Monday, June 29, 2009

A Brand New Winner, and Other Thoughts

Rookie Joey Logano won the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire International Speedway on Sunday, making him not only the first rookie to win a Sprint Cup race in quite a while, but also the youngest ever driver to win at the very highest level in Nascar.

As many races turn out to be, Joey wasn't in the fastest car on the track. He happened to be in the right place at the right time, and that's all that counts.

Logano was down a lap earlier in the rain shortened race, but managed to get his lap back and was sitting in the cat bird's seat when Ryan Newman ran out of gas just as the rain began to fall at Loudon, New Hampshire, which meant Ryan had to pit, which gave Joey the lead.

As I've always said, a win is a win, and my congratulations go out to Joey Logano and the 20 Home Depot team. Special congratulations go out to veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli, who had the foresight to keep his young driver in the perfect position, at the perfect time, to win his very first Sprint Cup race.

New Hampshire on Sunday, had what mostly only happens at Daytona and Talladega: The Big ONE. On a restart, under the new double file restart rules, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was starting on the inside line, and spun his tires when the green flag came out. The car immediately behind him, Jr.'s buddy Martin Truex Jr. had to check up. The car behind Truex was Wild Thing himself, Kyle Busch. Instead of trying to check up himself, or wait until they passed the start finish line to pass the cars low, Kyle decided to try to make a hole in the middle. That didn't work, and Kyle spun Truex out, and then all heck took place.

A lot of cars were taken out in that fiasco, including some good ones, such as Martin Truex's 1 TomTom car. Kyle Busch later apologized for doing what Truex felt was a rather stupid move, echoed by Toyota driver Brian Vickers, according to post accident interviews.

The fact that Kyle Busch is even apologizing surprises me. I thought aggressive driving and never taking the blame for wrecks was his game. Is Kyle losing his touch?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 13th, but the same conditions that proved to be the winning move for Logano found Dale Jr., a top 10 or even top 5 car all day, back in a top 15 finish when the rains came. Had the rain stayed away for a few more laps, it's more than likely that Dale Jr. would have a solid top 10.

Had the rains held off a few more laps, Jeff Gordon would have had the win, because Logano was short on fuel at the moment that Nascar threw the caution and ultimately the red flag.

Were it not for a lost lug nut on the previous pit stop, Tony Stewart would likely have won under the same conditions that Gordon faced. Stewart proved to be very fast, and hard to pass when they had the car dialed in.

Would have, could have, should have, it doesn't matter at all now. Joey Logano is the man of the week, and deserves that recognition. Sincere congratulations to Joey on his first Cup win.

I imagine Joey Logano will be buying Greg Zipadelli a very nice lunch or two this week though.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Parasite

Parasites, in case you didn't know, are living things that make their living off of usually larger living things. Remoras are fish that basically make their living off of sharks. Mistletoe, romantic as it might be, is actually a parasite that lives in trees.

Every Friday it seems there is a new parasite on the loose in the Nascar world. For at least the last three Fridays, it seems that Kyle Busch has opened his mouth and disparaged Dale Earnhardt Jr.

On Friday, June 19th, 2009, Kyle said some things, and I'm only paraphrasing here. Kyle apparently said that he was truly the most popular driver in Nascar. He's the most popular because he keeps the sport and it's followers buzzing. That is true, in one sense, I suppose. Kyle also said that Dale Jr. is not the most popular driver, in fact he's the most loved. That probably is also true, at least the part about being the most loved.

Kyle Busch seems to be thriving off of Dale Jr.'s so far dismal season. Since Dale Jr. left DEI and made the move to Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Jr. has won only one points race, while Kyle has won a lot of races in all of Nascar's top 3 series. Kyle has also publicly set himself a goal of snagging 200 wins the three series before he hangs up his helmet for good. It would be an impressive, if somewhat meaningless goal. 200 wins in Nascar makes one think of Petty's 200 wins, which all came in the top series of Nascar, the old Grand National series, now called Cup. 200 wins spread among all three series, would be impressive, and as a personal goal, nothing's beyond reason.

The fact that Kyle Busch keeps bringing up Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s name in his weekly forays into stirring the pot are interesting, to say the least. The fact that he spends so much time trying to stir up not only Nascar fans, but in particular the Earnhardt fans is in part genius, and also in part pathetic.

Kyle Busch epitomizes exactly why Darrell Waltrip was not one of my favorite drivers. Yep, Ole DW did much the same thing early in his career. He disparaged Richard Petty as as being too old to see. He disparaged Dale Earnhardt as being illiterate. Waltrip has often expressed his admiration for Kyle Busch, and it's easy to see why. Kyle is now what DW used to be. DW might want to remember that he used to be, and still is called by some people, a different nickname than 'DW.' They used to call Darrel Waltrip 'Jaws.'

In the less polite society which is the 21st century, people call Kyle Busch more names than I can remember Waltrip being called. At least publicly. But what many have yet to realize is that there is genius to Kyle's seeming jealousies

In fact, it's a calculated ploy that is paying huge dividends. To some people, all press, whether or not it's good or bad, is a good thing. Kyle Busch is one of those people. Darrell Waltrip thrived on such press early in his career. Dale Earnhardt did as well. Now Kyle Busch is not only enjoying the press, he seems to be thriving on it.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. seems to have always taken the opposite approach in his professional career. The haters out there will never agree, but Dale Jr. has tried to be a good guy. It appears to not be in his nature to be the bad guy. Dale Jr. appears to be a genuinely likable man, who wants to make not only his sponsors happy, but his fans as well. The former party guy is now a major league business man, and he's still Nascar's official Most Popular Driver, despite what Kyle Busch says.

Kyle Busch enjoys a lot of notoriety in the press now. He's enjoying the role of being Nascar's official bad boy. Dale Earnhardt eventually turned the corner and became a popular driver near the end of his career. Darrell Waltrip also became a much loved driver.

Can Kyle Busch do the same? Maybe when he gets older.

Right now, Kyle Busch is a parasite, capitalizing off of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s fame and popularity.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Being A Loyal Fan Means Different Things to Different People

There are as many reasons for being a fan of a particular race car driver as there are fans. Those of us who consider ourselves Nascar fans probably have at least one or two drivers we pull for.

For some people, winning is all that matters. If a driver wins a lot, you might consider yourself a fan. If a driver rarely wins or is not often competitive, you might ignore that driver totally. Many people who are what I consider to be casual fans of the sport probably fall under this category. Everyone likes a winner, myself included, at least sometimes.

Long time fans of the sport, of which I am one, begin to notice other aspects to who we cheer on to win and those whom we quite frankly hope to see coasting into the garage with a plume of smoke following the car. Nascar is unique in a way. Drivers are relatively few in numbers, compared to other sports. In racing, the driver is the face of the entire team, most of the time. Casual fans don't know the names of the crew chief of their favorite driver often times. Very few of them know the name of their driver's jack man or rear tire changer.

Long time fans eventually learn these things and more. We watch the TV interviews. We read every story in the newspapers and on the Internet that we can get our hands on. We read and participate on message boards. Some of us even start writing or Tweeting about it. Some of us are full of crap, too. Some of us make sense at times.

The reasons for being a fan of a certain driver are about as diverse as the stars in the night time sky. Some of us like the attitude a driver displays on or even off the track. Some of us just pull for whoever is hot at the moment. Some of us just like a driver because he seems like a nice person.

Case in point: I am an unabashed Kyle Petty fan. Kyle has not driven a single Nascar race in 2009, but I'm still a fan of his. Kyle has won relatively few races in his career, especially compared to his famous father's career. Kyle never won a Cup championship. But I like Kyle none the less.

I've been a regular fan of Nascar ever since Kyle's career began. I followed his career, as did many, because he was the son of the King. Though Kyle's career on the track has been less than stellar in some ways, he's more than made up for that from his actions off the track.

In 2000, Kyle's son Adam lost his life in an accident during practice at New Hampshire. Adam, by all indications, was a very talented young driver. His death caused a tremendous amount of grief in not only the Petty family, but in the Nascar family as a whole. Adam was just beginning his Cup career at the time, and just how good he could have been is a question for the ages. Davey Allison is another driver whom I often wonder about; how different this sport might be right now had he not died tragically in a helicopter accident at Talladega. I never knew either of these young men, but I had a lot of respect for both of them.

My respect for Kyle Petty is boundless though. In honor of his son, he and wife Patti organized and launched the now famous Victory Junction Gang Camp in memory of Adam. Every year, the camp helps a lot of kids with not so bright futures. Kyle and Patti, as well as many other members of the family have made VGJC a wonderful place. Members of the family don't just include people who's last name happens to be Petty. Many of the drivers in Nascar have devoted not only their money, but their time. in order to make VGJC what it is today. Family, at least in Nascar, doesn't just mean people who share your last name. That's one of the reasons why Nascar is a special organization in my eyes.

Some drivers just connect with you on a very personal level. Most of you know how it feels to meet someone new, say on your job, or at school, and you immediately feel a certain 'click'. You either know you're going to like that person or that you won't like them. Sometimes a personal experience is involved as well. I met a guy the other day who told me that he was a huge Kevin Harvick fan because he once got an autograph from the driver and Kevin was very nice and polite to him. He wasn't that much of a fan before that event, but he will forever more be a 29 fan because Harvick was a nice guy. That's the way it often happens in the racing world.

Whatever your reason for being a fan of a certain driver, remember, the person across the hall or down the street, or in the next cube at work probably has their own reasons for being a fan of someone. Personally, I'm a fan of drivers who are down to earth, with few pretenses. There are still a few out there, who might have more money than they will ever spend, but never forgot where they came from. They almost never get shot in night clubs in big cities either, nor are they arrested for driving while intoxicated or for having a bag of some controlled substance in their cars.

There are exceptions of course, but for the most part, Nascar remains a true family sport.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Enjoying Racing on a Budget

Times are hard. They are for me, at least. Probably, most people reading this have had to cut back on expenses a little.

If you're a racing fan like me, it means it's costly to buy tickets and go see a Sprint Cup, Nationwide, or Camping World Truck series race when the NASCAR traveling show rolls into a town near you. For me, it's just too costly, period.

I do enjoy seeing live racing though. I love having my eardrums blasted until they feel like they're bleeding and inhaling exhaust fumes from engines burning racing fuel. I love smelling burned rubber and hearing sheet metal tearing and screaming in protest. I have a solution to this need for speed.

I am lucky enough to live only a mile or so from a small race track in the upstate area of South Carolina. I can hear the cars practicing on Tuesday afternoons when I'm home. They race on Friday from spring til fall. When I have an extra $10.00, I head off to Anderson Motor Speedway, in beautiful Anderson, SC for a Friday night of fun.

OK, maybe Anderson, SC isn't so beautiful, unless you just have a thing for small southern towns. I like it though, which is good, because it's been my home for the last 10 years. There are bright spots to living here though. Lake Hartwell, which can be truly beautiful, is only a few minutes away. The Blue Ridge Mountains are only a short ride away as well. Plus, I'm situated almost exactly half way between Atlanta, GA, the original big city of the south, and Charlotte, NC, which is basically the center of the NASCAR universe.

Anderson Motor Speedway itself is wonderful. It offers the best of short track racing. I sometimes travel to probably the best known track in the area, which is Greenville-Pickens Speedway, which at one time was on the old NASCAR Grand National circuit. People like Richard Petty, Ralph and Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, and a host of others used to race here on a regular basis. Big Bill France had a hand in making GPS happen, way back in the late 1940's.

Around here, there are a lot of race tracks, but I bet that if you live in the US or Canada, chances are there is a nice short track within driving distance of you. Either paved or dirt, it's all fun. Most of these tracks only charge ten bucks or so a head, and most of them let the kids in for free. Enjoy a hot dog and a Coke. Bring your own stuff and have a tailgating party. A lot of tracks will sell you an infield pass as well, so you can be even closer to the racing.

Today's NASCAR stars all have run races at tracks like these, and in most cases got their starts in racing at short local tracks. The short track heroes you see this week might be the Cup superstars of tomorrow.

It's inexpensive, wholesome fun for the entire family, and who knows, you might meet the next Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Carl Edwards before the rest of the world knew who they were.

Support your local race track! This is where stars are born.

Friday, June 12, 2009

What is Dale Jr. to do?

I guess the short answer is: Focus. Ok, you can quit reading now.

I've just violated all the rules of journalism by giving away my key word in the first sentence. But I don't blame anyone if they don't read the rest of this.

Let's say you're an up and coming race car driver. Let's just say. You can beat most of the guys on the local quarter mile tracks almost every week of the season. Maybe you're a high school student looking at final exams next week. Maybe you're a 40 year old father of 3, and have a job, a wife who supports you, but also just wants to get away from not just you, but of course, the 3 kids.

Let's just say.

If you were 40, you'd probably give a large part of of your family treasures to be one of the guys in Nascar. In any division, the Camping World Trucks, the Nationwide Series, and especially the Sprint Cup Series.

If you're 17, you're probably thinking the same thing.

Nascar is often the same for people of all ages. Whether you're 17 or 90, you, as a fan, have often dreamed about strapping on a race car and doing great things under the cameras and eyes that follow the sport. More important than the publicity is the winning.

Imagine crawling out of a race car in Victory Lane at the Daytona International Speedway in February, being showered with beer, champagne, Gatorade, Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, or who knows what.

In Dale Jr.'s case, he experienced all that in 2004. Can you imagine the feeling he had when he climbed out of that number 8 Chevrolet?

Personally, I can't. I can't imagine that feeling. Ever.

But I'm a mere mortal, not a superstar like virtually all of the Nascar drivers we see each week. I write about the sport I'd love to live, but never will.

Among superstars in Nascar, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the biggest star. He never asked to be what he is, but he is, like it or not.

Now it's time to pony up, for Dale Jr. He just got a new crew chief, which means to most of the world that he should perform better. Some seem to assume that simply changing the crew chief will solve all of Dale Jr.'s problems. It won't.

Winning is a total commitment to every level of putting a car on the track and making it go fast. Some of that is totally out of the driver's hands, but a lot of it is in his hands. Only the driver can get the most out of a race car. The crew chief can try to get it as good as he can, but in the end, it's the driver against the other guys on the track, and often enough, the track itself.

Sometimes it's the driver against himself.

Sometimes it's time to just go with the flow, to let go, to just have fun. Personally, there have been times in my life when I just quit caring about the standards with which I was collared, and just felt like what I needed to do was what I personally felt like I needed to do.

In most cases, I found extra strength to do what needed to be done, and ended up the victor in the struggle in which I was embroiled.

My advice to Dale Jr.: Have some fun, get loose, and just do what you feel is right.

In the long run, that might lead to focus. Figure out where you want to go, and visualize it. Then go for it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

On to Michigan

Nascar's top series visits Michigan International Speedway this weekend for the LifeLock 400.  Few drivers will be riding higher going into this weekends race than Tony Stewart, who scored his first victory as a team owner last week at Pocono.

One driver who has to be hoping for a major turn around in his season has to be Denny Hamlin, who basically was out of the Pocono race before the oil got hot in the engines last week.  Another driver who wishes he could catch a break is Kevin Harvick.

Team Joe Gibbs has two drivers catching all the publicity, mostly in good ways, in the names of Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.  Busch, though continuing to be controversial for his antics on and off the track, has been winning.  Logano has showed a marked improvement over the last few weeks, and appears to be destined to get his first Cup series win before the year is over.  Denny Hamlin, on the other hand, seems to be cursed.

Richard Childress Racing seems to have problems of a different sort.  Though the RCR cars have run well at times, they've had relatively little to show for their efforts, both in the Cup series and the Nationwide series as well.  RCR cars, which have seemed so dominant in recent years in the Nationwide series, have yet to score a single victory in 2009.  In Cup, it's worse.  RCR seems to be falling behind the curve more and more as the season goes on.  It doesn't appear that it's equipment all the time, it just appears to be bad luck, or in other words, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Another driver who would very much like to turn his season around is of course the much maligned Dale Earnhardt Jr., who this week returns to the scene of his one and only points win in a Hendrick car.  Still trying new crew chief Lance McGrew on for size, Earnhardt Jr. feels the pressure to perform as he probably has never felt it before.  Changing crew chiefs is not likely to solve all the 88 team's problems, but it's a start, I suppose. 

Michigan could be an important turning point for several drivers in 2009.  Time is running out for the guys trying to make the Chase, and winning at Michigan could go a long way toward turning a lackluster season around.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Stewart-Haas Racing is now on the Map!

Congratulations to Tony Stewart, winner of the Pocono race.  

Tony did what he needed to do, holding off the Roush Fords, and making himself the first owner/driver to win a race in more years than I want to think about.

Who would have thought, just one year ago, that the new Stewart-Haas team would be in victory lane in a points race in 2009?

I would and did.

Tony Stewart has taken the old Gene Haas company and given it a total kick in the pants.  It needed it, and Tony provided it.  

Tony Stewart is a true super star in NASCAR.  He's won in every endeavor he's ever attempted, and now, as an owner, he's won again, proving that even owner/drivers can win.

Smashing the Race Trophy You just Won = No Class

I watched Kyle Busch lead practically every lap at Nashville on Saturday night.  For me, it was a rather boring race until I watched the victory lane celebration.

Nashville has long awarded a custom Gibson Guitar as a trophy for the winner of it's biggest NASCAR event.  This particular guitar was hand painted by popular artist Sam Bass.

Kyle Busch took the guitar and smashed it to smithereens.

I'm beginning to realize the genius in Kyle's sometimes bizarre behavior.  Acting the way he does keeps him in the news.  Even bad press is still press, and Kyle Busch appears to be using all the press he can to perpetuate the legend that Kyle Busch seems to have running through his head.

When I was a kid, I had a neighbor who was possibly borderline psychotic.  He was a nice kid, but he kept up a running radio show in his head about his own exploits, and would often recite them, as would a radio announcer, while he was playing various games.  "And here comes Jack [not his real name] to the plate.  Jack's been batting .765 this season, and has 400 home runs.  Can Jack hit number 401?"  In his head, Jack was the greatest athlete that ever lived.  In reality, Jack couldn't hit even a very slow underhand pitch.  

Jack ran his own radio show playing football or basketball as well.  Jack often tackled himself, simply getting his feet tangled up while trying to run.  Jack often busted himself in the mouth trying to dribble a basketball.  But in Jack's mind, he was the greatest.

I have this mental image of Kyle Busch pretending he is the biggest rock star in the world, and smashing a guitar on stage is a dream of his that he finally fulfilled last night.  He said on his radio that he wanted every member of the team to have a piece of that guitar.  

Even after smashing the custom Gibson to the asphalt 3 or more times, the guitar was still mostly intact.  

I'm a guitar fan.  I currently own a Fender Stratocaster with a sunburst finish, and it's one of my prized posessions.  I can't play it worth a darn, but I do love to look at it.  To me, it's a work of art.

I would love to own a Gibson Les Paul, any year, any model.  To me, the Gibson LP is one of the sweetest sounding guitars ever made.

Watching Kyle smash that beautiful guitar last night was a little like watching a mother drown her own child.

Personally, I wonder what the people who worked so hard to put on the show at Nashville Super Speedway thought when they saw their carefully crafted trophy smashed.  That the beautiful guitar was going to get beer, Gatorade, Coke, etc. on it during the victory celebration was a given, but how did they feel to have to watch that beauty smashed on the asphalt?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I'm a Mouthy Piece of Something!

It's true, because someone commented on an article I wrote over a year ago about Kyle Busch.  You can go back through the archives and see the comment, because I left it there as a monument to the ultimate stupidity amplified by Kyle Busch fans.

When you're blessed with a low IQ and an apparent lack of knowledge when it comes to the English language, and an apparent lack of wits, you attack by using four letter words.  This is what Anonymous posted on my blog, on an article I wrote over a year ago.

Normally, I don't entertain garbage mouth words such as Anonymous uttered, but I leave it up here, with apologies to folks who might be offended by such words, as proof as to what it takes for some folks to be a Kyle Busch fan.

Let's examine some facts here.  I have a blog.  I write on it.  Of course I'm mouthy!  Why would I not be when I have a forum on which to write?

I have opinions.  Anonymous did too.  I invite Anonymous to get his or her own blog and dispute me.  Or just use the options on my own blog to prove me wrong, in a logical way.  Calling me bad names really means that not only do you not like what I say, but you don't have a constructive argument as to how I'm wrong in what I say.

Kyle Busch is an immature punk.  His actions prove my words.