Monday, March 30, 2009

Is it possible to be a fan of a spoiled brat?

I suppose the obvious answer is a resounding 'Yes.'  I'm not a fan of Kyle Busch, but I find his on and off track antics to be entertaining, at the very least.  Last week he was making cracks about the sport's currently most popular driver, and this week, he literally ran away from a disappointing finish in the Truck race at Martinsville.

I watched it live on Speed TV today.  Kyle Busch literally acted like a little boy who had been kicked in the shins and ran home to Mama.  

Of course, Kyle might have been late to do his part in an M&M's commercial or something.  I'm certainly not privy to information like that.  Believe it or not, I'm not told the details of Kyle's schedule.

I did see him, courtesy of SPEED TV, throw his helmet and HANS device onto the rear of his 51 Toyota truck, owned by his friend Billy Ballew.  After Kyle got out of the truck, he didn't talk to anyone on the team; he simply sprinted up pit road, dodging other trucks that were still coming onto pit road.  He found the gate to let him out of the track, and hopped across the wall, and walked deliberately across the track, and was let out with a sound of 'Boos' in the air.  It's possible he was late to an important meeting, of course.  Anything is certainly possible.

For some perverted reason, I find myself becoming a bit of a fan of the Pee Wee Herman looking, temperamental driver.  It's not that I hope he wins, but performances like he put on after today's Martinsville race are absolutely priceless.  If nothing else, Kyle Busch puts on a very interesting show.

The fact that he has racing performance on his side helps too.  The guy has won in virtually everything he's ever driven, and usually many times.  Kyle Busch is an obviously very talented race driver who apparently has somewhat of a short fuse.  What better guy to capture the interest of NASCAR fans?

Kyle Busch has the talent, and an attitude that tends to irritate fans of other drivers.  He is somewhat like the Darrell Waltrip of the 1970's and 1980's, and somewhat like what many thought of a young Dale Earnhardt in the early 1980's as well.  Kyle Busch is brash, he's unapologetic, and quite honestly, he's a pretty good driver.

The fact that he has major temper tantrums makes it more fun.  Of course, he's not the only driver to have them.

Former teammate Tony Stewart is famous for them.  Brother Kurt used to be, but lately, Kurt seems to be trying to emulate the Jeff Gordon/Jimmie Johnson/Matt Kenseth type of profile, basically smiling at the camera and thanking the sponsors, and never taking the bait when asked specifically about what the driver thinks about getting punted or pushed into the wall.

In some ways, Kyle Busch is old school.  He wears his emotions on his sleeve, and though he acts like a brat at times, the passion shows through.  Kyle races hard, no matter where he is, and when he loses a race, he's upset.  Maybe he carries it overboard at times, as he did today in the Truck race at Martinsville, but when you get right down to it, you have to think that he's just passionate about winning.

Is that such a bad thing?

And you thought this was going to be a hit piece on Kyle Busch.  It wasn't meant to be.

He's very passionate about whatever race he's driving in, and I, as a fan, I'm happy to see that passion in racing.  Kyle, you just keep on doing what you're doing.  You might seem like a spoiled brat at times, but at least I know why.  Keep doing what you do, and one day you'll maybe have fans like Petty or Dale Jr. does.  And maybe you won't have to mouth off about it.

Martinsville: It never ceases to be entertaining

Martinsville is the oldest continually sanctioned track in NASCAR, and this weekend showed us exactly why.  For pure short track excitement, Martinsville definitely delivers.

Yesterday's Cup race saw a lot of fender banging and bumper bashing.  Jimmie Johnson, who won the race, did so without escaping the race unscathed.  He had a late encounter with Denny Hamlin, which put Johnson in the lead, and moved Hamlin to 2nd.

Today's Camping World Truck series race provided more of the same.  After leading a lot of laps in the latter stages of the race, Kyle Busch was bumped by Kevin Harvick, which allowed Harvick to pass.  Harvick was followed by his KHI teammate Ron Hornaday, who made harder contact with Kyle Busch, pushing in the quarter panel on the left rear of Busch's Toyota which in turn caused a tire rub.  The yellow flag came out almost immediately after Harvick's pass for the lead, due to another incident on the track.  

Kyle Busch asked for his crew to check out the damage, and also rubbed the left side of his truck on the inside wall near the entrance to pit road.  Kyle inadvertently crossed the white commitment line, but stayed out on the track.  NASCAR called foul.  Kyle's chances of winning the race were obviously over.

After the race, SPEED TV's cameras where on Kyle Busch as he exited his truck.  Kyle removed his helmet and HANS device, and slammed them down on the rear of the truck.  He then sprinted up pit road, into the oncoming traffic of trucks still entering pit road.  He then hopped over the fence onto the track, walked across, and exited the track, all to audible boos.

I'll offer some commentary on this event later, but so far in 2009, the Martinsville Truck race has been by far my favorite!  Beating, banging and even a temper tantrum!  Does it get any better?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The word 'embattled' is starting to irritate me.

'Embattled' crew chief Tony Eury Jr. is still on the job.  Is that a huge surprise?

I'm not surprised.  I didn't expect there to be a huge shake up on the 88 team this week.  For some reason, I seem to be the only one who thinks so.

What has Tony Jr. done wrong except not handing Dale Earnhardt Jr. a win?  I thought the driver was supposed to be involved in wins too.  The last time I looked, the crew chief sits on top of the pit box, and the driver sits inside of the car.  Of course, the crew chief is important to the outcome of a race, but for some reason, people keep forgetting the guy that's pushing the throttle, the brake pedal, the clutch pedal, and actually turning the steering wheel.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has not been faultless this season.  Just go back and watch your Daytona Tivo again.  Don't get me wrong, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of my favorite people in the world, but he's human, and he makes mistakes, believe it or not, just like me, or possibly even you.

I know I make mistakes.  Just ask my current boss.  She'd probably talk for about an hour or more about my current transgressions.  I'm new to what I'm doing, and I make mistakes.  Believe me, I make a lot of them, apparently.  Today I think I peeved her more than I thought was humanly possible.  Leave it to me though.  I managed to do just that.

I'm just saying that even though owner Rick Hendrick says all is well, we'll see what we will see.  Nobody drives these days for Rick Hendrick without producing, and I don't think that even good ole Dale Jr. and Tony Eury Jr. will last forever without producing wins.  If they eventually don't produce wins, Rick Hendrick will demand a change.  Probably that will first be a crew chief change, but eventually that might be a driver change.

For the moment, I encourage the Junior Nation to leave Tony Jr. alone.  Right now he's the chosen man.  Let him do what he does, and quit busting his chops for at least right now.  Tony's the man on the pit box.  If he gets to stay there, fine.  If he leaves, you can have your pound of flesh then.  Right now, Rick Hendrick has faith in this combination.  He's the guy that pays the salaries and turns off the lights at night.  Let's give it a little time.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Inheriting a Name

General George Smith Patton, Jr. obviously was the son of a man by the same name.  In his case, the famous General Patton achieved most of the fame for which the "Patton" name is famous for.  Patton led and pushed his US 3rd Army across Europe in 1944 and 1945, and moved a tremendous amount of men and materiel, in the worst of conditions,  to free the elements of the 101st Airborne Division who were surrounded at Bastogne during what is now called the Battle of the Bulge.  General George Patton is a hero, not just to the US Army, but to the United States as a whole.  The man accomplished great things as a military commander, and some of that was because Patton was afraid of very few things in life.  The General was known as a risk taker, sometimes as taking unnecessary risks by his superiors.  He paid the price for that by being relieved of command more than once, but in the end, he proved to be the guy that is one of the best remembered for liberating Europe from Nazi Germany in World War II. 

There has been a phrase attributed to General George S. Patton Jr.:  "Take not council of your fears."  I've read that actually this phrase might be more accurately attributed to General Phillip Sheridan, who lived and served a full generation before Patton.  Either way, General Patton apparently believed in that saying.

What has all this to do with NASCAR, which I'm sure is the question you're asking yourself by this point?  It's easy.  Think about names like Petty, Earnhardt, Eury.  Fathers and sons.

Lee Petty was Richard's father, and he was a champion in his own right, before Richard Petty ever got behind the wheel of a race car.  Most casual fans of the sport today might recognize Richard Petty's name, but few will remember that his father was a great racer before him.  Richard went on to become the "King", with 200 victories in his career.  That's a number that will not be matched.  There are reasons for that, including the fact that NASCAR doesn't sanction Cup events 3 or 4 nights a week, as they did back in the '6o's and early '70's.  Back in those days, before the days of Winston, Richard might win 2 or 3 races a week at times.  The point is, today, nobody remembers who Lee Petty was, even though he was a great driver.  They mostly remember Richard.

And then there's Kyle Petty.  Kyle has won a few races in his career, and these days he's mostly known as the guy that started the Victory Junction Gang Camp.  Kyle is an all around good guy, and he says what he thinks, which is rare among drivers, or even former drivers these days.  Personally, I have to admire that quality.

Kyle actually started the VJGC in honor of his son, who was destined to be the 4th generation Petty NASCAR driver, Adam Petty.  Adam died in an accident at New Hampshire in 2000.  Unfortunately, tragedy and grief follow the sport of NASCAR, and of course we also lost another good driver, Kenny Irwin in 2000 as well.

In 2000, a young man named Dale Earnhardt Jr. followed his father footsteps into the Cup series, and was successful.  He won his first race at Texas, and followed that up with a win at Richmond.  He then went on to win the All Star Race at Charlotte, which of course, was named the Winston then.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. was on his way.  Or so it seemed.

On February 18, 2001, the man who had won 76 races and 7 championships died.  A lot of, but not all of, the fan base who used to support Dale Earnhardt transferred it's devotion to the son.  Some of that fan base supported Earnhardt's replacement, Kevin Harvick.  Some just went away and support other drivers, but most of that fan base suddenly became Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans.  Thus we witnessed the birth of the Junior Nation.  Dale Jr. already had fans, but this unintentional result of his father's death dumped a lot more fans on Dale Jr. than he had ever had before.

Is it just because of the name?  Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr. certainly bears his father's name.  For some reason, no one ever held his half-brother Kerry to the same standards.  Kerry Earnhardt, who still works for the family company, and has a son, Jeffrey, who is becoming an accomplished racer in his own right, has never been held to the same standards that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has.

I certainly don't expect Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr. to do what his father did.  They both grew up under different circumstances.  All I do know is that Dale Jr. is an entertaining guy, at least in my opinion.

And about Tony Eury Jr.?  Leave him alone.  He might not be the best crew chief in the field, but he's the one that Dale Jr.'s chosen.  If you're a Dale Jr. fan and can't get past that, then find another driver.  That's the law, according to Dale Jr., and if you don't like it, take it up with Dale himself.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. may never win as many races or championships as his father has, but to me he's an interesting guy.  Interesting drivers are suddenly becoming too rare in NASCAR.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., my best advice to you is what General George S. Patton Jr. once said, or maybe it was Phil Sheridan:  "Never take council of your fears."

Some Breakout Performances at Bristol

First of all, congratulations to Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin for making it a great day for Joe Gibbs Racing at Bristol on Sunday.  Busch and Hamlin finished 1st and 2nd, respectively.  Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon also put in solid performances for Hendrick Motorsports, finishing 3rd and 4th.  Richard Petty Motorsports' Kasey Kahne continued to show strength in 2009, finishing 5th at Bristol in the Budweiser Dodge.

Two drivers who made badly needed good runs on Sunday were Mark Martin, who finished 6th, and Ryan Newman who finished 7th.  Both of these drivers are running for new teams this year, Mark Martin for Hendrick, and Ryan Newman for the brand new Stewart-Haas Racing, and both have been mired back in the pack in points thus far in 2009, mostly hampered by bad luck and engines trailing parts and oil and smoke.  It's good to see two good drivers get good finishes at Bristol.

Ryan Newman is often somewhat of an afterthought to most casual fans of the sport.  He maintains a quiet demeanor, and rarely makes waves either on or off the track.  Ryan is often overshadowed by his often flamboyant partial owner and teammate Tony Stewart.  It is sometimes forgotten that Ryan Newman is a great qualifier, one of the best in the modern era of NASCAR, and he's won his share of races so far in his relatively short career.  

Mark Martin is, of course, probably the biggest legend among current drivers in NASCAR who has never won a championship.  Mark came very close a couple of times, but has never managed to take the big trophy home.  2009 was to be his last full time season, but now he's been talking about attempting a full time 2010 run as well, and one has to wonder if owner Rick Hendrick will give him that opportunity next year, or will Mark have to go elsewhere to make that happen.  Though Mark basically has been on the verge of retiring for several years now, his priorities have changed.  He originally was going to retire to help his son, Matt, with his racing career.  Apparently Matt has other priorities other than racing, and Mark seems to have a renewed energy and passion for doing what he has done for so many years, which of course is driving race cars.

There are some fans and even sports writers who have been critical of Mark Martin's quest to keep driving, even though he's announced his retirement more than once.  The criticism seems to be that he's taking up room that could be filled by younger, hotter drivers.  I understand that argument, but I have to admit, Mark Martin has been running well this year.  He's won 2 poles so far, at Atlanta and Bristol, and though he's had problems with engines and such during the races, Sunday showed he can still run with the young guys.  To me, a guy born in 1959 is not ancient.  Of course I might be biased on that opinion, since I was only born a scant 4 years later than that.  I also have to say that when you're hot, you're hot.  50 or not, go for it, Mark. 

Has anyone noticed that Jeff Gordon has a 76 point lead over second place Kurt Busch in the points?  Though Jeff has not been to victory lane in over 45 races now, the 24 crew has done what they need to keep Jeff exactly where he wants to be early in the 2009 season.  Under the current points system, Gordon is playing the game exactly as it needs to be played, by being consistent.  Though Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth have each won 2 races this year, neither is number 1 in points.  Not exactly a criticism, but maybe a suggestion, and I'll bet readers of this article have probably thought it before:  Why not make wins count more?

Just a suggestion.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What Would You Do for the Opportunity to be a Part Of NASCAR?

I'd probably give a left part of my body, although I'm not sure exactly which one.  I have two ear lobes, do I really need both of them?  I'm just asking.  Maybe I should make that a right portion of my body, since I'm left handed.  I don't know, I don't have a lot of experience in this field.

But I know that I'd give just about anything to be able to follow the series from track to track, to have access to the garage, the crew, the chiefs, the owners, and of course the drivers.

Of course there is a certain amount of celebrity curiosity there.  I've only met a very few drivers in person, and those occasions were mostly formal, but it would be awesome to see what's going on behind the scenes at the tracks.  

To be honest with you, the only people I've ever met that I'm completely awed by are my father and my mother, who for more than 84 years have kept the bonds of a family together, through hard work and a lot of love.  These are people who have been through hardships that most of us couldn't imagine.  My father is a veteran of World War II, where he served in Europe.  My mother worked in a life boat factory to support the war effort during that time.  In other words, my parents have lived through some difficult times.

I'm much more fortunate than my parents.  I never had to go fight soldiers on foreign soil, I've never had to go through rationing for things such as gas, tires, or oil.

But I'd be willing to do just about all of those things to be able to follow the teams around to the tracks and have access to them.  It's not that I'm a groupie of any particular driver or anything, because I'm not awed by any of them at all, but it's just this:  NASCAR is one of the very few things I truly love in this world.  That's why I write about it.  

Sure, I have drivers I favor over other drivers, but in the effort to make this site not just about one driver, I've overcome some of those prejudices or biases, or at least I have so some degree.

If I were travelling from track to track every week, could walk around the garage, see the sights, listen to the talk, I'd be in some strange form of Heaven.  In other words, it would be like the most fun I've ever had in my life.

The atmosphere surrounding NASCAR is somewhat contagious.  These people are making money, a lot of them are rich, without a doubt, beyond my wildest dreams.  To me, that's not the allure though.  It's just the part about being part of something.  I don't know if that makes any sense, but just to write about what I write about is a huge privilege.  Even at the stage at which I am now, which means that I'm nothing more than a fan.  I can write about things that interest me, and I get paid exactly what you pay to read this site, which, the last time I checked, was exactly nothing.

I just enjoy doing this.  The other night I had a dream where I got to interview, of all people, David Starr.  I don't know why, because I've never followed David's career, but I was interested to find out that David has won 4 races in 218 starts in the Camping World Truck Series, and has also achieved 9 starts in the Nationwide Series.  I didn't get that from the dream, of course, but I did look it up when I woke up from that dream.  

I think anyone that has the opportunity to get involved with NASCAR, should, at all costs.  I know I would.

Heck, I'd do it for free if I could.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Giving Back to the Sport He Loves.

I'm not a huge Mark Martin fan, but I've got to recognize what I consider to be a class act.  Mark Martin, through his website,, will be the sponsor on the car owned by Tommy Baldwin, and will be driven by Scott Riggs.  Riggs will attempt to qualify the car at Bristol.

In this time of economic insecurity, I applaud Mark Martin for making this very nice offer of sponsorship for a team that's trying to get itself off the ground.

"I just wanted to help a fellow driver," Martin said.  "I think this is a great opportunity to get involved, and encourage others to follow my lead, including other drivers."

In order to keep NASCAR solvent, this is a huge thing.  Mark Martin is sponsoring a competitor.  Is that a great gesture or what?

Regardless of what you think of Mark Martin, I think you have to call him a gentleman, if nothing else.

I hope this trend will take off, and maybe one day we'll see on the hood of some other car, or on the hood of some car.  Some of these drivers have earned a lot of money, and in order to keep the sport accessible for smaller teams, some of them might have to give back to the sport that supports them.  Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr, etc.  I think you should all give this some thought.

I don't know about you, but my hat's off to Mark Martin for what he's doing for Tommy Baldwin and Scott Riggs.

It's Bristol Time!

NASCAR teams and drivers, and especially the hauler drivers were glad to get a weekend off, especially after the California and Las Vegas runs, but you, me and probably ever other fan out there are chomping at the bit to get back to it.  It's Bristol, baby, and we're going short track racing!

Bristol has been the site of some of the best racing I've ever seen, period.  Last year, the new car, or as they used to say, the Car Of Tomorrow, lessened that excitement just a little, but Bristol is Bristol, and you can't keep a great track down for long.  Bristol is one of the last true bull rings that exists in NASCAR's highest series, and I'm guessing that Sunday's race is going to be a barn burner.

Even this early in the season, we've got drivers with a few scores to settle, and what better place than Bristol, Tennessee?  The winning car may not have fenders on it, because the beating and banging is so intense there, it's part race and part demolition derby.  If you happen to be a driver with a grudge, this is the place to settle it, because there will be so much rubbing and banging that even NASCAR will be hard pressed to tell if contact was on purpose or incidental.

Should the victim of a love tap be your particular driver, you, of course, will cry 'foul!' and report it immediately to your favorite driver's message board or scream it at the TV in either your home, your local watering hole, or where ever you happen to witness the incident.  If I were you, I'd scream it out at the track itself, because it's now easier to get Bristol tickets than it has been in decades.

For me, as a fan, the main joy of watching a Bristol race is the close contact that exists there.  I enjoy watching racing at all the tracks, but Bristol is special to me.  If you've never been to your local race track, Bristol is probably the closest thing on national TV that you have ever seen that's close to the excitement that you get on a small track.  If you want to see the competition that you'll see at Bristol every week, go to your local short track and get some Cokes, or Pepsi's, maybe a hot dog, and sit back and just watch.  If you're a racing fan, believe me, it won't take you long to learn the names of the drivers and figure out your favorites.  Bristol is the national version of your local short track.  Most of the drivers at Bristol on Sunday have run at local tracks just like yours.

Some of them still do.

I admire drivers that drive anything, anywhere, no matter how large the crowd is.  If you happen to live in Georgia, you might see a big name driver running on a local dirt track near you.  If you live in California, you might see someone by the name of Mears running a local feature.  If you're lucky enough to live within driving distance of Eldora, you know what I mean.   At one of my local tracks, Greenville-Pickens Speedway, we've been blessed over the years by names like Petty, Pearson, Yarborough, Earnhardt, Keller, Pressley, and a host of others.

It doesn't matter where you live.  Chances are you've got some great drivers around, and you should go see them.  Support what they're doing, if you can afford to.

Maybe one day you'll see them at places like Daytona, Talladega, Indianapolis, and yes, even Bristol.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fans, Fans, Fans.

Fans. If you're reading this site, chances are you are one. Or perhaps not. All I know is that fans are what makes the NASCAR world go round and round. A lot of people think it's the sponsors, the owners, or even the drivers. Sure, all those elements add value to the NASCAR experience, and having fun watching races wouldn't really be possible without them.

But fans are where it's at.  

The fans support the sponsors, and until the last year or so, bought tickets for the races. Without the fans, sponsors wouldn't be in NASCAR. Without fans, these guys might as well be driving around a cow pasture somewhere, like they did before NASCAR even was. 

NASCAR fans come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Their devotion to certain drivers is, well, fanatical at times. That's the basis of the word 'fan' anyway, isn't it?  

In other words, their driver can do no wrong, and if their driver fails, it must be either equipment failure, some other driver's fault, or their crew chief's fault. If NASCAR fans based their adoration for drivers based only on statistics, we all would have been Petty, Pearson, Yarborough, and Earnhardt fans in the 1970's and 1980's. We all would have been Waltrip fans during that time as well. In the 1990's, we all would have to have been Gordon fans, because Jeff Gordon's stats from the '90's are particularly spectacular. 

But that's not the way being a fan works. We are fans of a certain driver for as many reasons as there are stars in the evening sky. We like the way they look, or their personalities, or the way they give interviews. Some of us have personally met a driver, and he was gracious and kind. He may not produce much on the race track, but we become fans of that driver just because of a personal smile or wave. In the old days, drivers were not so much celebrities, as they now are, but more or less circus clowns. They provided the entertainment, back in the days when you could bring a family of 4 into the track for $10.00. People who populated the stands back in those days began to follow the careers of certain drivers, and eventually became fans of those drivers. Sometimes the loyalty to those drivers led to fans only buying certain types of automobiles and other products. That's what NASCAR counts on these days: Fans support the sponsors, and therefore, the sponsors support the series.  

How do you explain Bill Elliot being the most popular driver all those years? Bill has won some races, sure, and one championship even. But Bill was the most popular driver in NASCAR for many years when he wasn't winning many races, and other guys like Gordon and Earnhardt were winning races and championships. Bill is a likable enough fellow, sure, but why the MPD status? It's simple. Fans of Bill were fans whether he won or lost races. Bill's personality seemed to overcome any problems he had on the track.

The same can be said for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale has not won a championship in Cup at all. He's won 18 races, and he did win those two Busch championships. But Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s on track performance has been less than spectacular for the last few years, yet he keeps winning most popular driver awards. It's not his feats at driving that lead to those awards, obviously, it's who Dale Jr. is. 

If we all went by statistics with which to base our loyalty to drivers, we would all be Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Carl Edwards fans these days. Of course we are not. These drivers have their own fan base, some of which is based on their performance, and some of it on just who the driver is. 

There are fans of some drivers who have achieved relatively little in comparison to other drivers, yet they are free and willing to call other drivers who have achieved more as being 'idiots', or 'over rated'. That's the fun of being a NASCAR fan. Everything goes when one is defending one's driver.

Personally, I am a fan of not just one driver, but several. I'm guessing most of you feel that way as well, though I once got slapped lightly on the wrists, figuratively, for cheering on some other drivers as well as my friend's favorite driver. It was all or nothing for this friend, and there were no other drivers good enough to cheer for in my friend's opinion. I'm not that way. I personally like drivers based on what they've done in the past, but also on their personality and basic outlook on life. 

I don't consider any driver in any of the current NASCAR series to be a hero, but there are many that I personally admire. My last hero in NASCAR was Dale Earnhardt. Other heroes I've had in NASCAR in the past were Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, and people like Tim Richmond, Davey Allison, and strangely enough, or not, a guy named Alan Kulwicki.  

I'm fans of those guys because of not only what they did, but the kind of men they were, and for some, fortunately still are.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Four Races Into the Season: What Have We Got?

The 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is only four races old, but we're already seeing some trends developing.  The fact that the 24 car, driven by four time champion Jeff Gordon, is currently leading the points is not really a surprise.  Gordon has yet to win a race since 2007, but he's driving consistently so far in 2009, and therefore reaps the rewards of that consistency by leading the points very early in the season.

Second in points is somewhat a surprise to some, but not really to me, personally.  Driving for Richard Childress' long anticipated 4th team is Clint Bowyer, who has also not won a race yet this season, but proves that even new teams can click along and score good points after only four races into the season.  Clint obviously is not new to the Childress organization, but the number and sponsor is new.

Producing very few surprises at all are the 99 car of Carl Edwards and his teammate in the 17 car, Matt Kenseth, currently 4th and 5th in points respectively.  I think everyone expected Cousin Carl to be off and running for the title in 2009, and I doubt that anyone expected Matt Kenseth to win the first two races of the year, but I think we all knew he would probably be pretty strong in 2009.  Also surprising very few is another Roush teammate, Greg Biffle in the 16 car who is currently running in 10th in points.

I suppose that if I had to list any real personal surprises thus far in 2009, it would be how well some of the Dodge cars are running.  Kurt Busch, driving the 2 car for Penske Racing, won convincingly at Atlanta this past weekend.  By virtue of his win, and by strong runs elsewhere, Kurt is currently in 3rd place in points after four races in 2009.  Another Dodge driver who so far is having a productive season is Kasey Kahne, who drives the 9 Budweiser Dodge.  Kasey currently resides in the 9th place in points.

Another Chevrolet driver whom I should have already mentioned who's doing very well, is no surprise to me.  Kevin Harvick, who drives the 29 Pennzoil Chevrolet is currently 8th in points.  Though winless in points races in 2008 and so far in 2009, Kevin did win the All Star race at Charlotte this year, and won the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona in February.  Kevin and his team have put together strong performances so far in 2009, and I feel that it's just a matter of time before he takes the checkered flag in a points race.

There are, of course, some Toyota's in the top ranks four races into the season.  Kyle Busch, who won at Las Vegas, is currently in 7th place in the points.  That should suprise no one, as far as I can tell.  After the year that Kyle had in 2008, we knew he would probably come roaring into 2009 like a lion.  Michael Waltrip Racing driver David Reutimann is currently in 12th place in the points, and it appears that David, as long as Michael himself, may be enjoying a breakout year so far in Cup.  Michael is currently 16th in points.

Another Toyota driver I'm not surprised to see running well is the 83 Red Bull car driven by Brian Vickers.  Brian showed a lot of promise last year, and apparently the 83 team has carried on, giving Vickers some good equipment and allowing him to produce some very impressive finishes so far in 2009.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Brian get a win this season.

Some other surprises I've seen so far, and they might not be surprises to you, but they are to me.  Mark Martin, driving the 5 car for Rick Hendrick has had a horrible run of luck so far in his final push to win a championship.  Mark is currently 35th in points, far from where he wanted to be after four races.  Martin has been qualifying very well, so I see little reason to worry about him making races, but the on track problems that seem to be plaguing his Chevrolet have to be worrying him.

Another surprise for me is that Jimmie Johnson, driving another Hendrick car, the 48, and champion for the last 3 years, so far has not been able to produce what many consider to be quality runs so far this year.  Jimmie is currently in 13th in points, which for many of his fans must be highly annoying.

One of the happiest statistics for me to report, and of course this is just me, is that Tony Stewart, in his newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing team is currently 6th in points.  It's been hit and miss for SHR so far this year, since Tony seems to be running well, and teammate Ryan Newman has been struggling.  I'm a fan of Tony's, and hope to see him win in 2009 for his brand new team.  His first win for his own team will probably be the high point of his life, and I can't wait to see that happen.

There's other drivers I'm surprised about, and somewhat not surprised about, but I'll try to incorporate that into a column on another day.

To be honest with you, I'm not terribly surprised that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is currently 24th in points.  It's not that I don't like Dale Jr, but I kind of saw this coming, to be honest with you.  I'm formulating a column about that, and will share it with you soon.  The reasons why I'm not surprised at his current status may surprise some.  It's still very early in the season, and things can, and probably will change.  Whether they change for the better or the worse for Dale Jr., I can't predict, but I'm guessing some things will change.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What's the Secret behind Jimmie Johnson's Success?

A little food for thought this morning:  Why has Jimmie Johnson been so successful in Sprint Cup?  Currently, he's won three consecutive championships, plus a ton of races, at this time, 40 wins since he drove his first Cup race in 2001.  Out of 258 total Cup starts, Johnson has finished in the top 5 101 times, and 157 times in the top 10.  Jimmie has also won 19 poles in his Cup career so far.

Jimmie Johnson has never finished higher than 5th in points for any season since he began running full time in the Cup series in 2002.  Twice he finished 2nd in points, and of course, he's also finished first for the last three seasons.  To say the obvious, basically no one has enjoyed as much success in the Cup series in such a short time, at least not in a long time.  Kyle Busch is a hot driver, and he may eventually eclipse Jimmie Johnson, but so far, Jimmie has to be considered a top driver in the series since 2002.

It's often reported, and repeated by members of the various teams at Hendrick Motorsports, that all the teams share information and technology.  That may or may not be absolutely true.  One factor that comes into play is the fact that the registered owner of Jimmie Johnson's 48 Lowe's Chevrolet is not Rick Hendrick, but Jeff Gordon.  Now I'm certainly not an insider in NASCAR circles, which means I have no special intelligence or information regarding exactly how information is shared at Hendrick Motorsports.  There is an old saying, I think that can be attributed to George Orwell, which states that some pigs are more equal than others.  I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that Jimmie Johnson is a little more equal than some of the other drivers on his team.

That's not to say that Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, and by proxy, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman are being short changed, but with crew chief Chad Knaus calling the shots, I'm pretty sure that Jimmie Johnson can rest assured that he is driving the very best equipment available, every single race.  And why not?  The man has won 3 Cup championships for Hendrick Motorsports.  Jimmie Johnson is obviously a talented driver, because great equipment or not, a poor driver could not achieve all that Jimmie has.

Jimmie Johnson is not my favorite driver.  If I based my loyalty to drivers on statistics alone, he probably would be, but that's not what I do, and I hazard to guess, neither do you.  We see little in the way of personality when Jimmie is interviewed.  He has broken out of the robot mold a little this season, sporting a beard, which surprised me.  Most Hendrick drivers are always clean shaven, even during practice, with the obvious exception being Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Personally, I find Jimmie Johnson to be a likable guy, if not particularly interesting.  He's a made for TV kind of driver, always thanking his sponsors and team, and rarely saying anything that can be construed as controversial.  In other words, he's a sponsor's and owner's dream driver.  He goes about his business quietly, and so far, has been racking up wins and championships.

Like him or not, Jimmie Johnson is an impressive driver on the track.  I know there will be knocks on Cheater Chad because I'm saying this, and there is some value to those opinions.  It could be said that Jimmie had 'special' equipment back in 2006, or even 2007.  The Car of Tomorrow rules more or less even the playing field these days though.  Though Jimmie has not won a race so far in 2009, he's still been a factor in most of the races run so far.  

God willing, Jimmie Johnson will be around for a long time.  He's not my favorite driver, but I can't help but admire his accomplishments.

Photo courtesy of Cox News.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Last Night, All Heck Broke Loose!

Oh, you thought I was talking about the race?  Oh, Ok.  I suppose all heck did break loose during the race.  Not that I got to watch much of it.  I was without power most of the night.

All I can say is Congratulations to Kyle Busch for winning at his home town track of Las Vegas.  This guy is just getting better and better all the time, and might be one of the best drivers that NASCAR has ever seen.  If there's not a major fan club out there for Kyle yet, note to entrepreneurs, start one.  This dude is going to be big before it's over.

My power went out, which of course means the TV went out at about 7 or so last night.  I didn't get to see much of the race, but I listened to the end of it on my GE Super Radio, with batteries installed.  MRN - The Motor Racing Network, does a great job in a pinch.  It's not like seeing the race, but it's probably the next best thing when you're sitting in the cold, 24 degrees as of this morning, and literally sweating it out.

We had about 5 inches of snow here in the Upstate area of South Carolina last night.  I know, most of you folks in Minnesota and Wisconsin, New York, Massachusetts, and other states scoff at that.  In SC, this is a pretty major deal though.  Tree limbs fall, power goes out, and we're left with no NASCAR on FOX, or any other channel for that matter.  For a NASCAR fan, that's like being left at the alter.

I do read that though overcoming yet another embarrassing pit stop deal, Dale Earnhardt Jr. managed to finish 10th last night.  I'm glad to see that, and now that this puts Dale Jr. solidly in the top 35 in points, and hopefully some of the rumors about him not making races will cease.  I find it funny to read that stuff like I've read in the last 4 or 5 days saying that Rick Hendrick called Jr. into the office last Monday and told him to get a top 10 at Vegas or turn in his helmet.  I'm afraid that some of the people that were repeating this rumor believed it.  You anti Junior people, please, try to come up with something a little more believable than that that bag of crap.

Finally, this week we're off to Atlanta, one of my favorite tracks in the world.  If you haven't been to Atlanta, and can get there, believe me, it's a great experience.  There is no such thing as a bad seat at Atlanta, and you will definitely get your money's worth if you go to the track.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Will what happens in Vegas stay in Vegas?

What a mess the Nationwide race was yesterday.  I mean, it was fun to watch, but so many wrecked cars, and so few reasons for them.

It appeared that some cars could get maybe 2 feet out of the groove, and they just wrecked.  It's that simple.  Some cars could run high and did OK, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Go Daddy 5 Chevrolet.  Others that put even one tire outside the middle groove of the track were sent into an immediate spin, and all heck broke loose behind them.  Based on the Nationwide race on Saturday, Sunday's Cup race should be very interesting indeed.

On Saturday, Kevin Harvick was driving his own car, the 33 Rheem KHI Chevrolet.  He got caught up in a wreck when the 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet of Jeff Burton, owned by Richard Childress, spun in front of him.  Kevin had a few choice words for Jeff on the radio.  Today, they are teammates, both driving Richard Childress Chevrolets.  I doubt that any angst from yesterday will carry over to today, but Kevin was obviously not happy with his RCR teammate yesterday.  Kevin eventually got his car back onto the track, but basically was just trying to run NASCAR's minimum speed, sticking to the apron of the track for the most part.

I don't know what's going to happen today.  I have a feeling it's going to be ugly, like a Las Vegas bar brawl on wheels.  There are some drivers that desperately need good finishes, and obviously Matt Kenseth wants to go 3 for 3.  Dale Jr.'s trying to climb his way out of the top 35 doldrums.  Several Toyotas, including the 18 of Kyle Busch will be starting from the back, so the 18 will be passing a lot of cars today.  How cleanly he passes some of those cars will probably be somewhat of a story today.  Kyle is a great race car driver, but he's not known for having an excess of patience.

Today's race, by most indications, should be much more entertaining than the yawner known as California was last weekend.