Friday, October 31, 2008

How Important Are Crew Chiefs in NASCAR?

Crew chiefs are variously described as team leaders, or even as the quarterback of the team. That part is obvious. What many fans may not know is that the crew chief is much more than just the guy in charge in the shop and in the garage.

Once the green flag drops, the performance of the race car is out of the hands of the crew chief and in the hands of the driver. At that point, the crew chief sits more or less helplessly on the pit box, listening to the spotter talking his driver though the traffic. He watches his driver's lap times.

He gauges the driver's performance on the track. He makes plans, and then dashes them as events unfold. He talks to his crew, getting them ready for any eventuality. He tries to think ahead to the next pit stop. More importantly, he tries to think ahead to the last pit stop of the race.

During the week, the crew chief acts as the shop foreman. He directs his crew as to what they need to do to get the cars set up properly. I say cars, because the teams take two to the race track.

On travel day, they load up the cars and the hauler takes off, whether to Lowes Motor Speedway just down the road in Concord, NC, or to Sonoma, California or Brooklyn, Michigan.

NASCAR travels all over the country, so long airplane flights are part of the job as well. Along with the car chief, the crew chief directs every single task performed on the race cars.

On race weekends, the crew chief becomes the statistician. He watches lap times during practice and qualifying. He looks at the tires that come off the car after it's run laps. He looks at the spark plugs. He looks at the lifters and the valves. He measures fuel mileage on long runs during practice. He's writing on his clipboard, taking down the data.

On race day, the crew chief transforms into not only the boss of the team, but his driver's primary cheerleader.

Along with the spotter, the crew chief's job is to keep the driver focused on the task ahead of him. Whether it be maintaining a lead, or trying to pass the cars in front of him in order to gain better track position.

All the while, the crew chief remains in statistician mode. He's gauging lap times against fuel mileage.

He's looking at options such as short pitting, two tires or four, up or down on the track bar or air pressures. He's sitting on the pit box, but he's working as hard as his driver is. He looks calm, but he's nervous.

He didn't get to his position by being naive about anything in this sport. He knows his crew and his driver, and he, himself have to perform perfectly to get his driver into victory lane.

Another quality that's required of a crew chief is to have good relationship with his driver. The driver often gets cranky on the track, in the heat of battle.

It's the crew chief's job to decipher the clues that his driver is giving him about the car's performance.

Some drivers are better at giving feedback than others, but a good crew chief can simply watch the car and know what changes need to take place, should he be working with a young or inexperienced driver.

The crew chief tries to calm his driver down when he gets frustrated. He tries to tell his driver to save fuel if he can.

He basically becomes the driver's best friend. Chemistry between driver and crew chief is more important than many people realize.

When it comes right down to it, a great driver can only be a good driver with a so-so crew chief. A great crew chief can make a so-so driver look great though.

Note: This article first appeared on the Bleacher Report. For commentary, facts, stats, and just plain fun, visit

Monday, October 27, 2008

Are we now in the Post Gordon Era in NASCAR?

Statistically, he's the greatest active driver in NASCAR. He's won 81 races and 4 championships. In his 17 years in the sport, he has 245 top 5's and 334 top 10's. He's won 66 poles in his career. He has almost 100 million dollars in winnings. But he's not won a race in 2008, and hasn't won a championship since 2001. He's Jeff Gordon, and even after all he's won, he's still hungry for more.

When interviewed yesterday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Jeff said that he's happy with how his 24 Chevrolet team has been progressing this year. He said they need to get better, but he's not unhappy with his team. He has hinted in past weeks that they may need to tweak certain things, such as personnel. Many of Gordon's fans have been putting a lot of blame on his crew chief, Steve Letarte. Jeff has done nothing but praise Letarte, but that's what drivers do. Placing blame on the crew chief is common in this sport. As an Earnhardt fan, believe me, I know the feeling.

Jeff Gordon's personal life has changed greatly over the last few years. He's remarried and now has a daughter. Jeff appears to be a very happy family man now. Has that made a difference in his driving performance? Some think it's a possibility, but I don't. On race day, I see the same guy with the same game face on that I watched 10 years ago. His focus does not appear to have changed. What's going on in his mind, nobody can know but Jeff though. Does having a family change what a driver is willing to do? In some cases, I'm sure it does. Jeff Gordon, being the professional that he's always been appears to be able to compartmentalize his life and his various roles in it.

At the age of 37, it's doubtful that Jeff is past his prime as a race driver. His reflexes may be slower than they were 10 years ago, but he's still consistently one of the best drivers on the track race in and race out. Other drivers have won races when they were 10 years older than Jeff, though not lately. Certainly the competition is tougher than it ever has been, but Jeff has always found ways to win against the odds.

Gordon can chalk up some of his problems in 2008 to just plain bad luck. He's been involved in several crashes this year, mostly as an innocent victim. The 24 team seems to be missing the setups on the new car, a problem common among almost all drivers in the sport this year. Though Jeff is currently 6th in points with 3 races to go, he will not win his 5th championship this year. With 3 races to go, he could, of course, break his winless streak, and undoubtedly that is his primary goal right now.

Gordon's primary sponsor, Dupont, is supposedly signed with the 24 team through 2010. Jeff can supposedly drive for Hendrick Motorsports as long as he desires. It has been speculated that Jeff might retire if Dupont leaves. I suppose it's not unreasonable to suppose such a thing. Jeff has already won pretty much everything there is to win, has more money than he can spend in 10 lifetimes, has a lovely wife and daughter, and except to race for his personal satisfaction, he really doesn't need to. I don't see it happening though. Jeff will certainly retire one day, but I feel like he will keep trying for at least one more championship. I imagine somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows that with just a few more wins, he can top legendary drivers such at Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough in all time wins. Other than Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, Jeff has already won more championships than any other driver. Surpassing Earnhardt and Petty's record of 7 championships each would appear to be a fading dream though.

I doubt that we will ever see Jeff Gordon running partial schedules much in his later years. Jeff does not appear to be the type of driver who even wants to be on the track unless he thinks he can win, and win it all. Every single season he's driven has been a championship run, at least in his mind. Missing the Chase for the Cup in 2005 must have been a devastating development for him. Every driver wants to win, but a lot of them know that realistically, in the Cup series, if they finish in the top 15, they've had a very good day. 15th for Jeff Gordon must feel like 43rd to him.

Whatever the future holds for Jeff Gordon, you can never, ever count him out. Not yet.

Spoils of Victory somewhat spoiled for Carl Edwards at Atlanta

After the Pep Boys 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, Carl Edwards performed his signature back flip into the infield grass and celebrated in Victory Lane. He celebrated, that is, until he got the news. Jimmie Johnson finished 2nd.

A jubilant Carl Edwards was visibly deflated when he was informed during the initial post race interview on ABC that Jimmie Johnson, who at one point was a lap down after being penalized for speeding on pit road, had come charging back during the final 9 laps, in an amazing performance which was definitely the highlight of the race. On several message boards that I scanned after the race, it was difficult to tell who had won the race. One person on my board, who had not actually seen the race, scanned another board and posted that Jimmie had won again. When I replied that Carl had won, she was surprised. That surprise is understandable, because today, hardly anyone is talking about Carl Edwards. They're all talking about Jimmie Johnson, even though he finished 2nd.

It's hard not to be impressed by Jimmie Johnson during the 2nd half of the 2008 season. I'm not a Johnson fan, but I can appreciate that what looked to be at the outset a down year for the 48 team has become a runaway freight train to another championship. Not that it's over, mind you, but it's going to take practically a miracle for anyone but the 48 team to win the Cup in 2008.

What's great for the 48 team and Jimmie Johnson fans is probably not so good for NASCAR as a whole. ABC could not disguise the many empty seats at Atlanta yesterday. Dale Earnhardt Jr., in a pre-race TV interview even mentioned that he wished more fans would buy tickets to come see the race at Atlanta. Many of the empty seats can certainly be blamed on the recent financial upheaval on Wall Street and elsewhere, and what I consider to be outrageously high ticket prices. I do feel, however, that part of the lack of attendance can be blamed on what has become a lopsided Chase for the Cup. Who wants to spend all that money to see the same guys win every week? As much as I love to go to Atlanta, I'm glad I didn't go this year. In the early part of the season, it was all Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. Now during the Chase, it's been all Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards. It's strange, isn't it, that though Carl Edwards has won races all during the year, it looks like he's going to come up short in his championship hopes. That all leads to another subject though, and I hope to address that one later.

All in all, I could have skipped yesterday's race except for the final 9 laps. Jimmie Johnson's charge through the field was indeed amazing. He and several other drivers had new tires, but to pass that many cars in so few laps was really something to see. The race had it's other moments too, but nobody's going to remember them.

Oh yes, congratulations to Jimmie, er, I mean Carl Edwards on your win at Atlanta.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jr. Nation? We're fine, Thank You all the Same.

So he's won races but no championships. So he's won Bud Shootouts and even the Winston in 2000. Oops, excuse me, he has won what was once known as the Busch series championship, now known as the Nationwide championship in 1998 and 1999. Jr. Nation? We're fine, thank you.

Say what you want to about the Jr. Nation. We're dedicated. Maybe we don't know so much about stats. I do. Maybe we don't know so much about win/loss records versus other drivers. I do. It's possible that some of my brethren are not as educated about Dale Jr. as I am. It's possible. If you rank your NASCAR fans on a whim, then go ahead. We're about a real guy. Dale Jr. is about as real as it gets. We're about as real as it gets.

We laugh together. We cry together. We pray for each other. Some of us might be superficial. Examine the sport closely, and you'll find much the same for any driver. For the most part though, we care about the statistics. We care about the team. We care about the crew chief. We also care about the driver. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has made us believe in him, win or lose.

Does he lose more than he wins? Yes. That can be said for all drivers though. Sprint Cup is the hardest series on the planet in which to achieve wins, but Dale Jr. has done quite nicely, thank you very much.

You may rank the Jr. Nation as part fake, part real, but the vote for MPD counts. I'll give you this: Some members are simply interested in the man, not the driver. But we all care about Dale.

To many of us, he's the link to the past, the path to the original Dale. Many of us miss Dale, me included.

Don't dis Dale Jr. He's the real deal and he's doing great things.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chad Knaus: Giving Credit where Credit is Due

Many of the NASCAR pundits have already declared the 2008 season as being over. Jimmie Johnson will win his 3rd straight title, and it's all over but the crying, even though there are still 4 races to go. I'm not so sure about that, but it's obvious that Jimmie and the 48 team are going to be very tough to beat in 2008. Just like 2007, and to a certain degree, 2006.

Jimmie Johnson has earned a reputation as a driver who can win on virtually any track. He appears to be a very calm driver, not given to fits of rage or frustration. Johnson's ability to keep his cool under pressure has probably earned him quite a few of his wins. In other words, Jimmie Johnson is not likely to beat himself on the track. He's already a two time champion, and his talent as a driver has certainly made him deserving of those titles.

But there is a puppet master behind the scenes, and that is Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus. Chad has probably won as many races for the 48 team from atop the pit box as Jimmie has won by staying calm and using his talent. Chad Knaus has come from a position of relative obscurity to perhaps the sport's most admired crew chief in just a few short years. Though Johnson certainly has the talent to have won races with any crew chief, it is from Chad Knaus that the 48 Chevrolet truly gets its magic.

Jimmie Johnson himself entered the ranks of Sprint Cup drivers as a relative unknown as well. After enjoying a lackluster showing in the Nationwide series, Jeff Gordon personally pointed the young driver out to team owner Rick Hendrick. Gordon became the co-owner of the 48 Cup ride along with boss Hendrick. The rest, as they say, is history.

Chad Knaus has been with Jimmie Johnson since the very beginning of his Cup career. Chad worked his way up through the ranks at Hendrick Motorsports, and finally got his shot at the big time when he was tapped to be the crew chief of the brand new 48 car. Since 2002, the duo have managed to win 39 Cup races and 2 championships. This is a feat that could be seen as on the same level as that of Dale Earnhardt in the 1980's or Jeff Gordon in the 1990's.

Chad Knaus' ability to make the proper adjustments on the 48 Chevrolet and to make pit calls that make him appear to be an absolute genius are fast becoming, if not already, legendary. It's not very often that Jimmie Johnson runs out of gas with half a lap to go. It's not very often that the 48 car is not running at the front of the field. Chad Knaus has fit in perfectly with the Hendrick formula of putting the best people in the places where they are most talented, and then giving them what they need to make it all work. We've seen this formula work with Jeff Gordon's team in the past, and now we are seeing it work with the 48 team. Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team are on the verge of winning their 3rd straight championship, the likes of which has not been seen since Cale Yarborough did it in the 1976-1978. Jimmie and Chad could achieve greatness that has only been seen in this sport one time before in 2008. Earnhardt never achieved 3 consecutive championships. Gordon so far hasn't. Even Richard Petty never did. Only Cale Yarborough has so far. Jimmie Johnson could be next.

I believe that Jimmie Johnson would be the first to tell you that he could not have achieved nearly as much success as he has without the help of Chad Knaus. When it comes to crew chiefs, Chad Knaus has indeed proven himself to be a genius.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Reviewing a Clean Slate

Many commentators proclaimed this 2008 season the year of Dale Earnhardt Jr. How has that worked out? So far, it has and it hasn't.

Dale Jr. and the 88 team set some goals for themselves which they have largely achieved. They won, not only a points race at Michigan, but also the Budweiser Shootout in February. They made the Chase for the Cup. Up until the last few races, the 88 team was a very viable contender to win a championship. Much of the disappointments which have occurred since the Chase began have been the result of plain bad luck.

Have there been miscues by the team? Surely there have been. Some of the miscues this season were made by the driver himself. Some were made by crew chief Tony Eury Jr. Much blame has been heaped upon Eury Jr., and though some of it may well be deserved, much of it is not. Two tires or four? Are we good on fuel? Up or down on the air pressures or track bar? These are questions that few but the most expert fans of the sport can answer. Most of those experts are already on top of pit boxes. As is the case with any driver and crew chief combination, the comfort level must be there, especially for the driver. Dale Jr. trusts his crew chief, and it appears that he has the final say on that matter.

Problems with pit stops have been the cause for some missed opportunities this well. Even the most well oiled pit crew can and does occasionally make mistakes. A missed lug nut here, a snarled air hose there, and positions are lost on the track, and this season, more than other, track position is important.

Overall, this season has been a success for the 88 team. Goals have been achieved, and hopes and expectations will undoubtedly be even higher next season. Is there room for improvement? Of course there is. The more time this team spends together, I feel the better they will be. Is Dale Jr.'s first season with Hendrick Motorsports the best first season with a new team this year? Critics point at the driver whom Dale Jr. replaced at Hendrick, Kyle Busch. Kyle has 8 wins to Dale Jr.'s 1 win, that's true, but here's one important fact that many are willing to overlook: After 31 of 36 races, there are only 28 points separating the two drivers. It's very possible that Dale Jr. will finish ahead in the points standings at the end of the season.

Are wins more important than championships? That's debatable. Wins are important, but the ultimate goal of any driver is to be holding the Cup trophy at the end of the year. It is unlikely that either Dale Jr. or Kyle Busch will be holding that trophy in November, but it's possible that Dale Jr. finishes higher in the standings than 2008's golden boy.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Want to make NASCAR better?

Sure you do. We all do. One way to do it is to support your local short track. The future driver of the Truck series, the Nationwide series, and even the Cup series are on display this week at your local race track.

Of course, not many of your local drivers will ever make it to the big show. Some of them have no interest in racing for a living. Many of them do it for fun, or for a few extra bucks. Many of them just love doing it, and don't care if they go broke trying to do it. For what ever reason, they show up every week to provide us with some of the best entertainment you can get for 10 bucks.

At most tracks I've been to, yes, $10.00 is the admission price for adults. That's not too bad when you consider that you can watch a bad movie for not much less. Short track racing is what this sport was built on and really, when you dig way down deep, what it still is all about. Local short track drivers don't travel in jets, nor do they sleep in huge motor homes at the track. Most of them do double duty, as in hauling their race cars to the track behind their pickup trucks. These folks are our friends and neighbors. They deserve our support.

Here at our local short track, you can often party after the race with the drivers and their families on the track grounds, or at a local restaurant only a mile or so down the road. Around here, the drivers will have a beer after a Friday night ruckus on the track and tell you all about why they ran into Billy, and why Tommy was stupid enough to run into Joey, or why the car hit the wall on the pace lap. It's all fun, and even though tempers get hot at the track, usually the combatants are seen a couple hours later with their arms around each other at the local watering hole.

10 bucks isn't too much to spend to see some great racing, on a track small enough to see each and every detail. Kids under 12 are often admitted for free, so an evening at the track can be a great family event. You can bring your own food, or try a hot dog from the snack stand. Most tracks allow tailgating, so you can come early and do your own thing. Consider a night at the races a huge block party. You can meet new people and have fun with people you know or maybe never have met in the past.

Local race tracks have been around since nearly the invention of the automobile. They will continue to abound as long as people love to compete.

Do yourself and racing a favor. Go support your local short track!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Take out the Fork. DEI's Not Done Yet

Dale Earnhardt Inc. made a very strong showing at the Amp Energy 500 at Talladega on Sunday.

Regan Smith basically won the race, by outrunning the leader. He got penalized for it though and finished on the tail end of the lead lap, in 18th place.

Martin Truex Jr. and Paul Menard, along with Aric Almirola also had good cars too. Truex got wrecked while running in the front, but DEI cars were always contenders to win, all day long.

Truex was probably at least as frustrated as was Regan Smith on Sunday. A blown tire on the car of Brian Vickers ended his day early, when clearly, Truex had a car that was capable of running up front.

DEI's day will come, and probably soon, if they can keep up the kind of performance they showed at Talladega.

DEI has definitely shown some muscle in at least their super speedway program this past week, after it was announced that Paul Menard was leaving the team after the 2008 season for Yates.

I was among those who thought DEI was headed for trouble, but I stand here, totally reprimanded. DEI is still a factor, and even though the have no drivers in the Chase for the Cup, they still can upset the apple cart by putting a driver in Victory Lane.

Races are still won by drivers who have the ability to become, how shall we say, 'creative'. What Regan Smith did certainly wasn't a sin, at least to me. My NASCAR's standards, I suppose it was. To me, it meant doing what ever it takes to win, and that's what Regan did. If the guy ahead of you blocks you low, go lower. On any other track on the circuit, except Daytona, of course, this move would have been totally legal.

DEI is not out of the game yet. They still have some cards to play.

The Best Driver in NASCAR? It's Easy to Figure Out

Who is it? We'll wait until the end to show you. But I have to ask you, who else has won 38 races out of 249 starts, and also has 98 top five finishes and 152 top ten finishes?

Who also has 18 poles out of his 249 starts? Who also has never finished worse than 5th in the points standings since he started driving all the races in Cup?

This driver's ability to cultivate wins astounds me. He has a fantastic crew chief as well, about as nerdy as Mr. Spock on Star Trek, but the combination has produced fantastic results.

This driver also lacks, or so it would seem, in personality. He is one of those "I want to thank my sponsor" kind of guys in interviews. He never seems to have a hair out of place, and never says the wrong thing on camera. In other words, he's a sponsor's dream.

This driver overcomes adversity at all costs. He never sounds tired or overly frustrated on the radio during the longest of races. I know. I spent a lot of time listening to his radio during Sunday's Talladega race, and he had more reasons than I have the space to list here to be frustrated. His crew chief kept him in line very well.

Who am I talking about? Of course it's Jimmie Johnson. Since his first Cup race in 2001, he's managed to win 38 times and has 2 championships. He never gives up, as was evident on Sunday during the Talladega race. He salvaged a 9th place finish after losing a lap early. He is the current points leader in Cup, and appears to be on his way to a 3rd consecutive championship. What he lacks in on camera personality, he makes up for on the track.

Performance is what counts, and Jimmie Johnson has proven that he's one of the best.

Want to change NASCAR?

You can do it, as is a catch phrase in most Adam Sandler films. All you need to do is convince about 12 drivers not to show up. All you have to do is convince Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin not to show up at Charlotte. That's all you need to do.

You think I'm crazy? Ok, so maybe I am. But think about it. If you get the 12 chasers to quit right now out of protest for NASCAR's rules, or because whales are still be slaughtered by certain countries, or because wolves are being hunted and shot down by helicopters, then you will get NASCAR to change it's rules.

There is a quote that comes from somewhere which basically says of drivers who buck NASCAR's rules: "You need NASCAR more than NASCAR needs you." That's certainly true for individual drivers. When many current drivers boycotted Talladega for it's inaugural race in 1969, NASCAR put out the news that there would be a full field there. There was, mostly. Drivers such as Richard Childress got their start there. A guy named Richard Brickhouse won the very first race at Talladega. Have you ever heard of him? Not many have.

Richard Brickhouse ran 39 races total in Cup. He only won one time. His winnings from the first Talladega race were $45,637.00 That was real money back in those days. Richard Childress finished 23rd and earned a whopping $1,175.00. That was big money to Richard in those days.

NASCAR owns this sport. NACAR makes the rules. NASCAR changes the rules. NASCAR owns the rights to do just about anything they want to as far as the sport goes. You could change that. NASCAR makes its money from the people who buy tickets, who watch on TV, who support the sport. If you can convince 12 drivers to stay at home, NASCAR might understand that they need to change things around.

If the top 12 drivers just didn't show up at a track, for just one race, what would NASCAR do? Sure, it would allow drivers who normally don't have a shot at Cup racing get in. But do the drivers themselves, whom I've mentioned above really need NASCAR?

Probably not as much as NASCAR needs them.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tire Problems, Bad Decisions Mar Exciting Talladega Race

Photo by AP.

Tony Stewart was scored his first victory of the 2008 season on Sunday, after crossing the finish line in second place at the Amp Energy 500 at Talladega, Alabama. The picture above speaks for itself.

Regan Smith, driver of the 01 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet passed Stewart just before crossing the finish line. There was one problem though. Part of that pass occurred while Smith was below the yellow line, which is considered a no-no by NASCAR. It would appear that Stewart, driver of the 20 Home Depot Chevrolet had actually forced Smith below the yellow line. NASCAR, in it's infinite wisdom, said it didn't matter. Tony Stewart went to Victory Lane and Regan Smith was penalized and finished a very disappointing 18th.

Yellow line passes on restrictor plate tracks have been controversial in the past, but none is likely to be as controversial as the one that occurred in Sunday's race. NASCAR seemingly changes the rules from incident to incident, and that makes for a lot of angry drivers, crew chiefs, owners, and especially fans. Right or wrong, Tony Stewart was awarded the trophy, and as always, what NASCAR says goes. Only NASCAR makes the rules in NASCAR, and if they want to change them, it's their option. I personally feel it makes the sport look bad, and gives it a certain WWE feel. If that's what NASCAR wants to do, neither you, nor I, not Regan Smith can change that. There will be no asterisk in the record book.

Goodyear tires once again led to some unnecessary danger in Sunday's race. Blown tires caused at least what could have been one very serious injury when Denny Hamlin blew a right front tire while leading the race, shooting him hard into the wall. Denny was taken to an ambulance on a stretcher and transported to a nearby hospital and kept overnight for observation. Brian Vickers, Mike Wallace were among others who experienced catastrophic tire failures as well. Talladega, even with restrictor plates produces speeds of up to and even exceeding 200 mph. This track is dangerous enough without Goodyear once again providing an inferior and unsafe product. Harsh words, you say? I think perhaps not harsh enough. Several of the drivers expressed their concerns about their safety after Sunday's race. Talladega is nerve racking enough for the drivers without having to wonder if the next blown tire could end their race. Permanently.

Another bad decision was made by Carl Edwards, driver of the 99 Office Depot Ford, who in attempting to push teammate Greg Biffle to the lead, caused a spectacular wreck, not only taking himself out, but also teammates Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was caught up in that crash, which ended his day as well. Edwards did take responsibility for his mistake, but that was small consolation to the drivers who's championship runs were effectively ended by one bone headed mistake. Aggressive is one thing, but stupid is another.

One true high point of the race, from this fan's perspective, was the 13th place finish by Kenny Wallace, who apparently drove a one race deal in the Michael Waltrip owned 00 Toyota. Kenny was penalized a lap early in the competition for speeding in excess of 100 mph on pit road, but was able to recover for a very good finish. Kenny, who is a well liked personality, showed yesterday that he's also a pretty good race car driver. I hope to see this open up the opportunity for Kenny Wallace to drive more Cup races in the near future.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Why Paul Menard is a great addition to Yates Racing

It's very simple. Paul Menard brings to Yates what all NASCAR teams need, in order to survive. $. Yep that's it.

It doesn't matter that Menard has not won a race in the Sprint Cup series. He did win one in the Nationwide series, back when it was still called the Busch series. In the Cup series, he has exactly one top 10 finish, which came as a 7th place finish at Atlanta in 2006. That's out of a total of 68 races thus far in the Cup series.

I'm not saying that Paul Menard is not a good race car driver. I'm just saying that a driver without a built in sponsor, which is what Paul brings to the game, would not even be in the series at all. Paul's father, John Menard, is the owner of Menards, a major mid western home improvement chain. John Menard is the richest person in the state of Wisconsin, as of 2007, according to an online encyclopedia.

Having a rich father certainly helps a young race car driver succeed. Many people attribute Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s success to the fact that his father was a successful race car driver, and not that Dale Jr. could possibly have any talent of his own. That point of view is foolish at best, and ridiculous at worst, because drivers with no talent who win the Busch series championship 2 years in a row and 18 Cup races by the time they are 33 years old are rare indeed.

Paul Menard is not among the top tier of drivers in NASCAR, and never has been. However, as long as Menard's keeps doing business, and as long as his father believes in his son, Paul Menard will have a sponsor. Is this a trend that will become more prevelant in NASCAR in the future? It's difficult to say.

As long as money is the life blood of all NASCAR teams, any driver with a built in sponsor will be poplular. Race wins or championships will not make any difference, as long as the bucks keep pouring in. Yates Racing, now run by Doug Yates, has done what his organization needed to do to keep the doors open for next year. They hired a guy with a rich dad. Does this cheapen the sport in any way? I say yes, it does.

There are drivers out there that cannot get a job anymore. They have won races in the past. Steve Park comes to mind. Though he's had some terrible accidents, Steve is a proven Cup winner. He drove for DEI, basically as the company's first Cup driver. His dad doesn't own a multimillion dollar business though.

Once again, I have no beef with Paul Menard. If racing is what he wants to do, then so be it. I find it somewhat of a shame when Paul gets a ride with Yates Racing, and Steve Park is still on the outside, looking in.