Sunday, February 22, 2009

Some California Results

Racing off pit road was about all the major racing there was.  Congratulations to Matt Kenseth for his 3rd California win, and his second in a row for the 2009 season.

Bad luck for Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. who all lost engines in the race.  Especially bad for Kevin, who had the longest streak of no DNF's in the modern era going.  I suppose all streaks must end, eventually, but it's disappointing to see Kevin lose an engine when he obviously had a pretty strong car all day.  Dale Jr. also had a strong run until his engine let go, driving from 43rd to 13th at one point in the race before engine problems sent him to the garage.

Matt Kenseth is obviously now the driver to beat in the Cup series now, starting the season 2 and 0.  Showing a lot of promise also is the 24 of Jeff Gordon, who came in second tonight.

I suppose some of the biggest news of the night is that Kyle Busch didn't complete the sweep, winning not only the Camping World Truck race, but also the Nationwide race on Saturday.  That feat alone set a record, winning two major NASCAR series races in one day, but Kyle didn't complete the trifecta, winning all three major NASCAR races in a weekend.  Give him some time though, he's still a young man.  Finishing 3rd in the Cup race was a pretty good run for Kyle Busch.

What I wonder though, is how long can Kyle Busch keep burning both ends of the candle, as well as the middle?  3 races in a weekend, at least when they run all three races at the same track is a grueling schedule for any driver of any age.  Kyle does it regularly, and I applaud him for that, but I have to wonder if the schedule from yesterday didn't take a toll on his performance today.  I'm guessing not, because Kyle seems to have an inexhaustible supply of energy, which is normal for a man his age.  I just wonder how long he'll keep that kind of schedule up though.

A Little bit of a Format Change here

Obviously.  I was just getting a little tired of the old look.  I don't know if it will stay this way, and I'll probably be tweaking it over the coming weeks.

Once again, NASCAR is feeling the curse, or maybe blessing of rain, this time at the Auto Club Speedway in California.  It's a little past half way, and there's been some racing tonight, but not a great deal.  I suppose that's about par for the course at Fontana.

Now 3 of the Hendrick cars appear to have engine problems at the same time, so or at least 2 of them.  Fox TV is reporting that the 88 of Earnhardt Jr. and the 5 of Martin appears to be down a cylinder.  It appears that the 48 of Johnson is jumping out of gear.  I wonder what's going through Jeff Gordon's mind right now?

My biggest complaint with the California races is purely selfish.  I live on the east coast, so the race didn't even start here until sometime around 7:00 pm, local time.  I wouldn't mind it so much on a Saturday night, but it's Sunday, and I've got things to do tomorrow, all of which involve paying the bills.  Life was so much simpler when it was Rockingham in February, instead of Fontana.  But like I said, it's probably selfish on my part.  I hope the west coast fans enjoy the race!  I really do.

I'm still wishing that the race was at Rockingham though.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Conversations Overheard at the Waffle House

For those of you who don't have a Waffle House nearby, I feel sorry for you.  I happen to have one nearby and ate dinner there tonight.

While I was eating dinner, an older gentleman came in and sat next to me at the counter.  It was rather crowded, so that's not unusual.  The gentleman was talking on his Blackberry cell phone the entire time he was there.  Apparently he was traveling through the area, and was talking to his teen aged son, who apparently lives with his estranged wife.  This man was apparently trying to push on down the road tonight, driving all night, to go see his son in Louisiana.  I live in South Carolina, for those of you who don't know, so this man had a long drive ahead of him.  I heard him mention that he had not seen his son in almost 2 months.  Part of that time, his estranged wife was on the phone with him.  She apparently said that because he was out traveling all the time, it's his own fault that he hasn't seen his son in so long.  Obviously, I don't know all the details involved here, but what I listened to was a sad story.  By the time I left, the gentleman was in tears, his face wet, and his voice hot with emotion.  This gentleman apparently had taken a job that puts him on the road about 95 per cent of the time, far away from his home and loved ones.

I'm alone most of the time these days.  I lost a very dear friend and companion back in July of last year.  I don't mind being alone, but since I am alone most of the time, it's amazing what you overhear at places like the Waffle House.  

Tonight, on the other side of me, I listened to a conversation between a young couple, apparently engaged to be married.  The young man had just been laid off from his job, and now the wedding plans were on hold.  The lady was very distressed, as many young ladies are likely to be when the wedding of their dreams gets put on hold.

I left the Waffle House tonight full of food, but quite frankly sad.  I had a couple of tears in my eyes when I walked out the door.  I consider myself one of the lucky ones.  I'm going to begin a new job next week that quite frankly is well below my skill set, but I'm still anxious to have.  We all have bills to pay, we all have obligations to fulfill, and this job will help me to do what I need to do to survive right now.  I'll still be here, of course, and on my new site, JCNN as well.  

Be thankful for what you have, if you have anything.  Don't ever take it for granted.  As some say, the good Lord gives you things, and the good Lord can surely take them away in a big hurry.  If you have family, friends, people who are willing to look out for you, take a little time and thank God for them.

I'm lucky enough to have those things.  I hope you do too.  If you have them, or whatever you have, take time to be thankful for them.

Please, from one friend to another, never, ever, take anything in your life for granted.  Thank whomever you pray to for what's good in your life.

Thank you. All of you!

I don't say it nearly enough, but thank you for reading.  I'd like to thank you in Ithaca, New York, Jacksonville, Florida, Virginia Beach, Virginia, The Dominican Republic, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, New York, NY, Zurich, Switzerland, Las Vegas, Nevada, Mexico, Tampa, Florida, Greensboro, North Carolina, Tampa, Florida, Frankfort, Kentucky, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, Chicago, Illinois, Cazenovia, New York, Detroit, Michigan, Wilmington, North Carolina, Scottsdale, Arizona, Meridian, Mississippi, Dallas Texas, Knoxville, Tennessee, Santa Clara, California, Warminster, Pennsylvania, Coolidge, Arizona, Minneapolis, Minnesota.  

That's just page one of my stats out of about 24.  Thank each and every one of you.  It's a new season, and I'm probably going to write way more than I should, but I'm going to do it anyway, since I have such nice readers like you.

Once again, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Can You Believe What You're Reading?

Not to mention any names, but there are some very suspect sites linked on today.  I've been linked a couple of times there, but mostly I just do my own thing and you read it.  That's the way it works.  I don't make money from this site.  If I could, I would, but like you, I'm a fan who just happens to enjoy writing about the sport I love.

I have read a few news stories in the past and led you astray.  I freely admit it.  Remember when Bobby Labonte was a sure thing to be driving the 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevy?  I wrote about that.  I was wrong.  I found out just how wrong I was about the same time you did.  I noticed something that day though.  A lot of the sites that reported that as a done deal suddenly withdrew the stories.  I didn't.  I made a mistake, and I still display it to the world.  If nothing else, folks, I'm honest.  When I make a mistake, I own up to it.  In other words, if I write it, I believe it's true.  I'm not always right, obviously, but I believe in what I write about.

It's a very young season, and there is much in the way of silliness to happen in 2009, but I will report what I believe is true, and what I don't know to be true, I'll simply report as a rumor.  I feel like I owe you, as a reader more than I gave you in 2008.  I promise I'll never lie to you, and if I report something wrong, I want you to give me a huge amount of crap about it.  

There is a site currently being featured on Jayski that is basically full of bull squeeze.  I've read it, and was stupid enough to believe it last year, and even though they've been totally wrong about basically everything in the past, Jay, for some reason, links to the site.  My site doesn't really qualify, since I'm a blog, not really a news site.  Once in a while though, I write a column that even Jayski can't ignore.  I used to be featured on Bleacher Report, but I got tired of all the editorializing there.  I came home to here, my own blog, and here it is, warts and all.

I'm not a NASCAR insider, and never pretend to be.  I'm like you, a fan, and express certain opinions here.  I probably know a few things that I can never say here, but you probably do too, if you've been a fan for a while.

I watch 99 per cent of the races on TV, just like most of you do, and I have to put up with Digger, and DW, and all the rest of it.  Actually, I thought the Digger deal was cute for about 10 seconds, then I got tired of it.  I get tired of DW after about 10 minutes, and that's only because I respect him for the driver he used to be.

I'm also officially tired of fan boards of any kind.  I still read a couple of them, on race days, but every driver's got his die hard fans, and he could shoot the President and the fans would still back him up on it.  It gets old after a while.  You think Junior Nation is bad?  Try the Casey Mears board or even Ryan Newman's.  Fans are fans, and God bless them all.  I'm doing my own site now, and I'm officially a fan of Smoke this year.  Yeah, go 14.  I wish him well and Ryan, his new teammate.

I've got a Fender Statocaster I'm trying to refinish.  Anyone got some suggestions?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thanks, Dale Earnhardt.

The above photo is from

Thank you Dale Earnhardt for making this sport what it is today.  You, and people like Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison , Cale Yarborough and many others helped put NASCAR on the map.

Dale's gone, he died on this date in 2001.  I hope you will help celebrate the life of not only a great race car driver, but a great man.  To me, Dale Earnhardt was the best race driver God ever put on this earth.  I certainly don't know your personal feelings about that, but even if you didn't like him, you had to respect him.  Dale came from basically nothing and got almost everything there was to get.  Dale won 7 championships, and 76 races.  He finally won the Daytona 500 in 1998.  

Dale died near turn 4 at Daytona International Speedway on Februrary 18, 2001.  He died very near where his buddy, Neil Bonnet died in 1994.  When I say Dale Earnhardt was a hero, I'm not kidding.  Neil was a hero of mine too.

Light a candle, and if you're near Mooresville, NC, go to the DEI headquarters on Highway 3.  Or go to the shop of Richard Childress Racing in Welcome, NC, and light a candle there.

This day in 2001, we lost a great man.  Let's remember him.

A Little Shameless Self Promotion

Hi, folks.  I have a new site, called JCNN, which stands for Jimmy C's NASCAR Network.  It's a social network, which means that I post news articles and stories about NASCAR, or what ever else I feel is important to talk about, and you can comment on them.  There are message boards for you to use, and live chat as well.

You can set up your own page anyway you want, and post pictures, video, music, or whatever.  You can even write your own blog there as well.  It's a site that I've recently discovered, and I'm still learning my way around it, and cordially invite you to do so as well.  There will be little in the way of moderation, as long as members keep it within Ning's guidelines as far as profanity or pornography.  I'm not really going to moderate it that much, if at all, as long as all goes well.  We have a racing discussion forum, and can add separate forums for your favorite drivers, or even your favorite type of racing.  All you have to do is ask, and your wish is my command as far as that goes.  You don't even have to talk about racing at all, because there is a general discussion board as well.  On the live chat, I don't care.  Talk about whatever you wish.  Just keep it more or less PG rated, and I will never have a problem with it.

It's totally free, which is the great thing about it.  You can sign up in less than a minute and be on your way, uploading your own pics, video, music, whatever you like.  It's sort of a cross between Facebook, MySpace, and about 10 other popular sites.  Come on in, fix up your page anyway you like, and have fun.

It's easy, it's simple to join, and you can interact with other race fans, or even people who aren't race fans.  There is no preferred driver, because I'm not doing the site on any one driver or team.  All fans of NASCAR or any other racing series are welcome here.

It's all about fun.  We could all use a little more of that, I think.  Come on in!  Join JCNN now!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Put your Mind back in the Game!

OK, I've defended Dale Earnhardt Jr. here.  I like him.  I hope he wins, but he's not going to win unless he puts his mind back in the game.  Regardless of the wreck that everyone is still talking about, Dale Jr. made at least two mistakes that put him first of all at the back of the field, and later a lap down.  Supposedly Dale Jr. had a cold or a sinus problem, but those kind of mistakes that he made in the Daytona 500 will ruin a championship run.

You absolutely cannot miss your pit stall.  You just can't.  It's easy to do with 43 pit stalls on pit road, but having a pink sign and not having the foresight to change it to an easily distinguishable sign before the race is no excuse.  I'm not saying that's Jr.'s fault.  Tony Eury Jr. or someone on the crew should have seen that coming, if indeed all the pit signs were so alike.  All I'm saying is that missing your pit is an automatic tail end of the lead lap.  Experienced drivers should never, ever let that happen.

In NASCAR, every single point counts.  Finishing 27th in the Daytona 500 is not a good way to begin a season.  I don't know where Dale Jr.'s mind was on Sunday, but it wasn't really in the race car.  He's got the best equipment, the best owner, and some of the best sponsors in the sport, but he's going to have to pick it up if he's going to keep Rick, Amp, and the National Guard happy.  Sure they got a lot of TV time, but not in the way they wanted it.

It's attention to details that can make or break a winner in NASCAR.  One inch on the line of the pit stall, and having an official pointing and being ignored is a huge mistake.  The crew could have taken a little time and put Dale Jr. in the pit stall and not lost a lap.  They would have lost time, but not a lap.  Had they done that.

Here's hoping that Dale Jr. gets his head out of where ever it was and into the game.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Wussification of NASCAR

Block somebody?  Ban them!  Bump somebody, park them.  Huh.

If this is where NASCAR's headed, I say I don't want to watch the sport anymore.  I've not actually watched all the races that NASCAR has ever held, but I have watched a lot of them during the 1980's and 1990's, and basically all of them since 2000.  Since now that Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s so called parkable offense is now the status quo among not only NASCAR fans, but NASCAR writers, I'm rethinking my decision to get into this sport at all.  I currently do some things for a couple of drivers, one of whom has been around since the 1990's.

I think some people need some basic education in NASCAR.  What Leffler did to Steve Wallace was moving somebody out of the way.  What Earnhardt Jr. did to Vickers was move him out of the way.  

Want to go back to Bristol, 2000?  Dale Earnhardt moved Terry Labonte out of the way.  Labonte was furious, but Earnhardt was given the win.  So now we need to fine or penalize people for touching other people?

Let's just tear the fenders off these cars and make it yet another open wheel series then.  If you can't touch or rub your opponent, let's just call it another open wheel series and make the most spectacular wrecks you've ever seen.  Oh yeah, and possibly deaths.  Is that what you want to see?  I don't.

Though the wrecks in open wheel are often spectacular, they sometimes result in death or serious injury.  As entertaining as they are, I don't like to see people hurt.  If you do, go watch a different sport.

As I see it, no matter how much crap Dale Jr.'s reputation is catching today, he was for once driving like his father would have driven.  Rule number one:  Never take that kind of crap from another driver.  Rule number two:  Make sure he knows where to go to even if out after the race.  Dale Jr. did exactly just that, via his spotter.

As far as I know, Brian Vickers never showed up at Jr.'s hauler to even things out.

Though Dale Jr. is young, he thinks like an old school driver.  He did what he had to do to stay on track.  He did that.  Go back and look over the history of NASCAR.  I dare you.

NASCAR's New Villain?

The above photo is courtesy of  It's of the back of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s helmet at at least some of the Daytona races in which he participated in 2009.  In case nobody's heard the news, Matt Kenseth is the 2009 Daytona 500 winner in a rain shortened race.  I doubt that many people are actually talking about that today or will remember it 3 weeks from now.  Congratulations, Matt Kenseth!

The big news from Sunday's race is, of course, the wreck.  Dale Jr., restarting the race a lap down for receiving pit service outside his pit stall, restarts on the inside.  He ends up behind Brian Vickers.  Dale Jr. thinks he can squeeze by on the inside.  Brian Vickers cuts down the track to block, bumping Dale Jr. below the double yellow line.  Dale Jr., nearly in the grass, pulls back up the track, and the replay shows making minimal contact at most with the TV panel on the back of Brian Vickers' Toyota.  Brian goes for a spin, taking out several cars with him, including most-laps-led leader Kyle Busch.  TV replays show no visible damage to the rear of Vickers' car when he begins his spin.  There are no bumper bars hanging out, no sheet metal dragging.  The key words here are when the Vickers Toyota begins its spin.  At this point, any discernible damage to the rear of the Toyota would have been caused by Dale Earnhardt Jr.  But I'm not wanting to get into any magic bullet theories here, or as seen on Seinfeld, magic loogies.

Sunday night and Monday morning, I've read various comments as to how Earnhardt Jr. "ran over" or "punted" Brian Vickers.  I guess I watched a different race.  At best, Earnhardt Jr. gave Vickers a nudge.  I've got an announcement to make:  Brian Vickers did nothing wrong.  It's legal, under the rules of NASCAR to block another car.  Is it always the smartest thing to do?  That's another issue.

To say that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was without fault in the 2009 Daytona 500 would be facetious, at best.  Early in the race, Dale Jr. completely missed his pits, putting him in the rear of the field.  I'm sorry, that's a mistake that a driver who has driven in 10 Daytona 500's shouldn't make.  Every driver makes mistakes, but missing the pit completely was inexcusable.  If the crew chief, Tony Eury Jr. wasn't counting him down to his specified pit, or whether Dale Jr. just screwed up, those are the kind of mistakes that will lose races.

On a later pit stop, Dale Jr. put his right front tire about an inch onto the line marking the pit stall.  The NASCAR official quickly pointed out the error, and apparently no one paid any attention to him.  The crew completed their right side tire service and a crew member even pushed the official out of the way when making his way back to the left side of the car.  The 88 team had the option of repositioning the car within the pit stall, and though they would have lost valuable time, they still could have completed the pit stop without a one lap penalty.  

These are mistakes that should not be made by veteran drivers and crews.

For comparison purposes, there was an incident in the Saturday Nationwide race where driver Jason Leffler nudged driver Steve Wallace and sent Wallace into the outside wall, ending his day. For that transgression, Leffler was held in his pit for 5 laps, effectively ending his chances at have a good run as well.

Numerous comparisions between the Earnhardt Jr./Vickers incident and the Leffler/Wallace incident have been made today, with the concensus apparently being that Earnhardt Jr. should have been penalized 5 laps as well.  I can't argue against that opinion.  NASCAR apparently felt that Leffler's bump on Wallace was intentional, while the same sanctioning body felt that Earnhardt's bump on Vickers was not.  It's possible that radio traffic between Leffler and his crew chief or spotter may have led to NASCAR's decision to park him for 5 laps.  I don't know all the facts as far as that incident.  I was not listening to Leffler's radio, and don't know what was said.  The fact of the matter is just this:  It's often perception, other than truth, that leads to fans' discontent over the show that NASCAR puts on.

Most of the opinions that I've read today point to the perception that Earnhardt Jr. was treated favorably by NASCAR, either because of his popularity, or his last name.  Whether that is the truth or not, it really doesn't matter to the fans or the press.  It's the perception that counts here.  What is actually the truth of the matter means little.  I personally didn't see Earnhardt Jr. do much of anything that most of the other drivers in the field wouldn't have done.  If it had been, say, Greg Biffle that spun out Vickers, I doubt there would have been much talk about it, except among the fans of the drivers actually effected by the incident.

Diehard fans are diehard fans.  I actually am a Dale Jr. fan, but I'm a fan of other drivers as well.  I no longer post on, or really even monitor any of the Junior Nation fansites anymore.  The hatred for the Dale Jr. fans mostly comes from fans of drivers who either had clashes with Dale Sr., or are just jealous, in many cases.  Unless you're a Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, or Matt Kenseth fan, chances are you hate Dale Jr. because of his popularity, and because so far your driver hasn't accomplished as much as Dale Jr.  Dale Jr. has never won a Cup championship, but neither have a lot of other great drivers.  Jeff Burton has never won a championship.  So far, Kyle Busch hasn't, though he was the odds on favorite in 2008, going into the Chase for the Cup.  Carl Edwards hasn't yet.  Kevin Harvick hasn't either.  Relative old timer Mark Martin hasn't, but he's trying one more time.

Here are the facts about Dale Earnhardt Jr.  He only has a ride because of who his daddy was?  Can you say your driver isn't in Cup racing because his family never helped him?  Anyway, here are the facts.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won 18 Cup races.  He's won poles, not many, but he has won some.  He won the All Star Race in 2000, his rookie year.  He's won the Bud Shootout more than once.  He also won 2 Busch Series championships before he even ran Cup full time.  He's a Daytona 500 winner.  You may think of him as a Daytona or Talladega guy, but he's won at Bristol.  He's won at Richmond.  He's won at Phoenix.  He's won at Atlanta.  He's won at Chicago.  He's won at Michigan and Dover.

Yeah, I'm a Dale Jr. fan.  I don't look at him as if he has no faults though.  I know he has them.  He can do wrong in my book.  He did it yesterday at Daytona.  Dale Jr.'s human, ok?  He makes mistakes just like the rest of us.  He made mistakes at Daytona, but if I remember correctly, he's not the only driver to move someone out of the way.  He's not even the first Earnhardt to do so.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The 51st Daytona 500

The above photo is of the finish of the first Daytona 500, which was held in 1959.  The car in the middle, after checking film and photographs, was later declared the winner of the race.  The driver of that car was Lee Petty, and thus began one of NASCAR's greatest traditions.

Today, all of what has happened over the last week or so will be forgotten, all the tire problems hopefully a thing of the past, and all the other issues that the drivers, teams, and owners have faced will all go out the window when the green flag flies.  Daytona is a brand new beginning for many teams, and new associations for other teams and sponsors.

For those of you Kevin Harvick fans who may be dubious about my pick of Kevin Harvick to win today's race, I promise I didn't pick Kevin because my choice is the K.O.D., or as is sometimes called the kiss of death, or the kiss of disaster.  I picked Kevin because I think he can win!  Honest!

Here's hoping for a good, safe race.  I pray that all the drivers and crew members walk away from the track under their own power today.  I hope that all the fans travelling to and from the track will have a safe day as well.

It's 2009!  Let's light this firecracker!

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Daytona 500. My Pick to Win

I don't normally pick winners of races, and there's a good reason why.  I'm usually wrong.  Today, however, I feel pretty good about the chap pictured above.  Curse me all you want to, but I'm picking Kevin Harvick to win the 2009 Daytona 500.

Winning the Daytona 500 is something that most drivers would love to have on their resume, but few actually do.  Kevin's already won, beating Mark Martin to the line in 2007.  I watched last Saturday's Bud Shootout and frankly found my jaw hanging down around the area that my shoe laces usually occupy.  That's how good this young man is, and yes, I can call him a young man, because I was wearing long pants when Kevin Harvick was still in diapers.

On Sunday, NASCAR kicks off a brand new season, and I'm guessing that Kevin Harvick will be right up there with the leaders at the end of the race.  Harvick showed that basic 'no fear' attitude on Saturday, charging to the front and leading the only lap that really matters:  The last lap.

Do I think Kevin Harvick can do it again, just like he did in the Bud Shootout?  Yep.  You betcha.  Please, don't mortage your house or bet your car on this, but I'm thinking we'll get to see some more spectacular burnouts when Kevin Harvick wins the 2009 Daytona 500.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

15 years ago: Missing Neil Bonnett

The above photo shows a very relaxed Neil Bonnett catching a quick nap at the track.  15 years ago today, we lost Neil Bonnett.  He died in Turn 4 at Daytona International Speedway during practice.  Nearly 7 years later, the man who considered Neil to be his best friend died in almost exactly the same spot, on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

Neil Bonnett had a passion to race.  He worked hanging high steel in Birmingham, Alabama before and during the time that he got into racing.  Neil later said that there were plenty of guys that wanted his steel hanging job, but nobody wanted his racing job.  Walking around on steel beams hundreds of feet off the ground was safe enough, but strapping yourself into a race car and going nearly 200 mph around an oval track was just way too dangerous for many.

Neil had a great career as a driver.  In 362 starts in the Winston Cup, Neil won 18 races, finished in the top five 83 times, and in the top ten 156 times.  Neil also won 20 poles during his career.  Neil won at places like Darlington, North Wilkesboro, Ontario, California, and even the Daytona July race.  He won multiple times at Charlotte, Atlanta, Rockingham, and Richmond.  He won a Talladega race, and he won at Dover.

Neil seldom ran complete seasons, in other words, there were only a few seasons during his 20 year Cup career that he ran the complete schedule.  Neil finished 4th in points for the 1985 season, and had two wins that year.

Neil Bonnett drove while he was hurt many times.  Late in his career, he asked a doctor to bolt his broken sternum back together so he could race the next week.  For Neil Bonnett, racing was everything, and everything was racing.

As an avid hunter and angler, Neil Bonnett and Dale Earnhardt were a natural fit for each other.  The hunting stories these men could tell, if they were alive, would be priceless.  We only know about a few of them.

Turn 4 at Daytona is hallowed ground for me.  Two of my heroes died there.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Just a Cartoon for you this morning.

The cartoon shown above is by Mike Smith for the Las Vegas Sun.  About a million or more fans could be the guy on the left.  Here is the actual link.  The guy on the right, obviously, is Mike Helton.  Though it's hard to feel sorry for NASCAR, I sometimes do feel sorry for Mike.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Kudos to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

Though I've often been critical of Dale Earnhardt Inc., which is now part of the new Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team, I have to say one thing:  The company with the name 'Earnhardt' on the door certainly hasn't lost any of the old magic when it comes to making cars go around the track fast at Daytona International Speedway.

Martin Truex Jr. won only his second Cup pole on Sunday, turning out a lap at 188.01 mph.  Truex had the only car in the 188 mph range.  This accomplishment actually means that Martin will start on the pole twice, once in the first Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying race on Thursday, and of course the Daytona 500 itself on Sunday.  Whatever the outcome of the qualifying race on Thursday, Truex will start on the pole on Sunday, barring any major mechanical problems between Thursday and Sunday, or if they should have to go to a backup car for some reason.  Either way, Martin Truex Jr. is the pole winner for the Daytona 500.

Juan Pablo Montoya was 4th overall on the speed charts on Sunday, scoring an impressive 187.743 mph.  JP actually sounded a little disappointed after his qualifying attempt, feeling that he should have been able to get more out of the car.  Mr. Montoya, let me tell you, 4th out of an all star studded 56 car field at Daytona is not bad.  Not bad at all.

Making his first Daytona 500 Cup start ever is the 8 Chevrolet, driven this year by Aric Almirola. Aric turned a lap at 187.649 mph, which was good enough to put him 7th on the speed charts.  This is a great beginning at Daytona for Almirola.

Obviously, the EGR cars go very fast around the track on their own, but we have yet to see them under racing conditions.  None of the 3 EGR cars were in the Bud Shootout, and haven't as yet had a chance to do any drafting practice, which will come on Wednesday.  Many things can change under racing conditions, so the fact that the cars are fast doesn't mean it's easy to predict great finishes in the qualifying races or the 500 itself.  The important point though, is that the engine builders and the car builders have obviously done their jobs, and given the drivers some very fast cars.

The success of the EGR cars does not appear to be all engine though.  2 years ago, Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Richard Childress Racing combined their engine programs into what is now called Earnhardt Childress Racing Technologies.  In other words, EGR and RCR use the same racing engines.  Whatever qualifying speed that the EGR cars found, apparently didn't carry over to the Childress cars.  Clint Bowyer was the fastest RCR car on Sunday, turning a lap at 186.726 mph, good enough for 22nd fastest overall.  Bud Shootout winner Kevin Harvick ran a lap at 183.602 mph.  It appeared that Kevin didn't have full power on his qualifying attempt, however.

I understand that there are many different philosophies regarding qualifying.  Some teams, and indeed some drivers place a much higher emphasis on qualifying than do others.  Richard Childress has in the past appeared to put much less emphasis on winning poles than do other teams.  I'm only guessing, but I'm thinking that to Childress, it makes sense not to stress the equipment in order to win a pole, because that equipment might not last the entire race.  Winning races is what pays the bills, not winning poles.

Many drivers do want to start on the pole.  That strategy makes sense as well, considering some of the carnage we saw during the Bud Shootout back in the pack, or as SPEED TV's John Roberts aptly termed "bar fight on wheels".  With some of the craziness we've already seen in the Bud Shootout and the ARCA race on Saturday, most of the drivers would rather be in the front of the field, not in the rear.  Hanging around the back of the field and trying to make a charge at the end can be a difficult task, though Kevin Harvick managed to accomplish just that when he won the Bud Shootout on Saturday.

Another team I am very impressed with is the new Stewart-Haas Racing entries of Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart, who were 3rd and 10th fastest in qualifying, respectively.  It's beginning to look like there's going to some new numbers to watch on the track in 2009, and those numbers are the 14 and the 39.

It was encouraging to see Bill Elliot and Terry Labonte locked into the show on Sunday as well.  Bill has had a fast car, being quickest in both practices on Saturday.  I guess the Wood Brothers still have some of that go fast magic as well, but then they've got the driver who's set speed records at not just Daytona, but at Talladega as well.  Can you say 212 mph?  I know a lot of people hate restrictor plates, but seriously, just how fast can these cars go without taking off and flying over the fence into the stands?  Restrictor plates are a necessary evil, and they are here to stay.

I'd like to also give kudos to Bobby Labonte and Travis Kvapil, who drove the two of the other fastest Fords on Sunday.  Travis had to qualify on time, which he did, locking himself into the 500 by putting out a lap that was 8th fastest overall on Sunday.  Bobby did a great job as well, being 11th fastest.  Labonte seemed as excited as I've seen him in quite a while.  Bobby's 96 Ford is technically owned by Hall of Fame Racing, but it's very closely aligned this year with Yates Racing.  I find it impressive that the Wood Brothers and Yates Racing were faster than the Roush Fords on Sunday.  Of course, like I said before, that's just qualifying.  We all know the Roush guys will be in it to win it during the qualifying races and the 500.

Here's some breaking news for you:  Once again the Hendrick cars are all fast.  All 4 cars were in the top 12 on the speed chart, and Mark Martin will start on the outside pole next Sunday.  Not bad for a guy in his very first start in a Hendrick owned Cup car.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

NASCAR's 2009 Season Starts with a Bang, or is that a Crash?

Several crashes, in fact.  The 2009 Budweiser Shootout did not fail to disappoint in terms of excitement.  If you wanted some bang for your buck, you certainly got your money's worth on Saturday night at Daytona.

Not surprisingly, several of the Shootout rookies went out of the race early with crashed cars, including Joey Logano and Scott Speed.  A late race crash took out last year's winner Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Bobby Labonte was taken out in that same crash.  By the time the final green, white, checker restart green flag waved, nearly half the field had been sidelined by crashes.  By the time the checkered flag waved, crossed with they yellow even once again, fully half of the starting field of 28 cars were lying in smoking, bent heaps.

Though there were many feats of incredible driving on Saturday night, two in particular stick out in my mind.  The first was during an early melee' which found Jeff Gordon picking his way through a hand full of wrecking cars, missing several by inches.  Viewed in slow motion on the instant replay, one has to be amazed and impressed at how many steering corrections Gordon made in the space of about a second and a half to avoid being a casualty of one of several Big Ones.  My hat's off to Jeff for finishing that race with a more or less intact car in 4th place.

The second great example of driving skill was shown at the very end of the race.  Kevin Harvick, who had been involved in an early scrape with the wall, who at least once lost the draft and was running far behind the pack early in the race, made an amazing charge during the final laps, and squirted to the lead.  Just as Harvick cleared Jamie McMurray, all heck broke loose behind them, bringing out the crossed checkered and yellow flags, making Kevin Harvick the 2009 Bud Shootout winner.  Harvick drove through cars that were slipping and sliding, bumping and banging, and somehow slithered through nearly impossible gaps between cars.  Harvick's performance was an incredible piece of driving, and I offer heart felt congratulations for bringing home the win.  Owner Richard Childress was understandably all smiles in victory lane after the race, knowing his team is off to the best start he could ask for so far in 2009.

Kudos go out to brand new team owner Tony Stewart, who led the Shootout at one point and brought home the number 14 Chevrolet in 3rd place.  That's a pretty good finish for a brand new team in its first race.

There was only one engine failure during Saturday night's race, which I find encouraging.  I personally was expecting at least 3 or 4 engine failures, but the only power plant that let go was the 43 Richard Petty Racing Dodge, driven this year by Reed Sorenson.  Though the Daytona 500 will undoubtedly be tougher on engines than was the 75 lap Shootout, it appears that most of the teams have their engine programs well in order so far this season.  Jeff Burton, driver of the 31 Caterpillar Chevy, blew an engine in Shootout practice, but since there was basically no testing prior to the Shootout, many of the teams were known to be experimenting with different engine packages, and some of these experiments are bound to fail.

All said, it would appear that the drivers, the crew chiefs, and the engineers learned quite a bit on Saturday night, and they now have a full week to prepare for the Big Show.  As I write this, in a few hours qualifying will begin, with 56 cars attempting to fill a 43 car field.  Unfortunately, we've already had one casualty, as the number 60 Dodge fielded by Carter-Simo Racing never completed a full lap at the minimum 175 mph speed.  Apparently battery and carburetor issues could not be repaired to the point that allowed 74 year old driver James Hylton to complete a lap above the minimum speed.

The Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying races  will be on Thursday afternoon, and I have a feeling there will be a lot of NASCAR fans calling in sick that day or developing sudden illnesses that morning.  I have to hand it to NASCAR, I truly had some doubts about this new Bud Shootout format, and though my favorite drivers didn't win, I got way more excitement than I bargained for.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Debut of Stewart-Haas Racing

February always brings a time of new promise for everyone who's involved in NASCAR.  That includes not only the drivers, but the crews, the owners, the sponsors, and yes, even you, the fans.   If you are reading this column, then there is a very good chance that you are a NASCAR fan, and as a fan, you are a very important part of the sport.  Think about it, without fans, these would just be a bunch of guys driving the family cars around in circles in a cow pasture somewhere.

But, since I digress, as I often do, one of the most exciting changes in the Sprint Cup series for 2009 is the brand spanking new Stewart-Haas Racing team.  SHR, co-owned by Tony Stewart, Joe Custer and Gene Haas has a brand new look and some serious attitude in abundant supply going into 2009.  

Tony Stewart is not only a new driver for the team, he is also a majority owner.  Tony has always been known for his determination to win, and now that he owns a piece of the company, he will likely be more driven than ever to win.  Tony Stewart will be driving the 14 Chevrolet sponsored by Office Depot, Old Spice, and Burger King.  The '14' number didn't happen by accident.  Tony Stewart's hero A.J. Foyt drove that number during his days as a NASCAR driver.  A.J. Foyt will be at Daytona to celebrate Stewart's debut as a team owner, and if that doesn't get Tony fired up, nothing will.  As if Tony Stewart needs much of anything to get him fired up!

The other entry in the Stewart-Haas Racing effort is no other than former Penske driver Ryan Newman.  Ryan has won an incredible 43 poles in his 260 starts in Cup racing.  He also has 13 wins, including the 2008 Daytona 500.  Ryan is a college graduate with a degree in engineering, and though he's rarely emotional on camera, he obviously has some serious skills as a driver and competitor.  Because he is not outspoken, he tends to fly under the radar, so to speak.  Ryan goes about his business in a quiet, but determined manner.  He seems to be the perfect complement to Tony Stewart's often blustery personality.  Ryan Newman is from South Bend, Indiana, the state which is also the home of Tony Stewart.  Whether this had anything to do with these two drivers forming the new team is not entirely known, but I wouldn't doubt that it is more than a coincidence.

Tony Stewart is obviously no slouch in the performance department either.  Tony is your 2002 and 2005 Sprint Cup champion, and has 33 Cup wins to his credit.  Tony is a champion in the Indy series as well, and has won championships in many other series.  Tony Stewart has won races in all three of NASCAR's top series and charges just as hard on a dirt track in front of 1,500 fans as he does on a NASCAR track in front of 225,000 fans and millions of TV viewers.

Stewart-Haas also brings some serious talent to the pit box as well.  Tony Gibson, who lately was the crew chief for Mark Martin and Aric Almirola at Dale Earnhardt Inc. will be the crew chief for Ryan Newman in the 39 US ARMY Chevrolet.  Tony was also a crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. for several races at DEI.  Having listened to Gibson talking to his drivers on the radio over the last couple of seasons, it's obvious that he's a cool operator, much as his driver is.  The ability to never lose one's cool often determines whether a race is won or lost.  The combination of Gibson and Newman should be about as good as they come.

Tony Stewart will have a man for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect on top of his pit box for 2009.  His name is Darian Grubb, and he is a Daytona 500 winning crew chief with Hendrick in 2006.  At the time, he was filling in for the suspended Chad Knaus, and during that time he helped Jimmie Johnson win not only the Daytona 500, but also the Las Vegas race 2 weeks later.  In 2007, Grubb was on the pit box when Casey Mears won his first race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Concord, NC.  Darian probably would have been Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief in 2008 had Dale not brought Tony Eury Jr. with him from DEI.  Being a crew chief for Tony Stewart has to be a situation that is exciting to both Tony and Darian.  Grubb will bring a wealth of experience from his years at Hendrick Motorsports to the new Stewart-Haas Racing team.  This fact, as it turns out, is important on so many levels.

You see, Stewart-Haas Racing, as has Haas Racing in the past, will be using Hendrick equipment.  Stewart-Haas will not just be leasing engines, they will enjoy a ton of technical support from Hendrick in 2009.  Technically, the 14 and the 39 cars should be every bet as good as the 5, the 24, the 48, and 88 cars in 2009.  With crew chiefs Gibson and Grubb in charge, this new team could do great things in the new season.

With the combination of Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman as drivers for the new team, expectations are high, and I personally doubt that with the combined talent of the drivers and crews, accompanied with Hendrick support, that Stewart-Haas Racing will have a very successful first year.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

And Another Owner Falls by the Wayside

Last night it was announced that Bill Davis is now a minority owner in the Penske Racing team, which means that Roger Penske has bought the owner's points for the Bill Davis 22 team, and will retain the number for possible further use.

This is another sad day for NASCAR.  Davis has been an owner in NASCAR since 1988, beginning in the then Busch series, and eventually moving on to Cup and Truck teams.  In the old Busch series, Davis had 11 wins in 12 years as an owner in the series.  His first driver was Mark Martin, who got the first win for team Davis in 1988 at Rockingham.  Other Busch series winners for Bill Davis were Jeff Gordon and Scott Wimmer.  Gordon won 3 races for Davis in 1992, and Scott Wimmer won 5 races for Davis in 2002 and 2003.

In the Cup series, Davis began as an owner in 1993 with Bobby Labonte as his driver.  In his 16 years as an owner in the series, Bill Davis as an owner participated in 722 races and managed to get 5 wins, 28 top 5 finishes, and 104 top 10 finishes.  Bill Davis drivers also won 8 poles during his tenure as owner.  All of the victories in the Cup series were with driver Ward Burton, who got his first win for Davis at Rockingham in 1995.  Other wins were at Loudon, New Hampshire, 2 wins at Darlington, and of course the memorable Daytona 500 victory in 2002.

In the Truck series, Bill Davis has won an impressive 24 times as an owner, including winning the championship in 2008 with Johnny Benson.  Mike Skinner has also been a long time Davis driver and winner.

One thing that I personally wonder about is that Bill Davis has used Toyota products exclusively since the beginning of 2007.  Will including the Davis stable at Penske Racing open the door for the 2, the 12, and the 77 to move to Toyota in the future?  I believe it's a valid question.  I have no idea what Penske's commitment to Dodge is, but I believe it's a valid question to ask.  Apparently, Penske NASCAR entries will all be wearing the Dodge badge this year, but one wonders about 2010 and beyond.

In other news, maybe not so recent, but one wonders what benefit Verizon, who bought Altel earlier this year, will get from not being able to put their logos on the 12 Penske Dodge which will be driven by David Stremme in 2009?  Since Sprint sponsors the Cup series, the name change will not be allowed, and obviously the 12 car will have to have a new sponsor sooner than later.  Is this exclusivity clause that exists with Sprint and NASCAR good for the series?  Running off sponsors at this time does not seem to make sense to this writer and fan.  Sponsors are very difficult to procure in 2009, and eliminating all the other phone company business seems detrimental to the sport.  Is there really no room in the Sprint Cup for competition among phone companies?

2009 looks to be a very interesting season, if for no other reason the ability of NASCAR teams to attract and keep sponsors.  Times are admittedly tough, so how long will sponsors hang in there to get their name plastered all over TV 38 weeks out of the year, including non points races.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What's happening at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing?

I suppose the simple answer to this question is a ton of uncertainty is happening.  At present, it would appear that only 2 cars out of the combined teams now have sponsorship for 2009.  The number 1 Chevrolet of Martin Truex Jr. appears to have full sponsorship for 2009 with Bass Pro Shops.  Juan Pablo Montoya appears to have at least partial sponsorship from Target, Big Red, and other associated gum brands.

The 15, which won 2 Daytona 500's with Michael Waltrip at the wheel, will not run in 2009 unless a driver and sponsor can be found.  With the latest driver, Paul Menard now driving a Ford for Yates Racing, apparently the 15 will be on hold in 2009.   The 8 of Aric Almirola as of now has announced no sponsorship for 2009, though supposedly the plan is to attempt a full Cup season in the car.

The really big news as of right now is that the 41 is no longer 'owned' by Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.  Jeremy Mayfield has registered the 41 number for at least the Daytona 500, and Jeremy Mayfield is the owner of that team.  They're also running Toyota's, and so far as I know Earnhardt Ganassi isn't running Toyotas this year.

I sincerely hope that the 8 car of Almirola picks up some sponsorship in 2009.  It would be a shame to see a number with such a storied history be eliminated from competition in 2009 because no sponsor can be found.  This is still an Earnhardt owned car, and the quick decline from prominence on the track is disturbing.

The 2009 season is shaping up, and there are a ton of changes.  Some of these changes are probably good for the sport, but probably an equal number are not so good.  

Here's hoping for a good 2009 season.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Negative Feelings (And what you can do with them)

How's it looking for your driver this year?  Do you hope he wins it all or are you hoping that he loses just to prove a point?

Say your driver is Jeff Gordon.  Do you dislike Steve Letarte to the point that you hope your driver loses again just to prove your point about Steve?  Or say you're a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan.  Do you want Dale to lose to prove your point about Tony Eury Jr. being his crew chief?  It would seem like there is a lot of this type of sentiment going around in 2009.

Personally, I've never been a fan of either Jimmie Johnson or Chad Knaus, but they seem to have a winning combination together, let's make that 3 years so far.  Your 2006, 2007, and now 2008 champion have been not only Jimmie Johnson, but also Chad Knaus, because he's been integral in every one of those race wins, and every one of those championships.  Without one, you could not have had the other.  Facts are part of life, folks.   Jimmie and Chad have indeed won three championships in a row.

Love Jeff Gordon or hate him.  It doesn't matter to me.  His crew chief right now is Steve Letarte, and without Steve, Jeff will win exactly nothing.  Oh, he's already done that, you may say?  Sure he has.  In 2008, Jeff Gordon was completely victory free for the first time since he started racing in the Cup series.  Does the fact that Jeff Gordon didn't win a race in all of 2008 make him fire his crew chief?  Not so far.

Relationships between drivers and crew chiefs are difficult to explain.  Take my driver, for instance.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. barely won at Michigan last year.  His crew chief is Tony Eury Jr., who also happens to be Dale's cousin.  Tony Eury Jr. has said that he doesn't read much stuff on the internet, because it basically pollutes his mind when it comes to racing.  Tony Jr. is 100 per cent dedicated to being Dale Jr.'s crew chief, and Dale seems to be 100 per cent committed to having Tony Jr. on top of the pit box on Sundays.  We as fans have many ways to voice our opinions, but drivers can only go so far in that realm.  Crew chiefs have even fewer outlets, if they want to remain sane.

I believe that in 2009, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the real deal.  He wants to win races.  He wants to win the Cup.  His chosen crew chief is Tony Eury Jr.  No one is better qualified to make the call as to who sits on top of the 88 team's pit box in 2009 than Dale Earnhardt Jr.  If Dale says it will be Tony Eury, Jr, then who am I to argue with that decision?  I'm a fan, just like you.  I have no say in making that decision.

So, as one fan to another, I say sit down, shut up, buckle in, and let's get ready to have a ride in 2009.  Voice your opinions all you want to, but don't expect your driver to change his mind because of your opinion.  If you were that smart in the first place, Rick Hendrick, Chip Ganassi, Richard Childress, Jack Roush or a host of other owners would have hired you long before now, and you wouldn't have time to be reading this.

Buckle up and get ready, because here we go.