr. compared to the last couple of years. A position in the Chase is all but assured, and there have been other years when a chance at the Chase was either a long shot, or a total impossibility at this point in the season. Dale Jr. and the 88 team are alive and well, and is still a major threat to win all the marbles in 2008. Do they need to improve? Of course they do. There's always room for improvement in any program. Dale Jr. has the ability to overcome tough situations though, so it's still a little too early to count him out.

On a side note, NASCAR has placed Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards on probation through the end of the year as a result of their post race antics at Bristol on Saturday. Though many consider this a very minor slap on the wrist, or even a joke, I believe it is wise to think about the future implications of this ruling by the sanctioning body.

Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are 1st and 2nd in points currently. Should any of Bristol's bad feelings spill over into another race, it's possible that NASCAR will penalize either or both of them with points, or, horror of horrors, being parked for a race. We all know that Kyle and Carl have anger management issues on the track. They have them off the track at times as well. I think it's just a matter of time before one or both of these personalities boils over and they do something that NASCAR might frown upon. Another scuffle like they had at Bristol will almost undoubtedly lead to much harsher penalties. Or will it? Since we're talking about the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, who knows?

The fun is just beginning! Let's see just how big this little rivalry will get. If either one gets a hefty points penalty, Dale Jr. and the rest of the Chase drivers will benefit from it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Leader of the Brat Pack

On Saturday night, Kyle Busch once again proved that it's not nice to race Kyle Busch hard, at least in Kyle's opinion.

His post race altercation with winner Carl Edwards just proved once again that maturity is not part of Kyle's character. On the cool down lap, he decided that Carl's bump and run move that helped Carl seal his victory in the Sharpie 500 warranted another bump of his own. Kyle's efforts only ended up with Kyle spinning out when Carl leaned back a little. During the post race interview, Kyle made the usual whiny noises that he makes when he has a victory snatched from his grasp.

Kyle may like to pretend that his own bump and run maneuvers are always completely above board and legitimate. I imagine others would not see things that way. Just ask Mr. Earnhardt what his thoughts were when Kyle spun him at Richmond. Kyle Busch seems to maintain a holier than thou attitude when it comes to his own dirty tactics on the track. As a matter of fact, very few, if any of Kyle's total 17 wins in 3 series have occurred without him physically pushing someone out of his way. In speaking about the Richmond incident with Earnhardt Jr., Kyle sarcastically said that "apparently racing Dale Jr. isn't allowed."

The real truth is, and Kyle has abundantly demonstrated this, is that racing Kyle Busch isn't allowed. What we saw on Saturday night at Bristol was just another predictable temper tantrum from the guy who likes to call himself "Rowdy". Carl Edward's bump and run was very clean by Bristol standards. Kyle got a little loose, but continued on and finished in second place. Had Kyle been spun out by Edwards, as Earnhardt Jr. was by Kyle at Richmond, Kyle might have had reason to be upset.

At Richmond, reporters tried to goad Dale Jr. into pointing a finger of blame at Kyle, and Dale Jr. refused to take the bait. An obviously frustrated Earnhardt Jr. refused to blame anyone, pointing out that he had not watched a replay and didn't want to pass judgment until he had taken time to review the situation. Contrast that with Kyle Busch' attempt to use his race car as a 3500 lb. fist and give Edwards a punch, especially after the race had concluded. Apologists keep pointing out that Kyle is only 23 years old. That explanation is getting old, and quite frankly lame. There are infantry platoon commanders, who have led their men in combat who are younger than Kyle Busch. Kyle has been at this game long enough to know better, and in my humble opinion, Kyle's behavior is not just annoying, it's down right shameful. Watching a grown man throw a tantrum is not a pretty sight to see. It's not even a pretty site when a preschool kid does it, but it's especially embarrassing when a grown man does it.

Nascar fans and journalists like to group their drivers in varying ways. There's the old school guys, like Bill Elliot or Kenny Schrader. We've had the young guns like Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne. Now it appears that we have the brat pack, of which I personally feel that Kyle Busch is the undisputed leader.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What Does It Take To Win a NASCAR Race?

How do you win a NASCAR race? To many, the answer is simple: Drive as fast as you can until the checkered flag waves. Turn left a lot, or right and left if it's a road course. What more does it take?

As it turns out, it takes a lot more than that. Before the drivers even put on their fire suits, they have to make sure they are sufficiently hydrated. With temperatures reaching or exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit inside the race cars, dehydration is a big problem. Dehydration can be a big problem if you're only in the car for 20 minutes, but can really be bad when you're in the car for 4 hours. Drivers have to be prepared to be in the car for at least that long in an average Sprint Cup race.

Winning races means having good equipment and good engineering behind that equipment. It doesn't always mean having the best of the best, but the equipment has to be good, in a relative sense. If you have an engine that's only going to run 400 miles out of a 500 mile race, that isn't good. If you are the driver, you don't really care if the engine can make it to 505 miles if all you need is for it to run 500 miles. Having the best equipment doesn't always guarantee a win though.

A common myth is that the car that wins the race is the fastest on the track. That absolutely is not true. In truth, the car that wins the race is leading when it crosses the start/finish line when the checkered flag waves. The reason why that car might be in that position has nothing to do with whether or not it's the fastest car on the track. How that driver got the car in that position could mean a lot of things. Did the driver push when he needed to and hold back when he didn't? Did he find the best groove around the track and follow it? Did he pit when he needed to, and get the right combination of tires and adjustments to his car? Did he get enough fuel on the last pit stop? Does he need to conserve fuel by backing off a little on the throttle when he can? If he runs a high line around the track instead of a low line, will that increase his overall speed?

That's just a short list of all the things a driver has to think about while he's making laps at nearly 200 miles per hour. He's also got to think about whether or not he's given his crew chief good feedback about how the car is handling. The fastest car on the track with the wrong chassis setup will not win the race. He's also got to worry about whether or not he drank too much water or Gatorade before the race, and if he might have to have an accident inside his fire suit. He's got to think about whether or not his spotter is actually watching his exact position on the track, relative to other cars, or is he chatting it up with another spotter?

The driver can't really spend a lot of time worrying about other cars on the track, except the cars directly in front or behind him. If he's leading a car, he's got to think about how to stay in front of the other car. If he's approaching another car, he's got to figure out a way to pick his line around that car. A driver's work is never totally done as long as the car is on the track. The average race car driver has to make probably more decisions, in the blink of an eye, for 3 or 4 hours, than most of us will have to make in a 40 hour work week.

Luck, that most improbable of things, and probably the hardest to explain, has a lot to do with winning races. A driver can be leading a race by half a lap, and will be seemingly unstoppable. He might run over a piece of debris, and cut down a tire. At the very least, he will have to pit. In the worst case scenario, he will crash. He might cause a lot of other cars to crash as well. The engine might just let go. A belt might break, and a driver suddenly has no oil pressure. A million things can go wrong and ruin a perfectly good race.

Did the crew chief do his homework? How prepared is he to handle emergency situations like a blown tire or a major chassis problem? If you hit the wall, can he fix the car or will you have to go to the garage for major repairs?

Racing, much like life, is basically a crap shoot. You pay your money, your roll the dice. The drivers that win the most benefit from careful preparation and from having good people around them.

When the green flag drops, just about anything can happen. Every driver knows that, no matter how well prepared. Winning is having the best car on a given Sunday or Saturday night. It's also about being the best driver and the best crew on that given day.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Drivers and "Slumps"

The racing media has very interesting ideas of exactly what constitutes a slump. For some drivers, it can mean not winning in the last 3 or 4 races. For other drivers, it can mean going years without a win, but even then the word 'slump' is not used at all.

In Kyle Busch' recent win at Watkins Glen, more than a few media outlets reported the triumphant news that Kyle's slump was over. Slump? This guy has won 8 races this year. How can he accurately be described as having a slump? Maybe there were a few races where all did not go his way. Maybe the 8 wins weren't consecutive races, but even if he wins no more races this year, it can hardly be said that Kyle Busch has had a slump at any time this year.

Other drivers could more accurately be described as being in the midst of a slump, in my opinion. The two most obvious examples would have to be Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Here we are in August, and both drivers as of yet win less in 2008. Whereas Tony has been known to be a late starter, in other words not winning until later in the season, Tony's performance and luck have quite honestly been less than spectacular this season. The same could be said for Jeff Gordon, though as a multi time Daytona 500 winner, Jeff obviously is not known for starting late in the season.

Perceptions of certain drivers draw analysts to different conclusions about exactly what constitutes sub par performance. I think nobody is surprised when Jimmie Johnson wins a race at any track, but if say, Michael Waltrip were to win at Watkins Glen, that would really be news.

Many analysts and fans of the sport scoff at certain driver's chances of winning at particular tracks. A few years ago, I doubt that anyone seriously considered the chances of Ward Burton winning the Daytona 500, yet that's exactly what he did. This year's 500 winner, Ryan Newman probably wasn't tops on any one's picks either, yet he did win. Most people consider Dale Earnhardt Jr. strictly a restrictor plate track specialist, yet he's won at tracks like Bristol, Dover and Richmond.

Speaking of Ryan Newman. A couple of weeks ago former Penske teammate Rusty Wallace was telling anyone who would listen that Newman had been fired by Penske. It's true that other than that Daytona 500 win, Ryan has not had the greatest of seasons. I have to ask, however, how many Daytona 500 winners get fired the same year they win the Daytona 500? Not many, I would suppose. In 1998, Dale Earnhardt won the Daytona 500, and didn't win another race all season. It's true, Ryan Newman doesn't exactly have the celebrity or credentials that Earnhardt had, but I seriously doubt that Roger Penske would fire his Daytona 500 winning driver. Penske pretty much said that Rusty Wallace' claims were inaccurate. Message to Rusty: We all know you don't like Newman, but quit making yourself look like a fool by spreading unfounded rumors.

I think every driver at this level of racing either feels like their in a slump or they don't. There are not many athletes more competitive than Sprint Cup drivers. Most drivers can be broken down into two categories: Those who blame their lack of performance on other factors, such as their teams or their equipment, or their competitors. Then there are those who question everything, but are likely not to put blame on any other component of their performance until they have examined their own efforts. The efforts involved does not just mean driving a race car as fast as they can for 500 miles. It also means ascertaining whether they are communicating effectively with their crew chiefs and spotters. It also means pushing when it's time to push, or laying back when it's time to lay back. In other words, its about driving smart.

True champions in this sport generally fall into the latter category. It's important for a driver to have total confidence in himself, but when he starts blaming his mistakes on other drivers or his own team or equipment. Any driver can have a slump, but it's just as important for the driver to examine his own input into the problem before laying the blame on anyone or anything else.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Your Chance To Help Out A Worthy Cause!

Our friend Tiredawg has done it again! A custom, one off die-cast creation from the fantastic Garz Karz and it can be all yours! All you have to do is bid early, bid often, and bid with a giving heart, and this one of a kind creation can be all yours, and you will help some special kids have a once in a lifetime experience.

Please click here to go to this very special auction.

As he did before, Tiredawg created this die-cast to be sold at auction, and 100 per cent of the proceeds will go to the Victory Junction Gang Camp, which was created by the Petty family in memory of Adam Petty. It was always Adam's dream to help children with special needs, and unfortunately, Adam Petty never lived long enough to fully realize that dream. His parents, Kyle and Patti Petty, and grandfather Richard Petty, the winningest driver ever in the history of Nascar, started the VJGC in order to give very sick children a chance to live out their dreams.

Folks, the Pettys give with all their hearts to help children who really need special care, and the Tiredawg gives with all his heart to make these very special creations available. He does not make one penny off of these special cars that he creates, because all proceeds go directly to the Victory Junction Gang Camp. His first endeavor a few weeks ago was very successful, and we need to make sure that his second auction goes just as well or better. This is a very special opportunity for any die-cast collector or NASCAR fan to own a one of a kind die-cast race car, and to help out a very worthy cause.

As you can see, the left half of the car shows traditional Petty colors, the classic Petty blue, and one of my favorite features, the "426 C.I." logo on the hood, which signifies the championship winning 426 Hemi engine. Richard Petty won a lot of races with this paint scheme, and with the famous 426. Richard Petty won a total of 200 races and 7 championships in that famous 43.

The right side of the car shows classic Earnhardt colors, the classic black number 3 GM Goodwrench Service paint scheme in which Dale Earnhardt won so many of his 76 races and 7 championships.

Don't miss out on a chance to own a very special custom die-cast race car, and to give to a very worthy charity at the same time. This is a very special deal, because you can give with your heart and gain a very special piece of NASCAR memorabilia at the same time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What's the secret for Toyota's success?

In only their second year in the elite division of Nascar racing, Toyota seems to be unstoppable. After a very dismal rookie year, the sport's first Japanese based manufacturer has literally taken the Sprint Cup series by storm.

9 wins so far in 2008, as opposed to 0 wins in 2007 is certainly a way to prove that you've gotten your program over the hump. The biggest noticeable change has been Joe Gibbs Racing's entry into the Toyota program. In the winter of 2007, and even before that, chief engine guru Mark Cronquist apparently performed some magic on the power plants that have powered Joe Gibbs racing to 9 cup wins thus far this season. Wizardry might be a more accurate term.

One has to wonder, however, why the other Toyota teams have not seemed to benefit as much from Cronquist's coup. Team Red Bull, with Brian Vickers has come close. Denny Hamlin, who drives for JGR in the 11 car has won one time. Tony Stewart, who used to be the franchise driver for JGR, has not won at all. Newcomer Kyle Busch has won 8 times, and is the championship points leader.

Michael Waltrip Racing basically spearheaded the Toyota program in it's entry into Cup racing. Michael and his teammates have done better this year than they did in 2007, but have never been a threat to win a race this year. Joe Gibbs Racing certainly has more history with wins and championships than MWR does, but does that mean that Toyota has been giving JGR more than other teams? One wonders. No one who has ever won a championship at JGR has even won a race yet with Toyota in Cup. As a matter of fact, Tony Stewart returns to Chevrolet next year with his own team, under the banner of Stewart-Haas Racing. One wonders if Tony is leaving just because he craved ownership or Chevrolet so much, that he would abandon Nascar's most successful manufacturer?

I certainly don't have the answers to any of these questions. What I do know is that Nascar has long had a problem with one manufacturer dominating all the others. Nascar has taken steps in the Nationwide series, by mandating that the Toyota teams use a spacer, much like a restrictor plate between the carburetor and the intake manifold on the racing engines. Nascar has taken no such steps thus far in the Cup series.

Back in the old days, which weren't so long ago, Nascar would notice one particular manufacturer winning more races than the others were. Mostly, we're just talking about Ford, Chevrolet, and Pontiac here. When Dodge re-entered the sport a few years ago, Nascar tried to make sure that Dodge got some breaks too. Pontiac left, and now Toyota's here, but so far this year, I'm seeing very little effort on the part of Nascar to regulate parity between the manufacturers. Supposedly the new car, or what was previously known as the Car Of Tomorrow was supposed to accomplish that goal.

I have read various claims that Toyota engines make anywhere from 15 to 40 more horsepower than any of the other engines. I don't know that to be true, but I suspect that the Toyota engines are definitely making more horsepower than they were last year. That's totally understandable with the entry of Joe Gibbs Racing and Mark Cronquist into the equation. But I must ask the question: Does Toyota indeed have an advantage? And given the long, colorful history of Nascar, is that what Nascar wants? If they do, then why?

Is having one particular manufacturer being dominant what Nascar wants in 2008 and beyond?

Kyle Busch won 4 races with arguably the most successful race team in the last decade and a half, Hendrick Motorsports. Kyle was fired last year to make room for Dale Earnhardt Jr, the most popular driver in the sport for the last several years. Kyle found a new home with Gibbs and Toyota, and so far has made the most of it. He leads in points and wins, and isn't very humble about it, nor should he be required to be. The "in your face" tactics toward both Hendrick and Earnhardt probably are very satisying to Kyle, and I'm glad he's found success.

Humility has a way of finding cocky drivers though. Kyle Busch, enjoy it while you can.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Age Old Questions

Probably the biggest question that's been asked after the Watkins Glen race last week, is what's up with Tony Eury Jr., crew chief for Dale Earnhardt's 88 Amp Energy Drink / National Guard team. I've seen a lot of answers, from that Tony Jr. is a bonehead, to Dale Jr. just can't drive a race car. I have to laugh at all of these responses.

I too disagreed with Tony Jr.'s strategy of trying to keep Dale Jr. out for not one, but two green flag runs just a little too long. Boneheaded, you say? I doubt it.

Tony Eury Jr. has had the top job for a few years now, and I'm certainly not saying he's the greatest crew chief out there, but besides who his cousins are, there has to be reason for him to be running that team. Though it might not sound like it, especially during the races, should you happen to listen in on the radio conversations between the two Jr.'s, there is obviously a lot of trust there.

Trust, like all things worthwhile in life, takes time to develop and to totally gel. Though Tony Jr. and Dale Jr. have known each other all their lives, they have only been working in their current capacities for a few years. Both are new guys at Hendrick Motorsports this year, and for much of the season have been the Hendrick marquis team. They've been highest in points, up until Watkins Glen, and have a points win, which is one more than teammate Jeff Gordon has this year. I believe, if you sit down and analyze the facts, the 88 team has done very well for itself this year. Certainly both driver and crew chief have made mistakes, and maybe more than they need to be making to assure themselves of a championship. But drivers and crew chiefs are human. So far this year, Dale Jr. and Tony Jr. have made some mistakes. Apparently Kyle Busch and Steve Addington have made fewer mistakes. Apparently Toyota found something in the offseason that Chevrolet didn't find. There are so many factors going on here that they are nearly impossible to count and credit or discredit.

Kyle Busch is having a career year. He's won 8 races in the Cup series, and any driver would love to have that record. It doesn't mean that he will win the championship, by any means. There are still far to many races to be run.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Eury Jr. have some things they need to sort out. I know they do, and so do they. I do think, however, that the consistency that Dale Jr. has shown so far this year, with a brand new team and a brand new owner, brand new engines and cars, shows us that even if the championship doesn't happen this year, it's surely going to happen very soon.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Examining Chase Possible drivers, Part Two

Here's some more. If you like it or don't like it, then feel free to contact me.

8. Greg Biffle. Too much Ford, too much not being consistent. Fords seem to have a problem this year, or at least some of them do.

9. Tony Stewart. Tony's due to win anytime now. He probably will, but it might be too little too late. The Toyotas are strong, but how strong is Tony? He's headed back to Chevy anyway.

10. Denny Hamlin. Denny should have won far more than he has so far this year. His teammate, Kyle Busch hasn't had too many problems winning. I can't figure out why Denny has basically not won but once this year.

11. Kevin Harvick. Kevin should have won a lot more than he has so far, but he's not had the car or the crew chief, or maybe just not enough fans. It's hard to say.

12. Clint Bowyer. He's hanging on. Clint will eventually win a championship if he can just win more races. He's a good guy. He probably will win it all one day.

13. Matt Kenseth. We just hardly ever hear from the Quiet One from Wisconsin. He's won it all before, and he might sneak back up and do it again.

14. David Ragan. He's a media favorite, but not experienced as much as he needs to be to win it all this year. Give him a few years, and he might do it.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Examining Chase Possible drivers, Part One

Just an informal examination of the Chase possibilities for Drivers that currently have a shot at the Chase for the Cup.

1. Kyle Busch. He's the media's favorite, and has won 7 races this year for his new owner, Joe Gibbs. Kyle seems to do exactly everything right except when he does everything wrong. He can win a race and still irritate fans, even his own, just by his force of personality that seems to run from none to sarcastic, but no better than that.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. He's run under the radar, according to at least one article I've recently read. He's won one race but manages to stay 2nd in points. Dale Jr. is probably feeling more pressure than he has in his entire career, according to the media and the press. According to Dale Jr., he's just having fun.

3. Carl Edwards. He's won 4 races now, and treated us all to his famous back flips. Were he to win the Cup Championship, I'd love to see him do a two and a half gainer off the stage at the Waldorf-Astoria, in a tuxedo.

4. Jimmie Johnson, who won all there was to win last year, except what his teammate, Jeff Gordon won. Jimmie only has 2 wins this year, but Jimmie and Chad Knaus seem to have figured out to race this new car. I just hope Jimmie doesn't go golfing before the end of the season.

5. Jeff Burton. How can you not like Jeff Burton? He's one of the most honest guys in the garage. He's won a lot of races, not really this year, but in his career. Right now he's the top guy at Richard Childress Racing, in number of points. Harvick fans are a little upset about that too.

6. Jeff Gordon. It's almost the middle of August, and Jeff hasn't won a race yet this year. Think about the 'yet' part though. Watkins Glen? He's even money to me to win the race.

7. Kasey Kahne. He's a two time race winner in 2008, but none of the Dodges has seen any real consistency this year. They might win a race, but they might finish 35th or worse at the next race. Are there cup holders in that car for the Budweiser?

More in a day or two.

New Feature here.

Careful readers of this blog maybe sometimes miss some of the links that I post on the left side and at the bottom, so I will add a plug for this blog's latest feature, the Jimmy C Message Board. This board is primarily about Nascar, of course, and it's a place where you can discuss racing. There are also forums for general discussion, where you can talk about just about anything. There is also a Blogging forum, where you can discuss this blog, your own, or anyone else's. We have a Rant and Rave forum, where you may just let it all hang out, within reason of course!

Right now, this is not a board you have to join in order to post. You may register, of course, and that makes posting an easier process. We have also included another special feature, which is our Semi-Private forum. You must be a member of the authorized group not only to post here, but to read it as well. The SP forum is largely by invitation only, so you will need to either know a friend who is already a member there, or you will have to convince the forum moderator that you can can be trusted not to violate forum policies, such as spamming, sexual content, or just plain stupidity such as hatred.

All forums are moderated. Our intention here was to have a safe place where good people can talk about just about anything on their minds. This forum is not driver specific, and you may talk about any driver or team that you wish to. New forums will be added as the desire for them may dictate.

There are many great message boards out there. Some of them are driver specific, but for now ours won't be. All I ask is that we keep this on a relatively PG rated format. Spammers and their messages will be removed. People posting porn or links to porn will be removed. People making personal attacks on other posters will be removed. If you've ever been a member of a driver's message board, you already know the drill. Behave as if your favorite young child were reading everything you write, and you will be fine.

As I have said, you do not need to be a member read or to post, except in our Semi-Private forum. The Racing, General Discussion, Blogging, and Rant and Rave forums are open to all. This is an experiment that we hope to build upon and create a comfortable, safe environment for all who participate.

Come join us, won't you?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Trouble in Paradise?

As anyone knows who's read the blog or seen my posts in various places, I am a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan. That's not debatable. I will defend Dale Jr. as long as he wants to drive a race car or own a racing team. He's a very likable man, and has a lot of talent. He's his own man, not just Dale's son, but he has a career and business interests all his own.

After the Pocono race on Sunday, Dale Jr. reportedly exited his 88 Amp Energy Drink / National Guard Chevrolet and slammed his helmet to the ground. Frustration is expected from a driver who had a top 5 car all day and finished 12th, coasting over the finish line out of fuel. But it apparently was not the fuel issue that had Nascar's most popular driver upset.

In the closing laps of the race, Dale Jr.'s car kept getting looser, or to the uninformed, the rear wheels did not want to stay attached to the pavement as Earnhardt Jr. negotiated Pocono's 3 tight corners. Dale Jr. complained about that loose condition on his last pit stop, and apparently his crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., made changes that actually loosened the car further, rather than tightened it up. Fuel mileage aside, and having a top 15 finish, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was obviously very frustrated and annoyed.

Dale Jr. and Tony Jr. are cousins. They have been known to fight and bicker, because in truth, they are like brothers. They grew up together. Tony Jr. took over for his father as crew chief for Dale Jr. when his father, Tony Eury Sr. relinquished the top crew job. In 2004, Dale Jr. won a lot of races, but things fell apart between Tony Jr. and Dale. As a result, they finished the season without the much sought championship and were basically not on speaking terms with each other.

2005 brought Dale Jr. new crew chiefs, and not much success on the track. In 2006, it was announced that Dale Jr. and Tony Jr. had patched up their relationship, and Tony Jr. would be on top of the pit box. The two have been together since then, except for brief stints where Tony Gibson, currently the crew chief for Dale Jr.'s old ride, the 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet.

In 2008, Dale Jr. left the company that his father had built to allow his children to have a place to race. In his move to Rick Hendrick Motorsports, he insisted that Tony Eury Jr. be his crew chief for 2008. After winning the Budweiser Shootout, and a Daytona qualifying race, Dale Jr. has run a rather consistent season, finally winning a points race at Michigan, just barely.

Over the last couple of weeks, at both Indianapolis and Pocono, Dale Jr. has not been very happy with all of his crew chief's decisions. At Pocono, Dale Jr. was noticibly upset. Is this the beginning of another split with Tony Jr.? We all certainly hope not, but one has to wonder.

Darien Grubb, who has filled in as crew chief for other teams at Hendrick Motorports, is in his own right a race winning crew chief. He spends a lot of time on the 88 pit box during the races. What he and Tony Eury Jr. talk about during the races is not known, or even if they talk at all. One would assume that Darien has some input, but at exactly what level, I don't know.

I guess what I'm getting at is the age old question for every Dale Jr. fan. Do the cousins work well together, really? Is the crew chief getting the wrong clues from the driver? Is the driver not giving good feedback to the crew chief? Should Jr. decide that family loyalty just isn't enough, and work toward winning races and championships at all costs, regardless of who's calling the shots on top of the pit box? I don't know the answers at all.

My hopes are that Rick Hendrick listened to Dale Jr. on the radio the last couple of weeks. I hope that this week, before heading to Watkins Glen, Rick will sit down with Dale Jr. and Tony Jr. and talk out what they need to do to inprove the perfomance of the team. The 88 car is currently 2nd in points, and though that's a great thing, they will have to be nearly perfect for the final races of the season, during the Chase for the Cup, to have even a chance of winning the championship. The main thing is that the driver and the crew chief have GOT to be on the same page during the race. The crew chief needs to get good information from the driver, and the driver has to be able to trust his crew chief.

I'm not sure that Dale Jr. and Tony Jr. are at that level yet, at least on trust. I hope they will be able to make it so for the remaining races this season.

Monday, August 4, 2008

If you need a new home on the Internet

Make it here. The New Jeff Gordon Pit Board is a great place to be. You don't necessarily have to be a fan of the guy that's won 80 something races and 4 championships, but If you want to meet nice people who love Nascar, this is the place to be. Heck, I'm a fan of the 88, but I'm a member of the Jeff Gordon board, because I've met some great people there. The person that started it just wanted a nice place for people to meet and talk. We meet there and talk.

There are a lot of boards devoted to a lot of different things on the Net. If you like to talk about Nascar, go check out the Jeff Gordon Pit board. You'll have fun there, even if you're not the greatest Jeff Gordon fan in the universe.

In other news, my cable TV is not operational right now. I just chatted with a customer service rep, and she told me there had been massive storm damage in my area this past weekend. That's funny, because I did not see a drop of rain here. I did not hear any thunder, or see anything like lightening in the sky. Things that make you want to say "huh."

Here's some stats on the drivers after Pocono. Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch have not won every race this season, contrary to what you might see on TV. Kasey Kahne has won a race. So has Kurt Busch. So has Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jimmie Johnson's won two, Ryan Newman won the Daytona 500, and yet he's leaving the 12 after this year. Denny Hamlin has won a race. So has Jeff Burton. It's just Nascar, and things happen.

Next week we go to the road course at Watkins Glen, and we once again test the drivers on their ability to turn right as well as left. Jeff Gordon is tied with Tony Stewart with 4 wins each at this track. Everyone says Tony is due to win a race, but I really think that Jeff is due this time. Hendrick horsepower and Jeff's skills as a road racer make him my current favorite this week.

I guess we'll just have to see though. I used to hate road course races, but now I look forward to them. We get to see our drivers shine on tracks they don't run most of the time. Jeff Gordon is a true racer, and he can win on virtually any track.

R.I.P, Skip Caray

I know this is a departure from the normal Nascar stuff, but I read today with great sadness that longtime announcer for the Atlanta Braves, Skip Carey died in his sleep yesterday at age 68.

Since I was a child, I've loved to listen to baseball games on the radio. Baseball does, or at least used to have the perfect pace for radio. Skip Caray was always one of those announcers that made you feel like you were at the park, watching the game.

Skip certainly had the pedigree for being a great baseball announcer. His father, Harry, was one of the most famous baseball announcers of all time, having served as the voice of the Chicago Cubs for many years. I used to listen to Harry when I was a kid, and that's probably why I proudly wear, among others, a Cubs hat to this day.

Skip is survived by his wife and 4 children, two of whom are also professional broadcasters. Son Chip is an announcer for the Braves for TBS. Son Josh calls games for the Class A Rome Braves.

I will always remember Skip Caray's humor and his ability to make even a boring game interesting. Many times, I think we as sports fans just never appreciate the people who bring us the events until they are gone. Fans of the great Jack Buck probably know what I'm talking about. I'm still a huge fan of his son Joe though. Growing up in the Upstate area of South Carolina, I listened to long time announcer Jim Phillips call the Clemson football games on the radio. I had the pleasure of meeting Jim several years ago, when I was doing some work on the campus at Clemson University. Jim didn't know me from Adam, but he was very gracious and chatted with me for a few minutes. When he died suddenly a few years ago, I was very saddened, because for me, listening to a football game on the radio would never be the same again.

I feel much the same way about the Braves games now. I'll still watch and listen, and Pete Van Wieren and Joe Simpson have always done a great job. But it's just never going to be quite the same without Skip.

Was there a secret memo from Nascar?

Due to prior commitments, I did not get to watch much of Sunday's race at Pocono on TV, but I did get to hear roughly one third of the actual race coverage on Motor Racing Network, Nascar's "Voice of Nascar" radio program. I like MRN and all the crew. They provide the next best thing to actually watching a race, and MRN's coverage has always been top notch.

But I've got a question to ask. I don't remember the particular details, but on two different occasions, I heard of a driver making contact with the wall or with another driver's car, and having to come to pit road to change tires. The MRN guys were stepping all over themselves to make it very clear that the tire damage was caused by a fender rub, or contact with the wall, and most definitely NOT because Goodyear had provided an inferior product, which to many seemed to be the case at last week's Indianapolis race.

I am not sure of the exact details of MRN's relationship with Nascar. MRN is not the only service which provides radio coverage of Nascar events. Performance Racing Network also covers a handful of races for Nascar. I assume that Nascar licenses the radio broadcasting rights to both networks, and as such, probably have a clause in their respective contracts that Nascar is indeed the star of the show, as is Nascar's right, it would seem.

The broadcasters seemed to go overboard about the tire deal though. Though obviously I wasn't at the track or in the broadcast booth, I had images in my mind of sheets of paper posted within view of everyone who had a microphone that read, in very large print: REMEMBER! IF ANYONE HAS TIRE PROBLEMS TODAY, IT'S NOT GOODYEAR'S OR NASCAR'S FAULT!"

I have no way of knowing for sure whether this was the case or not, but I had to laugh out loud when several of the broadcasters, including the anchor, turn reporter and pit reporter all repeated the same thing: "The tire had problems because of damage from the wall or from a collision with another car. It was not because the tire was a bad tire."

I know that many people, including myself, have been critical of the way Nascar and Goodyear basically screwed up the second biggest race of the year at Indianapolis. I wasn't then, nor am I now willing to condemn both entities as being washed up though. Even multi billion dollar corporations make mistakes now and then, and Indianapolis was an embarrassment for both companies, without a doubt. But one has to wonder about what was said prior to the race at Pocono, and who said it, and what penalties would be levied if the instructions weren't carried out to the letter. All I know is that the MRN reporters literally took turns making sure that neither Nascar nor Goodyear were to blame for any tire problems in yesterday's race.

I'm sure that the problems that occurred at Indy will be ironed out before next year's race. I imagine there will be adequate testing there before next July. This year, only 3 drivers tested there for Goodyear, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was one of them. Dale Jr. said that tires were wearing out after 5 laps, and he thought at the time that well, heck, this is just a test, Goodyear will fix this before we actually race here. It appears that Goodyear knew that they had a problem with the Indy tire well before the actual race, but apparently took no measures to fix the problem. Why that was allowed to happen, I have no idea, but I doubt that it will happen, at least at Indianapolis, ever again.

A lot of people have put blame for the tire problems on the new car, or what used to be referred to as the Car of Tomorow. It's heavier, has a higher center of gravity, and puts much more weight on the right side of the car in the corners than did the old car. Nascar has decreed that the new car is here to stay, and I imagine this has created nightmares for Goodyear's research and development people trying to make racing tires that will work with the new car.

What I see as a possible solution for this is that Nascar and Goodyear work in conjunction more on tire testing. Goodyear hires it's own test drivers, and Nascar, through the actual racing teams, provides a test car from every manufacturer for Goodyear's use. Goodyear, with their dedicated team of test drivers, will test on every track at which Nascar runs races. They test 180 days a year, if necessary. Goodyear will be able to try what they think will be their best tire, and if that tire doesn't work, they make a new one and test them again. The actual racing teams will be allowed to test as well, as they have in the past, with whatever Goodyear determines to be the tire they will use for the actual race.

Will this cost more money? Of course it will. But in the long run, Nascar and Goodyear should reap the rewards of putting on better races than the debacle which was the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 from Pocono: It's Anybody's Race.

With NASCAR's longest stretch and NASCAR's tightest corners, at least from an oval-track point of view, Pocono gives it all for your enjoyment!

This is the second time our NASCAR friends visit Pocono this season. It's one of the tracks closest to the world's biggest market, New York City. It's also a very unique track. There are only three corners instead of the traditional four. Yes, it's a triangle. It's somewhat superspeedway and somewhat road course.

Of the current drivers, Bill Elliot has won here more than anyone, with a total of five wins. Jeff Gordon has won here four times, and Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte have both won at Pocono three times.

Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Jeremy Mayfield, Terry Labonte, Kurt Busch, and Kasey Kahne have each won twice.

Pocono is one of those tracks that makes purists ask one question, "Why do we run here twice?"

The answer is simple.

Besides Watkins Glen, Pocono is the closest track to New York City, the country's largest market. Pocono has two race dates until someone gets stupid and lets NASCAR build a track on Staten Island.

Not that a New York City connection would be bad. I say build a short track, out in the hinterlands of New Jersey, and make it as close to Bristol as they can make it. High banked turns, maybe one-half or three-fourths miles in length.

Put a roof over it, just to make sure all the racing that is advertised will happen. It can be done. Put in about 250,000 seats, and make it the world's largest rain free arena. It could be done.

I like Pocono and I hate it at the same time. I like it because it's a challenge to the best stock-car drivers in the world, but I hate it because I've seen some good drivers in bad accidents on this track.

I just pray that we don't see any bad accidents this week.