Monday, December 28, 2009

Home Is Where It’s At

I know the title of this article is probably what many would consider to be a ‘southernism,’ which is to say that if you grew up in the south, the phrasing would make perfect sense.  If you grew up, say, in Omaha, Nebraska, or New Jersey, or Los Angeles, you might consider the title to be the words of a southern red neck that just doesn’t know any better.

And you would be right.

Long time readers of this column know that I am proud to be southerner.  For those of you who didn’t grow up in a place like Georgia, or Alabama, or North Carolina, our language can be tough to decipher.  Those of you reading this article are likely fans of NASCAR, however.  If you’ve followed NASCAR for more than the last year, you are used to southern accents that still somehow permeate the sport.  If you’ve heard Darrell Waltrip, or Larry McReynolds speak, you’ve heard southern accents.  There are even a few drivers around with real southern accents, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Elliot Sadler, Mark Martin, Bill Eliot, and a few others.  Owners, such as Rick Hendrick, Teresa Earnhardt, and others speak with a southern accent.  We rarely hear Teresa speak, but when you do, you know she’s not from Upstate New York.

I was born in the early 1960’s, 1963, to be exact.  I was born and grew up in the Carolinas, South Carolina to be specific.  These days, we don’t really have many NASCAR drivers from my home state, but we have legends who call South Carolina home.  There’s David Pearson, and Cale Yarborough,.  If you’ve never heard of them, turn in your NASCAR fan badge right now, please.

South Carolina is also home the of Darlington Speedway, which is one of the oldest tracks still gracing the  NASCAR circuit.  In the old days, they actually used to hold NASCAR sanctioned races at places like Columbia, Greenville-Pickens, Myrtle Beach, and other tracks around the Palmetto State.

NASCAR has never been an exclusively southern sport though.  Even in the early 1950’s, it was common for the NASCAR guys to run races in California, Pennsylvania, New York, and even in Canada.  The drivers were never always from the south either.  They came from practically every state in the union,   In the early days, many were veterans of World War II, and though most had had their share of excitement in the war, many tried their hand in stock car racing.  Some were successful, some were not.

Though I have read much of the history of NASCAR, I was not personally aware of the sport until I was about 9 years old.  On a Saturday afternoon, I was lying on the floor in the den, watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports.  There had been a race somewhere, and ABC covered the high lights of the race.  They showed all these souped up cars running around a race track somewhere at what seemed to me impossible speeds.  I was fascinated.  At the end of the race, the ABC crew interviewed the race winner, a guy named Petty.  He climbed out of his car, took his goggles off, and his face was stained almost black from the smoke and oil that made it somehow inside the cockpit of his race car.  This guy Petty had a huge smile, and thanked his fans for showing up and making the day special for him.  I immediately liked the guy, and just like that, another young Richard Petty fan was born.

I was a fan of Richard Petty for quite a few years, and tried to catch the high lights on local news or Wide World of Sports whenever I could.  I’d never been to a real race, but wanted to go to one really bad.  In somewhere around 1977 or so, I got my chance, and went with another family to the Greenville-Pickens Speedway, between, strangely enough, Greenville, SC, and Easley, SC.  Easley is in Pickens County, SC, so in that way, it all makes sense.

I didn’t get to see Richard Petty ‘s famous 43 that night, but I did get to see another car tearing around the track, and he was passing cars left and right, sometimes wrecking them in the attempt to pass them.  This car finished second that night, if I remember correctly.  The driver of the car was some guy named Earnhardt, and he was from Kannapolis, North Carolina.  I’d never heard of him, but I soon would hear a lot more about him.

Racing was, of course, not the only sport around where I grew up.  We had, just like any other place in the US, football, basketball, baseball, and sometimes even soccer.  I went to a lot of high school football games, basketball games, and even some baseball games.  In high school, I ran cross country.  In those days, I could run for miles.  These days, it’s a hardship to drive for miles!

But, as usual, I digress.  In those days, NASCAR wasn’t the most important part of my life.  There were girls, after all.  I loved several girls with all my heart and soul.  From afar, of course, because, they were, after all, girls!  I didn’t know how to talk to them, and to be honest, I can talk to them now, but I still don’t really know what to say.  Whether I just try to be myself or try to make women think I am a man of the world, they usually end up thinking “This guy is an idiot.”  Unfortunately, they’re all probably right.  That’s why I live with cats.

And still further, I digress.  I was born in Columbia, South Carolina at the tender age of, well, nothing.  You may have already figured that out.  I’m glad.  I spent  my first six years in the rather warm and humid climate of Columbia, and when I was six, exactly six, my family moved to Taylors, South Carolina.  Taylors is now considered a suburb of Greenville, and probably was even then.  We then moved to the house that I really grew up in, in Greenville County, SC.  It was then out in the country, but probably couldn’t be considered that now.  I watched NASCAR on TV whenever it was on, but never considered it my favorite.  Sure, I liked watching the guys named Petty, Waltrip, Yarborough, Pearson, and others win, but I only paid little attention.

In around 1979, however, that dude I’d once seen at Greenville-Pickens burst onto the scene, and turned NASCAR upside down.  Earnhardt won rookie of the year, and in 1980, he won his first Cup championship.  That had never been done before, and not even Richard Petty had done that.

To be honest with you, at first, I never really liked Dale Earnhardt.  He wrecked people.  He bumped people in order to win races.  I appreciated his aura as a blue collar driver, who grew up as many of my friends did, but which I didn’t.  My father was an engineer, and made a good salary, and I’d never lived in a mill hill home growing up like Dale Earnhardt did.  Yeah, maybe I was a little arrogant.  Maybe even a lot.

As time went by, especially in the 1980’s, I was growing up, and Dale Earnhardt was winning darn near everything.  Eventually I became an Earnhardt fan, though gingerly.  I still didn’t like his tactics, but I had to admire his drive and determination.  The man had a ton of talent, and he wasn’t afraid to add in a little grit and ruthlessness to get the job done.  Dale Earnhardt soon replaced Darrell Waltrip as the bad boy of stock car racing.

At a race in Darlington, in the mid 1980’s, I think I was introduced to the truth by a Waltrip fan sitting next to me.  Earnhardt won the race, but the guy next to me said “At least Earnhardt came up right.  He used to starve to go racing.”  It wasn’t until many years later that I came to find how true that was.

Earnhardt, of course, became a legend, perhaps before his time.  On February 18, 2001, he was taken away from us forever.  I cried that day, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  The last time I’d cried was when Davey Allison’s life was snuffed out forever in a helicopter crash at Talladega.

If you’re a NASCAR fan, these guy’s lives become an important part of our own lives.  Uniquely, NASCAR fans have probably more access to their heroes than does any fan of any other sport.  NASCAR fans, treasure the days that you have cheering your driver on to win.  Those days may by numbered, and only God can tell you for sure.

As for me, I’m glad I live in the state of South Carolina.  It’s my home.  I never want to leave here.  I’ve got Charlotte to the north of me, Atlanta to the south of me.  The south is not now or ever really the true home of NASCAR, but I’ve been blessed to live not so far from my heroes when it comes to NASCAR.

Living on hallowed ground, maybe?  Probably not.  But even the most jaded fan of  NASCAR must admit that some of the best times we’ve ever had here were at tracks like Daytona, Talladega, Darlington, Rockingham, Richmond, Bristol, and Martinsville.   Home is where it is.  In NASCAR, Home for me is in the south.

South Carolina isn’t much, but it’s home.  What could be better than to be at home?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I Wish I Could Dance Like Snoopy!

Can anything be more joyous than a puppy dancing like Snoopy?  Probably not much unless it's me.  I'm very, very happy for a lot of reasons.  First of all, I'm happy because you've been kind enough to read this column over the last year, or even years.  I can't thank you enough for that.

I'd also like to thank my good friends over at American Muscle Cars. and of course our friends at Corvette Guys.  Without those kind folks, this page might not even be here.  You guys have been wonderful to me, and I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas!

I'd like to thank Pat, my sister in law, without who's grace and wonderful help I couldn't be publishing this column today.  I'd like to than my brother Alan, who helped in so many ways as well.

I'd like to thank my sister Ellen, who has been the greatest big sister ever.  I'd like to thank my parents, who at age 85, are still an inspiration and huge influence for me in my life.  I'd like to thank Deborah, without who's friendship I could not possibly be alive today.  I also want to thank my friends Heather, Karen, Tam, Butler, Kara and yes, even you, Carol.  Thanks for all you do and for keeping me sane in in insane world.

More importantly, I'd like to thank the fans of NASCAR, the absolutely greatest sport in the world, and thank you for all you do supporting the various causes and charities that you do such great things for.  You, the fans, are what really drives this sport, and I thank you for doing that.

Thank you, dear readers, for taking the time to read here.  I hope each and every one of you has a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How Much Privacy Should NASCAR Drivers Have?

Much has been said about how difficult it is for NASCAR drivers to lead comparatively normal lives, such as living safely in their own homes, being members of or being the heads of families, being able to go to the local restaurant and having a bite to eat without being mobbed by the media or fans, or being able to go to the grocery store and buy a gallon of milk without being molested.

Let me go on record as saying that I’m certainly for drivers, crew, owners, and even music and movie stars to have the ability to do all of those things.  When you get right down to it, we’re all human beings, and we all need a little space and privacy at times.  We all need a place to feel totally safe and secure in.

Personally, the only way I get by in public is to wear a mustache, glasses, and often go unshaven and wear a baseball cap when I go out to buy a gallon of milk.  So far, that disguise seems to be working, because I am seldom mobbed, unless you consider the cats in my yard, and sometimes even in my house.  Thus far, I have been successful in escaping my throng of fans when appearing in public.   Unfortunately, the same can not be said for my ability to escape the attention of the South Carolina Highway Patrol when I’m driving a teensy bit over the speed limit, or the local tax collector when I neglect to pay taxes on my almost brand new eleven year old pickup truck.  Even the mustache didn’t work that time.  The Highway Patrol  trooper was kind enough to only give me a warning.  “Teensy” was not exaggerating.  I was going “46 and a half in a 45 zone.”  It says so on my warning ticket.  Notice to all travelers:  Speeding is a fruitless pursuit in the state of South Carolina.  Plan early and take your time when you head to Darlington next year.

But as usual, I digress.  This column is about NASCAR drivers, not me.  When any driver signs a contract to drive in any of NASCAR’s series, there should be a disclaimer:  “I,  (YOUR NAME HERE) agree to the most intensive examination of my life, family, ancestors, pets, personal automobiles, favorite movies, TV shows, Internet sites, adult beverage, food, and bathroom habits, etc., etc., that only a CIA operative or NASA astronaut could appreciate.  For the rest of my life.  Plus 50 years.”  Hmmm…  Would Jeremy Mayfield have signed that disclaimer?

Seriously, though.  I don’t mind listening to drivers lose their cool on their radio links to their crew chiefs and spotters.  How many of you have not lost your temper at least once in the course of doing your job?  I know I have.  I have probably lost my temper  two or three times already just writing this column.  Needless to say, however, it’s all part of the job when it comes to the drivers.  They are, after all, in the heat of battle, and sometimes things just slip.

When a driver agrees to give an interview, and voluntarily puts his mouth in front of a microphone and his face in front of a TV camera, that’s a little different.  The driver may not have his emotions under control, but he has to know that his actions will be seen by thousands, and most likely millions of people.  If a driver can make it all the way to the big leagues, such as is NASCAR, a driver should have plenty of experience with composing himself and controlling his emotions.  I say this with one exception, however.

Putting a microphone in the face of a driver who has just 10 seconds before crawled out of a smoking heap of ruined sheet metal, the result of an indiscretion by the guy that was his buddy last week, is simply asking for controversy.  I think that discretion should be the rule here.  Give the driver time to go back to the hauler, clean up a little, and compose his thoughts before asking for a live interview.  Heated words reported around the world might be fun for fans, but probably not too good for racing relationships.  Give the guys a chance to cool off, for goodness sake.

The drivers in NASCAR are professionals.  They didn’t get there by accident.  They got there by virtue of their God given talent.  They’re not babes in the woods, but they are human, strangely enough.

Just like you and me.

How much privacy should a NASCAR driver have?  So far as being able to live his life like a normal human being when he’s away from the race track, I am all for drivers being able to live a normal family life, or at least as much as they are able to.   Fans sometimes get carried away in their attempt to meet drivers in informal settings, and I hope that fans will understand that this type of situation is both uncomfortable for drivers and their families.  After all, how would you feel if total strangers came up to you and wanted to talk to you or ask for your autograph when you were minding your own business?  How would you feel if you were having a quiet dinner with your spouse and kids and suddenly a total stranger walked up to your table and started taking pictures of you and your kids?  I wouldn’t like it very much, and doubt if you would either.

Again, how much privacy should a  NASCAR driver have?

As much as they can get away with.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Danica Patrick's finally Ready to Jump Into the NASCAR Pool

It's not news anymore, but Indy Racing League driver Danica Patrick will soon make her first foray into NASCAR, which of course, is arguably the toughest series in which to race in the world.  If not the toughest, it certainly earns the most money.

Danica Patrick coming to NASCAR could be a great boost to the series, which has shown signs of lack of interest among it's fan base.  TV ratings have been down in 2009, as have ticket sales.  NASCAR, like most other entertainment activities in America, has been hurt by the downturn in the economy as of late.  People with less or no disposable income simply can't afford the travel costs, ticket sales, or even the subscription for cable or satellite TV that is required to watch many of the races.

A spark is needed to reignite the NASCAR fan base, and Danica Patrick could be just the ticket.  It's been a long time since a female driver has raised as much emotion and banter among racing fans.  Danica has a fiery personality, and isn't afraid to say what's on her mind for the most part.  In other words, Danica Patrick could be perfect for a sport where many fans complain that no one has the guts to speak their mind.

Danica has already generated a boost in the IRL series TV ratings, and it's a safe bet that she will do the same for NASCAR when she makes her debut in the #7 JR Motorsports owned Go Daddy Chevrolet at California in 2010.

Former Sprint Cup team crew chief  Tony Eury Jr. will be Danica's crew chief in the Nationwide series, and one has to wonder if Tony Jr. has jumped from the frying pan into the fire, since he has to know that all the racing world will be watching him as closely as they did when he was his cousin's crew chief,, that cousin being JR Motorsports team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.  I don't doubt that Tony Jr. is the man for the job, but it's likely to get pretty stressful in the spotlight he's going to be under.

Personally, I welcome Danica to NASCAR, and I hope she finds much success in its various racing series.  I don't expect her to win races right out of the gate, but I expect her to learn a lot in both the NASCAR Nationwide series and the ARCA series.

I hope that soon Danica will be contending to win races, and then winning races.  I hope to see her doing the same in the Sprint Cup series soon.

Whatever happens, Danica Patrick will be good for NASCAR.  I hope NASCAR is just as good for Danica.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Charting the Changes: NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2010

As always, there will be changes between the 2009 Sprint Cup season and the 2010 season.  Times are changing, and even the moon and the tides can't stop it.  Though there seem to be few earth shattering changes as of now, history will tell the entire story.

First of all, Jamie McMurray will indeed be the odd man out from Rousch-Fenway racing for 2010, as the company has to shrink to 4 Cup teams from it's previous 5 teams.  Jamie will be driving the #1 Bass Pro Shops Chevy for Earnhardt-Ganassi in 2010, reunited with his old boss Chip Ganassi.  Will Jamie succeed in this ride, vacated by Martin Truex Jr?  Only time will tell.  I'm wondering if the EGR program will be able to put another team in the Chase next year besides Juan Pablo Montoya.  Jamie is capable of winning races, but he's going to have all the parts complete to do so.

In the #12 Verizon Dodge will be Brad Keselowski, recent Dale Earnhardt Jr. Nationwide driver and Cup winner at Talladega in the spring race of 2009.  Brad will have Jay Guy has his crew chief, and as much as I like this young driver, I imagine he will have some automatic adversaries on the track, namely Denny Hamlin, and probably a dude named Kyle as well.

In the #56 NAPA Toyota, we will see Martin Truex Jr., coming from the #1 EGR Chevy.  Martin will be basically replacing team owner Michael Waltrip in the NAPA car, though Mikey will likely run a few races in his familiar 55 machine when he can find sponsorship, and quite frankly, when he feels like it.  Martin Truex likely will be exactly what MWR needs in 2010, which is a proven winner, hard charger, and a new guy on the block trying to impress his friends.  Truex is a great acquisition for Michael Waltrip Racing.

Bobby Labonte received a major shock in 2009 when it was announced that he would be removed from the driver's seat of the #96 Ford for 7 races in favor of rookie Eric Darnell because Darnell had a deal for those 7 races.  Old friend Slugger Labbe called up Bobby and helped get him a ride in the #71Ford, and darned if Bobby didn't start running some pretty good qualifying laps and even some good races in that Ford.  Bobby will be driving full time in 2010 in the TRG car next year, with Slugger continuing to sit on top of the pit box.  Apparently, there is some talk that the team may change to Chevy or even Dodge, so that's all up in the air right now.  It's good that Bobby landed on his feet again, so it would seem.

Eric Darnell will replace Bobby Labonte in the 96 car, if indeed that team continues to exist in 2010.  We'll see.

There are more changes to chart, and I will put those up in a later column.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Old Vs. New Points: 2009 Final Report

There is one thing I should have probably explained before I embarked on this series of old vs. new points.  Strategies can and will change depending upon the way NASCAR hands out points.  All we're dealing with here is raw data, and I can't even begin to guess how strategies would have changed if this year's crop of drivers had been racing under the old points system.  Obviously, had we been under the old points system in 2009, teams would have tried different things to grab points.  In other words, the following is for comparison purposes only, and no one, especially me, can predict how certain teams would have run had the Chase system not been in effect.

That being said, let's get to it!

Under the old points system, or under the current Chase system, the final outcome would have been the same.  Jimmie Johnson wins the 2009 Sprint Cup championship either way.  The main difference is that it would have been closer under the old points system, and 2nd place would have been different as well.

Under the Chase system, Jimmie won by 141 points over second place Mark Martin.  Under the old points system, Johnson still would have won, but by only 66 points over second place Jeff Gordon.  Also under the old points system, Mark Martin would have finished in fifth place, 394 points back.  In third place under the old points system, we would have had Tony Stewart, only 4 points behind Jeff Gordon.  Stewart instead found himself finishing in sixth place, 243 points out of the lead under the Chase system.

Under the old points system, fourth place would have gone to Denny Hamlin, 350 points out of the top spot.  Under the Chase system, Denny finished in fifth place, 317 points back.

I do these comparisons mostly because I think it's fun, not to suggest that NASCAR has blundered by instituting the Chase system.  The powers that be, in this case NASCAR, have decided that this is the way that points will be awarded, and that's the end of it.

Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, Rick Hendrick, and all the crew that prepares and services the 48 Lowes Chevrolet each and every week of the racing season.  Congratulations to Hendrick Motorsports for a superb job in winning yet another championship, and making history with Jimmie Johnson's fourth consecutive championship. 

Congratulations also go to Kyle Busch, winner of his first NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, and to Ron Hornaday, winner of the Camping World Truck Series championship.

I want to personally congratulate the fans that stuck it out through tough economic times, who bought tickets, paid ridiculously high prices for motel rooms and for a tank of gasoline, and parked their butts in the seats in the grandstands for 2009.  You, the fans, are what make this sport what it is, and without you, there would be no NASCAR.

Here's to 2009, and here's to getting for the start of the 2010 season.  I'll be here throughout the off season, and can't wait until we hear them rev 'em up again at Daytona in February!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Joy of NASCAR

I watch the TV shows on SPEED TV and other networks, and see the fans in the background while the talking heads, namely John Roberts, Kenny Wallace, and Jimmy Spencer talk about the racing that is to take place this weekend.  If you look closely, in the background, you can see kids.

Kids will be wearing shirts and hats featuring their favorite driver's picture or number.  Maybe it's not even their favorite driver, because it could be their parent's favorite driver.  It's hard to say.

On race day, during the race itself, the camera often pans into the crowd and you see kids there.  You see grandparents.  You see people who look just like you and me, in other words, young and good looking.  You see people of every color, of every ethnic group, of every religion, of literally every background you could think of.

Sports often bring families together, for many different reasons.  NASCAR is one sport that can be a common point for families that span many generations.  Take Bristol for instance.  Some fans there inherited their seats from their grandparents.

Grandpa might have been a Petty fan.  Not Richard, but Lee.  Yeah, that far back.  Lee won championships and was one of the first legitimate stars of NASCAR before anybody had ever really ever heard of Richard.  Ned Jarrett came along and won.  Pearson, Yarborough, Allison, and a guy named Earnhardt came along.  Don't forget about guys like Waltrip, Bodine, Irvin, and a host of others.  We've been blessed as NASCAR fans.

Why have we been blessed?  We've had some of the best, and most entertaining people in the world become our heroes in a sport that literally can be either win or lose, but more importantly, life of death.  Yes, people do die doing this for a living.  A lot of good people have died doing this for a living.  A lot of good people have lived to tell about after it was all over, thank God.

I see kids on race day, eyes wide, fingers in their ears as 43 impossibly loud race cars rumble by on the pace laps.  When the green flag drops, fingers won't do it for 500 miles, much less 400.  (Parents, ear protection is important.)  They're watching cars go so fast that it seems impossible that they can possible stay on the track.  These cars are often reaching speeds of 200 miles per hour and even more, and they're racing only inches apart from each other.  That's pretty exciting for any kid to watch.  Heck, it gets my heart racing, but I've only been watching this sport for 35 years.

When the green flag drops, my heart almost stops for just a second or two.  As the cars come up to speed, I'm watching, seeing who got a good start, who didn't, who's going into turn 1 with the advantage.  No matter how long I've watched this, I get goosebumps when those cars rev it up and go for it.  They are 43 warriors with only one goal, and that is to be the first car to take the checkered flag. 

For me, racing is an ultimate high, the ultimate joy, the highlight of my week.  Even in the off season, it's fun to see who goes where, who signed with whom, and what paint scheme changes will be coming next year.  Racing is not for everyone, but for those who become enchanted by it, racing is nothing but pure joy.

NASCAR is freedom.  NASCAR is doing the seemingly impossible.  NASCAR is, above all, fun.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

One and Done: NASCAR's Season Comes to a Close

Congratulations to Ron Hornaday, who already knew he was the 2009 Camping World Trucks Series champion coming into Friday's race at Miami.  Congratulations are in order as well to Kyle Busch, who will win the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship just by virtue of starting today's race.

It would appear that Jimmie Johnson will be crowned with his fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship on Sunday, and it appears that unless he has the most horrible of races, Johnson will make history by becoming the first driver to every win four Cups in a row.

It's impossible to say that Johnson is a lock for the championship, because, as he well remembers from his third lap crash at Texas, anything can happen before the checkered flag falls on NASCAR's 2009 season.

Jimmie Johnson has succeeded in performing one important duty this weekend:  He has won the pole for Sunday's Ford 400 at Miami-Homestead Speedway.  Starting at the front of the pack was one of crew chief Chad Knaus' main concerns going into the last race of the season.  It's a lot more difficult to get caught up in someone else's accident if you're way out in front of everyone else.

Mark Martin must be thinking that yet another chance for that elusive championship is slipping away, and he can only hope for the very worst luck for his teammate Jimmie Johnson.  I doubt that Mark is doing that, but somewhere, deep down, he must be thinking it.  Mark has come so close before, yet has never grabbed the Cup.

Sunday's race will be the last NASCAR race of the season, and before the end of the day, a new Sprint Cup champion will be crowned. 

If that champion's name isn't Jimmie Johnson, the entire racing world, including this fan, will be shocked.

Shocked, I tell you!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The End of the Season for Some and a New Beginning for Others

The 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup racing season is nearly over, and for me, it seems like the year has flown by.  With only one race to go, it appears that Jimmie Johnson will most likely win his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup, and make history in the process.

For many fans, this is somewhat of a sad time, a time to reflect back on what could have been, what maybe should have been, and to know that we won't see the cars back on the track until February, 2010.

For many, this can be an exciting time though.  The end of the 2009 season marks the beginning of one of the most frantic times for the teams; the off season.

Much of the usual silly season silliness has shaken itself out, with a few drivers going to new teams for the 2010 season.  Now is the time for drivers and crew chiefs to begin to feel each other out, to get to know each other.  For many owners, now is a time for finding a new sponsor for next year's races, hopefully a sponsor that will keep the team running the entire year.

For many fans, now is the time to begin to dare hope that 2010 will be a better year for our favorite drivers than 2009 was.  I know, because I speak from experience as a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan.

Dale Jr. was not the only driver that seemed to have only one kind of luck in 2009, which of course was 'bad.'  Fans of Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch and many others understand that 2009 just wasn't the greatest of years for certain drivers.  Jeff Gordon fans must be wondering if indeed Jeff will ever win that 'Drive For Five' that has eluded him thus far.

There are teams that won't win the Cup in 2009 that I am impressed with, however.  The 14 and 39 cars of Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman come to mind.  Basically, this team was completely overhauled in the last off season, and both teams have performed superbly in 2009.  The 47 car of Marcos Ambrose was another pleasant surprise this year.  Bobby Labonte, who just announced that he would be driving the underfunded 71 car next year, pulled off some amazing qualifying efforts and finishes in that car this year. 

From now until that last few minutes before the drop of the green flag at Daytona in February, this so called off season will be one of the busiest of the year for many NASCAR teams.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Johnson On The Verge Of Making History

With only one race left to go in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, it appears that Jimmie Johnson all but has a lock on an unprecedented fourth consecutive championship.  Love him or hate him, Jimmie Johnson is the real deal.  He's a great race car driver, with a lot of talent, and he's fortunate to be driving for probably the best crew chief in NASCAR.

Would the 48 Lowes Chevy team won even one championship without Chad Knaus calling the shots from on top of the pit box?  It's hard to say, and we'll never know, obviously, but I would find it hard to believe that Jimmie could have achieved so much success without the brainiest crew cheif in the sport calling the shots.

Obviously, it doesn't hurt having a team owner like Rick Hendrick providing excellent equipment and personnel for the team either.  Jimmie could have been driving for a third tier team for his Cup career, and it's possible that no one would be talking about him right now.

With only one race to go, it appears that Jimmie has this Cup in the bag, but don't forget what happened to him at Texas.  He's not, and neither should you.  Anything can happen in this sport, and it won't be over until the checkered flag waves at Homestead on Sunday.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fans, Drivers Frustrated. Is This Talladega?

Following NASCAR's announcement that there would be no bump drafting allowed in the corners on Sunday, virtually all of the drivers had to change their strategy, and a lot of fans weren't very happy about it.

Several drivers opted to drop to the back of the field for most of the race, running at only half throttle for many of the 500 miles which made up the AMP Energy 500.  There's nothing new about drivers being conservative in the early stages of long races, but many of the fan's favorites never made a move to reach the front of the pack until less than 20 laps to go in Sunday's race.

Points leader Jimmie Johnson ran most of the day in 30th place or so, but managed to survive the late race crashes and finish 6th.  Johnson's decent finish practically guaranteed his fourth Cup championship.

For much of the race, the majority of the drivers were content to play follow the leader, apparently not wishing to take a chance on incurring NASCAR's wrath by touching another car at any point on the track other than the straights.  The racing predictably began to get interesting in the closing laps, which resulted in two rather spectacular crashes that left Ryan Newman upside down in the infield, and Mark Martin also turning turtle briefly during the resulting green-white-checker finish.

Newman's car was spun across the track, colliding with several cars, including Kevin Harvick's car.  The 39 Chevy of Newman then turned backwards, and went airborne, landing upside down on the hood of Harvick's 29 Chevy.  As Newman spun into the infield on his lid, he nearly collided with Harvick's car a third time.  Harvick, who led several laps earlier in the race, must have felt like his yellow and red Chevy had a bull's eye painted on it.

I've had a theory about the so-called new car, which used to be known as the car of tomorrow.  My theory has been shared by other fans and various media types alike, as well as, I'm sure, more than a few drivers.  On a race track where speeds of 190 plus miles per hours are the norm, that huge wing on the back does exactly what it's designed to do, when the car is moving in a forward direction, which is provide down force to keep the car on the track.

When the car is moving rapidly in a backwards direction however, the wing acts just like the wing on an airplane, creating lift, and resulting in the spectacular airborne flight that Ryan Newman took on Sunday.  Obviously, it appears that the new car is not the perfect solution for keeping not only the drivers safe, but ensuring the safety of the fans as well..

Fans get injured when cars fly up into the air, landing in the catch fence, or in what would be an absolutely horrible scenario, flying over the catch fence.

Fortunately, Newman's car went airborne on the low side of the track, not up against the outside wall, as did Carl Edward's car in the April race at Talladega.  Had Edward's car not caught air under it's wing in April, that brave young lady we saw on Sunday's pre-race show would  likely not have suffered injury.  If nothing else, I would ask that NASCAR reexamine the safety aspects of the wings on the rear of the cars.

As regular readers of this site know, my race day routine involves not only watching the race itself, but following several message boards, and lately, of course, following Twitter closely.  The fan comments I have been reading since Sunday's race have been rather predictable.  I don't think any race fan wants to see cars simply stay in line and follow the leader for the majority of any race, especially Talladega.  "Boring" was a race used by many fans on Sunday.

Unfortunately, quite a few of the drivers expressed their feelings of boredom as well, and several drivers quite frankly apologized for putting on a boring race, at least for the most part.  The crashes, though spectacular, were unfortunate, especially when the entire NASCAR world is watching the rescue workers first have to lift Ryan Newman's race car back onto it's wheels, and then cut the roof off the car to extract him.  Fortunately, none of the drivers were seriously injured in Sunday's race, though I imagine that Newman will be feeling rather stiff and sore for the next several days.

Talladega has been the site of some of NASCAR's greatest racing in the past.  I hope we see it there again soon.

Monday, October 26, 2009

After Martinsville - Old Points Vs. Chase Points

Congratulations to Denny Hamlin for his win at Martinsville.  Winning in his home state of Virginia must have been about as fun as it gets for not only Hamlin, but his entire family as well.

Jimmie Johnson, with a second place finish at Martinsville widened his points lead over second place Mark Martin to 118 points.  Jeff Gordon remains in third place, 150 points behind Johnson.

Tony Stewart, in fourth place, is 192 points out, and Juan Pablo Montoya is an even 200 points out of first place.

As close as the Chase is supposed to keep the competition, it would appear that Jimmie Johnson is running away with the points with four races to go in the season.

Let's examine how the points would stack up under the old points system.  Tony Stewart would still be in first place, with an 80 point lead over second place Jimmie Johnson.  It would seem that Johnson's late season surge, which has worked so well in the Chase, would still see him playing catch up under the old points rules.

Under the old points system, Jeff Gordon would still find himself in third place, though only 117 points out of first place, rather than the 150 point deficit he currently finds himself in.  In other words, Gordon would still be a long shot to win his 5th championship with only 4 races to go, but he'd have a better chance than he does now.

Fourth and fifth places would be held by Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin, but they would have virtually no chance whatsoever of a championship at this point, being both well over 400 points out of first place.

Tony Stewart has accepted that the Chase is the law of the land, but one has to wonder how he feels now, knowing that he would have an advantage at this point in the season, were NASCAR still using the old points system.

As for Jimmie Johnson, he's doing exactly what he needs to do to assure himself of his fourth consecutive championship.  Late season charges do make a huge difference under the Chase system.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Some Random Thought, and Thank You, Part 2

It was a pretty exciting day for racing, with Timothy Peters winning his very first NASCAR Camping World Truck series win at Martinsville today, and with Brad Keselowski beating and banging his way to a victory at Memphis.

Unfortunately, because the Truck race got off to a late start due to rain this morning in the Martinsville area, the races overlapped a bit.  I nearly wore out my clicker flipping back and forth, but managed to see nearly all the action in both races, all the while keeping an eye on the Clemson/Miami football game.  (Way to go, Tigers!)

I also wanted to share some stats with you, the kind readers who visit this site.  I just pulled some data from my stat counter site, and tabulated some interesting data.

Of the last 500 visitors to the site, the state with the most visitors is the great state of North Carolina, which I suppose isn't surprising, since most of the NASCAR world is centered in that state.

Here's the top 15 locations of visitors to this site over the last few days.  Note, some of these aren't US states, you might be surprised to know.

1. North Carolina
2. California
3. New York
4. Ontario  (Yeah, that Ontario, as in Ontario, Canada
5. Ohio
6. Pennsylvania
7. Georgia
8. Michigan
9. (tie) New Jersey, Texas
10. (tie) Florida, Connecticut
11. (tie) Virginia, Illinois, South Carolina, Tennessee
12. Washington
13. (tie) Indiana, Maryland, Missouri
14. (tie) Victoria, Australia; Minnesota, British Columbia, Canada
15. (tie) Washington DC, Kansas, Louisiana, England

My sincere thanks to all of you who made the top 15, and to all of you who didn't!  Here are some other interesting places readers were when they visited this site:

Prince Edward Island
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Nova Scotia
Ostfold, Norway
Zurich, Switzerland
Rajasthan, India
Catalonia, Spain
Magnisia, Greece
Oslo, Norway

Thanks for all of your visits, and I hope you'll keep coming back!

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Junior Nation Gets Fired Up

 Last Friday at Concord, NC, Dale Jr. answered some questions put to him by the media, and quite frankly, I don't think I've ever heard or seen Dale Earnhardt Jr. sound so down in the dumps.

Dale talked about his season, and the lack of success that the 88 team has had so far.  He also mentioned that his current crew chief, Lance McGrew, is not necessarily going to be Junior's crew chief next year.

Much of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s greatest successes have come when Tony Eury Sr. was on top of the pit box, back on the 8 team at Dale Earnhardt Inc.  Since then, Dale Jr. has mostly had his cousin, Tony Eury Jr. as his crew chief, and the results have been far from stellar.

Long time Dale Jr. fans know that he worries when he's not performing well, not just because of his sponsors, but because of his fans.  That's certainly true of other drivers as well, but probably no driver worries about making his fans happy more than Dale Jr.

When his father died in February of 2001, Dale Jr. wondered if he even would have a job for the rest of the season, and if the success he had enjoyed so far would go away because his father was no longer there to help him.  Junior worried about sponsors leaving, honestly thinking that the only reason he had Budweiser and other sponsors was because of who is father was, not Junior himself.

In my opinion, Dale Jr. has more than proven that he is a race car driver in his own right.  Most his his 18 Cup victories came after his father's death, including his 2004 Daytona 500 win.  There are quite a few drivers currently driving in the Cup series who would love to have 18 wins.

The naysayers have been out in force as of late as well.  I've read plenty of comments such as "Maybe Junior should realize he just has no talent," and my favorite, "Dale Jr. is an inarticulate backwoods hillbilly."  I just love comments like those.

Richard Childress, the owner of the 3 Chevrolet for so many years, has supported Junior during this time of not-so-much fun.  RC has basically said that he still feels that Dale Jr.'s best days are still ahead of him as a driver.  I agree with Mr. Childress, who's having problems of his own at RCR.  Not one of his four cars is in the Chase this year, and it's rumored that Kevin Harvick, who replaced Dale Earnhardt in 2001, will be leaving after the 2010 season.

Dale Jr.'s car owner, Rick Hendrick, has addressed Junior's performance problems, and likely is working hard on trying to provide a solution for the 88 team.  Dale Jr.'s fans have spoken out as well, rallying in support of their favorite driver.

In a petition to Hendrick Motorsports, some Junior Nation fans have asked:

We have suspected for quite some time now that there is a problem somewhere within the 88 team, either in the shop or at the track. The statements released today from Tony Gibson have proven that our gut feelings were accurate. The fans would like this to be taken care of immediately!   We the fans thought our equipment would be first class at Hendrick Motorsports. Please act now.

Thank you,
       Junior nation

If you'd like to check out and even sign the petition, click Here.

It's good to see a driver's fans get fired up to actually go through the trouble of setting up something like this petition, and it's refreshing to know that the Junior Nation is trying to do their part to get Dale Earnhardt Jr. back in victory lane again.

photo credit:  Geoff Burke/Getty Images

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just a Quick Thank You

Thanks to everyone who's read this blog over the past year or three!  I really appreciate you all clicking on this site, for what ever reason prompts you to do so.

I enjoy doing this, and will keep doing so for as long as I can.  Hopefully I will eventually write better, so you can read better as well!

I've never tried to support any one driver, because I just try to write about what happens on the track, and sometimes off the track.  I enjoy all things NASCAR, you could say.

Whether you're in New England, or England, or some former colony of England, I appreciate your time and trouble to get here.  We now have readers from all over the world, from every continent, and every state in the nation.  I could not be more proud of you, and thank you for your support

Feel free to rip me a new one, whenever you see fit.  My e-mail is public domain, so feel free to tell me when I'm making a total ass of myself.

All comments are welcome.  If I don't reply to yours, expect me to use you in a future article!  Just kidding.


Jimmy C

Johnson Well On Way To 2009 Championship - Fans Say Ho Hum?

With five races to go in the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, it appears that NASCAR's version of Mr. October, Jimmie Johnson has his fourth Cup nearly in hand.

It's understandable, with the economy in such poor shape, that ticket sales at the track have been down for 2009.  One would suppose that if one couldn't afford a ticket, the price of gas to travel, the price of a place to stay, etc., that one might have to make do watching the races on TV.

That doesn't seem to be happening though.  TV ratings are basically down across the board for most of the races this year.  Saturday's race at Charlotte was down by sharply in the ratings from last year, when the race was held on a Saturday evening, head to head with college football, the same as this year.

What could the matter be?  It would seem that Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus are setting in stone a bona fide NASCAR dynasty, putting up some incredible numbers again for the fourth year in a row.  Normally, one would think that these would be exciting times for NASCAR, but the TV ratings don't seem to be reflecting that.

I've been reading a lot of fans' comments over the last few days.  Some of them are very interesting.  "It's only exciting if you're a Jimmie Johnson fan" seems to be a popular comment.  Others say that the racing is just boring.  The blame for boring racing ranges from NASCAR's rules to the new car.  Others blame the television coverage itself, saying they cannot stand to listen to certain commentators or analysts.

I'm not going to try to come up with an answer for boring racing here, or for how to improve TV coverage.  In other articles on this site, I've already shed some theories on those topics.  I will hazard a guess as to some fans' animosity towards Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team though.

To the casual observer, Jimmie Johnson should be a sports' perfect champion and spokesman.  Johnson has the looks of a movie actor, some would say.  Jimmie is rather soft spoken, and his comments rarely provoke controversy.  He displays a certain sense of humor at times during his interviews, and never fails to thank his sponsors, his team, and his owners.

To some hard core NASCAR fans, the above description of NASCAR's reigning champion is precisely what's not to like about him.  NASCAR largely thrives on a certain level of controversy, whether it is in the form of incidents on the race track, or words spoken in the heat of emotion during post action interviews.  Rarely do we see Jimmie Johnson deviate from the company line when it comes to interviews.

Perhaps many fans remember the old rivalries between drivers like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, or Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip, or Earnhardt and Bodine, or perhaps Earnhardt and just about anyone.  If nothing else, Dale Earnhardt got people riled up and talking about NASCAR.  The 'Intimidator' moniker that Earnhardt carried through much of his career was well earned, both on and off the track.

Jimmie Johnson has almost entirely the opposite personality off the track as did Dale Earnhardt.  If Jimmie is ever confrontational with another driver, it's well outside of camera or microphone range.  On the track, Jimmie Johnson is known as a very competitive driver, and he has certainly been part of his share of on the track scuffles, but he's not known as an overly aggressive driver, but rather as a patient racer.  It's easy to be patient, however, when you're nearly always running at or very near the front of the field.  "Fearless" does not really describe Jimmie's driving style.  "Smart" might be more descriptive.

"Smart" could certainly describe crew chief Chad Knaus, who certainly has earned a reputation as one of the best, if not THE best crew chiefs in the garage, and is another anomaly to long time NASCAR fans.  Knaus reminds many of the fans more of a college science professor, or maybe a high tech engineer than he does a crew chief.  Many racing fans think of crew chiefs as tough guys with more grease under their fingernails than a lifetime of scrubbing can remove.  Chad comes across as a guy who does the heavy lifting with his cerebrum.

I'm only offering a few theories here, and certainly cannot claim that anything I'm saying here as fact.  Personally, I feel that NASCAR is not in trouble, nor is it losing fans.  I think the fans are just not as interested this year as they have been in years past.  Maybe it's like the World Series or the Super Bowl to some baseball or NFL fans:  If you live, say, in Texas, a championship game between a California team and a New York team just isn't as interesting as if the Astros or the Rangers were playing, or the Cowboys or the Oilers.

One other theory that I will present:  NASCAR fans don't automatically like the driver who wins the most races or championships.  Some fans like a driver because we like the man, who happens to also be a driver.  I think in many ways this could explain why Dale Earnhardt Jr. has such a large following.  I myself am a Dale Jr. fan, and though I wish he could win more races and at least one championship, I won't stop being a fan of Junior if he doesn't.  Like many of his fans, I like Junior because he seems like a nice, down to earth kind of guy.  The kind of guy you'd want to sit down and have a beer with.

Many people attribute Junior's fan base to his father, and in large part, that's certainly true.  A lot of his fans never saw his father drive though, and seem to have formed their opinion of Junior independently, based on something other than who is father was.  There's very little about Dale Jr. that reminds me much of his father, except maybe his accent and the look he gets in his eyes when he's focused.  Dale Jr.'s driving style and personality are very different from his old man's, though in many ways he's lived through some of the same experiences as his father had.

Jimmie Johnson has become what his co-owner and friend Jeff Gordon was to the sport in the 1990's.  In the early part of that decade, this kid comes along, gets a ride on a top team, and proceeds to win everything there was to win, and more.  In the early 2000's, Jeff finds a young kid nobody had ever heard of, and darned if this new kid isn't winning everything there is to win again.

There are many fans who will never be Jeff Gordon fans, just like there are many fans who will never be Jimmie Johnson fans.  The fans themselves have their reasons for this, just like there are many who will never be Earnhardt or Earnhardt Jr. fans.

Next month, NASCAR will present the Sprint Cup to someone, and that someone is likely to be Jimmie Johnson.  If that is the case, Jimmie will be the first driver to ever win 4 consecutive Cups.

Like Jimmie Johnson or not, that's a heck of an achievement for any race car driver.

photo credit:  Glenn Smith, Associated Press

Monday, October 19, 2009

Chase Points - Old Vs. New - Part 2

At halfway through the Chase races, Jimmie Johnson appears to be breaking out into a commanding lead, at 90 points in front of second place Mark Martin. Jeff Gordon finds himself 135 points out of first place, while fourth place Tony Stewart is 155 points out of first.

Any of these drivers, as well as Kurt Busch (-177) and Juan Pablo Montoya (-195) can still technically win the Cup, but the momentum is definitely on JJ's side right now.

Were NASAR still using the old points system, or as some call it, the pre Chase points system, Tony Stewart would be 117 points in front of second place Jimmie Johnson, while third place Jeff Gordon would be 139 points out of first place. Mark Martin would find himself a whopping 460 points out of first place, and basically without a prayer of winning a championship in 2009.

Obviously, the points race is closer under the current Chase system, but were NASCAR running under the old system, there would be a different odds on favorite with only 5 races remaining in the season.

Jimmie Johnson's driving style and late season dominance have worked well with the current Chase points system. Even his owner, Jeff Gordon, has stated that Jimmie is better suited to the Chase format than Gordon is. Case in point; Jeff Gordon's last Cup came in 2001, before the Chase system was implemented. Jimmie appears to be well on his way to winning 4 Cups in a row, all under the Chase points system.

Will NASCAR decide that the 48 team is too dominant and try to tweak the points system yet again? All indications point to 'no.' Some fans are complaining, however, and one has to wonder if the noise level reaches a certain volume, NASCAR will once again try to level out the playing field.

Personally, dynasties in NASCAR don't really bother me. We've had them before with Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, and before JJ came along, Jeff Gordon. Right now, Jimmie Johnson simply seems to be the best at winning championships in the current system, just like Jeff Gordon made the old points system work in his favor.

Once again, whether the Chase is good or not for NASCAR, or whether it's fair or unfair, it is what it is until NASCAR decides to do something different.

photo credit: Russ Hamilton Jr. (Associated Press)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Would Your Driver Do Better On Another Team?

It's often an exercise in futility, but it's still fun to imagine.

Let's imagine your favorite driver were driving with a better team than he is currently driving for. That is, unless you're favorite driver happens to be among the best already performing right now. But let's imagine, none the less.

Right now, it's somewhat debatable as to who has the strongest team in NASCAR right now. Not just the driver, but the best team.

Many would choose Chad Knaus and the 48 team. Some would choose Alan Gustafson and the 5 team. Some would even choose Darien Grubb and the 14 team.

Supposing that maybe the 48 team has the best karma, or even just plain luck working for them, since it's Chase season, and they've done it 3 years in a row, let's pick Chad and the 48 guys for fun here.

The question is, what would (Insert your favorite drivers name here) do if he were driving for the 48 team and Chad Knaus as his crew chief?

Is it simply a matter of equipment, personnel, and chemistry?

Or is it more a matter of your driver's superior ability to win races, coupled with a top team? Could your driver get it done if he drove for the 48 guys with guru Knaus overseeing the operation?

Suppose, for example, your driver was David Stremme. Would he be able to win like Jimmie Johnson can, had he the expertise of Chad and the rest of the 48 team behind him? Could Kevin Harvick already be a 3 or 4 time champion with Chad, or Alan, or Darien, or whoever else behind his efforts?

Is it the driver or the team behind the driver?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

NASCAR Hall Of Fame - Did The Voters Get It Right?

Much has been written about the NASCAR Hall Of Fame's inaugural year inductees. Are these the right people to put in the HOF?

NASCAR could probably have saved itself some headaches had they allowed more than just 5 in for 2010. But what it is, obviously, is what we've got.

I can't find fault with putting Bill France Sr. in the Hall Of Fame, as the number one pick even. Without Big Bill, it's entirely likely that we would have some more or less standardized national, or even international stock car racing series today. What we do have is what is known as the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing, and that was very much Bill Sr.'s baby from the very beginning. Bill France Sr. was also a race car driver, racing frequently on the many tracks that abounded in the South long before stock car racing became an organized sport. From driver, he became a promoter, and from promoter, he became the iron-fisted chief executive officer of the organization that still rules all aspects of top tier professional stock car racing in America today.

Not putting Richard Petty, NASCAR's 'King,' in the first 5 was unthinkable to me. Not only has Richard Petty won more races than anyone else, he also was the first driver to win 7 championships at the top level of stock car racing. Though many of Petty's wins and championships came before 1972, which launched what is now called the 'modern era' of NASCAR, Petty's accomplishments can't be ignored.

Petty, a second generation driver, enjoyed some of the best factory support available during most of his career, which obviously enabled him to win races and championships. Petty was obviously a wheel man in his own right though, and his talent and passion for the sport can't be ignored. Richard Petty was one of the guys who "put NASCAR on the map," so to speak. If for nothing else, Richard Petty's desire to accommodate his many fans during his career make him an easy choice.

After the first two picks, opinions tend to flare about the remaining 3 picks for class '10.

Personally, I feel that Bill France Jr. was a good choice, because he basically took over the reigns just as the aforementioned modern era came into being in NASCAR. Little Bill, as he was often known, worked very hard at keeping sponsors happy, and keeping the sport as interesting as possible. In many ways, Bill Jr. was just as influential in what NASCAR has now become as was his father. Bill France Jr. saw NASCAR through some hard times, but kept growing the sport during his tenure.

Dale Earnhardt was one questionable pick in many people's eyes. He earned his reputation as the "Intimidator" because of his aggressive driving style, and his rather ruthless attitude toward winning. Earnhardt didn't come to the track to make friends. He came to win.

Dale Earnhardt did, however, win 7 championships, tied only with Richard Petty in that amazing feat. Though Earnhardt never came close to eclipsing Petty's amazing 200 wins, at 76 Cup wins, Dale Earnhardt was no slouch in the wins department either.

I feel that Earnhardt belongs in the inaugural class because to many, he represented the face of NASCAR from the late 1980's until his death in 2001. Dale drove a black car, and his icy gaze could make a competing driver make a mistake which would allow Dale to win a race, or at least gain another spot on the track.

Dale Earnhardt's true legacy was that he was the 'every man's driver' in many ways. Dale grew up from a blue collar background, was also driven to try to succeed, early on in his career just to pay the rent and put food on his family table. Later in his career, he was a multi-millionaire, but still worked on his farm, feeding the chickens and the cattle, and taking every opportunity to get away to do some hunting and fishing.

Earnhardt's death in 2001 marked, for me at least, another important transitional period in the history of NASCAR. His death brought out a lot of casual fans and turned them into regular fans, and even hard core fans. His death also brought a flurry of safety measures into the sport, including rules for the races themselves, to equipment changes, and even a new car deemed to be safer for all involved. Whether in life or death, Dale Earnhardt's influence on NASCAR has been substantial and undeniable.

To be honest, I can't argue with the selection of Junior Johnson to the class of '10 either. Johnson's driving days were done before I became a fan of the sport, but I did watch him for many years in his role as a team owner. Junior Johnson was one of the more inventive, creative, and in my opinion, brilliant team owners ever. Though Johnson had practically no formal training at anything, and coming from a bootlegging career into racing, Junior was the very definition of inventiveness.

Junior Johnson could build nearly indestructible race cars and racing engines, and encouraged his drivers to push the cars as hard as they could. In Junior's mind, there was no reason to save a race car for next week. If his drivers tore a car up, he'd build them a better one for next week.

Johnson's accomplishments as a driver cannot be denied either. He drove the way he later encouraged his drivers to drive, which is all out.

With only 5 finalists for the HOF class of 2010, there are understandably some arguments concerning whom was picked and whom wasn't. Personally, back during the 70's, I was a huge David Pearson fan, partly because he was from just down the road in Spartanburg, South Carolina, just 20 or so miles from where I grew up. David was an amazing driver, and rarely drove a full time schedule, but still managed to win an incredible 105 races during his career. Richard Petty has often been quoted as saying that Pearson was the best driver he ever competed against.

Other people who could easily have been included in the inaugural top 5 would have to include Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison. Mostly likely, I feel they will be in the class of 2011 though.

The fact is, out of the literally hundreds of people who have made an impact on NASCAR over the years, in my opinion, these first 5 are not bad choices. Those who didn't make it this time will invariably be honored in Charlotte in coming years.

5 people were just not enough, but the many other deserving drivers, owners, crew chiefs, and others will be honored eventually.

Overall, I feel the NASCAR Hall Of Fame is off to a great start, and will be a place in which I will want to spend much time in the coming years.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Saluting America's Automobile Renaissance

photo courtesy of

If you haven't looked at the new Ford Mustang, or the new Dodge Challenger, or taken a peak at this new version of Chevrolet's Camaro, you're missing a lot.

It would seem that American automakers are recognizing som
e of the the things they did right in the past, and using those positives as marketing tools for the future.

I personally love the retro cars. They were great back then, and they are great now. Not only do these American icons have the good looks which made them famous in the first place, but now they are updated with top notch technology which makes them great daily drivers in 2009 and beyond.

The American auto industry has experienced some tough times as of late. It's refreshing to see many of the designers looking to the past to find inspiration to create great looking new cars again.

Sometimes older is new.

The American automobile scene probably hit it's highest peak, at least as far as styling, in the 1950's and 1960's. Who can forget the first time they saw a 1957 Chevy or a 1969 Mustang? How about the 1969 Camaro? These cars are stars in American culture, and finally the automakers have figured out that sometimes a good design in timeless. There is no need to put square headlights on a classic just because that's what everyone else is doing. That's over simplifying the point a little, but I think you get my meaning here.

Long live the tradition of American classic cars! Long live hot rods, and good old muscle cars!

Check out some of these sites for more pics and information on great new cars that look as good as some of the old ones.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

NASCAR and the National Anthem

Jesse McCartney was the singer of the National Anthem at California's Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday. When I listened to his rendition, I did a double take, because he obviously left out a line. I can see no reason to leave out a line of the anthem for artistic reasons, so I suppose it was probably a mistake on Mr. McCartney's part.

I've touched on this before, but I feel like it's time to bring this up again. Let's do away with celebrities singing the National Anthem in the pre-race ceremonies, and let a local high school band do it.

I'm not singling out Jesse McCartney here, but I've long thought that far too many celebrities do a poor job performing the anthem because (a) they are trying to be creative or artistic with their performance, or (b) they don't know the words, or can't carry a tune.

I'm no expert on high school bands, but I've heard a few. The National Anthem is one song that is regularly played by high school bands, so the tune is not alien to band members.

Personally, I have nothing against celebrities. They have their purposes, such as entertaining people. I do not, however, enjoy listening to someone intentionally mangling the anthem for artistic purposes. I'd rather hear a high school kid play his or her heart out on national TV any day, and if they perform the anthem badly, at least I'll know it's not for lack of trying.

Give the kids a ticket to the race, and maybe infield passes, let them actually meet a few drivers, and who knows? We might just have a few new race fans for life.

In any event, giving kids a chance to perform on national TV, and in front of an audience the likes of which they've never seen before could be the biggest day ever in those kids' lives.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lug Nuts, Bad Luck, and the Never Ending Year.

photo courtesy of Auto Club Speedway and Pepsi

Folks, in case you haven't figured it out, I'm a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan. I am a fan for many reasons, and most of those reasons have to do with the personality that Dale Earnhardt Jr. exhibited during his career. Part of the reason I'm a Dale Jr. fan is because he has a real appreciation for the way drivers like his dad raced. Dale Jr. is old school, and understands what old school is.

Old school means that you tough it out, you race your guts out, and you never give up. That sounds simple, but you'd be surprised at how many of the current crop of drivers in Cup don't quite get that sometimes.

Most of the hype surrounding NASCAR these days has to do with sponsors, and attendance at the tracks, and manufacturer support. All of those things are important to the sport.

There might be something more important though.

Pure drive. To be purely driven to win, and to prove the critics wrong is plenty of reason for many. To be honest, Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn't won much lately. Many of his critics say he's got no talent at all, but they are wrong. Dale Jr. has won at every level he's ever raced in, and won championships, except in the Cup. That goal has eluded Junior so far.

Drive isn't enough for Dale Earnhardt Jr. though. He's driven by more than just trying to achieve expectations. He's failed lately in doing that, but a lot of the time that has been because of circumstances totally beyond his control. After a lost lug nut on a pit stop, critics are quick to claim that such an event happened because Dale Jr. has no talent. I don't know what kind of mushrooms those critics are ingesting, but that is plainly ludicrous. How is a driver responsible for a tire changer missing a lug nut?

Back in the 1970's, NBC started a show called Saturday Night Live, with had cast billed as the 'Not Ready For Prime Time Players.' In some ways, the 88 Sprint Cup team is in that situation. They're not quite ready this year. The 88 has been on the bad side of driver error, pit mistakes, and plain bad calls from on top of the pit box this year. One thing is for certain though. The 88 team, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Rick Hendrick will do their best to fix that situation before the 2010 season begins.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't done yet. If not for some pure bad luck, and getting caught up in some other people's stupidity and problems, Dale Jr. could have been in the Chase this year. Not making excuses, because some other drivers could claim the same lack of production, but Dale Jr. is not done. He'll be back, just in time for all the haters to sound off on him.

Part of driving is just the will to do it, and pass cars. Part of it is trying to meet expectations. Dale Jr. even goes beyond that, because Dale Earnhardt Jr. understands a basic principle his dad taught him many years ago. The fans are ultimately the people you really have to keep happy.

Without fans, NASCAR would be nothing. If you're not getting the results on the race track, where it matters the most, you driver harder, and attempt to win at all costs. That spirit will carry a driver farther than even raw talent can.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. probably isn't the best driver in the Cup series. Not on the basis of pure talent, at least. Dale Jr. has a huge following because he's got the heart and the intelligence to never, ever give up.

In that way, Dale Jr. is a chip off the old block.

A Good Show at California

Photo by Jerry Markland / Getty Images Sport

Yeah, I said it. The Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California was a good race. The fans actually got to see passing, some rather dramatic racing, and of course a few crashes. In other words, not what many fans have come to expect from California, myself included.

It was heartening to see a good show at Fontana for a change, much as we did during Saturday's Nationwide race as well.

From the reports I've read so far, the race was not enjoyed by a huge crowd, which typifies nearly all the races at California. Those who did buy tickets got their moneys worth though.

At times, the racing on the 2 mile super speedway almost resembled the action at Talladega. I was honestly surprised, and pleasantly so.

What wasn't a big surprise, however, was the outcome of the race. Jimmie Johnson obviously had a very good car, and probably no one else in the field, save pole sitter Denny Hamlin had such a dominant car on Sunday. Denny crashed after a restart, taking himself out of contention.

If all the races at Fontana were as enjoyable as the Pepsi 500, I would withdraw all the complaints I've ever made about the track. Hopefully, Sunday's trend will continue into 2010 and beyond, because California is obviously going to have 2 dates, no matter what happens.

Hopefully, the fans will begin to support the track and buy tickets. If you thought about going to the race Sunday and didn't, you missed a heck of a show.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

An Exciting Race at Fontana? Really?

I didn't get to watch the entire Nationwide race at Fontana, California today, but I did catch the end of it. Wow, that was some exciting, hard, and fun to watch racing. And it happened at California? Really?

We can compare today's race with tomorrow's race, after tomorrow's race, of course, and if nothing else, it may or may not be a shining example of how the COT (Car Of Tomorrow for those of you who don't know) is either a boom or a bust for NASCAR.

Personally, I'm thinking 'bust' so far. The new car is not only butt ugly, it just doesn't drive worth a darn either, apparently. A lot of drivers would whisper in your ear that they hate it. They can't say it publicly, of course, because NASCAR would take them out behind the woodshed. For the most part, those who have openly criticized the new car have changed their tune within a week or so. I wonder why?

California has been traditionally a yawner of a race track which provides little in the way of actual racing, at least in the Cup series. Why it's got a place in the Chase makes no sense to me whatsoever. It would make way more sense to me to replace that race with a date at Darlington. But I live in South Carolina, so there's some obvious bias here. To those of you from California, no disrespect intended.

Whatever happens tomorrow, it will be interesting to see if the Cup race holds a candle to the Nationwide race as far as excitement, and of course, the reason we all watch, racing.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

It's Not a Done Deal Yet: RPM and Yates Racing Negotiations Continue

Richard Petty said on Wednesday that negotiations between Richard Petty Motorsports and Yates Racing are ongoing, but nothing has apparently been signed yet. Petty seemed be confident that a deal would be worked out eventually between the two teams, reports Bob Pockrass with Scene Daily.

This is certainly a critical time for the team that was started by Ray Evernham and is now partly owned by and bearing the name of the "King", Richard Petty.

Essentially, the old Petty Enterprises ceased to exist last year when Richard joined George Gillet in an endeavor to keep the Petty name at the race track. In the process, the King's son Kyle got shuffled out of the deal and now has no association with his father's company.

Many people may consider Kyle Petty retired as a driver, but I have followed Kyle on Twitter for some time now, and he has made it very plain that he does not consider his driving days over, and would very much like to put on a driving suit and a helmet and strap himself into a race car again. It may be argued that Kyle Petty's most competitive days as a driver are behind him, but in all fairness, it's been quite a few years since he's driven anything resembling top notch equipment.

RPM's lone driver in the 2009 Chase is Kasey Kahne, who finds himself in 12 place with 8 races to go. Kasey suffered a blown engine early in the first Chase race at New Hampshire, but finished a very respectable 8th at Dover last week. Kahne, with 2 wins in 2009, has given Richard Petty his first wins as an owner in quite a few years.

The benefits of RPM and Yates Racing merging are many, with Dodge having had to reduce its support of racing teams because of the company's recent economic woes. Ford support, along with Roush-Yates engines provide at least some potential for making the RPM cars more competitive than most have been lately. Hopefully with more competitive equipment, the team will be able to attract more sponsorship for 2010 and beyond.

Probably the most unfortunate aspect of the RPM-Yates deal is the dissolution of RPM's current engine shop, which means as many as 60 or more employees will be out of work soon. Hopefully, most of these people can find work in other engine departments at other teams, but as we all know, times are tough right now, so all I can do is wish these people best of luck in their future endeavors.

Hopefully, the RPM-Yates deal will work out, and the Petty name will continue to be an important one in NASCAR circles. As they say, though, we shall see what we shall see.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More Bad News for the Auto Industry: Goodbye, Saturn

General Motors today announced that it would shut down its Saturn operations after a proposed deal with Roger Penske's Penske Automotive Group, Inc fell through. Not only does this effect Saturn's manufacturing, research and development, and engineering operations, it also means the demise of the Saturn dealership network as well.

Apparently, Penske could not find backing from GM or another manufacturer whose identity is currently unknown.

It's a real shame that yet another American automobile brand goes away and many more jobs will be lost.

Roger Penske has been involved in various business ventures for decades, including NASCAR and IRL racing. Penske is probably best known for his truck rental and lease business.

I had personally hoped that Penske could save Saturn, but it apparently couldn't be saved under the circumstances that were offered. I was even beginning to hope with Roger Penske in control of the Saturn brand, we might eventually even see Saturns represented on the race track in NASCAR. Obviously, that won't happen now.

One has to wonder what the future holds for other American brands, especially Dodge. It also makes one wonder what the future holds for NASCAR as well. In 10 years, will we still be watching Fords, Chevrolets and Dodges on the track? Or will be be watching Toyota, Nissan, Honda racing for manufacturing championships?

NASCAR and Naughty Words

Is it safe to say that all who are reading this are human? I hope so. Because if not, I'm going to get the heebie jeebies.

But, based on the assumption that all who read my words are human, I have many who have commented here who don't adhere to my policy of keeping the site more or less PG rated. Sadly, I have to delete comments that don't adhere to my policy.

It's not that I'm a prude. It's not that I'm personally offended by some of the names that you call me or a driver or crew member neither one of us knows at all. It's not that at all.

I know that some of my readers are under the age of 18. Some of them are under the age of 13. I'm not presupposing that readers, even at those tender ages, haven't heard most or all of the words that have been aimed at me over the last few years. I'm not making any suppositions at all. I'm not quite that naive. I just don't think that they should be subjected to words like that on my site. And here, I rule. I make the decisions.

NASCAR provokes many emotions from many fans. Sometimes emotional moments take us into the territory that I can't abide by on this forum. I don't mind what you say in a personal, private e-mail, but you have to try, at least, to understand why I censor certain outbursts of emotion on this site. Or, I hope you do. If you don't, there are plenty of places to vent profane outbursts. You can't do it here, though.

This site is a place for people of all ages. My rule of thumb has always been this: If you wouldn't say it in front of your mother or your 6 year old, don't say it here. It's that simple.

Unfortunately, a lot of posts to this site are not an emotional reaction to what I write, but simply a reaction to what I write about. Your driver got crashed out in the last few laps after having a great run all day? I understand your angst and your emotion, but don't drop the F bomb here. I won't allow it.

For those of you who don't know it, I'm a life long resident of the Bible Belt. I'm a Christian, and proud of it. I'm not perfect, and I'm far from it. Sometimes I use the same words as anyone else does. I ask God's forgiveness when I do. Doesn't mean He'll forgive me, because I'm wrong when I do it.

I'm asking your forgiveness too. When some of your posts don't get published, please remember, I have some standards here. I want people 80 years old and 8 years old to be able to read this site and not be shocked or offended by the language.

Call me old fashioned. Call me a lot worse, but keep it on the e-mail, please. By the way, my e-mail is If you want to let me have it, let me have it there.

Not here, but you can if you keep it clean.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tiger Who? No, not THAT Tiger.

For those of you who are confused, and you surely are, there is nothing NASCAR related in this article. But I do the blog, and 99.3 per cent of the time, I do write about NASCAR. Not tonight though.

This is a true story that I heard on one of my favorite radio stations tonight as I was driving home from Toccoa, Ga. The station is WCCP FM, which is the main sports talk station in Upstate South Carolina. The radio station is based in Clemson, SC, and is currently the voice of the Clemson Tigers sports teams. WCCP broadcasts Clemson football, baseball, basketball, and whatever else they can fit into their busy schedule.

Tonight, I listened to a show called the UFO Show, which features two good guys, neither of which is a professional radio broadcaster, but are entertaining in their own right. The shows hosts are brothers-in-law, and best of friends, and go by the names Tiger Jim and Carolina Tom.

To those of you familiar with college athletics in South Carolina, you have already figured out what schools these two gentlemen follow. For those of you who don't, Tiger Jim is a Clemson University Tiger fan, and his brother-in-law, Carolina Tom, is a fan of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. In the state of South Carolina, there is no rivalry as fierce as the one between these two schools. This rivalry has been going on since my parents were kids, and it seems to grow stronger every year.

Wherever you live, you probably have a college that you support, at least as a fan of their athletic teams, and it's pretty much the same all over the USA, and even all over the world. Georgia and Georgia Tech. Michigan and Ohio State. Southern Cal and Notre Dame. Texas and Oklahoma. Auburn and Alabama. You get my drift here, I'm sure. The biggest game of each year here in SC occurs when Clemson and South Carolina do battle on the field of honor each November.

As radio hosts in a major market in the state of South Carolina, Tiger Jim and Carolina Tom are members of the media, and therefore entitled to press credentials at sporting events, at least in theory, and in this state, it would seem.

Not so!

Apparently Jim and Tom had no problems in acquiring press passes at Clemson University. They filled out the proper forms, submitted them, and were approved without any problems.

Carolina Tom applied for press passes at the University of South Carolina for both he and Tiger Jim, and had to provide their bona fides, such as the radio station on which they can be heard, when their show airs, and what the hosts' names are. Tom filled out the forms, and mentioned that the hosts were, indeed, Tiger Jim and Carolina Tom.

A week or so later, the hosts each received e-mails from whatever office at the U. of SC that handles such requests. Carolina Tom received approval, and even a parking space for events at Carolina sporting events. Tiger Jim was told, regretfully, that the University of South Carolina didn't have enough space for him to be included in the press corps.

Carolina Tom called whomever handles the press passes at USC to complain, and try to fix the problem. Tom was apparently told that there would not at this time, nor ever in the future, be a press pass issued to anyone who called himself "Tiger" anything. Oh, and by the way, nothing is going to change that.

Next year, Jim and Tom will maybe submit their real names, and not their radio show names to the University of South Carolina press office, and all will probably be approved.

Business will not get in the way of sentiments, I suppose, when it comes to giving the 'enemy' a seat in your house!

I wonder what would happen if Tiger Woods called the University of South Carolina and asked for a pass? Hmmm. Just wondering.

If you're ever in the Upstate South Carolina area, tune your radio to 104.9 on the FM dial and hear some great sports talk!

Oh, and by the way. Tiger Jim and Carolina Tom, you do a great job. I've listened before, and will be tuned in to listen to you again.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Old vs. New: Looking at Chase Points

Under the current Chase points system used by NASCAR for the Sprint Cup series, Mark Martin is currently in 1st place, with Jimmie Johnson following closely behind by only 10 points. As close as this race is between numbers 1 and 2, it's another 55 points back to 3rd place Juan Pablo Montoya.

All in all, from 1st to 12th place in the Chase points system, there are only 189 points separating Mark Martin from 12th place Kasey Kahne. With 8 races to go, it's still technically possible for any of the top 12 drivers in the Chase to win the championship for 2009. For the purpose of making the end of the Cup season more exciting, NASCAR has been successful in implementing the Chase points system.

For comparison, let's examine the points as they would appear under the old, pre Chase system. Thanks to, we are able to easily make that comparison.

Under the old points system, Tony Stewart would still be in the lead by 175 points over 2nd place Jeff Gordon. Jimmie Johnson would be in 3rd place, only 1 point behind his teammate Jeff. Under the Chase system, Tony Stewart finds himself in 5th place, and Jeff Gordon is in 8th place. Under the old points system, Mark Martin would be in 5th place, 419 points behind Tony Stewart. Since the Chase system has been in place, much the same story has been true every year.

Also under the old system, instead of 189 points separating the top 12, the points gap would be 628. This is obviously the really true advantage of the Chase; keeping the points close and putting more than 2 or 3 drivers in the run for the championship with 10 or so races to go. Other than that, I don't really know of any other advantages for the Chase system.

Drivers outside of the Chase are still on the track every week, but with obviously less TV time because they are locked out of a championship run. These drivers are still racing, however. Drivers are auditioning for new jobs, new sponsors, or just trying to prove to their existing sponsors that they can still deliver the goods, so-so season or not.

In an economy where securing and keeping sponsors has been in many ways harder to achieve than wins on the race track itself, it appears that the Chase might have outlived its usefulness. NASCAR needs all the sponsors it can get, and excluding so many from the lime light for the 'playoffs' can't sit well with sponsors whose names are on cars outside of the top 12.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Taming the Monster: A Look at Dover

At exactly 1 mile in length, Dover technically qualifies as a super speedway, but in reality, the Monster Mile personifies a short track racing experience in NASCAR.

Racing is intense at Dover. In many aspects, the racing there reminds me of Darlington, another super speedway with a short track personality.

The diversity among recent winners at Dover shows just how hard it can be for any driver to totally dominate at this track. Just in the last 10 years alone, the track has had 13 different winners, partly, of course, because NASCAR runs 2 races per year in the Cup series at Dover.

In the last 10 years, Mark Martin and Ryan Newman have won multiple times. So have Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. Bobby Labonte has won at Dover. Matt Kenseth has won here. So have Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Who's the odds on favorite to win at Dover this week? Personally, I have no clue, but I'm personally betting on momentum at this point. Mark Martin looks good to win just about anywhere these days, and Dover should be no exception.

Certainly, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart have a good chance of winning at Dover as well. The same could be said for Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, or Carl Edwards.

Personally, I think it would be a treat to see someone win who has never won a Dover race, such as strong Chase contenders Kurt Busch or Denny Hamlin. A win by someone outside the top 12 would be good to see too, such as maybe Marcos Ambrose, Clint Bowyer, Casey Mears, Kevin Harvick, or dare I say it? A repeat win for Dale Earnhardt Jr? What would that do for the TV ratings?

Once again, NASCAR goes head to head with the NFL on Sunday. Last week at New Hampshire, NASCAR was the big loser in that battle. Personally, I doubt that NASCAR will fare much better again on Sunday, but a great race and a win by a popular driver couldn't hurt. I think that the racing will be great, and the winner, of course, will be they guy that survives the Monster with all the fenders intact.

The Chase was designed to give NASCAR a boost as the season winds down, to erase any huge point leads, and to put the top 12 drivers on a more or less level playing field for the last 10 races of the season. NASCAR, however, appears to be in a lose-lose situation when they go up against the mighty NFL for TV ratings, and unless something drastic happens in the NASCAR world in the remaining 9 races for 2009, that situation will likely not change.

For more in depth information regarding the NASCAR vs. NFL battle, check out the undisputed guru of NASCAR TV coverage, John Daly, at his site. There are tons of great comments there!